Thursday, February 5, 2009

Matisse at MoMA

The Egyptian Curtain (oil on canvas, 1948), The Phillips Collection, Washington
Back in late 1992 I went on a business trip to Washington DC. I decided to pay for an extra hop to New York City because there was a major Matisse retrospective showing at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). Since my sister- and brother-in-law live in Westport, Connecticut, I had no hotel costs.

Museum of Modern Art, New York City
I got up early on Saturday morning to catch the 7 a.m. train into New York. When I arrived at the museum, there was already a huge line wrapped around the block. I chose to stand in the “short” line where you pledge to become a member. I stood in line for over three hours, maybe it was four, in a huge snow storm only to learn that they were not going to let any more people in that day. I had worked my way up to about 20th in line.

I developed meaningful relationships with the people standing in queue with me. The two men standing ahead of me were travel agents from Berkeley, California. They bought two very expensive tickets from a scalper on Friday but they turned out to be fake tickets! The elegantly dressed lady on the other side of me was from Greenwich, Connecticut. There was a bedraggled, very sad-looking homeless man with dull eyes who shuffled up and down the line asking for spare change. A few people gave some token change, but then one of the Berkeley men had an inspired moment. He gave the homeless man a five-dollar bill and said: “You see that coffee cart down the block? Buy me a cup of coffee (this is before the Starbucks latte days) and I’ll give you another five when you return.”

Then of course I said: “Here’s another five, but make sure mine has cream and sugar.” The next thing you know, he had more orders than he could carry in one trip. Note: suddenly everyone had spare change :-(

When this man returned with our coffees he had a lilt in his voice and a sparkle in his eyes. “Now who had the cream and sugar?” People truly want to be productive.

My sister-in-law still talks about the fact that I decided to take the 6 a.m. train the following morning. “You’re not really going out in that weather again are you?”

“But it’s Matisse! And it’s the biggest show ever!” I never considered not going. The Berkeley travel agents told me they were going to go a third day. Getting up that extra hour earlier made all the difference in the world. It was super-duper cold during the first hour but I got in within an hour or so from the museum’s opening. The show was worth every minute of standing in line. As for the homeless man, he paraded up and down the line all morning taking coffee orders and I didn’t see those dull eyes again.

The exhibit was spectacular. There were 400 works of Henri Matisses's works, displayed on three floors of MOMA, beginning with his early works as an art student, through his “fauvism” period,

Open Window at Collioure , 55 x 46 cm. , Private Collection, 1905

continuing on to the cross-pollination of ideas with Pablo Picasso, his time in the South of France, and finally to his larger-than-life Jazz collages nearing the end of his life.

La Gerbe, 294 x 350 cm., 1953

I didn't know much about Matisse when I walked into the exhibit, but I felt privileged for the glimpse into his wondrous and rich mind. I would do these two days all over again if I had another opportunity.

Copies of the book published for this exhibit are still available on the used market.

I know you are all breathing a sigh of relief that I didn't just see it, because it would take me fifteen posts to finally finish talking about it.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Watch out Terry Gross!

The very talented Relyn very kindly agreed to interview me, here is the second half. When she e-mailed me her questions, she said, “I'm realizing that I want to be Terry Gross when I grow up.”

All I can say is, "Watch out, Terry!"

Thank you, Relyn, for taking the time to interview me. I loved having the opportunity to reflect on each question.

If anyone would like to be interviewed by me, just send me an e-mail or ask me in the comment section. Please read the end of the post for the premise of this interview.

4. This may seem an odd question, but it always tells me a lot about a person. Please list three movies that you absolutely loathe. Feel free to expound as to why.

I had a difficult time coming up with three movies because if I don't like a movie, I turn it off or walk out. So I feel reticent about passing judgment on a movie that I haven't seen all the way through.

I'm a total woose when it comes to violent movies. The first time I ever walked out of a movie was on my 24th birthday. I was traveling alone on a business trip in Connecticut. Fortunately I didn't have to spend my birthday by myself because my roommate's brother happened to be in New Haven at the time. He suggested that we go see Midnight Express. I agreed, thinking I was going to see a lovely escapist travel movie about trains. I didn't last very long. Evidently, I walked out way before the worst parts. I felt bad for my roommate's brother, but by George it was my birthday and besides, I had an important meeting the next morning. I needed a good night's rest and this movie was made of nightmares.

Midnight Express

The last movie I walked out of was The Dark Knight. Heath Ledger was brilliant but I couldn't handle the dark plotline.

Last Saturday I did manage to sit through all of Slumdog Millionnaire, but just barely. It was a fantastic, haunting movie, deserving of all the Oscar nominations, but I did have nightmares that night.

I also don’t like movies that are morally bankrupt. I have never seen Mr. and Mrs. Smith, but the idea of a movie where husband and wife are pitted against each other holds no appeal for me.

5. I would describe you as a woman of many passions. Aside from your overarching love for home and family, there is art, calligraphy, floristry, computer sciences, blogging, and traveling. To name a few. Which one of these descriptions (again, aside from wife and mother) most defines you?

You are correct in saying that I have many passions, there are more you don’t know about yet. Stay tuned, I will be talking about at least one more in the spring. I don't think any one passion defines me. In fact, there have been times when I have moved from one passion to the next. I was a passionate cook for many years, but now I prefer to only eat rather than cook. For a couple of years I joined the Cornell University’s Project FeederWatch and I learned about the birds in my backyard, but now I just enjoy watching them without having to count them.

Computer science provided me with a terrific career, but I was actually more passionate as a manager than a software developer.

My interest in calligraphy, flowers, and travel has been with me throughout my life and I don't see that waning any time in the near future. I have no idea if my yen for blogging will hold, time will tell.

One thing that has been consistent is that I often turn my passions into teaching. I love teaching and I seem to have a knack for it. When I was fourteen, I was selected to go to the junior high school across the street to be an in-class math tutor. From that point on, I often find myself in a teaching role.

Doris Day in Teacher's Pet

When my kids were in elementary school, my favorite day of the week was Friday because that was the day I taught math extensions to half of my kids’ classmates. I pulled out the students who already mastered the week's curriculum and the teacher had a chance to spend time with the other half of the class to review and reinforce the week's lessons. It was great working with enthusiastic learners. Unfortunately, our school district does not allow parents in the secondary school classrooms.I even turned my passion for flowers into a forum for teaching. I enjoy holding the wreath clinics twice a year and love seeing how proud my students are with their creations.

Over the years I have given calligraphy lessons to anyone who has shown an interest and I often cooked with my children. I think I get so excited about having learned something that I want to share it with the whole world. I guess now, with the blog, I literally am.

If you would like to be interviewed by me, leave me a note in the comment section. Give me a few days to send your five questions. Here's the scoop:

1. Leave me a comment saying, "Interview me."
2. I will respond by emailing you five questions. (I get to pick the questions).
3. You will update your blog with the answers to the questions.
4. You will include this explanation and an offer to interview someone else in the same post.
5. When others comment asking to be interviewed, you will ask them five questions.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Interview with Relyn

questions questions by Rock Alien at flickr

Our neighborhood of the blogosphere has caught an interview virus. Relyn at Come Sit By My Fire caught it from Willow of Life at Willow Manor and I caught it from Relyn. The idea is that Relyn offered to interview those who choose to participate. Participants, in turn, will offer to interview their readers. The rules are at the end of this post.

I decided ask Relyn to interview me. Thank you Relyn for your thoughtful questions! Here are three of her five questions.

1. You can I know that you are fluent in more than one language. Please tell us about that. How many languages do you speak and read? Do you have much occasion to use languages other than English in your current daily life? Do you find yourself thinking in your original language or in English? (OK. I can count. I know that's three. What can I say? I'm interested.
I don’t speak as many languages as you would think.

photo by yeowatzup at flickr

I was born in Java, Indonesia where we spoke Indonesian which is a derivative of Malay.

Photo by thegshow at flickr

When I was almost six years old we moved to Amsterdam, The Netherlands. My father was eager for us to learn Dutch, because he wanted us to succeed in school, so he spoke exclusively Dutch to us as soon as we were able to comprehend it. My mother had no interest in perpetuating Indonesian in our household since she didn’t have very many good memories from seven years in Java. It didn’t take long for me to almost entirely loose the Indonesian language, except I can still order from an Indonesian menu. I’m very grateful for this skill because Indonesian food is spectacularly delicious.

Photo by FogBay

When I was eleven we moved to the US. We all regretted that my sisters and I did not retain Indonesian, so when we came to America we did make an effort to continue to speak Dutch. My Dutch is not very good any more because it’s been over forty years since I last lived in Holland. When I speak Dutch to a native speaker, I get a lot of funny looks. Once, a Dutch friend said to me, “Speaking to you is like speaking to a time capsule”.

Another one said, “What are you, eighty years old?”

All living languages evolve over time but since I am not exposed to Dutch very much, my Dutch vocabulary never grew or evolved, and in fact seriously faded. We don’t go back to the Netherlands very often, but when we do, it takes a couple of days for the Dutch to reply back in Dutch to me. When they hear my fractured attempt, they automatically speak in English to me. It’s humiliating.

When my daughter was born, I intermittently spoke Dutch to her for the first couple of years of her life but she really didn’t tolerate it very well. She would squeeze my lips together and say, “No, Mommy, no”. When my son was born, I resolved to speak Dutch to him one hundred percent of the time. I lasted until he was about three or four years old, but my Dutch was not strong enough to carry on a nuanced conversation. I rarely speak Dutch to my kids any more, strictly due to my laziness, but they both understand my personal “eighty-year-old” version of Dutch.

Every few months I get a stack of Dutch gossip magazines passed down from one of my mother’s friends. I try to plow through them before I get the next stack. It’s not my first choice of reading but it can be very entertaining to read about Madonna, Brad and Angelina from the Dutch point of view.

As for other languages, I took French in junior high, German in high school, a couple of quarters of French in college, and one semester of Italian at a local community college just prior to our trip to Italy in 2005. Of these, German is my strongest language, but it’s nothing to brag about. I’m told I speak German with a Dutch accent even though I learned it in America.

With the exception of a few unique words or phrases here and there, I think exclusively in English.

2. You have excellent taste in children's and young adult literature. How did that come about? What is it about that genre that appeals to you?

Peggy Rathmann's Officer Buckle and Gloria

When we lived in Amsterdam, my father was a scientific editor for Elsevier, a very old publishing company, so were surrounded by books at all times. I still own the two volumes of fairy tales that I read over and over again as a child. Books are great tools to teach, comfort, and inspire anybody, but I believe they are especially important for children.

I have many fond memories of reading to my children when they were younger. We read every night at bedtime; it is a fantastic way to end the day on an up note. When the kids were in the picture book phase, we went to the children’s library every Wednesday afternoon and we usually checked out forty books, the maximum allowed. It didn't take long for us to all forty books every week.

My favorite gifts for babies and young children are books because you can never have too many books. As a consequence, people often ask me for book recommendations for their children. Now I list many children’s and young reader books on my Goodreads list, so I just give them a link.

My hope is that my children will be lifelong readers.

  3. You have traveled extensively, including time in the Galapagos Islands. Please tell us your favorite travel destination and share why you love it so much.

My favorite travel destination is my next destination. I know that’s cheating, but since you cheated on the number of questions…

The reason why I say that is that I’m always yearning to see new places, meet new people, observe new animals, buy new things, eat new foods, touch new buildings, see new art, and experience new experiences. I enjoy the planning of a trip almost as much as going on the trip itself. Now, with blogging, I think I will enjoy reliving it and sharing it as another dimension of the trip.

I am currently making our summer plans, but I'm not quite ready to reveal the destination yet. It will be a surprise.

Next time I will answer Relyn's remaining two questions.

If you would like to be interviewed by me, leave me a note in the comment section. Give me a few days to send your five questions. Here's the scoop:
1. Leave me a comment saying, "Interview me."
2. I will respond by emailing you five questions. (I get to pick the questions).
3. You will update your blog with the answers to the questions.
4. You will include this explanation and an offer to interview someone else in the same post.
5. When others comment asking to be interviewed, you will ask them five questions.
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