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Archive for the ‘artsy stuff’ Category

apparently Mapplethorpe was a great photographer!

One of the delights of Paris is that culture is just normal and there is always something interesting to do that will provide new knowledge and insights.  So, fortified with a couple of Pierre Hermé macarons, it’s good to check out what events are on the culture calendar during your visit.

view from musee d'orsay

view from musee d’orsay

There will be too many to squeeze them all in.  This visit I decided to return to the musée d’orsay and musèe rodin as they are two of my favourites.  Apparently the musée d’orsay has recently completed a major renovation, which makes it even more appealing.  It is my favourite museum in Paris.


While I was in Paris, there was a special Van Gogh exhibit.  He is one of my favourite painters so it was exciting to see extra works on display.  The exhibit twinned him with Artaud, another tortured artist.  The theme was whether society drove Van Gogh to suicide.

The exhibit included the same 40 paintings exhibited in 1947 when Artaud posited that Van Gogh’s exceptional lucidity made lesser minds uncomfortable and they prevented him from uttering certain “intolerable truths” and found his painting disturbing.  This public rejection drove him to suicide.

Whether you think Artaud is correct or not, the exhibit featured some great paintings and it provided context on what it was like to be Van Gogh when he was a painter doing stuff that society at the time considered weird – and possibly disturbing – rather than the pop icon on the coffee mugs.

You wonder what these dudes would have thought of the incredible late 20th century monetization of their art…

I love the musée rodin almost as much as the musée d’orsay.  It is only a short walk away and has an even more provocative exhibition on right now.  It’s another pairing – Auguste Rodin and Robert Mapplethorpe (on until September 21st).




I have heard of Mapplethorpe, but only in the context of photos of naked people that shocked a lot of Americans.  Some of the stuff is a little out there but his skill with a camera is unmistakeable.  And the exhibition is fascinating as Rodin sculpted a lot of pretty naked people.  Somehow in marble it doesn’t seem to shock the same way…

There are a number of different themes but they pair the



Mapplethorpe photos with the Rodin sculptures to prove Mapplethorpe’s thesis that he was a sculptor who used a camera.

If you get lucky, you will have as glorious a day as I did.  That is definitely when you want to go to the musée Rodin. It’s worth checking out the museum if you have never been but the really glorious part is the gardens.

the glorious gardens

the glorious gardens

“The Kiss” is indoors but “The Thinker”, “The Three Shades”, “The Burghers of Calais” and the incredible “Gates of Hell” are all out in the garden.

Neither of them sound like men whose behaviour you would advise your children to emulate but they were great artists.  You don’t have to date them – you can just admire their art 😉

p.s. it’s over now but I was wowed last

great photography on the quai!

great photography on the quai!

September by a world photography exhibit on the Quai de Branly – I think it’s an annual event.  Really worth checking out.




how do you spend your days…

world press photoI wrote about the World Press photo contest in an earlier post.  The first time I checked it out I was on my way to Egypt in the middle of the first democratic election in its history so it was especially poignant to see all the photos from the Arab Spring.


world press photo contestThis time the poignant photos were from the Philippines.  I was in Australia when the storm hit so saw lots of coverage along with lots of talk of global warming.  Sadly a lot of the winning photos depict conflict and devastation.  That is, of course, the stuff of photojournalists.

The contest though is about photography so there are some happy photos too.  And all sorts of interesting subjects, from a cougar stalking the Hollywood sign to a lady who has rescued so many stray dogs it seems there is no room left for her.

It’s a fascinating mix of subjects and points of view to consider.  It definitely makes one examine one’s own life and – in my case, appreciate how easy my life is and how privileged I am.  The winning photo this year is beautiful and haunting, like a master painting.  It depicts migrants standing on a beach on the coast of Africa, holding up mobile phones trying to get a signal so they can communicate with the people they’ve left behind and give an update on their progress in finding a better life.world press photo winner

As I noted last time, it starts in Amsterdam but moves around so check it out if it comes to a city near you.

It was also a way to escape from the rain in Amsterdam.  It is a city that is noted for its “four seasons in one day” weather but this time there seemed to be only one – I think it was winter.  It was windy, cold, with lots of persistent rain in any event.  It was pretty miserable but it’s still hard not to love Amsterdam.  And one has to admire the Dutch, biking with an umbrella in one hand!

I still haven’t written about last year’s trip to Amsterdam so I am going to mix it up a bit to hit some of the highlights from both visits.

For now we will stick with culture.  The other thing that got me to drag myself across town in the pouring rain was an exhibit at the Hermitage.  The Hermitage in Amsterdam is pretty cool.  I have been there on most visits as the concept is that they will bring a subset of the 3,000,000 (I think) objects from the Hermitage in St Petersburg to Amsterdam as part of a special exhibition.


The current exhibition is called The Silk Road and it provides a glimpse into centuries of world history.  There are artifacts from all kinds of countries, some that sounded familiar and some not.

I learned quite a bit of stuff from the exhibition but what was most interesting is that the Silk Road wasn’t just an ancient highway.  It was a network of intrepid merchants and few travelled the entire length of the trading area.  There was a lot of desert and camels involved and oases were key.

It certainly makes my current trip around Europe look like a piece of cake.  Without all those early entrepreneurs, our current 24/7 world would not have been possible.  They carried silk, spices and other hot commodities but they also carried ideas and influence.

It all definitely makes you think of your daily life, your goals and your impact on the world.

p.s. I also picked up a book on the Silk Road by Colin Thubron since I needed some English language reading material 🙂  Why haven’t I discovered him before?  Highly recommended!



the museum whose name I can’t pronounce…

But I’m working on it!  It’s called the Stedelijk Museum but you can also just refer to it as the Museum of Modern Art when you are here and people will likely know what you are talking about.

a little different than the rijksmusuem...

a little different than the rijksmusuem…


You should definitely go!  Like the Rijksmuseum, it’s been going through a giant renovation and relocation so I’ve only seen a mini exhibition on a different street.

I’ve been going to museums since I could read so it’s been interesting to watch the evolution of the concept.  There were a few museums that really wowed me as a child but generally the 21st century incarnations (or reincarnations) are far superior.

There is a clever use of technology via pre-recorded audio guides in many languages. Not as charming as following the French tour because it’s the one going at that hour – but you do understand more 😉  And don’t have to jostle others to see the objects.

When I first started going to museums I would try to read and see everything, absorbing as much as possible.  Anyone accompanying me would normally be hanging out in the gift shop or sitting on a bench near the exit.  Once you’ve been to most of the famous museums in the world multiple times you need to reassess your strategy.

The museums of a city are a reflection of its culture – how often the weather forces people indoors, the interests of its citizens and the wealth of its economy.  I’m not sure if bankers “get” all the art but they definitely like seeing their names on display 🙂  It’s no accident London and New York City have no many world class museums.

The museums in cities without armies of investment bankers or who have been the epicenter of the art world like Paris are smaller, more provincial affairs.  It’s easy to dismiss them.

But every museum holds a few treasures, whether some local art or artifact native to the region or some painting from a favourite artist you’ve never seen before donated by a local collector.  What people collect and choose to display, include the design and architecture of its showcase, will reveal some secrets about the local culture and enrich your understanding of it.

The Stedilijk is not the Pompidou but it is well worth a visit.  And learning how to pronounce will improve your Dutch 🙂

look at those cakes!

look at those cakes!

p.s. after you have explored museums, head to the Pijp for cake at De Taart van m’n Tante – it’s worth the walk



giving the mona lisa a run for her money ;)

I really need to quit travelling so much as I have so many half-written posts now, spanning three continents… and I am travelling again, knocking off country #48…  have decided the best strategy is to just start in the past and knock them off country by country… so my current travel destination will be revealed in future… some of the post were written in the moment so we’ll stay there, even if the moment was in 2013 🙂

With the preamble out of the way, let’s go to Amsterdam!  First with a post from last autumn…

I booked this trip so my KLM points wouldn’t expire.  But I also wanted to check out the renovations of the Rijksmuseum.  It has been going on for years and finally completed in April 2013.


the grande dame restored

the grande dame restored

They promised me a brand new museum last night and I think they were not mistaken.  It’s been a long time since my first visit to the Rijksmuseum but the 21st century version is definitely impressive.  And crowded!

I followed Dutch history chronologically from 1100 through 1050 but I would recommend you head for the Rembrandt gallery as soon as the museum opens!

It wasn’t quite the Louvre in July, when I made my mom and niece line up half an hour before opening – and then dash to all the really famous sites within the first hour before the Louvre turns into an iphone launch scenario, but I bet Rembrandt wishes he’d been able to brand himself and put the Nightwatch on t-shirts in his day 😉

the rembrandt masterpiece

the rembrandt masterpiece

My first viewing of the Nightwatch was a transformative experience.  I was on my first European tour and learning art history by visiting many of the world’s greatest museums.  By the time I encountered Rembrandt I knew a little about art – and could recognize his extraordinary rendering of light.

I was certainly impressed by my first viewing of Nightwatch but this time I understood much better the extraordinary talent it took to capture not just the light – but all the movements of the various players in the portrait.  As I learned today, guild portraits normally had a bunch of stationary posed figures like a high school graduation photo.  Rembrandt’s lively composition was an evolution in Dutch art.

The evolution of Dutch art – and the Netherlands – is celebrated in grand style in the new/old Rijksmuseum.  I am still evolving in my understanding of Dutch – and European – history.  But there is definitely much that can be learned from the Dutch.  According to the Rijksmuseum, for a few centuries this tiny country was the most prosperous in the entire world – and even then there was a push toward a fairer distribution of wealth.

If the crowds snapping photos in the Rembrandt Gallery today are any indication, I am not the only one fascinated by the Dutch 😉  Like the Dutch, its beauty and power are subtle and you really need to see it in person.  No doubt you will become a fan – not just of Rembrandt, but of the Dutch who bred him 🙂

who knew ear plugs were so sexy ;)

As previously noted, music at SXSW is likely the most overwhelming part of the experience.  I think I am actually going to be able to get the SXSW posts finished before I get on another plane!  Perhaps we will also amble around Angkor Wat a bit… perhaps nothing interesting will happen in Europe and I will have to resort to nostalgia…  let’s hope it doesn’t come to that 😉

welcome to the live music capital of the world :)

welcome to the live music capital of the world 🙂

So… watching live music in Austin.  As noted in an earlier post, it took me a while to get the hang of it.  You really have to push yourself to quit reading the guide and go see SOMETHING!  And I discovered doing the critic’s picks in the Austin Chronicle was no guarantee of success.

All of my favourite moments were the result of serendipity rather than careful planning.  I decided I would check out the British Showcase since a large part of my music collection comes with a British accent.

There were some good bands, nothing as great as the Toronto Showcase I wrote about earlier, but definitely a pleasant way to spend an afternoon.  And the coolest part of SXSW Music is that it brings out lots of fans – of musical genres, musical periods or rabid fans of local indie bands you’ve never heard of.

Some of the British bands were worth checking out – Public Service Broadcasting, Casual Sex, Young Fathers.




You can go and try and track down Coldplay or Lady Gaga.  They know a lot about marketing so of course they are there getting lots of free publicity but I would recommend looking for the hidden gems… and chatting with everyone you can so that you can hear their stories and share tips on what to do next…

And, who knows, you might have a little romance while you are looking for additions to your CD collection.  The one thing you likely want to pack though is earplugs!  I assume all the musicians and road crews are deaf.  There is no reason the amps need to be turned up that high but you aren’t likely to change it.

The British Showcase was especially loud.  I noticed quickly that all the staff – and some patrons – were sporting ear plugs!  I mentioned my longing for ear plugs to my new friend Craig and, all of a sudden, I had a pair – in purple no less!  Believe me, It is very easy to crush on a guy who buys you ear plugs at SXSW!

The atmosphere is very casual though and there is a lot of drinking so I found you rarely see anyone again.  It’s quite possible they wake up the next day not remembering that you’ve met J  And you’re there for the music after all 😉

But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t trade mobile numbers with people and see what happens… you might just have as spectacular an end to your SXSW experience as I did.

I met John the penultimate night of SXSW at the Scottish portion of the British Showcase.  When he texted me the next night I was at the Lit Lounge waiting to see some band the Austin Chronicle had given the thumbs up to but there wasn’t much happening for a couple of acts so I took up his offer to meet at the Palm Door to see someone called Res who was famous in Philadelphia, close to his hometown (Pittsburgh).  She was good but then the music changed to rap so I headed back to the original schedule.


While I was at the Palm Door, John told me he might come and see the final band of the night at the Lit Lounge as they were from Pittsburgh and the lead singer had a “gay crush” on him.  While I was waiting for him to decide, I spied a seat (rare at SXSW) and the two other guys at the table told me they were there for “The Ugly Beats”.  They were big fans and, once it was time for the band to come on, we had to get up close to the stage and dance!


Somewhere in the middle of their show, John showed up.  The other guys headed out once their band was done so it was just John and I for “The Cynics”.  The lead singer gave an inspired performance and we got to talk to the band when the show was over.


John had to drive home to San Antonio so he walked me to the Driskill and kissed me more dramatically than most final shots in romantic comedies.  A passionate kiss in front of the Driskill after watching a show where the guy knows the band… I couldn’t have written a more perfect ending to SXSW 😉

So… be nice, pace the Shiner and you won’t be watching rom-coms on the big screen – you will be living them 🙂


searching for the perfect sazerac…

I’ve accepted I am never going to catch up on all the travels of the past couple of plane-crazed years but I am going to try and hit some highlights and mix it up a bit… so, let’s go back to New Orleans…

Last year New Orleans was my birthday trip.  Quite a few of the adventures made it onto the blog and I will return once I’ve ticked off some of the other “must see” destinations on my list.  Living in Vancouver, I am spoiled by numerous amazing bartenders making classic – and original – cocktails so I have been educated in the history of the Sazerac.


The Sazerac is a very butch cocktail, supposedly the world’s first.  Like any drink with such a long history, it’s not clear if all the facts are accurate but it apparently started out as a combination of Cognac and Peychaud’s Bitters with an absinthe rinse for a hint of danger 🙂

It is the official cocktail of New Orleans and one of my favourites so I sampled a few during my stay in New Orleans.  My final morning in the city it was pouring rain so I decided one last Sazerac at the Sazerac Bar at the Roosevelt Hotel before the taxi to the airport was the way to go.


I had planned to get to the Roosevelt Hotel earlier but there is way too much to do in New Orleans to get to everything.  You SHOULD go to the Sazerac bar though!  A step back in history.  If you like your cocktails manly, order a Sazerac.  If you like them softer, order a Ramos Gin Fizz.  Just watching the bartender properly shake it is worth the price of the cocktail!  And the ingredients in the Sazerac at the Roosevelt made it far superior to any of my other experiments.

making a gin fizz

making a gin fizz

It was the perfect way to say goodbye to New Orleans… and because I was sitting at the bar sipping and chatting with the bartender at a quiet time of day I ended up in a conversation with the couple sitting next to me.  The wife was fascinated that I travelled alone.  They were from Texas – so I enthusiastically told them my birthday plan for 2014 was Austin!  I had to suppress my grin at their reply, “Austin is NOT Texas!!!”  Exactly why I was going there first 😉

I considered packing my cowboy boots but went for the dangerous punk-inspired black spike encrusted slippers instead – the right call 😉

I also brought my Glamor Trash earrings.  I have been wanting to mention James.  I think his earrings garner the most compliments.  He makes them put of old vinyl records just to make them even cooler!  I discovered his work at Dutch Alley on my way to the French Market.  His work is so distinctive I recognized it at the stall in the market.  I asked, “are you James?”  He wanted to see what I had bought.  He was so charming – and his work is so incredible – I bought a second pair 😉


So, buy some Glamor Trash earrings as your New Orleans souvenir, dress up like a lady and have a cocktail at the Sazerac Bar.  You will capture a lot of the magic in that one experience – a rich history, southern hospitality and creative surprises.


apparently kevin bacon has nothing on me ;)

Interestingly, Kevin Bacon WAS at SXSW talking about the six degrees of kevin bacon.  The community with which I try to connect is much broader and more global than this game would allow.  But that’s what makes the random connections that have popped up in my life requiring only a couple degrees of separation all the more astonishing.

I don’t think I will ever top that the random girl I met in the summer of 1983 because she was my next door neighbour in the University of Calgary dorm that was housing us during our summer jobs was best friends with a girl whose name I have now forgotten.  Her name wasn’t important.  The fascinating point is that Candace (I think that’s right 🙂 was dating a guy who lived in Bermuda who was my cousin’s best friend in small town Manitoba.  I had met the Bermuda guy because he was a Chartered Accountant and I was looking for career advice.  He was my first mentor and invited me to come to Bermuda when I graduated and had four months to wait before my first real job began.

I’ve never even met Candace but when Jean told me about her long distance boyfriend in Bermuda, I said, “I know him.  I stayed at his house!”  Candace then went on to date one of my other friends making my connections to this woman I have never met even more bizarre…

But right now we are at SXSW… I am hoping to write all the posts about my incredible SXSW experience before it’s time to get on a plane to another destination…

As already noted, I found the interactive and film overwhelming but that was nothing compared to the music.  Seven or eight pages of showcases (6 bands per showcase) in small print every night!  And the same concept in the afternoon.  I really wished I had some bands to support but I was there to make discoveries…

So I took a haphazard approach of supporting countries that I liked… in most cases, it worked pretty well, but when I wandered into the Aussie BBQ I got a little more action than I expected.  Obviously, I don’t attend a lot of heavy metal shows.  I arrived just as they were setting up and THAT was entertaining.  You could see there was a lot of bluster and weird, unattractive clothing and hairstyles.  These guys seemed to be really into showing off their beer guts via naked torsos… I guess it’s a look…

It all seemed tame enough until the show started.  The lead singer started by throwing water on the scant audience.  Then he was throwing water bottles.  Plastic so pretty harmless but generally I am not a fan of audience participation 🙂  When he started jumping off the stage into the crowd, I snuck away from the stage and finished my beer at a safe distance from the band.

Hey, not all experiments work!  But sometimes miracles come from experiments, even the ones that might appear to fail at first glance.

Since the Aussies had frightened me – and tried to destroy my hearing – I decided I would run to Canada House.  Surely, Canadians would not be so aggressive 🙂

I arrived just in time for “Toronto Turns It Up”.  It was a revelation.  All the bands were good – and completely different.  You should check them all out!  What was the most cool though is that I was texting with the son of one of my best friends (the famous Yvonne who helped name this blog :).  He is a musician and has been to SXSW so we were trading stories and I told him about this great hip hop act I had seen – and he has produced him!  The world is so much smaller than we think 🙂

Here are links to everyone, including Shea and Abstract Artform.







I also met some guy from Calgary named Greg who had dragged some colleagues from Houston to hang out at Canada House and support July Talk.  You really should see July Talk live.  You don’t normally put someone who sounds like Kate Bush and someone who sounds like Tom Waits together but it works 🙂  And she really works the crowd.  I am sure there were boys walking on air out of that show…  especially the ones with lipstick kisses on their cheeks…

What does this teach us?  Do lots of stuff.  Talk to many strangers.  Take chances… but run when the scary dude with the tattoos jumps off the stage 😉


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