Archive for the ‘Florida’ Category

Tampa’s ambitious work of art

March 2, 2011

The new Tampa Museum of Art opened to much fanfare last year

Tampa, in my experience, is one of those Florida cities that people from away can’t place. I was often asked when I lived in Boston, “Now where is it, on the West Coast or East Coast?”  (West!) I lived in the “Tampa-St. Pete” area for many years, and now watch the two cities’ growth from afar and occasional visits. St. Petersburg has developed a stronger personality, but Tampa is catching up. One example: it’s stunning new Tampa Museum of Art , open just over a year now.

View of the Hillsborough River from the museum's second floor

We toured the gleaming new space during a visit late last year and were mightily impressed. The building, designed by Stanley Saitowitz, sits along a bank of the Hillsborough River, next to the spiffy and even newer Glazer Children’s Museum and Curtis Hixon Riverfront Park, a tremendous addition to downtown green space and entirely new to me. From the lobby and hallways of the modern-industrial 66,000-square-foot museum one can see the water, and, on the other bank, the landmark minarets of the Moorish-styled University of Tampa.

The ultra contemporary space — all shiny on the outside — lends itself well to its modern works, including a Calder mobile in the lobby, a room with cool LED displays, a sculpture-filled terrace, and a Do Ho Suh bathroom installation made of fabric that I so wanted to touch.

But the two or so rooms of ancient stuff was just jarring. OK, yes, the museum has this important collection of Greek and Egyptian art, but it just doesn’t work here. It broke my flow and harshed my buzz. What’s a modern-looking museum to do with its old stuff? 

A rock garden decorates the lobby

If you aren’t into art (what’s with that?),  at least check out the lobby (free) and Sono Cafe, which has an upscale sandwich menu and gelato — best enjoyed on the patio overlooking the river.

Another free thrill is the museum-commissioned nighttime display by digital-light artist Leo Villareal, which turns a wall of the museum into “a kaleidoscope of patterns and colors,” according to one article. Alas, we visited during the day. Next time!

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When the Challenger exploded, there we were

January 27, 2011

Challenger’s trail of vapor from Diane`s second-floor balcony on Merritt Island

Hmmm, that is weird and kind of pretty I thought, as I watched the Challenger’s trail of vapor from my second-floor balcony on Merritt Island, Fla., 10 miles from Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Center. It was Jan, 28, 1986, a crisp, clear Tuesday, a little after 11:30 a.m.. The cloud formation was so interesting that I took a photo, shown here. I didn’t assume anything had gone wrong. Unthinkable.

Then my brain caught up. How can this be? Odd became ominous. I switched on the TV. And that’s when I heard the news. The Challenger had exploded. I called my friend and colleague Connie Ogle. “Connie, turn on your television. Now!” We were both due at work in a few hours to edit and lay out the news section of Florida Today, the local paper.

The crew of the Challenger's final flight (photo Wikipedia)

I’d lived on “the Space Coast” of Florida for two years and never missed a shuttle launch. I’d scan the sky while my windows rattled. Always I was overcome by the enormity of the rocket, the science, the human achievements. Most of my paper’s readers were connected — through work, family, or allegiance — to the space program. In 1985, my pal Scott Kline and I got press credentials to view a launch from the VIP stand. Standing in the bleachers with the shuttle just across a small pond I will forever recall that rush of watching the space shuttle fire up and shoot into the sky while the ground shook below us. Awesome.

Connie and I went to the newsroom early that day, along with the entire editorial staff. We scrambled to put out a special edition. Of course this was the shuttle launch that the entire country —  no, the world —  was invested in, the first one carrying a civilian, New Hampshire teacher Christa McAuliffe. All eyes were on the flight, and, by default, on our community. The press already was everywhere, and more reporters flooded in after the explosion. And there we were, shellshocked, working on the hometown paper, trying to soothe our readers who had grown up with NASA in their back yards.

Challenger's rollout to the Vehicle Assembly Building on Cape Canaveral in 1983 (photo Wikipedia)

The craziest part was the journalistic rush coupled with personal depression. I guess everyone whose job thrives on emergencies feels this way. We were news people at the center of the world’s news. But the news was horrific and dragged us down.

That day and every day for months we wrote and edited pages and pages of shuttle coverage. And of course it was all the residents discussed. I remember feeling relieved that I’d recently moved away from Cape Canaveral, the closet beach community to the space center.  For weeks after the explosion, volunteers and NASA workers combed that beach for shuttle parts. For body parts. I was glad to not witness that. I’d moved off the beach to temporary digs in Merritt Island because I was headed to Europe in the spring. In April 1986, I left behind Cocoa, Cape Canaveral, the Space Coast and Florida Today, where still pages and pages were devoted to that day — the weather, the O rings, the sorrow.

January 28, 1986. Twenty-five years ago. A defining moment for all of us there, from the Space Coast to the other side of the planet. 

New Dali Museum is the surreal thing

December 30, 2010

Florida`s new Dali Museum opens 1/11/11

Salvador Dali would enjoy the hoopla. To great fanfare, the new Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Fla., opens to the public 1/11/11 at 11:11 a.m. It is a beauty, both real and surreal.

January is chock full of public events to herald the arrival of this masterpiece of museums. Whenever you visit, now or later, take a docent tour. Not only are they entertaining, but, trust, me, you’ll want the explanations.

We were treated to a sneak preview of the $36 million building late December. With two weeks to go before the opening, things were still very much a work in progress, and the artwork hadn’t been moved from the current site eight blocks south. Though I loved the old museum, which opened in 1982, it was time for a step up for Dali’s art and for downtown St. Petersburg, these days a lively tourist destination.

End of the Helical Staircase and geodesic glass bubble on top of building

Many folks don’t realize that the Dali Museum here has more of the surrealist’s paintings than any place outside of his museum in Spain. The core collection was donated by the late A. Reynolds and Eleanor Morse. The new 66,400-square-foot building more than doubles the old, and the exhibition space jumps from 7,000 to 15,000 square feet, meaning more paintings, sculptures, and melting clocks can be displayed.

The building itself, designed by architect Yann Weymouth, is the perfect vessel for Dali’s work. Visitors are first hit with a view of the “Glass Enigma,” geodesic glass bubbles that front the building. From the inside, the structure, made with 900 triangular glass panels held in a steel grid — none identical — looks over the city’s waterfront.

We hope the "melting clock" bench at the old museum will make the move

Just at the entrance is the cleverly titled “Avant Garden,” featuring a grotto and bridge, hedge labyrinth, and a patio with stone pavers forming the golden rectangle. Dali loved mathematics.

Inside, you’ll walk by (or browse in) an enhanced gift shop that will hold even more items than before, some custom-designed with Dali in mind, as they have been in the past. To the right is the first Dali café, with lacy metallic chairs. In the center is another mathematical masterpiece – “the Helical Staircase” – a spiral staircase resembling a strand of DNA that ascends to third-floor galleries and ends midair with a flourish of steel.

It's always raining inside "Rainy Rolls"

Also sure to make a splash is “Rainy Rolls 2010,” a custom-made version of Dali’s “Rainy Taxi.” His original installation of a taxi that rains on the inside was the hit of the 1938 International Surrealist Exhibition in Paris. It’s been re-created several times over, and this one was designed by Alain Cerf, founder of the Tampa Bay Automobile Museum. The car is a fully functional 1933 Rolls Royce Sedanca whose mannequin driver, dressed in vintage dive gear, carries a passenger, in this case a mermaid, who is being rained on. (The water is actually coming down between plexiglass panels.) It’s an engineering and artistic marvel, and makes you realize there really is no shelter from the storm. That, my friends, is surreality.

Sunken Gardens returns to its former glory

November 15, 2010

Sunken Gardens started in 1903 with plumber George Turner's private garden

When I lived in the Tampa Bay area of Florida in the late 1970s and 1980s, the best place to buy tacky tourist gifts, bar none, was the gift shop at Sunken Gardens in St. Petersburg. There you could find shell-shaped everything, snow globes galore, and all varieties of alligator-themed contraptions.

Alas, the gift shop is now a serious affair, with real objets d’art, a sad turn of events for this kitsch collector. But the reason for the change is a happy one. The city purchased the faded, dated botanical-garden attraction in the heart of the city in 1999 and renovated and reopened it a few years later. Gone are the exotic animals and bird shows (yay) and remaining is the tropical haven the garden started out as. (OK, there are a few caged birds and flamingos, but all handled with care.)

Orange Angel’s trumpets

Sunken Gardens has a quintessential Florida beginning – it was a sinkhole. In 1903 plumber George Turner Sr. drained an adjacent lake and used his well irrigated land/sinkhole to create a garden. It became so popular he began to charge admission, and it grew from there. After several decades of glory and fame, it became, by the 1970s, a poorly maintained, tired tourist trap. So how wonderful to see a spiffed-up Sunken Gardens enjoy a second, respectable life.

Flaming red bromeliad

We visited the four-acre spread on a warm day in October and brought Wessel’s parents, visiting from the Netherlands, along with my friend Martha, who lives in St. Petersburg. Karel and Francis are plant experts and were duly impressed by the lush assortment of trees and plants, many blooming. Highlights: orange Angel’s trumpets hanging over the walkways, a field of birds of paradise, more palms tree species than I knew existed, a bromeliad garden, a hillside of Bougainvillia, and an orchid arbor.

As we started our tour we passed a city-run outdoor yoga class, and I so wanted to stay and stretch surrounded by all that beauty.

What SUP with this water sport?

September 17, 2010

Man with dog SUPs on the intracoastal waterway near Indian Rocks Beach

OK, so I didn’t know this until recently, but maybe you do. SUP, or stand-up paddle surfing (sometimes called stand-up paddle boarding), is all the rage, from West Coast to East, and beyond.

During two recent visits to Indian Rocks Beach, on the West Coast of Florida, we saw SUP’ers. And I just learned that a friend there is dying to get a board. I hope she does, so maybe she’ll let me try it out. She says that with the right board, I’ll be able to stand up on it and paddle. During my two attempts to stand on a surfboard back when I was younger (though not necessarily stronger), I failed miserably, so I’m not convinced.

According to the font of all knowledge, Wikipedia, SUP comes from Hawaii, where it’s called hoe he’e nalu, an ancient form of surfing. Stand-up paddling gives paddlers a major “core” workout (move over, Pilates) while also working every muscle in your body. Yikes! It’s a tame sport, unless you do it in the waves.

Stand-up paddler in the Gulf of Mexico after a colorful sunset

SUP’ing is becoming popular at water resorts and surfing areas around the world, thanks in huge part to celebrities trying out the sport. (If only I’d been reading “Us” I would have known this earlier.) Like who? Well, Jennifer Aniston for one, and isn’t that all the American public needs to know?

In July, we saw a  stand-up paddler out in the Gulf. And last week, while we were kayaking in the intracoastal waterway between Indian Rocks and Belleair, we came upon a man SUP’ing with his dog! Too cute. We were happy to see the canine wearing a PFD. We assume he knows how to doggie paddle as well.

Great white shark sighting on Florida beach

April 14, 2010

Film poster JAWS, 1975, Universal Studios

Wessel pleaded with me to take a brief detour on the way home from dinner the other night. We were visiting our cute little condo in Indian Rocks Beach, Fla., and had just eaten at Keegan’s Seafood Grille. Wessel decided we should walk the two blocks home via the beach. “OK, if you insist,” I whined.

Little did I know what a treat we had in store. As we headed over the walkway from the county’s beach park, we stopped and gasped at the giant movie screen ON the beach! A movie was playing, popcorn was popping, and about 60 people in folding canvas chairs organized themselves in rows in front of the screens. I’ve been to movies on lawns and movies on rooftops, but never movies at the beach! Very exciting!

Saturday night movie -- at the beach!

But what really cracked me up is they were showing “Jaws 2.” Edgy! Seems to me the last film you’d want to see at the beach would be about a killer great white shark. Turns out the film was sponsored by the Indian Rocks Homeowners Association, which stages great events year-round. Hmmm, maybe they don’t want folks to move to the beach. Then again, they did offer free popcorn. Thanks, IRBers!

I never saw Jaws 2 (1978), which was not quite so well received as the original classic, which debuted in 1975. For me, the first version was quite enough. I saw it when I was living in Florida, and it scared the bejeezus out of me to the point that swimming in the ocean has never felt the same. Usually I’m rational about these things, and base my fears on probability. But in this case, Hollywood trumped.

Indian Rocks Beach the morning after .... it's eerily quiet. Duh nuh. Duh nuh...

Then I had to fill in my Dutch husband on all the pop culture surrounding “Jaws.” Such as “Saturday Night Live“’s “Candygram … Land Shark” skits, and how if you say “Duh-nuh. Duh-nuh… (Duh nun nuh nuh nuh. Duh nuh nuh nuh nuh),” it means danger is lurking nearby.

As detours go, that was quite a memorable one. Duh nuh. Duh nuh ….

Tides Hotel Waterfront? We think not

January 10, 2010

Ground view from hotel to the water

What do you think? Is the Tides Hotel Waterfront justified in calling itself waterfront even though the hotel has a busy six-lane road (US Highway 1) between it and the Indian River?

I and several of my professional travel-writing colleagues say it’s not, because “waterfront” means that a place is on the water — not near the water, across the street from it, or within view of it. That would be “water view.” When Wessel and I pulled up to the “waterfront” hotel, in Melbourne, Fla., where we had reservations for two nights, we felt we’d been tricked.

View from the waterside looking at the hotel. Be careful crossing the road!

Not surprisingly, the misleading moniker was only one of our problems with the Tides.

Overall, their claim of being a boutique hotel is ludicrous. Fauxtique is more like it. Playing club music in the lobby and decorating with fake plastic grass doesn’t fool anyone.

The worst of the offenses? The shower was lukewarm. (When we complained, we were told we should first run it for 20 minutes! Can you imagine?) The wireless service worked in the lobby but not in our fifth-floor room. (We were told it must be a problem with our computers.) The meager cold breakfast was on par with a low-end Days Inn. Every employee had a different excuse for everything. I had to argue for a partial refund.

To be a boutique hotel, one needs more than fake-grass decorations

Adding fuel to my fire, the owners, Landcom Hospitality Management in Jacksonville, won’t return my calls. In my years of consumer advocacy, whether private or public, I’ve never had a company not return my call. And this is a hotel management outfit. Wow.

Why were we there in the first place? I’m writing a travel piece on Melbourne and the “Space Coast” for the Washington Post. Part of the theme is how downtown Melbourne has come of age. After Googling around, I stumbled upon the website for Tides Hotel Waterfront and read it was Melbourne‘s “only boutique hotel,” and “luxurious” at that. I thought it would be a great example for the story. The opposite  turned out to be true.

We've seen much better at a Days Inn

In all my years of travel, I’ve never seen such a blatant case of hotel deception in the US. This will teach me to study Google Satellite and read Trip Advisor first. I would have read these earlier comments:

“It’s waterfront if you don’t mind looking across and listening to US Route 1, a six-lane road. What a bogus claim.”

View from the fifth floor. Water view? Yes. Waterfront? What do you think?

“The advertising overstated the deliverables — waterfront really meant a four-lane highway between the hotel and the water; boutique really meant remodeled with new paint, fixtures, and furniture, but the hotel still feels like a 1970s concrete block motor inn. As an example, breakfast was prepackaged muffins and pastries along with styrofoam cups for your coffee and juice. This is not what I had in mind when I saw the word ‘boutique.’ ”

I would invite Landcom to remove “Waterfront” from the hotel’s name, along with the “boutique” claims — or start living up to them. Shame on Landcom if they keep up the charade.

Florida mangroves create tunnel vision

January 4, 2010

Diane on the well-marked paddling trail

When Wessel suggested we take our kayaks and paddle among the mangrove islands at Weedon Island Preserve in Florida, my first thought was: we’ll get hopelessly lost for days and have to drink saltwater and eat alligator meat (after hunting them with our pocket knives).

I’d read that the state preserve (north of St. Petersburg on Tampa Bay) has two marked paddle trails. But I also know how easy it is to get turned around on the water, especially when all you see are water, sky, and outcroppings of mangrove trees.

A great blue heron waits for us to pass

As usual, Wessel convinced me to put my life in his hands, and off we went, our two Florida-based kayaks crammed into the Honda Civic (one on top, one out the rear), while I had to smoosh myself into a corner of the back seat. You can also rent kayaks right at the preserve through Sweetwater Kayaks.

Ibis colony along Papy’s Bayou

We chose the four-mile loop trail (the South Paddling Trail) over the two-mile up-and-back one. And, surprise, surprise, the trail wasn’t just marked, it was WELL marked. Even I, who can get turned around in my own neighborhood, was able to follow the sign posts, close to 40 of them. What a thrill! Thank you, Weedon Island!

After putting in next to the fishing pier, we crossed a little bit of the bay, then headed into the islands, paddling through several saltwater ponds and over seagrass beds and mudflats. As soon as we saw one marker, we’d look for the next. Sometimes they were a bit tucked away, but we never missed one.

Diane finds her way through the mangrove tunnel with half a kayak paddle

We saw a few jumping fish, great blue herons, egrets, and ibises. The real excitement was the mangrove tunnels, created by the trees and their exposed roots growing so close together that they form a canopy over tidal creeks. At times the passageway was so narrow we had to pull our detachable paddles apart and use only half. This is not the place to be when the bugs were out. In late December, no problem.

Wessel makes his way through mangroves

About a third of the way we pulled ashore at a little park for a picnic, the only stopping place along the trail. That little diversion would have been thoroughly pleasant had I not dumped a digital camera into the water while docking my boat. (Argh……..) The photos were saved, but not the camera.

The last leg of the 2.5-hour trip was along Papy’s Bayou, an area of deeper and open water, where we were greeted by cavorting dolphins. Thrilling! We can’t wait to return — next time with the waterproof camera.

Merry Christmas, in Florida fashion

December 25, 2009

Good tidings  to you, wherever you are. Good tidings for Christmas, and a Happy New Year! We’re in Indian Rocks Beach, Fla. Here are a few holiday scenes:

Manaclaus (Manatee Santa) delivers presents for the marine dwellers

Flamingo fills in for Santa while Mr. Claus rests up at the beach

Natural tinsel (Spanish moss) covers the trees in Florida

Vrolijk Kerstfeest en een Gelukkig Nieuwjaar! (Thanks to Christine for the holiday props from her fabulous and festive tiki bar)

Artist’s-eye view of Art Basel Miami Beach

June 4, 2009
Arden Gallery in Boston represents Joanne Mattera

Joanne Mattera wakes up Newbury Street with this piece at Arden Gallery in Boston

I met artist Joanne Mattera when I went to her 2003 show at Arden Gallery in Boston (one of my first outings with Wessel). I’m drawn to colorists, and she’s one of my favorite. I love, love, love her paintings. Joanne works in (and introduced me to) encaustic, a method of painting with translucent layers of wax. She literally wrote the book on it — “The Art of Encaustic Painting.” Coincidentally, this weekend Joanne is holding the third annual Encaustic Painting Conference at Montserrat College at Art in Beverly, Mass. I took an encaustic workshop last year in Chapel Hill, NC, with Lynn Bregman Blass, whose work I also greatly admire. Let’s just say that I’m sticking to writing (which Joanne also does a great job of in her blog).    

When Joanne sent me this idea for my “Where they Went” column in the Boston Globe, I thought it was great. So, enough intro, here we go:

(“Where they Went,” published April 26, 2009,  Boston Globe)

Joanne Mattera at Art Basel Miami Beach, reflected in screen by Mark Fox

Joanne Mattera gets artsy with a Mark Fox screen at Art Basel Miami Beach

WHO: Joanne Mattera of Salem, Mass., and New York City

WHERE: Miami.

WHEN: A week in December.

WHY: To attend Art Basel Miami Beach and related shows. “My life and my art life are intertwined,” said Mattera, a painter mostly in encaustic who is represented by Arden Gallery in Boston. “Look what I do for fun: I go look at art.”

Joanne reflected in Anish Kapoor sculpture

Joanne reflects on Anish Kapoor sculpture

HOT SHOW: The prestigious Art Basel in South Florida, an international modern and contemporary art exhibit and sister show to Art Basel in Switzerland, has grown exponentially since its start in 2002, said Mattera, who has attended for the past four years. “It came out of nowhere and made this huge splash in the art world here. But then who wouldn’t want go to Florida in December?” Over the years, the show, held at the Miami Beach Convention Center, has inspired more than two dozen “satellite shows” both in surrounding venues and in Wynwood, Miami’s growing art district.

EXHIBITING THRIFT: “This is the first year I’ve been that I haven’t had work there, but I love the opportunity to go. My galleries weren’t participating, and fewer were overall because of the economy. Some dealers were saying they were going to sit it out this year.” Mattera has another reason for attending – she writes about the scene and the shows for Joanne Mattera Art Blog.

Joanne reflected in Garden Mirror by Olafur Eliasson

Joanne puts herself in "Garden Mirror" installation by Olafur Eliasson

ALL INCLUSIVE: “Except for a few art fairs, there is no other time and no other place that you can see art from dozens of countries and you get to chat with dealers, collectors, other artists, critics, and curators. Even though people are working, their guards are down, they’re relaxed.” The public attends, too, with tickets $35 a day or less. Many of the smaller shows are free or nominally priced.

MAJOR TO MINOR: A change this year, Mattera said, was fewer boundary-pushing pieces. “I think the economy made dealers bring some of their safer work.” Art Basel also is a market for dealers to sell big-name work for millions. “You might have a Picasso or a Miró or a Warhol. But at the smaller venues, you find work from galleries like in Boston and other regions at prices of $10,000 and under, much under.”

SEE, SEE, SEE: Mattera doesn’t seek or find inspiration at Art Basel. “I have a path for my work and an approach and it doesn’t really matter what I see or where I am. It’s an interior dialogue. So for me it’s not about getting ideas, but it is about connecting with the larger art world to see what’s going on. You want to know what’s out there, and see it all.”