Allyson Johnson

Pieces of my Mind

Archive for the tag “women trekkers”

Arizona Highways: Some worthwhile stops

In Phoenix:  The Heard Museum of Native American Art.  This museum is fascinating, exhaustive, instructive and almost overwhelming in the size of its collection and the detail in which it explains the many culuture of Native Americans of Arizona.  Fortunately, we had a time limit.  We focused first on a special exhibit of Georgia O’Keefe paintings of the Southwest.  This was on its last day, but if it is a sample of the quality of special exhibits at the Heard, I would suggest you pay attention to whatever is being featured on your visti.

Of the Heard collection I was most fascinated by the collection of kachina dolls donated by the late Senator Barry Goldwater, maybe because as a child I was given a Kachina doll by a visiting relative.  Learning the stories and symbology of these artifacts could have enthralled me for the entire afternoon.Tribal Dance

Another bonus which lured us back outside was the  Annual Indian Market and Fair, featuring Indian dancers in elaborate Hopi feather costumes and juried Indian art.

If you go to the Heard and need a break from all that culture, I can recommend their lunch restaurant.  We ate  tacos and Mexican salad in the plaza – a lovely, lively setting.

Along Higway 17 to Sedona –

Rock Springs Famous PiesAbout half-way to Sedona you’ll need a rest stop.  The Rock Springs Café offers deservedly famous pie: a killer lemon meringue, pecan pie made with Jim Beam, plus serviceable salads, burgers, and homey fare.  And a stuffed polar bear in the gift shop.

Montezuma’s Castle National Monument  – this small but fascinating park features a  5 story cliff dwelling, positioned high on a cliff overlooking a lovely sycamore-lined creek.  The visitor’s center is a fine introduction to the site, and the stroll on the loop trail looking up at the mysteriously abandoned structure is a welcome break to the highway.  Montezuma's Castle

Once you get to Sedona, you’ll need to get in tune with the New Age vibe, so you better seek out a good Vegan restaurant.  I can recommend Chocolatree, an unpretentious combination restaurant and chocolateria along the road west from the main Y intersection.  My less-adventurous companion  was dubious bout the tarot cards on the table, but  ate every bit of her black bean chili. My Meatless Mushroom Medley was gray but yummy. The Mediterranean Madness ordered by my other fellow traveler  -quinoa, almonds, raisins, sunflower seeds, coconut milk, and more- was too rich to finish.  Still we managed to share a Chocolate Ganache of dates, raisins, macadamia nuts, coconut milk, and raw cacao, but we had enough leavings to share the next night with a table of 8 and it went around twice.

Arizona Highway

 

Advertisements

Arizona Highways: Sedona Sucks You In

Sedona outcroppingSedona started as a Mormon mission; then came the miners, whose main remnant is the picturesque semi-ghost town of Jerome dangling from a bluff across the valley. Then came the New Agers, with their crystals, their ethnic garb, their peculiar dietary restrictions, and their talk of mystical vortexes of energy to be found among the red rocks. With the skyrocketing prices of precious metals, there is a current threat that old mines will be opened and subjected to new tech hydraulic mining, starting the cycle over again. But meanwhile, visitors continue to be magnetically attracted to Sedona, whether it is vertical energy or simply the stunning scenery and space.

Jeff, the ex-lawyerI am part of a group of nineteen who have signed up for five days of hiking in the Sedona back country. Our hike leader is a former lawyer who was involved in environmental cases and must have asked himself the Big Questions: WHY am I doing this legal work which I don’t t enjoy? WHAT IF I quit and went to work for Roads Scholar? HOW can I make it work? He found a niche as a faculty member at Northern Arizona State University solely employed in facilitating hikes, conventions, bonding sessions, and so on for the U. Is this a cool job or what?

The three guides also include one immigrant, from the Caucasus. He had emigrated from Russia to Latvia at age 16. His mother saw him off at the railway station. She asked, “Will you be coming back?” He answered, as the train pulled out, “No.” After a second life in Latvia, he joined the merchant marine and traveled the world, living on ship. “Wherever we docked, the purser would give us a passport that would let us ashore without trouble.” I missed the story of how he came to Sedona. I did hear him say “Sedona is my 4th life.” He is a firm believer in the positive energy of the vortexes. “They changed my life.”

A second guide is also a strong believer in the power of vortexes. We stood in the center of a natural amphitheater in the rocks, purportedly a vortex site, and he told us of meeting a Native American at this site where he was meditating. The Indian pulled out a conch shell from his pack and, after asking permission blew a deep note. The sound traveled in a circle around them as it echoed from one wall to another, a truly mystical moment.

We tried to believe, but we could not reproduce any mysterious effects of the vortexes. We ate delicious food in a vegan restaurant, and felt just as stuffed and no healthier than if we had over-indulged at McDonald’s. However, the drama of the soaring rocks, the rippling streams, and the blue sky soaring to forever was enough to energize me without benefit of crystals or magnetic fields. Just being with beauty makes you more aware of what being means.Sedona view from the trail

 

Arizona Highways: Scottsdale – not just Carmel with Cactus

Scottsdale gardenVisiting Scottsdale had not been high on my list.  After all, I grew up only an hour from Carmel, the West Coast apogee of artsy quaintness-by-the-sea.  What was Scottsdale with its art galleries but Carmel with cactus instead of ocean?  As usual, once I had visited, I knew once again how wrong preconceptions can be. Scottsdale is to Carmel as meaty BBQ ribs are to seared sea scallops – both wonderful, but incomparable.

Scottsdale mustangWe visited on a Sunday morning, so the galleries along the Art Walk were closed.  We were more relieved than disappointed:  the galleries would have seduced us into dallying inside, while on a temperate and sunny morning there was plenty to see in the sculptures that lined the sidewalk and rose from the median. At first I noted the proliferation of horses frozen in wood, ceramic, steel, and bronze, galloping, rearing, bareback in herds or straddled by cowboys, cowgirls, or the Original Inhabitants. [Note:  We met several locals with red-brown skin and aquiline noses, who told us to “Relax.  We call ourselves Indians.  It’s easier.”  I will follow this advice hereon.]  But there were also bronze children, artists, and unmounted Indian maidens both nude and clothed.  Also  various vaguely humanoid shapes, and a giant green head which might have been Buddha.Enigmatic head

We left the Art Walk and meandered toward the center of town, a meander made easy by a grass-lined pathway going beside and over a dry creek and eventually leading us to the central plaza, bordered by the City Hall, Art Museum, and Performing Arts Center, all impressive and interestingly designed modern buildings.  The plaza was full of activity:  a craft fair was just setting up, with tents offering Indian artifacts, jewelry, clothing, and food.  A stage at one end promised music to come, and some families were already staking a claim with blankets on the sloping lawn in front of the bandstand.  And at the other side of the plaza I found an old friend, one I had first met in Philadelphia, then encountered again in Tokyo and Taipei.  I was delighted to see again Robert Indiana’s famous LOVE sculpture.LOVE in Scottsdale

On the way back to our car we walked through Old Town Scottsdale, and found the tourist gift shops beginning to open.  I bought a silver-and-turquoise earcuff to replace a much nicer one I had been given and lost years ago, hoping to combine old and new memories.Old Town kitsch

 

 

Arizona Highways: Phoenix’s Desert Garden

20140301_Chihuly

20140301Chihulyweb620140301Chihulyweb5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I thought of Phoenix as an airport stop on our way to hiking in the red rock country, but my friend B was more curious.  “Let’s stay a day in Phoenix and explore!”  So M, our travel organizer, found an affordable motel in Scottsdale. (“There are art galleries!  Let’s stay close!” B enthused.) We raided the local AAA for maps and guides, and off we went.

M was arriving first, so she rented the car. All the car rental offices for the Phoenix Airport are combined in a single large building at the edge of the airport, along with a food court, rest rooms, and a travel office – an amazingly good idea! B and I had flight delays, so we connected with M too late to do the auto tour we had planned for the afternoon.  But there was still time to walk in the Phoenix Botanical Garden, which was featuring an outdoor exhibit of glassware by the well-known artist/craftsman Dale Chihuly.Entrance-Chihuly exhibit

The Chihuly glass exhibit blended beautifully with the otherworldly colors and shapes of the cacti and succulents which are the backbone of the PBG, and glowed against a stormy evening sky. We strolled and pointed and admired as  lightning flashed, thunder crashed, and then came the deluge. We were close to the gift shop by then, which exhibited an amazing collection of small Chihuly pieces, also beautifully illuminated. (see below)   We  waited out the worst of the rain, then strolled a bit further armed with umbrellas. But soon there were too many puddles, too many  flooded paths, and we took refuge again, this time at Gertrude’s, the charming modern restaurant adjacent to the Garden. The tables were full of other soggy visitors, so we snuggled up to the bar watching mysterious cocktails being mixed as we sipped our staid beer and wine and downed excellent sandwiches.  I can recommend the pulled pork sandwich with chili dipping sauce, paired with a Mexica Model Negro beer.

The exhibit continues until May 18th (2014) so you still have time.  Evening viewing is wonderful.

20140301Chihulyweb920140301Chihulyweb7

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the Company of Women (LATC September 2013)

Camp skit - sisters of a certain age

Traveling with a woman friend, she will offer the window seat.

She will refuse the airline snack, but offer to give you hers.

If you do not eat your airline snack after all, she will take it in case of future need.

She will offer to watch your carry-on bags while you go to the rest room.

She will offer to refill your water bottle if she is going to refill hers.

If she is driving, and she takes a wrong turn out of the airport, she will blame herself.

If she is the shotgun rider, she will apologize for not paying attention to the signs.

If her memory of the route disagrees with the GPS, she will go along with the GPS  – up to a point.

If she is one of three passengers in the back seat, she will offer to sit in the middle.

Though she has never met you before,  she may tell you all about the latest activities, vagaries, and eccentricities of her father, her late husband, her late husband’s first wife,  her second husband’s ex-wife, her son, his wife, her son’s wife’s first husband, and her  stepson’s  mother-in-law.

She will show you pictures of her grandchildren.

She will solicit reading suggestions for her book group.

If you are going for a walk she will remind you to put on sunscreen.

She will offer to loan you sunscreen.

If she is a houseguest, she will offer to help peel vegetables, set the table, or entertain any small children underfoot.

If she is the hostess and there are small children underfoot, she will be the one to eat at the children’s table in the kitchen.

*    *     *

I had written the above about halfway through a week at a women’s camp in the Rockies, mostly with  women of about my own age.  The women in the group were largely teachers or former teachers. They were mostly white. They had gone to Girl Scout camps.  They knew all the camp songs.

Then I had an opportunity to spend some time with a couple of women a generation younger. I realized that the above list of “typical women’s behaviors” is perhaps not typical at all, except when applied to women of a certain age and up-bringing.

The youngest woman in the group had no first or second husband, no children or grandchildren, no smartphone filled with pictures to show, had never been to camp.  She didn’t belong to a book group.  She didn’t know the words to “She’ll be Coming Round the Mountain” or “Michael Row the Boat Ashore” or “Kumbaya”.  She was at the camp with her mother.  In two months she planned to begin a tour of duty with the Air Force.  She will probably go to Afghanistan.

I’ll bet she won’t volunteer for the middle of the back seat in the jet.

Women-In-Military-300x200

Freeway-Free in Spain: It is Good to be the King

Plaza and Portico and PalaceThis bright sunny morning was almost too nice to spend inside, even if “inside” is the Palacio Real, home to the monarchs of Spain beginning in the 18th century.  We took our time along the way, stopping into a beautiful local market to admire the produce and incidentals on offer.Que Bello Mercado!

At the palace we waited about 10 minutes for entry while being entertained by a guy making giant bubbles and an accordionist playing, inexplicably, “Michele” and “Theme from The Godfather” instead of “Lady of Spain.”

The palace makes  Versailles look tawdry. I never imagined so much gold-and-silver-embroidered silk and velvet existed in the world. The extravagance is excused nowadays because the rooms are opened to the public in general for viewing and are otherwise used only for state occasions; the current king prefers to live in more comfort and less pomp in a smaller palace in the suburbs. But still, the amount of wretched excess is a little stomach-turning after viewing the homeless living in cardboard boxes in the arcades of the closed shops in the Plaza Mayor.

The state rooms are, of course, all tapestry, chandeliers, and mirrors, with frescos on the ceilings painted by Tintoretto and Velasquez and other lesser lights. We also got a glimpse of some of the rooms which had been used as private living quarters by various monarchs; these had been decorated to match  then-current tastes and ranged from a faux-Tyrolean-beer-hall decor for a billiard room through an all-Chinese porcelain and stucco and tile sitting room to an Empire/Egyptian room with sphinx holding up the table.

A visit to the Royal Armory Museum at the close revealed that the excess had been going on for at least 500 years – a wealth of gilded and engraved armor, including lots of matching miniature armor for the princelings to play in, and elaborate headpieces and breast-plates and rump-covers for the horses, all gilded, lavishly engraved or sculpted, and provided with satin covers and embroidered saddles to finish the look. (None of the kings ever actually fought in these things, although they may have jousted once in a while.)

After leaving the Palacio we took refuge in Taberna de Alabardero, an al fresco stree-tside cafe recommended by Lonely Planet AND Rick Steves, overlooking the palace and gardens. The prices were high and the service slow, but the people-watching was prime.

We finished off the afternoon with a stroll in the Royal Gardens and the Campo del Moro, then caught the Metro back to the hotel. For the evening we enjoyed a gala dinner at nearby Tres Encinas, a rather upscale (for us) seafood restaurant nearby. I  seized the opportunity to wear my one “nice” outfit, just so I can say the suitcase space wasn’t wasted.
Our maitre’d  was unabashedly charmed by Winifred’s Peruvian-accented Spanish, and monitored our table closely as we divided a wonderful salad of grilled vegetables and prawns (with heads and legs still attached to show how fresh they were) followed by a sole in the same state for the same reason but expertly divided and de-boned, followed by a dessert of chocolate brownie plus trimmings, and a couple of complimentary cuplets of cherry liqueur as a gift of the host. We were very glad we had dressed for the occasion!Shrimp Appetizer - Tres Encinas P1010262web P1010263web

Freeway Free in Spain: Madrid and its Museums – Thyssen- Bornemizso

the Baron and BaronessThe Thyssen-Bornemizso museum is the last of Madrid’s”Big 3″ and perhaps the most cosmopolitan/ecumenical, as it spans from early medieval art through the impressionsts all the way to Roy Lichtenstein and Marc Rothko. In addition to the core collections, this museum had the most intriguing special exhibitions of the Big 3. On the day of our visit we happened on a special exhibit devoted to the influence of open-air painting on the Impressionists. We took this in first, then approached the regular collection already half-dazzled.

Famous blue horsesThe regular collection is now actually TWO collections, that of the Baron and his family which had been a-building for two generations, and that of late-comer Baroness Carmen Tyssen-Bornemizso (a former Miss Spain, and well-qualified judging by the full-length portrait which hangs in the entry gallery). So one is forced to zig and zag from the Middle Ages to the Barbizon school with the Baron, then leap to an unusual collection of American painters from Winslow Homer to Roy Lichtenstein with Carmen, then back to the Renaissance again with Carmen, then back to the Impressionists with the family collection. One wonders why the two collections could not simply be integrated along chronological lines; probably feminism has something to do with it.

Edward Hopper

 

A nice small special exhibit of paintings showing women going about daily life rounded off over seven hours at the T-B. There was one more exhibit of modern art entitled “Hyperrealismo” but we ran out of brain cells.

We went back to El Retiro to stop and smell the roses one last time. On this warm sunny Sunday it seemed all Madrid was celebrating La Dia de la Madre in the park: picnicking, strolling with the obligatory gift rose in hand, rowing in the rectangular Estanque. On the way back to the Metro we discovered a street of bookstalls like those along the Seine selling used books of all sorts. I barely resisted “Matilda”, one of my favorites from Roald Dahl. Perhaps in the park we discovered the real elusive center of Madrid.

Freeway Free in Spain: Toledo Transit

Bus to ToledoWe started off at a good hour for our expedition, arrived at the station in plenty of time to catch the 9:20 train, only to find that it was sold out. Next available train on a busy commute and tourist day was at 12:20. Scratch.

We went back to the hotel by Metro to save energy, I said something about our failed plans to the desk manager, and he replied quickly, “Why not go by bus?” Turns out the express bus leaves every hour, from a station about a half hour away by Metro.

With one thing and another we got to the bus station in time for the 11 AM bus and we were in Toledo by noon. A wonderful town for traipsing around.

The Last Supper - Toledo Cathedral facadeWe started with the awesome (in the original sense) cathedral, a soaring flamboyant Gothic/Baroque structure on the outside, with a wonderful Last Supper going on in sculpture across the front above the main door. If you look at it from the rise of steps across the plaze, you can see down onto the table where the sculpture was careful to provide both bottles of wine and a plate of rolls as required.
On the inside more of the same – a LOT more. In addition to the profligate use of gold from the New World to decorate altars, clothe icons, and create 10 foot-tall monstrances to hold the Host between communions, it contains more great paintings than they have room to hang or light or even identify decently – a whole set of Christ and the apostles by El Greco hung kitty corner to the viewer behind a grate, Titian, Correggio, and Rembrandt hung in a half-lit chapel on a temporary scaffold in front of the altar and again behind a grate.

St John and Cousin Jesus

St John and Cousin Jesus

The most awesome thing about the Toledo Cathedral is the detail – everywhere you look there is an artwork that would be worthy of its own exhibit in any other context.  For example, this mosaic of John the Baptist with his young cousin Jesus – at least 30 feet tall over the door of the cathedral – not even mentioned in the audio guide or anywhere else – but so powerful!

We got halfway through the audio tour and elected to pause for lunch at a vegetarian restaurant Winifred had located online nearby. (We are on a veggie kick since being greens-deprived in our first day in Madrid.) There are good and bad veggie restaurants – Madre Tierra  was excellent – a wonderful salad and then a cream of spinach soup so thick and rich I could have eaten it with a fork.

Virgin and Unicorn - Choir stall - Toledo Virgin M crowning a saint in ivory - Toledo Saint and demon contending- choir stall - Toledo Jacob and Esau? Choir Stall - Toledo

Then back to the cathedral for the rest of the tour of amazing carvings and sculpture.  (See some of the amazingly evocative carvings in the choir stalls above)

The art highlight – the Sacristy- was closed for renovation, which was probably a blessing in disguise. Otherwise we would never have made it to the El Greco Museum, which had a different set of apostles, much better displayed, hung in a setting designed to recreate a 15th century home such as El Greco might have lived in during his time in Toledo – quite charming.

Back to the bus, stopping for Winifred to pick up some mementoes and gifts. The express bus was full, so we took the milk run, whistle-stopping through a series of villages and small towns, letting off matrons who had been shopping for their week’s supplied in the supermercados of Toledo, taking up young people who had been visiting their families for the holiday and were headed back to Madrid – it was fun to make up stories to explain the meetings and partings.

Evening on the bus

Freeway Free in Spain: Madrid and its Museums – El Prado

El Prado 3D galleryEl Prado

At El Prado you can thrill your fill on the Big 3 of Spanish painting: Goya, El Greco, Velasquez.  Wow!  I warmed up with a roomful of Hieronymous Bosch (inspiration for every sci fi paperback anthology cover ever printed).  The Garden of Earthly Delights is enough to give one nightmares for a week.  On the wall catty corner is Breughel’s Triumph of Death  with Death leading an army of skeletons against the doomed remainder of mankind – the original zombie apocalypse.Bosch - Earthly Delights and Torments After

Unfortunately, a guard informed me that photos are not allowed soon after I left Bosch and Breughel, so I will have to link you to websites for you to get your tastes of G, V, and el G.

I was headed for Goya but got side-tracked by Velasquez.  Three hundred years before the Impressionists, this man knew exactly how to make light shine out of a picture.  I could have looked at his portrait of the Infanta Maria  and her handmaidens and dwarves for hours speculating on what was happening in each person’s mind, but the traffic of Japanese, German, French, and Spanish tour groups impeded reflection.

So I proceeded on my search for Goya but went the wrong way and got caught by El Greco  – even earlier than Velasquez, and combining use of light and of exaggeration to portray emotion and character in a way that prefigures Toulouse-Lautrec by 400 years.

W and I had split up after Bosch and Breughel.  When we reunited for lunch I was ready to babble about El Greco while she had found and been immersed in Goya, especially the “black Goyas” from his late period.  We exchanged enthusiasms, and then went out to explore again.

This time I found the Goyas and worked backward from the black period all the way to when he was hired to do “cartoons” of designs of frolicking gypsies and children,  to be used as patterns for tapestries at the local royal weavers workshop.  Amazing.  Age and war do alter one’s  point of view, and to go backwards in his career, from the murals of massacre and the blindness of fate to these sunny comic scenes, was especially poignant.

So which was the greatest painter of the Big Three?  Impossible to choose.

 

 

Freeway-Free in Spain: Burgos

Burgos CathedralWe had a ladies day in Burgos, with Jen and her five-year-old daughter Lucia having a couple of small shopping errands to do in the  City .  After the errands, Jen led us through the flamboyantly baroque cathedra. The cathedral is such a beautiful building that I forgot that I don’t care for Baroque – they had just finished a mammoth cleaning and restoration project and everything was as bright and gleaming as you might imagine the Pearly Gates to be in your best dreams.

The Crossing - over the grave of El CidThe carved apertures in the domes look like fine lacework, letting the sun shine in on the Crossing where El Cid and his wife Dona Eximee are buried, and on the effigies of the High Constable and his wife in the Constable’s Chapel.

(I remember sweating over the Corneille classic in  high School French IV.  (For those of you who don’t read French, the Charlton Heston/Sophia Loren version was pretty good, too.)Sr. & Sra. High Constable - Castile

We were hungry after and asked a friendly-faced woman passing by if she could recommend a local place for lunch.  She directed us around the corner to La Favorita! The entry was jammed with folks waiting, but thanks to a good-hearted waitress and  Lucia’s soulfully hungry eyes we were soon seated and served with some of the best plates of goodies we have had in Spain so far.  About halfway through Jen’s eyes widened and she pointed out a tall balding man with glasses standing at the bar – “That’s the President of the province of Castile y Leon!”  It was about then that we noticed the Michelin stars on the door.  Despite the trendy crowd and the power clientele, the bill was extremely reasonable- tapas is definitely the way to go in Spain!Lunchtime, La Favorita, Burgos

After some separate R & R time we met the family for chocolate and churros at the local bar/chocolate shop.  “Hot chocolate” here is a thick hot rich goop like a pudding which you eat with a spoon or by dipping the churros into it.  Sinfully good.  Afterward I hiked up to the castle on the hill by myself to catch the sunset.  Very nice in the evening light, but when I turned to look for the mountains toward the north east I saw only a wall of gray moving toward me. By the time I turned for a last look at the valley the snow was already whirling around me in big soft flakes.El Castillo, Aguilar de Campoo

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: