June 21, 2007

A Childhood Memory

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:06 am by classicalmusic

The Chicago Museum of Science and Industry supplied me with one of my most
memorable childhood recollections.

The Museum of Science and Industry

When I was about eight years old, my grandparents lived in Chicago,
Illinois.  We lived in Arlington, Virginia, and I remember one summer being
taken to Chicago to visit the “old folks”.  I really don’t like revealing this,
but I am talking about maybe sixty years ago!  My recollections of this visit
are vague:  a dip in the ice cold waters of Lake Michigan, good food cooked by
my grandmother, trying to understand what they were talking about in their heavy
Polish accents.

The one memory that stands out in my mind after all these years, is our visit
to the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry.  I am sure that we must have seen
many exhibits in the museum, but the highlight for me and my sister was the
visit to the museum’s coal mine.

Down the Coal Mine

The museum has simulated a real coal mine, 600 feet deep, with all the
paraphernalia of a 1930’s coal mine.  We were given real miners’ hard hats with
a light on the front.  We entered the miners’ “cage” and went deep down into the
mining seam.  There we were shown how the miners took out the coal from the seam
– at that time they still used pick axes – how the coal was loaded onto the coal
cars that often traveled miles down the seam, and how the coal was then poured
into a bin and taken up by that same cage that had brought us down.

Needless to say, for someone eight years old this was a mind-boggling
experience and also quite scary!  The coal mine, called Old Ben, was installed
in the museum in 1933.  I have not had the opportunity to visit Chicago since
those days, but I am sure that today’s Old Ben exhibit now also shows how coal
is mined in the 20th century.  If ever you get to Chicago, don’t miss this
exciting experience.

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June 14, 2007

A Funky Museum

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:23 am by classicalmusic

The Puppet Museum in Lyons, France, is one of the funkiest museums I have had
the pleasure of visiting.

The “Hotel Gadagne”

The Hotel Gadagne is one of the most impressive and prestigious Renaissance
mansions in Lyons.  It was built in the mid 1500’s, actually from 1511 to 1527
and became the property of the important Gadagne family, who were rich
Florentine bankers, in 1545.  In 1902 the city of Lyon bought the mansion, and
in 1921 it became the home of the Lyon Historical Museum.

It was only in 1950 that the International Puppet Museum was added to the
property, and this is where the fun begins.  The Puppet Museum displays hand
puppets, marionette puppets, sliding bar puppets and stick puppets from many
countries such as Russia, Japan, Cambodia, England, Italy, Belgium and
Czechoslovakia, as well as from France.

A Different View of Puppets

Those of us who are used to puppets of the Pinocchio and Punch and Judy
variety, or the more modern Muppets are shown a completely different aspect of
puppetry in this museum.  Some of the dolls, in particular those from the Far
East, have the most exquisite clothing – authentic to the tiniest bit of lace,
and very beautiful painted faces.  The puppets from Italy tend to be
exaggerations of well-known folklore figures such as Harlequin and Columbine. 
There are also displays showing how the puppets were made in their various
countries, some with very intricate methods.  All in all, this is such a fun
museum, it was the highlight of my one day visit to Lyon.

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The Most Beautiful Museum

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:22 am by classicalmusic

The Guggenheim Museum of Bilbao – Museo Guggenheim – is the most beautiful
museum in the world, in my opinion.

Frank Gehry’s Masterpiece

The Museo Guggenheim in Bilbao, Spain, designed by the renowned Frank Gehry,
is probably the most beautiful and the greatest building of the 20th century. 
While visiting Barcelona, I made a special trip to Bilbao (a one-hour flight)
just to see this museum.  It is awe-inspiring, enveloping the observer and
drawing him in like a magnet.

If approached from the center of town, the towering shimmering sail-like
walls astound you.  If reached by the soaring, graceful white bridge, built by
Santiago Calatrava, the museum rises from the banks of the Rio de Bilbao like a
ship in full sail.  The architectural composition of golden limestone and
titanium beckons the visitor to view it from all angles.  With every change of
light, the building changes color – golden in the sun, silver under clouds.  One
never seems to tire of looking at it.

Museum Exhibits

It is absolutely not essential to visit all the galleries for the actual art
exhibits.  Whatever is on display is simply unimportant.  The day I was there,
one large gallery – the whole second floor – was devoted to a retrospective of
Versace collections.  Not exactly what one would especially travel to Bilbao to

What was important was the building itself.  It is a work of art in its own
right.  The galleries fan out from a souring central atrium made of glass, white
walls and steel ribs.  Some of them are huge rooms made especially to house
large contemporary art works such as Richard Sierra’s “Snake”, which was showing
when I was there.

I was in Bilbao for only two days, and I visited other sites in this
interesting Basque city.  But I kept going back again and again to view the
Bilbao Guggenheim, the most beautiful museum in the world.

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June 6, 2007

Everywhere in Rome Is a Museum

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:22 pm by classicalmusic

In my first ever visit to Rome, I found museums everyplace.

Santa Maria del Popolo

It was my first visit to Rome – at least 15 years ago.  It was February and a cold, gray, dreary day.  But my sister and I had been told by the hotel desk clerk that it wouldn’t rain, so off we went to explore Rome.  We decided to walk to the famous Spanish Steps at the Piazza Espagna.  Once there, it began to rain.  Just a steady drizzle, but we hadn’t brought umbrellas. Thus, we wended our way up Via Corso – a big main street with many shops – looking for a store to buy umbrellas.  However, it was Monday morning, and, being novices in Rome, we didn’t know that all shops are closed on Monday mornings – they only open at two in the afternoon.

By this time we were quite wet and had reached the Piazza del Popolo.  That was when we saw the church Santa Maria del Popolo.  Well, a church was always open and a good place to dry off a bit.  We entered the church and made the discovery of our lives!


There in one of the church’s chapels were two of the most gorgeous Caravaggio paintings:  The Conversion of St. Paul and The Crucifixion of St. Peter.  Had we consulted our guide books (which we had left in the hotel), we would have found out that the two paintings are the reason tourists visit this church.  However, for us it was as though we had discovered America.  Just think!  Two paintings which in our home country would only be found in a museum, sitting there on the chapel wall.  The paintings were done by Caravaggio in 1601 and show his immense talent for chairoscuro – the play of light and shade on the bodies depicted.  We were enthralled.  That was when I realized that everywhere you go in Rome is a museum.