Monday, August 13, 2018

The Wadsworth Atheneum

My husband needed to do some research at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticut, last week, so I went along. 

It was our first visit to the Wadsworth, which has a choice collection of American and European art along with ancient, Asian, and contemporary works. It's one of those museums where you wander into a gallery and realize, "Oh, so that's here!"Art history professors have always gotten a lot of mileage out of the Wadsworth, so anyone who's had a paintings course or two will find familiar faces and scenes. As you stroll through the galleries you can get a fairly complete historical survey of American painting, especially, with at least one, or and sometimes a few, superb examples by most of the significant artists from the 18th to the early 20th century. And there's notable contemporary art, of course, as well.

There's currently an exhibition of Frederic Church's Middle Eastern and Mediterranean landscapes, so I dutifully took it in, although I'm not a big fan of Church's paintings. 

 The Parthenon. I alway expect Church's landscapes to be monumental, 
but they are often average-size or even small, like this one.

I'm much, much more excited about Church's beautiful house, Olana, high on a hill above the Hudson River. Its Middle Eastern design was inspired by Church's travels in those foreign lands, so I was happy to watch a short documentary about the house. I've only managed to see the Olana's exterior, many years ago, since it was closed for a special event the afternoon I went there. It's time I went inside.

 A Persian tile from Church's huge collection of Middle Eastern art and artifacts.

I'll show you some of the things I liked best.

Florine Stettheimer's Beauty Contest, 1924. She painted her self-portrait in
the upper left, seated with her legs crossed, in a pink dress.
(If you don't know Florine, look her up.)

 My, that looks familiar! Theodore Robinson's Beacon Street, 1884.
That stretch of sidewalk beside the Common is only about 3 feet wide now. 
The pile of rubble might still be there.

 Julius Stewart's tippy scene of rich Americans flirting: On the Yacht "Namouna,", Venice, 1890

 I had the place almost to myself much of the time.

Rembrandt Peale's portrait of his younger brother Rubens, 1834. 
We make a fuss about Copley in Boston but, to me, those Philly Peales were better artists.

The Cabinet of Curiosities Gallery met my expectations.  There were shells, 
minerals, fossils, and exquisite little objects and artifacts of all kinds, 
displayed with peculiar paintings and several magnificently decorated cabinets 
that once housed similar collections. Check out the tortoises high up on the wall.

 Sol LeWitt's murals liven up the stairwell in the Morgan Wing.

 A Bronze Greco-Egyptian cat. And what a happy cat it seems to have been, 
even with that sacred bug on its head.

In the European galleries, I saw the Florentine Orazio Gentileschi'
Judith and Her Maidservant with the Head of Holofernes, 1621–24.
When you're caught holding the evidence, try looking the other way.

 An enameled plate from Berlin Porcelain Factory, probably 1908–1909

 A detail from Gustav Klimt's Two Girls with Oleander, c. 1890-1892.
This was one of the last paintings I saw and it was simply stunning in person.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Now We Are Six: Harris and Toffee, That Is

Today is Harris's 6th birthday and he lets Toffee share it with him since he was born a street kitten at around the same time, although his birthday is a mystery.

Harris was luckier. His pregnant mother was rescued by a great family in Connecticut, so he and his sibling were born and raised in house, loved and cared for from Day 1. We adopted him from Kitten Associates, the best cat rescue ever (and they have some great kittens right now). His name back then was Charley.

Here's an early photo where he's learning to hate the vet. He hasn't changed much from this time. He's still very needy and craves all the attention, cuddling, nurturing, praise, food, and play he can get. Because no one else deserves any of those things more than he.

Here's an early photo of Toffee when he was up for adoption at the Animal Rescue League. He was mellow and sweet, napping in our arms. We never imagined he'd be a troublemaker, but he kept us on high alert — on his first New Year's Eve, he jumped onto a hot stove and burned his feet. He ate light bulbs on the Christmas tree. He climbed it, too. He ate a couple feet of string and we raced him to the ER again.

I may focus more on Harris in this blog because he's a photogenic attention hog, but Toffee is also an interesting cat:

Toffee and Harris were always good friends and still play together. We think this is the best cat photo my husband has ever taken:

This photo reveals their adult personalities: Toffee is trusting, sweet, and inquisitive, while Harris would do well in law school.

Here's to many more birthdays, guys! We feel so fortunate to have you both!

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Why We Can't Have Nice Things

I found sunflowers tucked among the branches of the yew in the big planter that I water on the Commonwealth Avenue Mall. The planter surrounds the statue of Domingo Sarmiento; I also occasionally find red apples or sun-bleached, potted orchids left in tribute by his plaque. I can understand the apples since he was an educator, but not the sad little orchids.

Usually whatever I find goes into the trash, but the flowers were still fresh so I brought them home. Sunflowers and roses aren't toxic to cats so they're the only flowers we can have in the apartment.

For obvious reasons:

As I took these photos, I continually exhorted Harris to behave — to not be a Bad Cat, or a Rotten Animal, a term I must have picked up from my mother, who lectured our family cats in similar fashion, with better results. But she didn't have Harris.

When you spend 12 years in classrooms with nuns, you can't help absorbing their disciplinary management techniques. Here, you can see that my lecture is having an effect on Harris. I am annoying him:

However, he is a Bold, Brazen Article, as Sister Theresa Imelda used to say. Actually, a few of our nuns said that. Now that I think about it, they probably sat around over their fish sticks and beer in the convent on Friday nights, trading their favorite epithets and threats from the week, practicing their dirty looks, and shadow-smacking each other's heads. Yes, I bet they did.

Anyway, Harris is definitely Bold and Brazen:

The rest of these photos were taken the next day, after I forgot to put the flowers in a safe place overnight. As you will see, the sunflower on the right has gotten a buzz cut, while the others had asymmetrical trims, like artsy people wore in the '90s.

Harris appeared on the mantel again. This time, I pulled out all the stops and told him he was Going Straight to Hell. 

So he kept a polite distance from the vase:

Yeah, that's a safe distance. Nothing to worry about.

I'm still lecturing away here, in sharp tones, while shooting:

"Will you be quiet? I'm trying to eat."

I had his full attention for a second, but was unable to awaken his conscience:

Here he's trying to eat petals that won't be as noticeable. I suppose that's progress? A compromise?

I came closer to see if I could intimidate him physically. It might have worked if I were wearing a long black dress, a goofy headdress with a veil, and a huge ebony rosary that could be swung like a weapon. 

But I wear shorts these days, so:

He finally tired of my screeching and retreated, looking peeved and evil in that endearing way of his:

Then company arrived:

Would a sweet, nervous, innocent cat like Lion eat my flowers?

I believe the answer is Yes. But not when I'm watching. Lion has class, or maybe he just went to Catholic school.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

A Boston Adventure

I took these photos before and after we got caught in a quick-moving storm on the Charles River. It was a very hot day and we'd walked to Beacon Hill for dinner, with me complaining all the way (as if I were hiking). It was too hot for a loose cotton dress. Too hot for sandals. Too hot for hair, even up in a ponytail. Too hot for earrings

Dinner was nice but I had only begun to cool off in the air conditioning by the time it was over and we had to walk home. We thought it might be more pleasant to walk along the Charles. When we got there, it looked like a storm was coming but we didn't care:

It wasn't any cooler by the river but it was breezy. We could see the rain arriving along the water, pounding the surface and stirring it up, in a line that moved swiftly toward us.

And then we got wet. There are a few park benches covered by peaked wooden roofs, so we joined a group under one, but the rain was blowing sideways and everyone was getting soaked. So we ran to the nearby boathouse, where we found the back door open. 

As we stood there and caught our breaths, an older man in a bow tie came over smiling and gestured for us to follow him upstairs. So we went. We found ourselves at an über-preppy party with boaty-looking, blonde people of all ages standing around, eating and drinking, and talking about their boats, their boaty children, and the rain. 

I was in a white dress, carrying a, cute little handbag,* and this must have been what misled the guy in the bow tie. 

We mingled among the Lily Pulitzers and Madras blazers for a while as the rain poured down. We left after a lady mistook my husband for a waiter and tried to make him bring all the tablecloths inside from the rain. His polo shirt and chinos were too casual for this crowd and, worse, we weren't drinking — a sure sign that we didn't belong.

The rain hadn't stopped but the sun came out anyway, to set:

The light was bright and weirdly green and gold:

We watched the clouds move across the city:

And we laughed about that party all the way home. 

* Geez, it was hugely on sale when I bought it (and I used my husband's educator discount for another 15% off). I paid less than half price. 

Sunday, August 5, 2018

This and That

A few photos of cats, places, and things I've been wanting to show you for a while.

Harris. He is always photogenic, which is a good thing because I can't resist taking his picture. Here he's reading a pile of books on our table by resting his paw on them. I wish I could do this; it took me weeks to finish James Comey's A Higher Loyalty, and now I've moved on to lighter summer reading.  Library books have priority because of their due dates: including The Comfort Food Diaries and Commonwealth Avenue to work on next. (I'm still reading April New Yorkers, god help me.)

Toffee often lounges in uncomfortable-looking positions that he must nevertheless enjoy. He's become an increasingly affectionate cat, a learning process for him. He always welcomed and rewarded any attention directed his way, flinging himself around with joy during petting sessions, purring when spoken to. Now we get visits from him where he asks for attention, like the other boys. He likes to curl up next to me, or on top of me at dawn. The other day, he parked himself next to me on the chair in my husband's office when I was doing some email. I stopped petting him to type for awhile; he waited a little while and then bit me, sinking his fangs into my forearm. 

From how it felt, I'd say it was done with purpose but not malice. I reacted: "HEY! You BIT me! What are you DOING" He looked at me as if to say, "Was that wrong? Really? Am I not supposed to do that? But now that I have your attention, why don't you PET ME?" 

A few weeks ago, before Boston (and most of the country, also Europe . . . .)  started feeling like the inside of a colossal, infernal, steamy, overheated, clothes dryer, I went for walks, especially in the evening. Everyone loves the Four Seasons crane, which is lighted and changes colors — the developer thought it was a nice idea and he was right. But soon its job will be finished, since the building has reached maximum height. I wish they'd find a way to keep the crane, or at least add a line of color up the side of the building because that crane is by far the most interesting aspect of the building and perhaps the whole Boston skyline. 

On our way back from Brimfield a few weeks ago, we stopped at BirchTree Bread, in Worcester, and bought their last two loaves of Seeded Levain — the Best Bread We've Ever Had. It is everything we dream that bread should be, and there's nothing like it anywhere around here. I collected all the brown, toasty seeds that fall off inside the storage bag and eat them like candy. I'm still hoarding the second loaf in our tiny freezer, and these loaves are big, so it's a problem. But this bread is far more valualbe than anything else I'm keeping in there. If I could have gotten two more loaves, they'd be in there, too.

For a while a young guy with a beard sold BirchTree bread at our farmers' market but it wasn't successful, perhaps because they began wrapping every loaf in a brown paper bag so shoppers had no idea of what the bread looked like, let alone its amazing taste. (I just discovered that they still sell at the Davis Square market in Somerville on Wednesdays, so I need to haul myself over there.)

The bakery is part of a restaurant (great menu, brunch, pizza oven live music) within a rehabbed mill building, the kind of hip hangout that you'd expect to find in South Boston, not Worcester (she said jealously). There's an antique shop in the basement and more galleries and little shops are nearby.

We also bought a "Salted Caramel Toffee Cheesecake Brownie," because there was just one left, and carpe diem (or brownie). I don't have a photo; it disappeared quickly. Like the bread, it was everything it promised to be, and more. Worcester is too far away.

We saw this mouse knitting one day in the Public Garden. Next to her was a tiny stand where she sold crafts with the words, "Take what you like, give what you want." Mice are nice.

Speaking of mice, a couple of weeks ago, we were walking past the Boston Public Library after closing time and saw two cute, tiny ones running around behind the plate-glass windows of the café, by the radio station. We enjoyed the show. If the temperature ever drops before 90, I want to go back some night and look for them.

I water some trees on the Commonwealth Avenue Mall once or twice a week. While I'm filling the gaiter bag and soaking the ground for one of the trees, I have time to contemplate its plaque. So I ask myself: "Who was Teagra?" Teagra went away before teaching me something I should know.

It's too hot for sunset strolls along the Charles but here's a photo from a few weeks ago, when I could be outdoors and not feel like I might melt or spontaneously combust at any moment. (We walked home along the Charles after dinner in Beacon Hill the other night, but that's a story for another post.)

Finally, here's Lion, asking for a snack. You don't see much of Lion here because he doesn't give me many photo opportunities. I usually see the most of him early in the morning or late at night, when my phone/camera is charging. Then he's right in my face, meowing, purring, and demanding attention at close range. Most of the day, he works hard at being a recluse, lying under an armchair with his back feet sticking out. If we make any fuss about those feet or, god forbid, touch them, he pops out all huffy and reproachful, staring at us with wild, feral eyes. Then he skulks away, belly low to the ground and tail dragging, to hide under the bed and Teach Us a Lesson.