Wednesday, December 31, 2014

City Visit

Some contractors we'd hired over a year ago abruptly decided to begin work on the building just seven days before I was to head out for a two-week holiday whirlwind of traveling and houseguests.  That meant that I had to move everything out of their way pronto, with little rhyme or reason, and they had to be done with the messy work no later than the night before my departure so I could move the furniture back into place and vacuum up a bit for the houseguests who would be arriving on the day of my return.  

"Had to," of course, is all relative.  There is always choice in the matter.  It's just that each thing I agreed to made all the other ones just a little more challenging as things unfolded.  (For example, in October, the mini college reunion date I'd saved in December 2013 suddenly bumped up against the opportunity to host a very photogenic quartet between Christmas and New Year's.  I very nearly bailed out on the reunion, but I still wanted to do both - even though the travel got squeezed into a ridiculously narrow time fame.)

Chocolate chip pancakes were a hit at the Grand Canyon!

Settlers of Cattan

Snuggling on the subway

"Powered by hot chocolate"

Watching the skaters at Bryant Park

I brought two extra pairs of gloves and an extra turtle fur with me just in case, and sure enough, they were called for!

Bryant Park carousel: Frog with eagle saddle

At the New York Public Library

Rosy glow of sunset on the Chrysler Building,
with moonrise 

Empire State Building decked out with Christmas colors and candy cane stripes

I took a bus up to my parents' place, then we drove out to my brother's place for a holiday concert featuring my sister-in-law and nieces.  Some of the music was a bit gloomy for my taste, but it was all good, and it ended with a rousing version of "Go Tell It on the Mountain."  (The only off note was a member of the handbell choir who was counting out loud to herself, very audibly.)  We stayed overnight, then went back to fix things up for Christmas since my parents had only recently returned from their own time away.  We each cranked out our Christmas cards for the year, assembled and decorated ⅓ of their artificial tree on a table top, wrapped presents, and cooked and baked up a storm.  I made cardamom cookies from a recipe my mom had found and saved but never before used.  (My little niece ended up helping roll some of them out into balls, which was fun.  An amusing side note: She told us she really liked these "peanut butter cookies," and a well-intentioned adult's attempt to correct her and express surprise that she liked such spicy cookies almost backfired into getting her to renounce them.)

After Christmas, I flew down to Washington, D.C., checked into a hotel in Arlington and walked around the neighborhood, then took a taxi to Gaithersburg, MD for the mini reunion.  (I might have been tempted to rent a car, but fortunately or unfortunately I'd forgotten my driver's license.)  It was fun, and very cool to see everyone's families.

The next morning, I dropped off a gift for my friends who were staying in the same hotel (I just hope they got it, since I was going on memory of what their room number was) and then took the bus back to NYC.  My houseguests beat me home by about an hour -- but I was very glad I'd taken the early bus, because it turned out that the keys I'd made for them didn't work!!!

All in all, it was a fun and relaxing time (in between all the mad dashes), and we got to see not only the above-referenced holiday concert, but also a performance of The Wizard of Oz and Stomp.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Athens: Acropolis Museum Highlights

I didn't keep a copy of the final questions and instructions that I gave to my relatives four months ago, but here are the notes from which I created the Acropolis Museum treasure hunt.

It's intended to direct visitors to the exhibits I personally found most interesting, along with some prompts that parents might use to help engage children in noticing cool details or fun facts about them.  (The particular children I had in mind were aged 8 and 10; your results may vary.)  I've provided instructions which follow essentially the officially suggested route seen in the Museum Floor Plan.

Entrance Ramp (aka "the Slopes of the Acropolis")

1. As you go up the glass ramp, there is a two-part stone “thesaurus” on the right towards the end of the ramp.  Look for the slot - what was its purpose?  

Top of the Ramp - details from the pediment of the Hekatompedon Temple

2. In the center, how many lions are attacking the bull? [Answer: 2]

Central portion of the pediment
One blogger who really liked this sculpture wrote a post called "The Lion, the Bull, and Birth of Tragedy"

3. The left portion of the pediment depicts Heracles struggling with what seems to be perhaps a merman - what is the merman’s name? [Answer: Triton]

Right portion of the pediment,
showing a three-headed monster - note
that quite a lot of pigment survived!

First Half of the First-Floor Gallery ("archaic period")

Proceed to the right of the pediment to explore the first half of the gallery (you'll see half of the first floor now, all away around to the escalators).

4. A little ways down, compare the scales of the snakes from the pediment of Hekatompedos.  Which do you prefer?  Note the size of the scales.

5. Someone is sticking her tongue out at you. Who is she?  What may be missing from her haircut?  And what’s wrong with her teeth?

6. A guy wearing a lion skin approaches Zeus on a throne.  Six ringlets of Zeus’s wife Hera survive.  Who is the guy with the lion skin, and what is happening here?  [Answer: Deification of Heracles]

7. After you pass two sphinxes, you see a man bearing bearing a calf for sacrifice.  Note details of his belly button.  How many ringlets of hair are showing?  [Answer: 6]

8.Look for a hunting dog just to the left past a painted model.  It is crouching in a silent growl.

9. What is special about the horses with two legs to the left of the rider?

10. Across the hall, what is Athena holding in her left hand as she attacks the giant Engelados (not shown)?  [Answer: a snake!]  What is special about the hem of her overcoat/shawl? [Answer: more snakes or snake heads!]

11. Before you leave the hall, turn around and look for a waterspout.  What animal is it?  [Answer: Lion]

Escalators / Parthenon Gallery: West Frieze

Go up two escalators to reach the Parthenon Gallery.  

Start with the West Side of the Gallery, and specifically the West Side Frieze (i.e., the inner ring of displays). 

12. Take some time to watch the video that shows recreations of the West Frieze.  The video shows where metal was originally attached to the stone; the riders held whips, reins etc.  The video also shows what the friezes might have looked like (very colorful!) based on fragments of pigment that remain on the stone.  Very cool.

13. Look at the central block, W.VIII, 15 (displayed as part of the internal frieze).  Note the veins popping out on the underside of the horse, and on the rider’s face; they are straining hard!  

14. A nice touch in W.XII, 22-24: The horse is nuzzling its own leg.

Parthenon Gallery: South Side 

Next, go to the South Side display, actually this is the south-west corner, so it is not far if people are getting tired.   
15. Check out Metope S.1 (the outer ring of displays):  look at the wound on the centaur, where the metal is missing.  

(NOTE: The north and east sides of the Parthenon Gallery were substantially less interesting to me, and I think the casual and weary tourist can skip them.)

Caryatids and Second Half of the First-Floor Gallery

16. Take the escalator back down two floors, and check out the central area to see the Caryatids.

17.  Turn right to go down the final hall.  More than halfway down the room, on the right, there is a fragment of a face - which looks like a mask.  Why is she crying?  [Answer: Discoloration from bronze eyelashes.]

Back Down the Ramp 

18.  On the right as you descend the ramp, near the theatrical masks, there is a pillar with an offering of a human face!  Why are people carving parts of their face (such as ears, eyes, etc.) into monuments?  [Answer: thanks to Asclepios for curing various body parts, including wife’s eyes in one case]
So - if you've followed all the way to the end, congratulations!  This concludes my First-Ever Exhibition Guide and Treasure Hunt for Weary and Inattentive Tourists.

Photo Credit: All photos in this post are from postcards and guidebooks which I purchased at the museum gift shop.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Déjà Muse

For some years, I've been saving a piece of paper bearing these reflections in my very best print-scrawl:
You wrote me poems
In lines of five-seven-five;
That’s déjà-haiku!  
I’ve had enough of LAX to last me a lifetime - I have a sense of déjà flew. 
Why must we stop for a bathroom break every five minutes?  Déjà loo. 
I built a better mousetrap, but someone beat me to the patent office.  Déjà new. 
Prêt à … briser (glassware or divorce)
coucher (hotel or brothel)
nager (swimwear or tanning)
couper (haircut, tailor, circumcision)
danser (nightclub)
tirer (shooting range)
viser (archery)
marcher (shoes)

Other possibilities for businesses in the Prêt à Manger mould abound, but of course they must be two-syllable French verbs ending with "er" (we can't have an establishment named Prêt à Lire now, can we?).  I'm thinking Prêt à Virer could be a firm specializing in job terminations, or possibly an immigration enforcement agency.