A Date With Monet

Today I’m going to stray away from my usual topic of books and writing to talk about art. This weekend my boyfriend and I went to the D’Amour Museum of Fine Art in downtown Springfield for their Old Masters to Monet exhibit, a special display of fifty French paintings on loan from the Wadsworth Atheneum. This is the last week before it closes and I’ve been dying to see it so we finally made plans to go.

First I just want to say, the paintings were incredible.

Second, there is no place to good for annoying people to be found.

We’ll start with the first point. The paintings. They dated from the mid 17th to the early 20th century. There were fifty of them but photographing was forbidden, so unfortunately I can’t recall every single one of them, as much as I would love to. Now, I know that to those of you who live in large cities, seeing art of this caliber is probly commonplace, but in my neck of the woods, it is somewhat of a rarity, and this is the first time in my life I have had the pleasure of seeing such a display. Let me also clarify that I am no art expert. I like art, there are certain artists I like more than others, but I don’t claim to know anything about style or technique or biographical information about the artists themselves. I do know that the two forms of art I tend to prefer are called Impressionist and Surrealist.

I was very excited about seeing the Impressionist art that I knew was part of the exhibit. I absolutely love Monet, and one of my favorites, The Beach at Trouville, was part of the exhibit. It was just such an experience, to be able to get right up close, and see each individual brush stroke, and to know that Monet applied the paint to that canvas with his own hand. The way he painted it captures the atmosphere so perfectly, you can practically feel the sea breeze blowing off the canvas. I was completely mesmerized. My boyfriend had to physically drag me away from it when it was time to leave.

The Beach at Trouville by Claude Monet. This is only a photo of the print I bought at the gift shop. My cell phone camera sucks and has no flash so I aplogize for the poor quality.

They had many more beautiful works of art as well. Renoir’s painting of Monet at work in their garden, one of Degas’ ballerinas, one of Monet’s waterlilies, as well as works by Manet, Sisley, Pissarro and Cezanne. And of course no collection of masterpieces would be complete without Van Gogh’s Self Portrait.

There was alot of paintings by earlier artists whose names were vaguely familiar, who I don’t know that much about, but who truly were masters of their art. The workmanship was so exquisite that some of them almost looked like photographs. And the details were insane, every inch of canvas had something to draw the eye, whether it was the texture of a set of drapes in the back ground, or the tassels on the edge of a tablecloth, nothing was too small or unimportant to have anything less than the most minute attention to detail.

Being in the presence of such beauty was an experience I can only describe as spiritual.

So lets move on to my second point. Annoying people.

YOU DONT LET YOUR KIDS RUN WILD IN A ROOM FULL OF PRICELESS ARTWORK!!!!!! Who brings little kids to an art exhibit anyways?? I mean, unless your child is some sort of genius art prodigy, they aren’t going to give a flying rats ass about seeing a bunch of old paintings. Get a babysitter or stay home. That’s the way it works when you’re a parent. One of the kids was sliding along the wall around the room, and his head was actually bumping against the bottoms of the frames. I was waiting for one of the paintings to go crashing to the floor. Not to mention that if you were standing close to the wall, examining a painting up close, he would squeeze in between you and the wall, forcing you to step back to avoid being knocked off balance and possibly fall against the painting. And I wont even go into the loud echoing voices. Their parents were ignoring them so skillfully that I wasnt even sure who, of all the people in the room, they were.

But all in all it was an excellent day.

Cabin Fever

I dunno about anybody else, but I’m done with winter. Not that its been a particularly cold or snowy winter here in Massachusetts, but it’s still been too cold to enjoy being outside. I can’t tolerate cold due to some chronic health issues, so I’m not a big fan of winter. And I’m tired of being cooped up in this house. Tired of the stagnant air that’s been re-circulating thru my ventilation system all winter. Tired of breathing animal hair and dry dust. I want to open all the widows and doors and let a spring breeze sweep thru the house and blow all the stale air out. I went out and bought some new house plants this weekend. Just to have something fresh and green around me. I used to have some really nice house plants a couple of years ago, but when I went to Texas to visit my grandchildren, a certain person who shall remain nameless *cough*myboyfriend*cough* forgot to water them and they were all dead when I came back.

I love being outside, especially when it comes to reading. I have two places outside my house where I like to sit and read. My boyfriend and his friend built a big deck on the back of our house a couple of years ago and we have a patio table and chairs where I can sit when its nice out. If its raining out I have my front porch with a couple rocking chairs and a coffee table. I cant wait to grab a book and go outside and read with the warmth of the sun on my back to get rid of the chill in my bones that never seems to leave me these days. Unfortunately I can’t tolerate extreme heat any better than the cold so once we get into July and August I’ll be just as miserable as I am now. I get overheated or chilled very easily. My boyfriend says I’m like a lizard. The only way I can warm up or cool down is by going to a warmer or cooler area. I think I may be the world’s only living cold-blooded mammal.

My favorite outdoor place to read, when I can get there, is on the beach. I love to lay on the warm sand with the seagulls crying overhead, and the sound and scent of the sea all around me (score extra points if a fruity rum drink is involved). The ocean is the one place where I feel truly at peace and spiritually recharged. I love books about the sea or that take place on or near the ocean. My two most recent book purchases relating to the sea are Cape Cod by Henry David Thoreau and The Outermost House by Henry Beston, both about Cape Cod, which is my favorite place on earth.

Of course now I have Sailing by Christopher Cross stuck in my head.

Another beautiful place to read outdoors is at the top of Mount Greylock. It is located in the north-western corner of Massachusetts and is the highest point in the state. You can see for hundreds of miles, all the way into upstate New York. The air up there is the freshest air I’ve ever breathed. It’s really a spectacular place. I would love to pack a lunch and go up there and spread a blanket out on the mountain top and read all day. Herman Melville had a home near the base of Mount Greylock where he wrote Moby Dick. Nathaniel Hawthorne also lived in the area for a short time and it was there that he wrote The House of Seven Gables.

Unfortunately the coast and the mountains are both several hours drive from my house and not someplace I can go on a regular basis. Closer to home there are a few places I like to go to read outdoors. The closest is in downtown Springfield, in the courtyard of the Quadrangle, where the museums and library are. There is a grassy lawn and benches and in the middle is the Dr. Seuss memorial (for those of you who don’t know, Dr. Seuss was born here in Springfield). Stanley Park in Westfield is also a nice place to go. There are fields and a large garden and a duck pond and woods that offer a variety of settings to settle down for a day of outdoor reading. And there is the Village Commons in South Hadley. A collection of shops and restaurants with brick paved walkways and steps and terraces and fountains and plenty of benches and outdoor cafe tables with umbrellas to sit at and enjoy a book and a drink or a meal. There are also some grassy areas perfect for spreading a blanket. And there’s a nice book store and a used book store/coffee and wine bar there as well.

And I think it goes without saying that all the places I’ve talked about are perfect places to write as well. Unless your me. My writer’s block isn’t picky about location. It tags along and prevents me from writing no matter where I go.

A Trip To The Library! Yay!

Yesterday I went to the Springfield Public Library. Its my favorite place to go in the whole city, one of the few places in Springfield worth visiting.

The library is a beautiful building thats usually quiet except for hushed and mysterious whispers that echo off the high ceilings. I love the smell of a library, of all those old books. I like going to the upper level where nobody ever goes, amongst the book that nobody has any interest in reading anymore. The outdated books on psychology and the occult and biology, dusty old literary essays and cookbooks. You can hide yourself in a maze of bookshelves up there where nobody will disturb you. I usually bring a big tote bag with me, filled with things to do while I’m there, usually my iPad, a book, a notepad and pen, iPod, ear buds, sometimes my crocheting project, and the library has wi-fi, so I am quite content to spend several hours there in peace.

The library is 100 years old this year. It was opened to the public in 1912. I took some pictures when I was there yesterday.

My Lack Of Motivation To Write…

…Is quite possibly to blame on where I live. Have you been to Western Massachusetts? I’m not talking about the mountainous majesty of the Berkshires or the scholarly art scene of the collegiate community or the gentle rural farmlands of the northern section of the Connecticut River valley. No I’m talking about the urban cess pool that is Springfield. An area defined by polluted water and a rancid stench-factory of a sewer treatment plant, drug infested neighborhoods full of boarded up or burned down houses covered with graffiti, homeless people pushing shopping carts full of soda cans, a commercial district completely devoid of small businesses in favor of chains and franchises. A blight upon the earth made all the more scenic by an F3 tornado that ripped thru here back in June and completely destroyed the entire south end of the city.

I'll give you a hint: This used to be a house.

Tornado? But I thought you said you live in Massachusetts? Yes, we do get tornadoes here. More frequently then you would think. Altho rarely as bad as the one we had recently. And that’s not all! In 2011 we also had a hurricane/tropical storm which caused massive flooding, an earth quake, a giant hail storm and a Halloween nor’easter that dropped 3 feet of snow overnight and brought down about half of whatever trees weren’t already knocked down by the tornado and left hundreds of thousands of people without electricity (including me) for up to a week. Yep, Western Mass was the place to be in 2011.

Happy Halloween!

Where was I? Oh yeah, I live in a shit hole. I am a strong believer that environment affects one’s ability to create art, whether it be writing, painting, music, dancing or whatever artistic outlet your brain uses. I do admit I am fortunate enough that my neighborhood looks almost (but really not quite) suburban, with tree lined streets and single family houses, mostly due to the fact that we are surrounded by a small woodsy nature conservation area that has spared us from being bulldozed into condo oblivion. But if you go a quarter-mile in any direction its nothing but trash littered strip malls and gas stations and fast food restaurants. The only remotely scenic area in the city is the Quadrangle, where the art, history and science museums, the central library and the Dr. Seuss memorial are located:

Pretty Christmas lights! Ignore the ugly high-rise apartment building in the background.

In my workin-class/lower middle-class neighborhood, I wouldn’t exactly call the scenery a beauty to behold. This is the view I have from my home office:

Garage or termite mound? Sixteen year old Toyota or violation of the Clean Air Act? You be the judge.

That’s even assuming I could use my office which I can’t because this is what it looks like right now:

No that's not a rummage sale, that's about half of my personal library and boxes full of knickknacks that I'm too lazy to finish putting on my shelves.

I know I could write so much better if I could look out my window and see this every day, like I did on my vacation to Cape Cod back in September:

North Truro, Ma. Where you can't smell a sewer treatment plant.