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Sunday, August 28, 2022

Exploring the Philadelphia Museum of Art

 Friday, August 26, 2022

Hi Blog!

It's been two weeks since our last blog. A lot has happened since we came back from Vermont. We moved lock, stock and kitties into our daughter's basement in Philadelphia. The RV is getting some much needed maintenance and upgrades at a shop in New Jersey. While we have stayed with our daughter before, it has taken Flip a while to adjust this time. She's an old lady cat and doesn't like her routine disrupted. On the other hand, Ruby loves to explore the house when our daughter's puppies go for their walk. A full week has gone by since the move, and we feel settled enough to explore the city. Today's adventure was a visit to the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

As we made our way over to the museum, we decided to enter through the less crowded West Entrance. We plan to leave the climb up the "Rocky Steps" for another visit. As we approached, we passed a large stone wall that supports the back driveway. We met an interesting character who makes his home in the wall. You all know Punxsutawney Phil, the weather forecasting groundhog. Well this is his cousin, Philadelphia Phil. Philly Phil is not as famous as his cousin. Rather than predict the weather, he just romps and plays on the museum's west lawn.

As we waited for the museum to open, Dave noticed a griffin guarding the building. The griffin is a legendary creature with the body, tail, and back legs of a lion; the head and wings of an eagle; and sometimes an eagle's talons as its front feet. Because the lion was traditionally considered the king of the beasts, and the eagle the king of the birds, the griffin was thought to be an especially powerful and majestic creature. Since classical antiquity, griffins were known for guarding treasures and priceless possessions like those contained in the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

After checking our bags and picking up an audio tour device, we had to decide where to start. Dave likes Picasso and Kathy like Monet, but everyone likes Van Gogh, so we decided to visit his works first before the gallery got too crowded. 
The audio tour highlighted Sunflowers. Van Gogh painted a total of five large canvases with sunflowers in a vase, with three shades of yellow ‘and nothing else’. In this way, he demonstrated that it was possible to create an image with numerous variations of a single color, without any loss of eloquence. Besides, sunflowers are pretty.

What's really cool about Claude Monet's Japanese Footbridge is that Monet had the garden built before he thought of painting it. He encircled a basin with a vivacious arrangement of flowers, trees, and bushes, and the next year filled in the pond with water lilies. Monet added a Japanese-style wooden bridge in 1895, then a few years later started to paint the pond and its water lilies—and never stopped, making them the obsessive focus of his intensely searching work for the next quarter century. What a beautiful obsession!

Pablo Piccaso once said, "The world today doesn't make sense, so why should I paint pictures that do?”  The museum boasts one of his series of paintings titled, "Three Musicians," a perfect example of Picasso's Cubist style. In Cubism, the subject of the artwork is transformed into a sequence of planes, lines, and arcs. Cubism has been described as an intellectual style because the artists analyzed the shapes of their subjects and reinvented them on the canvas. The viewer must reconstruct the subject and space of the work by comparing the different shapes and forms to determine what each one represents. Through this process, the viewer participates with the artist in making the artwork make sense.

Juan Gris was obsessed with musical instruments. He painted dozens of violins. His fondness for the art of music is apparent in this depiction of "Violin," an image derived from the depths of his imagination. Gris felt a strong connection in painting musical tools; he believed that these instruments were as defining to the musician as a paintbrush was to a painter.

Man Ray described "Fair Weather" as the culmination of his Surrealist career. Fair Weather is a nightmarish premonition of the Second World War; the bombarded stone wall and puddle of blood are two of its more direct symbols of violence. The artist left this painting behind when he departed Europe for his native United States in 1940, but he eventually reclaimed it and kept it for the rest of his life.

Intended to decay while on public view, Zoe Leonard's “Strange Fruit” is made up of empty fruit skins that have been sutured together and sprawled across the gallery floor by the artist. The work was created in New York in the 1990s, during the early days of the ongoing global AIDS crisis, before any life-saving treatments were available. This was an era marked by tragic loss and the stigmatization of queer people and people of color, along with sex workers and drug users. In this climate of discrimination and neglect, people were dying daily, their bodies treated by the US government and healthcare industries as disposable. After the deaths of several close friends, including fellow artist David Wojnarowicz, Leonard began to sew these fruit pieces. Out of that process, over a period of six years, “Strange Fruit” emerged.

The embracing figures in "The Kiss" by Constantin Brancusi, merge into a single form. Two eyes make the oval of a single eye, hairlines sweep into a continuous arch, and arms join to encircle the cubic block. The artist’s fourth version of the same theme, it exhibits the greatest formal unity. Brancusi recommended that it be displayed very simply on its own base, in line with his belief that, for sculpture, "it is the complete thing that counts."

Sometimes, the story behind the art is as interesting as the art itself. Pictured below are a self portrait by Margit Pogany and a sculpture of her by Constantin Brancusi. Here is their story:

Margit Pogany, an art student living in Paris, sat for a portrait with Constantin Brancusi in 1910 or early 1911. Brancusi’s sculptures of Pogany gained immense notoriety for their shockingly austere, smoothly machine-like appearance when first exhibited as a plaster cast in New York in 1913. In the same year, having returned to her native Budapest, Pogany made this work, her only known self-portrait, with her face half-hidden in shadow and a pensive hand-on-cheek pose similar to the Brancusi portrait. Pogany, a Hungarian Jew, was documented as a Holocaust survivor after the Second World War and resettled in Australia in 1948. Her family sold her painted self-portrait to the museum, whose collection includes two versions of Mademoiselle Pogany by Brancusi in white marble

Best remembered as the prime minister who led Britain during World War II, Winston Churchill was also an accomplished amateur artist who painted to cope with depression. Inspired by Monet and Matisse, Churchill typically painted outdoors, using vivid colors and energetic brushstrokes. This painting, "Beach at Saint-Jean-de-Luz," depicts a beach on France’s Atlantic coast. It centers on the Casino La Pergola, an important example of Cubist architecture by Robert Mallet-Stevens that still stands today.

The most evocative installation we toured was called "Neural Swamp" by Martine Symsan American artist based in Los Angeles. It is the second volume in a series documenting works produced for the Future Fields Commission in Time-Based Media, a collaborative initiative established by the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo in Turin to support the creation, acquisition, and presentation of new video, film, sound, and performance works by emerging artists. 
The multichannel video installation highlights the tactics and technologies of sport, cinema and surveillance. Syms challenges racial and gender stereotypes and investigates what it means to be a Black women in a hyper-digitized world. It is sometimes funny and other times disturbing. She used algorithms and artificial intelligence to question the politics of images and the technologies that allow for their production and consumption.

There is more here than can be seen in one day, so we will probably revisit the Philadelphia Museum of Art in the future. Not only was it hard to select what, out of that huge collection, we would view, but it was difficult to decide which of those to photograph.  Then, harder still, was to select only a few to present in this blog.
We expect to undertake a similar effort at Philadelphia's Barnes Museum in the near future.  Until then, stay thirsty my friends!

Thursday, August 11, 2022

Lamoille Valley Rail Trail - Deuxième Partie

We have no idea what "Lamoille" means -- it is the name of the river in Vermont, and of the valley it flows through, and of many things in the valley.  A quick survey on the internet reveals that the word itself, while a not-uncommon French family name, does not have any specific meaning in French.  Legend has it that early French settlers named the river La Mouette, meaning "The Seagull," but that a cartographer forgot to cross the t's, which led people to begin calling it La Moulle.  Evidently, the name was further transmogrified to today's "Lamoille."

Be that as it may, the valley is beautiful, running through the Green Mountains, and the river is very pretty as it meanders along the valley.  The Lamoille Valley Rail Trail is one of the prettiest we have biked.  After our last outing, peddling from Morrisville to Johnson and back, we were eager to bicycle along the other end of the longest developed portion of the trail.  This portion runs between Johnson and Cambridge Junction.  We started at Cambridge Junction and headed the 9 or so miles to Johnson:

We had barely started the ride when we arrived at the Cambridge Junction trailhead, where we spotted this covered bridge:

The Cambridge Junction Bridge was built in 1887.  It has a clear span of 135 feet, making it one of the longest spans of its type in the U.S.  The bridge is also known as the "Poland Bridge," after the retired judge who led a lawsuit against the Town of Cambridge that resulted in the bridge's construction.   The bridge was rehabilitated in 2003-2004.

Local communities have improved the trail and, here at Cambridge Junction, we found a re-creation of a train station such as might have stood alongside this rail line --

-- and a playground modeled after a train and railroad improvements:

In several spots along the trail, the Lamoille River presents beautiful bends which -- though not quite oxbows, nevertheless curve well back on themselves:

This is an area with many small towns and villages, and so, the trail is dotted with a variety of businesses, farms and residences.  One old antique barn caught our eye:

We happened upon a beautiful feather, which we thought must be a turkey feather, lying unmolested in the middle of the trail.  Kathy picked it up and added it to her feather collection.

A section of the trail passes alongside a beautiful private pond.  We were lucky enough to pass as some local duck residents were moving to another part of the pond:

At the south end of our ride, we stopped another station replica in Johnson, at The Old Mill Park.  It provided us a water fountain, "other amenities," and a picnic table where we ate our lunches.

As we pedaled from Cambridge Junction to Johnson, we passed some half dozen photo opportunities that David left behind but promised he would revisit on our return.  This pretty little arbor with wildflowers was one of them:

At one point, Vermont's Long Trail intersects and follows the Lamoille Valley Rail Trail.  The Long Trail is attractively signed where it enters and leaves the rail trail.  The Long Trail is a 273-mile long hiking trail running north-south the entire length of Vermont. It is the oldest long-distance trail in the United States, constructed between 1910 and 1930 by the Green Mountain Club.  We had hoped to hike a section or two of the Long Trail as we planned this two week visit, but, for many reasons, we never had a chance.  This is just one of many reasons we want to return to the mountains of Vermont.  We'll see if we can do that in 2023.

If you've read many entries in this blog, you'll know we have a "thing" about berries.  Many of the places we hike, bike and paddle boast wild berries, and Kathy has developed a keen berry radar.  Well, it was operating at peak efficiency on the Lamoille Valley Rail Trail, because, as we pedaled, she spotted a whole raft of blackberry bushes and proceeded to sample them to see what their stage of ripeness might be.  They were juicy and sweet, and she judged them ripe!

But wait!  That is not the end of the berry saga.  A little further on, Kathy spotted a stretch of ripe thimbleberries -- and loyal readers know that thimbleberries are our most favorite berries of all.  Below, David displays some of the sweet, juicy, fragile thimbleberries we gathered in one spot:

Another wonderful feature of the Vermont Green Mountains is the vibrant display of a wide variety of colorful wildflowers -- whether along roadsides, in gardens, along hiking trails, or indeed along bike trails.  We never tire of admiring them, including in this field near Jeffersonville:

Remarkably, although we have traversed many rail trails, we have seen very few memorials to people who died in train accidents on those lines.  Yet, it certainly has happened from time to time.  In the case of the Lamoille Valley Rail Trail, in 2016 sponsors of the trail erected a plaque memorializing the deaths of three railroad workers who, on a pushcar, were hit by an unscheduled freight train near Cambridge Junction:

Cornfields exploded on both sides of the trail for much of the length of our ride, and some of them showed the geometric arrangement of their planting:

Arriving back at Jeffersonville, north of Cambridge Junction, we checked out the rail trail's bridge over the Lamoille River, and were treated to a view of a group of paddlers plying their way from upstream, down to (as we later learned) an ice cream parlor where their shuttle met to return them to the place they began:

For the last two weeks, we have been hoping to sample a Vermont tourist favorite -- maple creamies!  These are maple flavored soft ice cream cones, and they are luscious, as we were reminded when we found this ice cream shop at the end of our ride and finally got our maple creamies!

Our treat was all the sweeter because, no sooner had we stepped up to the window and ordered and received ours, than a group of perhaps 20 or 30 paddlers swarmed off the river and over to the ice cream shop to get in line for their own soft ice cream treats.  Had we been even 10 minutes later arriving, we would have had a very long wait for our creamies.

Timing, dear, is everything.

Monday, August 8, 2022

Hiking Mount Mansfield in Stowe, VT

Monday, August 8, 2022 

Hi Blog!

Where we are camped in Vermont, we were only a short drive from the town of Stowe. We learned that the Stowe Mountain Ski Resort is open in the summer and offers gondola rides to the top of Mount Mansfield.

Mount Mansfield is the highest mountain in Vermont with a summit that peaks at 4,395 feet above sea level. When viewed from the east or west, this mountain has the appearance of a (quite elongated) human profile, with distinct forehead, nose, lips, chin, and Adam's apple. These features are most distinct when viewed from the east; unlike most human faces, the chin is the highest point. We think the nose is on the left and the chin on the right.

The Green Mountains are a mountain range in Vermont. The range runs primarily south to north and extends approximately 250 miles from the border with Massachusetts to the border with Quebec, Canada. They are part of the same mountain range that is in Massachusetts and Connecticut and is known as The Berkshires and the Quebec portion is called the Sutton Mountains. The Green Mountains are certainly green!

For those who wish to summit Mount Mansfield without hiking 2,800 feet of elevation from the mountain’s base, a ride up the Gondola combined with a Cliff Trail hike is a popular alternative. Riding Stowe Mountain Resort’s Gondola Skyride is a great way to get to the top of the ski resort to enjoy 180-degree views of Spruce Peak and the Worcester Mountain Range. From this point you are only about 750’ of elevation to the tallest point in Vermont, the “Chin” or summit of Mount Mansfield. 

The gondola opened at 10:00 a.m. As we looked down, we could see hikers making their way up the ski runs. Based on how far up we spotted them, they must have gotten an early start.

The Cliff House Restaurant is nestled right under the summit.

While the chairs were not red, we did take some time to sit and enjoy some views.

Although the Cliff Trail itself is only 0.8 miles each way, it is an extremely challenging and technical climb and is one of the most difficult and potentially dangerous hikes on Mount Mansfield. This trail is recommended for expert hikers as there are slick, exposed rock faces, crossing deep rock crevices, and scrambling required. 

Sounds like fun!

Since we took the gondola up, we felt we had plenty of time to climb .8 of a mile even if the elevation gain was 750 feet. Slow and steady wins the race. 

It didn't take long to leave the tourists behind. However, we were surprised how many young parents brought their young children up the trail. They sprinted passed us in their sneakers, but we soon ran into them as they carefully worked their way back down, having encountered the steepest part and thinking better of it.

Here, Dave stands atop one of the easier chutes we had to squeeze through.

Mount Mansfield is one of three spots in Vermont where true alpine tundra survives from the Ice Ages. A few acres exist on Camel's Hump and Mount Abraham, but Mount Mansfield's summit still holds about 200 acres. In 1980, the Mount Mansfield Natural Area was designated as a National Natural Landmark by the National Park Service.

Krummholz (German: krumm, "crooked, bent, twisted" and holz, "wood") is a type of stunted, deformed vegetation encountered in the subarctic and subalpine tree line landscapes, shaped by continual exposure to fierce, freezing winds. Under these conditions, trees can only survive where they are sheltered by rock formations or snow cover. As the lower portion of these trees continues to grow, the coverage becomes extremely dense near the ground. As the krummholz closed in, we had to look carefully for our trail.

Hiking above treeline can be fun. It can also be challenging. This is the last photo we took on the way up. We had to use both hands and feet to make it further up the trail. No time for photo ops. After trying to work our way up a slippery rock face, we decided the trail was just too technical for our old bones.

We found the way down to be easier than the way up. Gravity can be your friend! A rock face that was difficult to climb makes a great butt slide on the way down.

Before long, we were back at the trailhead. Looking back, we were amazed we made it as far as we did.

Now it was time for our reward! A fresh hot Belgian waffle with melted Swiss chocolate!

After lunch, it was time to hike down the mountain. Many of the gondola riders start down the trail, but soon turn back and ride the gondola back down. Not us! We are training for our hike down into the Grand Canyon. It's over the edge for us.

The hiking trail followed the Switchback Ski Trail. Much of the trail was covered in wild flowers.

As we switchbacked across the face of the mountain, we crossed under the gondola.

This was our last view of the summit of Mount Mansfield.

The trail winds it's way through the forest. We stopped to admire this little mountain stream.

Two miles of downhill in the hot sun can build up a powerful thirst. We stopped at Idletyme Brewing Company to wet our whistle and tell each other tall tales about a tall mountain.