Monday, May 25, 2009

A colorful journey - Mary Cassatt

If you’ve accessed the search engine Google on Friday the 22nd, you have certainly seen the change in the logo, marking the 165th anniversary of Mary Cassatt’s birth. If you haven’t clicked on the logo to learn more, shame on you, you’ve missed a glimpse into a world of tranquility and color, a journey back into childhood and summer holidays.

First of all : I’m a painting buff, so get used to some talk about paintings, after all this is my place, so I write about whatever interests me. I can’t help drooling in front of a beautiful painting and I’ve been known to spend hours in museums just looking at the impressionist masters. There…that's the truth, like it or not, I'll spend more time in a museum than in a shop (with the possible exception of H&M, but that's different).

This being said, I have to mention that my parents’ bookcase holds many treasures. Among those, an art album with American impressionist painters, that’s how I became fascinated with Mary Cassatt’s work. Browsing the glossy pages I came by something spectacular, games of light and colour that really fascinated me. And this little girl, Sarah:

And another image so you can really see what I'm talking about. She often made portaits of her sisters or brothers, their children, people on the street, but also hired models to pose. So there are several versions of the same painting, or the same person at different ages. Sarah certainly had a lot of paintings done of her.

I don't know what became of Sarah, I think she was a niece of Cassatt's. She remaind's me of a picture I saw of my mum at about the same age, and maybe that's where the fascination came from. Other than that, I love the wamth that surrounds the painting, and of course, the little dog. I find the painting typical of Mary Cassatt's style: she had a deep understanding of children and women and these where her subjects of choice, doing normal things.

Cassatt thought marriage was incompatible with her career and despite a long lasting relationship with French painter Degas, she never married or had children. She painted mostly portets and scenes related to every day life, glimpses of quiet, tranquil living, many portaits of women with their children.Cassatt was close to the Impressionist, exhibiting with them and being active in their movement. Her use of colors and light is apparent of such a relationship. Under their inspiration, she took her work outside the workshop, always carrying a sketch book and this can be seen in her painting: snapshots of life.

She was a modern woman, refusing the gender discriminations of her time, she did her best to brake boundaries. It was said she was too outspoken for her own good, although less so with age. When she was unhappy with the learning she received at the Academy, she took it upon herself to improve and study the Old Masters. Cassatt travelled extensively through Europe, considering the only way to succed is to broaden your horizons.

What fascinated me was her use of colors. Although this was one of the things that was criticated during her lifetime, I find that the bright colors and warm tones bring the subjects to life.

All the pictures are from Wikipedia, where you will also find more information on Mary Cassatt and the Impressionists. Also worth a look, the American Impressionists.

Monday, May 18, 2009

La Provence

When I left France the first time, the only practically unexeplored region was Provence. I had already seen a large part of the West Coast, the Center, Paris and if you count Mont St Michel as being part of Normandy, that was ticked off the list as well. So the only thing of interest left for me to see at that point was La Provence.

Straight out of a Cezanne painting, that's how I imagined it. Tall, scorched with sun - white mountains, fields of wheat colored with red poppies. Van Gogh is one of my favorite painters, it's fields of gold and Cypher trees haunt my dreams. I had to see the lavender fields with my own eyes. La Provence was like an illusive mirage, the opportunity to visit this corner of France never arose.

Until last weekend when I made a (very) long trip for a very good friend's wedding, near Aix-en-Provence. And the pictures that came alive before my eyes were not dissaponting, though different from my imagination.

Let's start at the begining. In Bakov nad Jizerou, where I never imagined I would end up but where I'm spending my weeks for now. We left by car, driving through the Czech Republic and Germany, to France. A 9 hour trip I have nothing interesting to say about, maybe because it's not the first time I take this trip and the novelty of it wore off a while ago. An enjoyable trip every time, nice scenery, good roads most of the way (although the germans keep working on those highways and it gets pretty annoying after a while). It's really a pleasant trip.

Next evening we took a night train to Marseille, the gate to France for so many people (la goutte d'or). And now you're expecting some nice description about it... Well, it's a bit like Bucharest only dirtier and with better scenery, sort of... Marseille has mountains in the back drop. Two views from a friend's flat.

Aix en Provence though, is something special, imposing arhitecture, fountains in every square as the city was a spa in roman times, and loads of tourists. And of course the famous Cours Mirabeau. Wewalked around the down town, sat at a cafe in one of the many squares, listened to music and then we left for the hills around the town.

La Provence... well it was different from what I had imagined, mainly because it rained a lot this year, so everything was green. But the cypher trees were there, and the poppies, and the mountains were sun drenched as ever. And there was the faint smell of lavender in the warm evening air.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Praha + Plzen

Last weekend was a special one, I visited Prague, for the 3rd time. I think it's one of the few places I've visited more than once or twice, and that's because I liked the city. Despite the many tourists and the fact that you'll have a hard time finding a real, genuine Czech, the city is quite beautiful and fun, there is something for everyone here : museums, boat trips, the castle, beautiful gardens, lots and lots of excellent pubs and restaurants. The weather was fine so people were out biking, strolling, or taking a boat ride on the Vltava.

I've been to Prague for the first time last november when I went on a road trip with some friends and I spent a whole weekend wandering the streets during the day and the pubs during the night. I had a great tourguide, a friend living in Prague, and now I can share some of his little stories and jokes, plus, I'm learning new things every time. So I think, modesty aside, I am a pretty good guide myself.

So, last weekend, we started from the other side of the Fred and Ginger dancing building. I'm not always a fan of contemporary architecture, but this building, that looks like it's being sucked into the eye of a tornado, is quite nice, and not to damaging to the surroundings...or to your eyes.

We continued towards Narodni Divadlo, the national theater, here in a picture from last November. The theater was build as part of the Czech national revival, with everyone contributing. Shortly after construction though, it burned and had to be rebuild, and again, the people gave money. A symbol of the Czechs' love for the theater.

Next to it is the second scene of the theatre, one of the communist buildings that stain the face of Prague. Luckly though, the city was not as plagued by the communist style as much as Bucharest was.

We continued along Charles Bridge. Be careful if you are in Prague in this period as the bridge is under construction and parts of it are closed, making the pedestrian traffic quite difficult. And it's full of tourists. So there are frequent jams and it's hard even to take a picture, not to mention meeting your beloved on the bridge. (With all the people there, you could pass right next to him or her and never know, luckily, mine was next to me) The artists are still there so you can buy little souvenirs.

Mala strana and Kampa are parts of Prague that I really love because of the bars and the fact that sometimes at night they seem deserted and taking a walk in this part of the city is like going back in time. But in a spring weekend, during the day, tourists are everywhere, so be careful for pickpockets and toilet queues.

The Prague Castle is like a city inside a City, very good view of the town and a nice area to stroll around. I don't recommend going to the Golden Street. I've put pictures so that you don't have to. Tourist paradise here, basically you pay money to see some antique stores with watches and other little nothings. The tunnels in the attics have beautiful armors and weapons but still not that interesting. There is a vineyard on the hill, for the passionate and you can stop for a drink or some good food in a restaurant.

Just across the river is Josefov, the Jewish town. It looks like anything but a ghetto, because this side of town, once prone to inundations was rebuilt and has some of the most beautiful and grand houses. You can still see the sinagogues and the Jewish cemetery. The tour of the synagogues and the cemetery is quite expensive and not really worth the while if you don't have a particular interest. So if you want to see the cemetery and not pay for it, there is a trick, a small window in a metal door, right across the street from the back entry of the Rudolfium. You'll certanly see tourists peeking through it. Otherwise, the quarter is interesting if you want to buy souvenirs, Bohemia crystal especially.

Another thing I like about Prague is that all the interesting places are within walking distance. Unlike other cities such as London or Paris, where you have to rely heavely on public transportation, here, you can spare yourselfs a few crowns and buy a beer instead. The public network is quite good, covering most of the town with the metro, also it's cheap, but you can walk just as easily.

Close to Josefov is Staromeska Namesti, with St Cyr Church and the Astronomical Clock, just follow the tourists if you don't know where to look. And if you see people waving an umbrella althought it's sunny outside, just know they are guides, so stay close to them, you might hear interesting stuff.

I'll let you in on a secret, I have a plan to start a mass aplause in front of the astronomical clock by strategicaly placing my friends in the crowd.

For shopping, a very good spot is Wenceslas square, where you have Bata, H&M and the works. From there we went to Karlovo Namesti and then took the car back to Plzen.

Next, Plzen on a Sunday afternoon. The fourth city in the Czech Republic, about an hour West of Prague and the only one liberated by the American Army, in WWII, as I came to learn during the weekend. It's quite nice to stroll around, and I think it's also a nice place to live (I only spend some of my weekends there).

The first visit of Plzen was a bar tour and the next day we almost didn't recognize the surroundings. There was a beer festival in the main town square (duh, they produce 70% of Czech beer here). Some picture, just to give you an idea of the look of a normal Czech town (Prague is by no means normal, rather filled with tourists).

In Plzen you'll have no problem to find real Czechs so you can stop them on the street and talk to them, they do exist outside the capital. And me, a crazy Romanian.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Making plans

These days all my plans have been useless, whatever I do, the plan changes all the time. So I start to think: do we really need plans to get ahead? Don't get me wrong, I love making plans, I am right now making a shopping list (nothing glamourous, tomorrow's dinner and that summer skirt I want, maybe a dress too).

My latest plan was to go to Liberec this weekend, but the plan was abruptly changed and instead I spent a wonderful weekend in Prague and Plzen. I'm not sorry for it, in fact, I'm quite happy it all turned out like this, I went barhopping in Plzen, showed Prague to a friend, which is always one of my favourite activities, watched a movie, had interesting discussions, ate good food and drank enough to make me cheery. But what I ask myself now is whether it makes any sense to make plans if you don't stick to them?

We get all excited about a plan, or at least I know I do. We make our life around it sometimes, make plans on top of plans, link them to other things in our lives. We spawn a web of plans, all in a desperate effort to give ourselves the illusion we are in control.

And then we get disappointed because we didn't see our plan come true. Our world seems a tiny bit destabilized, abnormal, spinning out of (our) control even. The plan made it look all that better, made us feel in control, masters of our destinies. And the bubble bursts and we are not gods anymore, we don't know exactly were the road takes us.

In some rare cases - like mine, this time - when the changed plan goes better than the original would, we forget things didn't go as we wanted and can end up saying this was what we always really wanted. Anything to keep the appearence of control.

But does it really help us, to have all this control? Life is so full of surprises and twists out of our reach that no matter how well we prepare everything, it will never be 100% sure. I didn't go to Liberec because of events that were independent to my will or power and that I could not have predicted no matter my preparation (maybe a very very wild dream would have imagined that knock on my door close to midnight, that made me go to Plzen in the morning, but I was completely taken by surprise, and it was a nice one).
Isn't it better sometimes to go with the flow? See what happens next and improvise? Sometimes life can be fun like that too, scary, but fun. So Liberec is for another time, I'll make plans for it when the time comes, but I won't be dissapointed if I get another offer.

Control is just an illusion, all we can do is make a plan, don't get to attached to it and hope for the better. And be open to all possibilities.
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