Archive for May, 2010

A museum and its art, transformed

May 28, 2010

The new expansion (photo The North Carolina Museum of Art)

I admit my bias – when the North Carolina Museum of Art was about to unveil its 127,000-square-foot, $50 million expansion, I thought, ho-hum, how interesting could anything in Raleigh be? Plenty, it turns out.

I left the press preview last month blown away by the architecture, landscaping, interior, and, oh yeah, let’s not forget the art. (I swear I was not influenced by the yummy free lunch of grilled salmon and crunchy asparagus.) The new works were impressive and the old ones looked new under a new light. Kudos to architect Thomas Phifer and the thousands of other pros who accomplished this achievement.

“In a new light” was in fact the headline accompanying a review of the museum in our local paper, “The News & Observer.”  Light is the dominant element here, from the cool metallic walls of the shiny exterior to the sunlight-filled galleries, thanks to the 360 skylights. Natural light pouring into museum galleries!? Unheard of, right? But the museum staff utilized the latest in state-of-the-art light filters to control the natural light instead of blocking it out all together. Seeing old masters in full daylight is somewhat shocking, in a good way, and the more contemporary work looks right at home.

Rodin sculptures around a reflecting pool

Outside the building are areas of beautifully balanced landscaping, reflecting pools, sculptures, including  a new cache of Rodins (some are indoors too). I’ve had about enough of Rodin, but I appreciate the importance of the museum acquiring 29 castings.

Overall, there is just a lot to love here. I could tick off a list of works on the walls, but really you need to come see for yourself. While you’re at it, enjoy the walking and biking trails in the 164-acre park the museum sits on.

Open-air dining area with Patrick Dougherty tree branch sculpture

Do make sure you leave time to eat. The food is great (even when you have to pay), and the wall of the long open-air dining area is covered with a delectable Patrick Dougherty sculpture. Called “Out of the Box,” it’s made of red maple sapling branches and boughs from the area.

We are so lucky to have this sculptor based in Chapel Hill, one town over.

Roxy Paine’s stainless steel tree outside the new museum expansion

Not to focus on trees, but if I had to pick a “favorite new piece,” it would be “Askew,” Roxy Paine’s stainless steel sculpture outside the museum. The 43-foot-tall work is one of his “Dendroid” tree-like sculptures, with branches formed from various sizes of pipes and rods. This series of photos taken during the installation is fascinating, though I’d rather imagine that the tree simply sprouted one day, like Jack and the Beanstalk, filling the blue sky with its shiny limbs and beckoning visitors to explore the treasures inside and out.

Jumping for joy in Tanzania

May 21, 2010

This was first published Nov. 1, 2009, in my Boston Globe column “Where they Went.”

Veronica McCormack dances with a group of Masai women

WHO: Veronica McCormack, 57, of Watertown, Mass.

WHERE: Tanzania

WHEN: Three weeks in June

WHY: “A colleague had told me about Amani Children’s Home for street kids and he got me involved in fund-raising, so I wanted to see it firsthand; also a friend invited me to visit,” she said.

FAMILIAR FACE: McCormack’s friend in Tanzania was Mustafa Mohamed, who teaches at Roxbury Community College, where McCormack heads the language department. “He was there for the summer and invited me over,” said McCormack.

SAD SIGHT: With Mohamed, she visited Bagamoyo, a former port in the slave trade in the late 1800s. “We found a local guide who took us through the village and to the fort where the slaves had been kept before being shipped out. It was very chilling.”

Giraffe on the road as seen from a bus

WITH WILDLIFE: Together they toured the Ngorongoro Crater. “It’s a huge, huge crater with nothing in it except all this wildlife and a few Masai villages. It was a really beautiful, majestic feeling to be with the wildlife,” she said. “We saw four of the big five: rhino, elephant, buffalo, and lions mating. I couldn’t believe I was seeing it with my own eyes.”

Dancing Masai women. Well, really jumping; that’s what they do.

JUMP BACK: “With a guide from the local cultural center we visited a Masai village,” she said. “We got to go inside the mud huts, and then, much to my surprise, I found myself dancing with a Masai woman. Well, really jumping; that’s what they do. She approached me and put this necklace around my neck. She had this smile as bright as the sun, held my hand, and she just started jumping, and I started jumping. They jump really high.”

Sight from the ferry to Zanzibar

ISLAND RETREAT: On her own, McCormack took the ferry to historic Stone Town in Zanzibar, the former center of the spice trade. “I visited a spice farm and walked around the city, which is like a labyrinth, narrow streets of cobblestones and surrounded by water. It has all this Muslim history. The women are veiled. It’s totally different from the rest of Tanzania.” She also stayed in Kendwa, “a beautiful beach with very few tourists. The fresh fish was fabulous.”

One of the children at Amani Children's Home blowing bubbles

SUCCESS STORY: “A major highlight was the last four days, when I volunteered at the Amani Home. I wanted to see the kind of work they were doing if I’m going to make a commitment to supporting it,” she said. “I was there as part of the ambassador program, which you apply for. I spent some time teaching English but mostly spent time with kids. I’d brought bubbles and had kids climbing over me to have their turns at blowing bubbles. I felt encouraged because what they are doing there works, and it’s run by Tanzanians.”

We survived Amsterdam’s orange crush

May 11, 2010

Early-morning Queen`s Day prep at Leidseplein square in Amsterdam

From the air, Queen’s Day in Amsterdam must look like one giant, pulsating orange blob. It certainly felt that way from the ground.  

Since the late Queen Juliana took office in 1948, the Netherlands has celebrated Koninginnedag on April 30. Now her daughter, Beatrix, sits in the throne in the House of Orange, but the day remains the same because B’s birthday is Jan. 31, and who wants to play outside then?

Different towns celebrate with different levels of intensity, and not surprisingly, Amsterdam’s fest is the most intense. But all Queen’s Day events feature “vrijmarkten,” or free markets, where folks set up little yard sales/street sales/flea markets all over town, featuring the usual yard sale treasures and trash.

Diane out-oranged many locals (thanks to Wessel for hat loan)

In Amsterdam, where we were, the crowds started to pour into town around noontime, with many folks dressed in orange clothing, wigs, boas, hats, nail polish and even fake eyelashes. Wessel wore a lovely blow-up orange crown the entire day. I was decked out in orange sweat pants and an orange top. I felt foolish early in the day, and proud later, after fielding many compliments (at least that’s how I chose to interpret the attention).

By far the majority of partiers were in their teens and twenties, but there was a smattering of old folks like us. Beer and vodka were the drinks of choice, and the youngsters started early. We stopped at the Museumplein for a look at the pop/rock concert, then literally had to dance our way through a street party before we reached Vondelpark, a long, narrow park that on Queen’s Day becomes a haven for families.

Friends entertain the crowd at Vondelpark

Vondelpark was our favorite stop, as it was plenty festive but not rowdy. Little kids and families set up their little yard sales, and also made games and sold homemade trinkets.  (This was also the only place with ample portable potties, FYI.) A lot of kids were drumming for dollars, and one man set up a drumming station, charging $5 for five minutes of drumming.  One man staffed a “compliment station” – 50 cents for a little compliment, 75 cents for a big one, and $1.50 for an “ego boost.”

Pilot of paper airplane challenges the ash cloud in the best game ever

Our favorite silly game was “Challenge the Ash Cloud,” created by three friends in Amsterdam. A painted half-collapsed umbrella signified the Iceland volcano. It “erupted” whenever one of them worked a bike pump that blew air from the bottom, pushing out a mountain of flour. The contestant had to fly a paper airplane over the volcano’s mouth and land it safely on the runway. Three throws cost about $1, but if you could spell Eyjafjallajökull (which we witnessed someone do), you got to play for free. It was hilarious.

The Prinsengracht canal is jam-packed with boats, most blaring dance music

At around 5, we started to follow some of the more popular canals, which were packed with boats of all shapes and sizes. Several were set up like party barges, complete with DJs with turntables and giant speakers. Then we came upon the craziest sight of all – for about the length of one city block, from one bridge to another, the canal was so jammed that the boats could barely move forward. It was like standing outside of a dozen open-air discos. One boat even had a smoke machine on it. It was  joyous and crazy and loud.

By about 8, we realized we’d never make it to the very center of town without suffocating in a sea of people, most  of them by then filled with alcohol, so we headed away from the merriment, basking in the glow of the orange.