The Perfect Moment (starring an orange tabby cat)

The artist James Lee Byars (1932-1997), known for conceptual works and performance art, did a piece called The Perfect Moment.

Not A perfect moment, but THE perfect moment. Byars seemed to like the word perfect; among his works are The Perfect Love Letter, The Perfect Kiss, The Perfect Performance is to Stand Still, The Exhibition of Perfect, The Perfect Quiet, The Perfect Death, The Perfect Thought, The Perfect Moment, Perfect is My Death Word, and The Palace of Perfect. That’s a lot of perfection! So when I thought of the idea of a perfect moment in my own life, as a former museum professional my thoughts went to Byars.

Byars smile
Byars: The Perfect Smile, 1994 performance, Ludwig Museum, Cologne
perfect love letter
The Perfect Love Letter (is I write I love you backwards), 1974, performance, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels

In my personal experience, I think on the smaller level of having perfect moments, plural. Every now and then, there is a moment when all seems right with world. It doesn’t have to be something big and grand or momentous. It doesn’t even have to seem special to anyone but you. It can be fleeting, or it can stick around for a while. But in that moment, however long it lasts, all feels right and good and just the way it should. It speaks to the rarity of such moments that they are memorable. They can happen in the midst of tedium or of turmoil or, of course, when everything seems perfect already and then that one more thing happens, that cherry on top of the hot fudge sundae sits perfectly and beautifully, beckoning you and making it all worthwhile.

hot fudge sundae

I had such a moment recently on a long-awaited trip to Iceland. My interest in Iceland, a trendy travel spot currently, dates back from my days as a graduate student at UC Davis, back in the early 1990s. One of my textile department classmates was a beautiful young Icelandic woman, Thorbjörg, with her pixie-like features and cheerful attitude. During one of our graduate seminars, she presented some slides and facts about the Icelandic textile industry. The images of Iceland were so captivating—the color and the light and the natural beauty took my breath away. And animals—sheep, horses, marine birds like puffins—caught my attention as well.

Screen Shot 2017-07-27 at 6.41.26 AM

We finally made it to Iceland all of these years later. On my wish list, amongst other things, was to see these animals. And I did. But I kept wondering, where are all of the dogs and cats in Iceland? I saw very few dogs being walked around the city, and absolutely no cats. Zero. NO CATS. How is this possible? I was told that there were lots of cats in Reykjvik. I bought a t-shirt that shows the cats of Reykjavik. In one shop, I saw a sign regarding proceeds going to help Trap-Neuter-Release (TNR) efforts for the stray cats of the city. But they remained invisible to me.

cats rule

 

On our last day in Iceland, we made a trek to the Snæfellsnes peninsula on the west coast.

stykkisholmur map

It was a perfect day. The towns of Borgarnes and Stykkishólmur were charming and picturesque.

Stykkishólmur
Stykkishólmur

We had good coffee and good food. We had sunshine. I saw sheep and horses on the road driving in. We booked a boat excursion to see puffins, and saw them as well as gray seals and a white-backed dolphin. I was thinking it had been the best day ever, and I was happy. It felt like a fitting and satisfying end to a wonderful week.

 

And then it happened. My moment. In an empty church parking lot on the edge of a small town on the west coast of Iceland, the friendliest orange tabby cat walked right up to us, like he knew us and was expecting us. He was clearly loved and well-fed. He had a collar and a lot of self-confidence. And he wanted affection. I immediately sat down on the asphalt and gave it to him. It made me ridiculously happy. It was a perfect moment.

bensson

 

Looking back on such perfect moments, I find they often involve sunshine, animals, and/or books. The first that comes to mind was when I was probably 7 or 8 years old. I must have had perfect moments before that, but this is the one that stands out in my memory. It was a winter day, and I was snuggled up in the den of our house in Atlanta. I can see the green nubby fabric of the upholstery on the chair and the tones of browns in the braided rug on the floor. A beam of sunlight has cut through the air and settled on me in the chair, where I am reading Hugh Lofting’s 1920 The Story of Doctor Dolittle, an old copy that was my mother’s in her childhood and had that particular smell and feel of old paper and old books. I was warm and sleepy and enjoying my book, the room was quiet, I was alone, and there was nowhere to go or be. I was just there, a little girl doing what she loved, perfectly happy. I might have had our cat Whiskers in the chair with me, but oddly I don’t remember. It would make sense. And he was an orange tabby.

220px-Story_of_Doctor_Dolittle

 

And yes, I came to find out that the author, Hugh Lofting, really was an animal lover. Forget the silly movie adaptations of Doctor Dolittle. Go to the original.

hugh-lofting-with-his-animals
Hugh Lofting

quote

Another time, much later in my life, I was terribly jet-lagged and unable to sleep on a very hot night in Istanbul. Tossing and turning and hating life, I was cursing pretty much everything and everyone. I could hear the beginnings of the call for prayer coming from the loudspeaker at the local mosque. Great. I was about to put a pillow over my head when I listened instead to the most beautiful male voice I had ever heard, singing out the call. The gorgeous yet haunting song gave me the shivers. I can still hear the voice and feel the sense of the beauty in the moment. I am not religious, and for me this had nothing to do with anyone’s God or piety. It was about beauty in unexpected times and places, and the realization that I am just a really small part of this world, not its center. My soul was soothed, and I eventually went to sleep.

Sisli_Square

 

There are no expectations attached to these moments. No preconceived ideas or possible disappointment. They just are. You can’t make them happen or predict them. That’s what is so beautiful about them. I know some will disagree; I see lots of articles along the lines of “Don’t wait for the perfect moment—make it happen now!” But I think they have to sneak up on you unawares; if you are trying to make it happen, that kind of defeats the perfection of it.

I am not a performer. I don’t know if Byars felt what he performed. Classical musician Bob tells me that the feeling that he’s played just the way he wanted is more rare than I might think. But that’s his idea of a perfect moment. Dabbling in art, I am usually dissatisfied at some level with the drawings and painting I produce. Once in a very great while, I think I’ve done just what I meant to or even more. It is rare. But this is something a little different; this is about self-satisfaction—something internal and based on when we expect from ourselves. These are from the inside out.

My perfect moments have come from the outside in. A friend put it that in that moment in Stykkishólmur, Iceland, the cat found me. I was, in a sense, perfectly happy already. And then I got that one more thing, the more than I could ask for, the cherry on the hot fudge sundae—I got my perfect moment. And I felt blessed.

bensson 2

Peace and hugs.

We❤️ Van (or, A Weekend in Vancouver, or, I Want to Live in British Columbia)

Last month, Bob and I spent a long weekend in Vancouver. Several times I saw the “We ❤️ Van” motto. It took me a while to figure out that it’s a reminder to recycle. And I hate to admit it took me a while to realize Van refers to Vancouver. Please note that my mother’s second husband’s name was Van and he wasn’t my favorite person on the planet. Every time I saw it I thought of taking a picture and sending it to my siblings with a 🚫 drawn over it. That explains why I was a little slow on the uptake on that one.

We heart Van
It depends which Van you mean.

By the way, can anyone tell me why the Vancouver airport designation is YVA? Just curious.airport

One of the things I love about being in Canada is the positive vibe to everything. Even the street signs and pedestrian crossing lights have a “wow, here’s what you can do” message rather than a “you better not do this” implication.

green circle
Isn’t the green “yes” circle much friendlier than the red “no” circle?

The walkers in Canada clearly have a jauntier air to them than their American counterparts.

jaunty walker
Doesn’t he look like he’s having a good day?

The signage is also clear; it’s a very bicycle friendly city, and to prevent pedestrian/bicycle mishaps, the paths are clearly marked as to who should be on which side of the path. It was very helpful to this pedestrian, who has spent a lot of time at UC Berkeley and UC Davis dodging bicycles.

walk ride
Keeping the traffic polite.

Even the post boxes are more fun and colorful than the boring blue boxes in the US.

mailbox.jpg

I was worried about finding vegan food, but I needn’t have been. The first night, we found a wonderful place, The Acorn, that I wish I could go to every week. Creative and wonderful flavors, like being at Millennium or Sanctuary Bistro in Oakland/Berkeley, but a little quirkier in atmosphere. The beautiful, willowy hostess and wait staff in their flowy black dresses and faint Québécois accents made me feel like I was an American in Paris.

facade 2
S’il vous plaît venir.
cheers
First decision–drinks. I always look for fun non-alcholic drinks, and they had them. Mine is called the Little Bitter. I forget what oddball cocktail Bob picked.

menu 2

But what to eat? It was hard to choose.

specials
The special; two kinds of mushrooms so I’m in!

Pleasantly fed, we went back to our hotel and turned in for a good night’s sleep in preparation for our trip to Granville Island the next day.

vancouver-map-0

To get to Granville Island, we took an aquabus from Hornby Street Dock and headed to face the tourist crowd on a Saturday.

 

bridge 3

The island has a huge public market, art galleries, boutiques, a marina, and oddly, Ocean Concrete, but even that has been transformed by the Brazilian art duo (and twin brothers) Os Gemeos, into a public art project. Take a look at Ocean Concrete.

concrete 3
Ocean Concrete silos, Granville Island.

Scenes at the Public Market:

 

After a day of walking the sea wall and maneuvering through the tourist crowd, we headed back to downtown and set out on a trek for dinner to Yaletown, an old industrial area that is a successful example of urban regeneration.

view

I  had less luck with the vegan food in Yaletown, although I did find vegan chocolate ice cream, so I was happy.

After so much walking, we decided to stay closer to the hotel on Sunday, making the short walk to the Vancouver Art Gallery. Don’t let the name gallery fool you; it’s a world-class museum and currently is showing a Picasso exhibition that I was excited to see.

 

Bob with signs

The Picasso exhibition is sectioned by the 6 women who served as muses during Picasso’s life: Fernand Olivier, Olga Kohklova, Marie-Thérèse Walter, Dora Maar, Françoise Gilot, and Jacqueline Roque.

picasso_muses_2_3563924b

Fernand Olivier:

 

Olga Kohklova:

Picasso 2a
Head of a Woman (Olga), 1917
Picasso 3a
Portrait de Femme (Olga), 1917

 

Marie-Thérèse Walter:

Picasso 6a
Guitar Hung on a Wall with Profile, 1927
Picasso 7a
Marie-Thérèse’s Face

Dora Maar (you can tell from his portraits of her that they had a volatile relationship):

Pablo and Dora 1
Picasso with Dora, far right.
Picasso 9a
Woman in a Hat with Flowers, 1944
Picasso 11a
Weeping Woman, 1937

 

Françoise Gilot:

Pablo and family 1
Picasso and Françoise with their two children, Claude and Paloma.
Picasso 12a
Françoise, 1946
Picasso 13a
Claude et Paloma, 1950
Picasso 14a
Femme assise, 1947

 

Jacqueline Roque:

Pablo and Jacqueline 1
Pablo and Jacqueline, 1957

One of my favorite sections of the exhibition was the video loop playing of Picasso painting on glass with filmmaker Paul Haesaerts filming from the other side, made in 1949.

But wait, there’s more! There were also wonderful exhibitions to see of the streetscapes of photographer Harry Callahan, photographer Steve Waddell, text art by Barbara Kruger, an historic look back at Canadian artist Emily Carr, and a moving exhibition by Bharti Kher, a female artist in India whose work was a revelation to me.

Callahan:

Waddell:

Kruger:

Carr and Paalen:

Bharti Kher:

IMG_6755

 

Tired? Hungry? Let’s visit the cafe! It’s one of the better (and lovelier) museum cafes I’ve been to, and they had vegan options!

vegan soup and cookie
Vegan soup and cookie, thank you!
flower water
Flower petal water.
cafe patio 2
The cafe patio.

 

All refreshed, we then headed for a walk to Stanley Park, a gem of the city.

Lord Stanley 1
Lord Stanley himself.

I want to live in the park restaurant.

I had a much needed coffee. Bob happily tried the beer.

Bob

Back to hotel for a rest. Finally, the traditional feet picture!

feet 2

A last dinner at the restaurant Notch8 in the Hotel Georgia, a beautiful hotel that if you have to ask how much a room costs, you can’t afford it. We did not stay there but in the Metropolitan next door. I especially liked the Art Deco architecture of the vestible.

 

Sadly, we had to leave this beautiful city and head back to our real lives. But I can dream. Someday I’ll get back there. Look for me under the sign of the diva, or on board the little houseboat of my dreams.

Diva

yellow boat1

Chicago, My Kind of Town, Part 1–Millennium Park

I finally made my first trip to Chicago (to the actual city, not to change planes at O’Hare Airport) weekend before last, and had a wonderful time! The amazing Robert Ward arranged for my air travel so I could meet him there and attend his performance with the National Brass Ensemble at the Chicago Symphony Center on September 20, 2015. More on that in a later post!

map CSC symphony-center-56 the concert performers

We stayed at the very lovely Palmer House Hotel (more on that in a later post, too). The ubiquitous selfie:

selfie Palmer

Since Bob was in rehearsals all day Saturday and Sunday morning, I went solo adventuring to Millennium Park, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Chicago Cultural Center. This part focuses on Millennium Park; there are several more Chicago posts to come!

My friend Debra sent the enigmatic message SEE THE BEAN. I had no idea what this meant; code for something sinister? But my other friend Google quickly got me sorted out on that, and I headed off to Millennium Park, just a short walk from the hotel and on my way to the Art Institute of Chicago. The park comprises 24 acres that cover the former rail yard and parking lot of the Illinois Central Railroad, and was established as a joint public/private partnership to celebrate the passage of the second millennium. Designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, attractions include the music pavilion (Pritzker Pavilion) designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry, the Crown Fountain designed by Spanish artist Jaume Plensa, and Cloud Gate (aka The Bean), by artist Anish Kapoor. This sculpture, in the AT&T plaze area of the park, is made up of 168 welded stainless plates, highly polished with no visible seams. Given that it measures 33 x 66 x 42 feet and is extremely reflective, it is hard to miss!

Maps of Millennium Park:

Map 1 map Millennium Park Map

Pritzker Pavilion:

pritzker 1

Cloud Gate (The Bean):

bean 2 bean 1

The Crown Fountain, whose walls show an interchanging gallery of 1000 LED portraits of Chicago residents:

plensa 4 plensa 5

Also on display in the park are additional sculputes by Plensa on loan from the artist and Richard Gray Gallery; the exhibition is entitled 1004 Portraits, referring to the 1,000 of the Crown Fountain now complemented by an additional 4: the 39-foot tall resin and marble dust sculpture Look into My Dreams, Awilda that graces the entrance to the park:

plensa 6

And the 3 cast iron sculptures Paula, Laura, and Ines that are each 20 feet tall and to the east of the Crown Fountain:

Plensa 1 Plensa 2 plensa 3

There are also other displays through the park, such as this photographic display of the history of the park:

park history display park history display label

And as one would expect, there are the more traditional park features and views:

fountain view

I could have spent the whole day taking in the beauty of the park; it is remarkably well-kept, with beautiful lawns and flower beds. Coming from the drought-plagued dry, brown hills of California, it was indeed a sight for sore eyes. There seems to be a lot of Chicago civic pride in their jewel of a city park, right in the Loop and easily accessible to everyone. But the Art Institute of Chicago was beckoning!

Next up: Ferris Bueller Had it Right (the Art Institute of Chicago)

Farewell to Norway

image

I hate to leave, but vacations must end. It’s been a wonderful, unforgettable week in Oslo. And a good time in Stockholm the week before. But something about Norway really grabs my heart. Perhaps it was finding the perfect place to stay on the fjord, or the kind and hospitable people, or the beautiful landscapes, or all of the above. I hope to return!

Frognerparken, Vigeland Park, Vigeland Museum, and dinner at the Oslo Opera House

A day of no rain! The  usual no. 83 bus into town, a quick coffee at our favorite of the chains, Kaffebrenneriet, and the the no. 12 tram to Frognerparken. We weren’t really sure what to expect; vague thoughts of “sculpture park” and mental pictures of lots of contemporary works by a variety of artists. Wrong!

image

Once we got our bearings and headed into Frognerparken, the first thing we ran across was this monument to Abraham Lincoln presented to the people of Norway by the state of North Dakota in 1914.

image

Then came Vigeland Park, the centerpiece of Frognerparken, with its multitude (212 according to the guidebook) of sculptures by Gustav Vigeland, designer of the Nobel Peace Prize medal and often referred to as Norway’s best-loved sculptor. The sculptures seem to represent the braod array of human emotions, but are also shown in movement with energy that defies the bronze material, and the human experience. The awe induced by the art and setting, along with the many families out enjoying a beautiful day in a jewel of the city of Oslo, made for an unforgettable outing.

image image image

But of course there was more! Just outside the park in the stately surrounding neighborhood is the Vigeland Museum, in what was Gustav Vigeland’s studio while he worked on the scupltures for the park. I hate to say that I had never heard of Vigeland before today, but I developed a real appreciation for his work and how complicated the process was. The museum itself is a lovely space and pays due homage to Vigeland’s talent.

image image image

Finally, capped off a full day with a delicious dinner at the Oslo Opera House restaurant with new friends.

image image image

Tomorrow is our last full day here in Oslo; I am sure we will find something exciting to do!

Edvard Munch, Vincent van Gogh, and Henrik Ibsen

It was a grey, wet morning and I didn’t think we’d leave the cabin today, but I’m glad we did. One bus and one subway and voila, the Munch-museet. The line to get into the museum was long and slow. I thought maybe it was the popularity of the exhibition Van Gogh + Munch, but then we realized that the hold-up was a thorough security check between ticketing and the entrance proper. I’ve never been through a metal detector to get into a museum! Has there been an incident there in the past that spurred this? I don’t mind; as a museum employee myself I do understand the need for vigilance in protecting the art. Thankfully, the cafe sold us coffee to savor while we waited in line.

image imageimage

The exhibition was an interesting juxtaposition of the lives and work of two enigmatic painters. I am not sure why Munch is best known for Skrit (The Scream) as he was a proific artist who worked in a number of styles over the years. I love seeing van Gogh’s early drawings and studies. I think it is sometimes forgotten what a good draughtsman he was and the sombre nature of his work prior to his time in sunny France.

image

After a rather expensive lunch in the touristy area around the Nationaltheatret (National Theater) and a walk past the Oslo Konserthus (Concert House; closed for the summer), we made it to the Ibsen Museet, which includes an interestingly modern adaptation of a historic space for museum exhibitions and a tour of the restored apartment upstairs where Henrik Ibsen spent the last years of his life and wrote his last 2 plays. The rotating exhibition space  was titled Ibsen + Lennon, showcasing Ibsen’s influence on The Beatles, John Lennon in particular (including his round eye glasses and mutton chop sideburns).

imageimageimageimageimage

And when we left, it was still grey and wet outside. Ah, summer in Oslo!

Shopping day in Oslo

image image image image image image image image

After a later start than intended this morning (due to the luxury of hanging out in pajamas drinking coffee and watching the gulls on the fjord), it was a day of shopping in town. I can’t go home empty handed! The public transportation system is really great. And dogs can ride with their people for the cost of a child’s fare! Caffeine and sugar were required first, so a stop for kaffe and a raisin bun before hitting the shops on Markveien, including some great second hand stores. Then on to Bogstadveien and more shops. And more kaffe, of course. Tired feet, empty wallets, and gifts for friends and family. I call that a good day!

Norsk Folkemuseum

We spent a well worthwhile day traipsing around the open-air Norsk Folkesmuseum (Norwegian Museum of Cultural History) in the Bygdoy area of Oslo. Over 160 buildings from various parts of the country have been relocated to the museum site, and represent life in Norway from 1200 to the present. My favorite was the tenement building with apartments each restored to a different period in the building’s history, based on real residents of the building over time. And of course I loved the farm areas, with the cows,horses, pigs, chickens. They all looked like they were having a pretty good life, unlike on a real working farm! The 13th century stave church is possibly the centerpiece of the exhibitions. To top it all off, the museum cafe was quite nice as well, open and airy and modern yet obviously based on traditional rustic architecture. And they have good coffee.

Just down the street is the Viking Ship Museum, its simple, elegant white building the perfect setting for the archaeological finds of 3 Viking ship burials in Norway.

image image image image image imageimageimage