Saturday, September 26, 2009

Prettiness Feeds the Soul.

I've been aching to put up a little something pretty... just for the heck of it. After all that travelogue, it's nice to find a little superficial joy in some lovely flowers, a stunning hat, and a dress that is to die for.

Step Four: Make for Home like a Bandit.

On Day Four, the sun rose before I could hit the road. (ok. I was busy watching Wednesday night's episode of Glee on my computer.) 7ish hours to go, with broad swathes of Nebraska ahead of me. Exits come only once every 15 miles, and they don't really resemble "exits" at all. The terrain finally flattened out, though I paralleled the river basin so the trees were abundant. As were the wheat and corn.
Nebraska's speed limit is largely 75mph.
Also, everyone travels 80mph in Nebraska.
Also, there are no troopers in Nebraska. Not until you hit the Colorado border, and then they were all on the other side of the highway divide.
Colorado mimics Nebraska for miles, and then before you know it, you're rolling with the landscape, like it's rousing itself after all those miles of being flat. And all of a sudden, the earth stretches and rises high.
More church-snapping out the window.
You get to see so many of these when you drive across the country, they almost seem like little creatures who roll about and cluster with their friends, or sag into the ground, or just stare at you while you drive past.
Ladies and Gentlemen, The Bale-Rockettes of Nebraska.
Destination: Rocky Mountains.

Photos: LCT, Nebraska and Colorado, 2009.

Step Three: Bypass Chicago, Cruise through Iowa, and Bunker Down in Nebraska.

I bade farewell to Meg and JackieBoy and took off at 6:30 AM. 6:30 AM in Philadelphia meant pale blue skies and sparse traffic. 6:30 AM in Lafayette meant inky black skies cut by the stars and keeping pace with a chorus line of big-rigs. I waved in the direction of Chicago as I sailed through Illinois and then got restless in Iowa. With the help of my handy-dandy Garmin, (who knows where I am even when I don't), I pulled off a couple of those exits that only locals take, and tooled around the dusty gravel and dirt roads. Perhaps I felt a little daring putting the car in park on someone's back road and stepping out to stretch my legs and snap some pictures while The Wailin' Jennys blared from the stereo. What I found was the peace of an open sky and a field full of corn stalks, the bucolic stares of livestock and house windows, the breeding grounds of quiet people with strong souls who trust that God will send just enough rain, but not too much, every single year.
Arriving in Nebraska, I hit Omaha during rush hour. (note: Omaha during rush hour is about like Philadelphia at 9PM) I finally made it to Lincoln, a sad town where concrete modernities abut architectural leftovers of bygone decades and all the second-hand stores of the world seem to be amassed. I treated myself to a delicious steak dinner (no superfluous extras here, just hunk of meat, big 'ol potato, and a salad on the side) and slept like the dead. Until 7AM...
GOOD MORNING INDIANA!!! Racing with Apollo's chariot.
All I could think of was the theme song of the Flying Monkeys from The Wizard of Oz...
Apparently, the small bird population of Illinois is alive and well.
Object of most sight-seeing in the Middle: Corn.
Close-up of Illinois Veggies in the wind.
Little White Barn.
Big, Hollow Shell of a Barn.
We weren't in Kansas, but we could have been.
Welcome to Davenport, Iowa. Quick church-snap at a stoplight, right after crossing the Mississippi. "And the Mississippi's mighty, but it starts in Minnesota at a place where you can walk across with five steps down."
Detours in life hold the best discoveries. This picture makes me wonder about the lives of the family that dwells within the house.
This vista reminded me of Andrew Wyeth's Christina's World and I had to capture it. All it's missing is a girl in a pink dress in the foreground...
The red barn, the old pick-up, and the sheltering tree.
Iconic images abound.
The old dirt road I rambled down. What is it about roads with signs that say "road not maintained; drive at your own risk" that make you want to see what lies over the hill?
Somewhere in the distance lurks the greats of Baseball Past and the Field of Dreams...

How's this for a view of the plains? The sky had more topography than the fields themselves.
Three-armed Planet Savers wave to passers-by.
Farewell Iowa.

Photos: LCT, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, 2009.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Step Two: Ignore the Open Road for a Day and Rejuvenate in the Heartland; a Visit to Purdue

After arriving on Meg's doorstep in Lafayette, IN at dusk, I surrendered to her hospitality (and a glass of wine.) Day two of cross-country-palooza was spent walking Purdue University's lovely campus. Coming from Philly, all I could think about was how CLEAN it was, and how the students think nothing of throwing themselves into oncoming traffic when they have a mind to cross the street.
Purdue has a building for everything. Everything. I found the impressive Neil Armstrong Hall of Engineering building and thought I had found where all the engineers nest during the day, until I tracked a bunch of Civ students with their tripods to the Civil Engineering Building, and came across the Electrical Engineering Building, the Agricultural and Biological Engineering Building, and the Biomedical Engineering Hall. There's an entire avenue devoted to the study of horticulture, forestry, agriculture, and landscaping, and the Vet school has buildings for large animals, small animals, pathology studies, pathobiology studies, an Equine Health Sciences Building, etc. etc. etc...
I think the key to success in Lafayette is to buy stock in bricks.
You are now entering Boilermaker Territory.

Classical Architecture and Modern Art on campus.
The Purdue Fountain, a gift of the class of 1939. The sound of the water seemed to draw students, who perched and reclined and sat and crouched all about the fountain, deep in their books or their reveries.
One of the horticultural studies buildings, slowly consumed by the object of its fascination.

images: LCT Lafayette 2009

Monday, September 14, 2009

Step One: Get across all of PA, pretend Ohio doesn't exist, and thank the gods for 70mph limits in Indiana.

Phew. Well, the drive from Philadelphia to Lafayette was supposed to be 11.5 hours, but I slated in a little detour which added an extra 45 minutes to the trip. And it was so worth it...
It was the kind of early fall day that thinks it's still summer - the air still holds the warmth of promise, and the flowers and foliage do their best to make a good turn out.
When the Pennsylvania Highway Panorama started to become so humdrum that my eyelids were threatened, I turned off of 76 and made for the countryside. It was gorgeous. I finally got to see FLW's Falling Water house (though it is verboten to post any of those pictures...). But finding my way back to the highway, long about the time my GPS shot me up a 13% grade on a gravel road, afforded a beautiful glimpse into a different life. Take a look:

Some Tar-Heel-Fan Flora.

Grandmother Willow's mountain-bred baby sister.

Yes. This is a shot taken with one hand holding the camera out the window, while the other clutched at the steering wheel. You can catch my sweatered forearm in the mirror.
I love a good "what's over the horizon?" photo.
and what is it about old fence posts that is so pastoral and picturesque?

Capturing Cloud Shadows, this time.

This picture was clicked at 40mph out the window.
Viewfinders are for sissies. Just point and shoot.
Another drive-by-clicking.
(ever noticed how dilapidated buildings are romantic...
as long as it's not your responsibility to raze them or fix them?)

These sheep may safely graze...

My favorite! This horsey gentleman was hanging out at this great old house.
I screeched to a halt to grab these shots...
And Senor Caballo was not the least bit interested in his countryside paparazzi. Here he is swishing his tail nonchalantly and pretending that I don't exist...

What a grand day! Maybe tomorrow I can grab some of the lovely Indianascapes...

Photos: LCT PA September 2009.

Monday, September 7, 2009

The Art of Life

It was a beautiful day in Philadelphia yesterday, so I took a visit to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. One last amble through the halls of the PMA, which sits so regally overlooking the Schuylkill and Boathouse Row, like a cultural sentry standing ahead of the Philadelphia skyline.

There she is, peeking through the overgrowth of summer.
It was a perfect day, and I wasn't the only one out to enjoy it.
A family takes a stroll across the lawn,
while giggling gals snap photos at the top of the steps,
and lovers take a moment to enjoy a chat in the plaza.
I love Diana, perched atop the staircase in Grand Stair Hall. Augustus Saint-Gaudens hammered this lovely lady out of copper sheets over a century ago. Once upon a time she was a weathervane, gilded and decked out in billowing drapery that fluttered in the wind. And now she stands as a centerpiece to the Museum's collection, the virgin goddess of the hunt reigning in the city of brotherly love.
Philadelphia's rare sunshine floods the front window.
And here is my favorite. Alexander Calder's Ghost (1964) mobile hangs in the Grand Stair Hall. Calder's creations have no set form, continually in flux. Ghost hovers high and silent, moving with the breeze of visitors' breaths and sweeping clothes and rogue drafts that steal through the doors below.
Diana and Ghost preside over millions of visitors, silent companions who, despite their innate differences, sometimes seem to see things the same way.
Loved the intricacy of this doorframe. It's situated in the same gallery as Titian's painting.
Mmmm... Benjamin West's Agrippina Landing at Brundisium with the Ashes of Germanicus 1770). Here's a closeup of Agrippina and her children. In the canvas, the cluster of white figures stands out beautifully in their mourning, as Agrippina, the quintessential Roman wife, returns with the ashes of her noble minded and great warrior husband.
Okay. I love the representations of Greek and Roman history and mythology... as you shall see....
For example, in a back hallway of the European Art galleries is a room with marble statues. Here's a close-up of Venus's face from Venus and Cupid (Mid 19th Century) by Benjamin Edward Spence. She's situated so the natural light bathes the nape of her neck and defines the contours of her face.
Back in the Grand Stair Hall. I love the lines in that place.
Ghost in the light.
Sargent! Oh John Singer Sargent. Here's a close-up of the couple taking their evening constitutional In the Luxembourg Gardens (1879). Sargent, your frothy gowns and subtle coloring...
Then there's Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema's A Reading from Homer (1885). Alma-Tadema painted snapshots into a ancient mythic world. It's like he could take mental sojourns to some gorgeous island like Capri or Santorini. Only, instead of whitewashed stucco, the buildings are all made of carved marble, and every house has a rooftop vista of sharp blue skies and clear blue waters. The denizens are always draped in yards of richly colored fabric as they enjoy sparkling sunny days, celebrating festivals or listening to tales, dreaming of places no more idyllic than their surroundings, or stealing away for secret trysts. The settings are strewn with musical instruments and flowers, the telltale signs of their lazy bliss.
Here's a close-up of Alma-Tadema's Homeric storyteller, probably captivating his audience with a rousing rendition of Illiad or Odyssey. The group is gathered in a place probably dedicated to Homer, as indicated by the writing above the laurel-crowned speaker. Are they imagining the sacking of Troy, or perhaps the heroic Ulysses confronting the sorceress Circe?
Give me Cy Twombly over Marcel Duchamp any day. I realize deconstructionists were oh so important in their day, but I much prefer the whimsy and ecstatic expressionism of Twombly's pencil strokes and bursts of color to finding meaning in a re-conceived urinal or the twisted objectification of a violently subjugated female. Fifty Days at Iliam: The Fire that Consumes All before It (1978) is one of Twombly's many representations of Homer's tales.
A close-up of a Jackson Pollock. Piles of paint lying inches off the canvas.
Or Whistler's Nocturne (1875-80). Whistler would look at the night's scenes and take note of the colors, summoning up his perceptive memories to paint them in the morning. They hold the richness and mystery of the night, like a secret window into the land after sunset.
Ghost again, perambulating the air. Isn't she lovely?
The goings and comings of the Great Stair Hall, climbing and descending, orderly columns and stalwart coves.
Ghost melted into the darkness.
Goodbye Philadelphia.

photos: LCT Philadelphia Museum of Art 2009.