The Powerhouse museum in Sydney Australia, and the STAR WARS Identities touring exhibition

If you are in Sydney Australia, have seen all the outdoor options, and/or are at a loss of what to do on a rainy day, I suggest visiting the Powerhouse Museum of applied arts and sciences housed in the converted Ultimo Power Station at 500 Harris Street, especially if you’ve got young kids.

hmaQPH38S5a2lTEiv7+iXw_thumb_bbb9.jpg

Initially commissioned in 1899, and opened for use in 1902, the building used to house the power station for electric trams, and was a functioning power plant till 1963.

ipTeLCPhQgGnn5esCoPAag
An interior shot that gives you a sense of its industrial nature

The Museum’s collection, began with the contents of the Sydney International Exhibition of 1879 (the first World’s Fair to be held in the Southern Hemisphere), and then grew over time… and has been bounced around a number of different locations before finding its exhibition space in this building in 1988, although it is no where large enough to exhibit the entire collection.

wiU16g%qSv6ScxmIOnLJdw
Another interior shot of the Powerhouse Museum

I learned this when blogging about Harry’s Café de Wheels, a 70-year-old Sydney pie-shop chain (as in meat pies) considered so iconic to Sydney that its original food cart is kept on mothballs by the Powerhouse, but not displayed… because they simply haven’t got the room.

y8os4gSRRZ+WcST1bKFTwQ
This steam engine train is parked inside the Museum

The first time I was in Sydney, back about a month after my massive concussion, one of my traveling buddy’s girlfriends came to Sydney. One rainy day he took her to the powerhouse, while I stayed in bed resting — the post concussive syndrome was still intense at that point. He had been really excited about taking us because it was one of his favorite memories from having grown up in Sydney, and he wanted to share it with us. When they got back I asked her, out of his ear shot, “so how was it?” And she was like, “it was ok, but not great. I mean it was nice doing it with him cause he got all excited with childhood memories… but … you know…”

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_29f6.jpg

Overall, I have now spent three months total in Sydney, and have deemed it to be on the whole …. underwhelming; and this museum held true to that trend. To borrow a quote from Toptenz.net, “the fact that the Sydney Opera House is such a focal point of the city’s depictions might hint, to the analytical mind, that perhaps this is the case because there is really little else that is all that remarkable in Sydney.” And, as that article also points out, while said Opera House looks amazing from the outside, it has no shortage of design/acoustic flaws on the inside, so you’re not going to want to travel all the way there to enjoy a show when there are so many other better venues, acoustically. That said, while I thought the Powerhouse building was really neat, and I’m a big fan of retrofitting historic buildings to new purposes, the reality is that this building’s layout really isn’t conducive to exhibiting the kind of things they’ve got on show.  And the lack of useful floor space means much of what they own is left sitting in storage, where visitors and locals can’t enjoy it.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_bc6e.jpgThat, and what they have on display is kind of underwhelming. Overall, it doesn’t hold a candle to the Science and Industry museums in Manchester, UK or Chicago, IL … nor to the Exploratorium in San Francisco. If it were in some small town somewhere it would have been a LOT more impressive, but in the middle of a major international city like Sydney, I expected better.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_29f8.jpg

Maybe the only part of the museum that really excited me in any way was their Mars Lab (a friend of mine actually is the head of designing the experiments that go on the Mars rover so I feel a connection to it) … but otherwise it really didn’t do it for me.

ksLjRWdFT0GlKeGZ1hBhFQ
At the base of the escalator are interactive physics things for kids to play with

HEY, if you’re already there, and you’ve got the kids, and it’s not a good day to go to Bondi Beach, or any other sort of outdoor activity… it’s something to do…There are more than a few areas of the museum that kids will enjoy, and of course its an indoor activity for rainy days

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_29fb.jpg
The playground/cafe area of the museum draws a lot of local birds

Like I said, Sydney, in NOT just MY humble opinion, after a few days quickly becomes kind of a major let down — there are other places you’ll probably want to go BEFORE the Powerhouse. Start googling “overrated cities of the world”, and Sydney shows up on quite a few of those lists.  But the reality is that after about a one week stay, if you’ve been maximizing your time and not just hanging out at the hotel room (like I tend to do) you’re going to start finding yourself so desperate for things to do, and so willing to start scraping the bottom of the barrel so to speak … this is the point when you might want to consider taking the kids to see the Powerhouse Museum…

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_29fa.jpg
One of these things is not like the other… personally I was kind of miffed … I mean WTF?!!!

For the most part, what motivated me to drag my ass to the Powerhouse, — after the bleh review from my friend, was that during my second stay in Sydney it was hosting an exhibition that utilized The Star Wars Movies …  as a platform for educating viewers about how our characters develop overtime as a result of multiple influences including genetic, environmental, choices, mentors, etc., but let’s be real, they had me at Star Wars… anything after that was just icing on the cake.

Rather than being an exhibit which you passively experienced, it was set up like a video game. The educational components utilized characters and paraphernalia on loan from George Lucas’ museum collection, i.e., STUFF that he has that’s left over from the making of the films. In all likelihood it’s part of what would have been housed in a museum in Chicago, had the city (i.e., my people) been willing to stick a museum dedicated to him and his creations in what is a claim to fame public park land that runs the length of the city along the lakefront, but in a location right between the middle of downtown and the water (he refused all other spots, even one along the lake front on the far south side of the city, where development is needed — nope he wanted to be RIGHT in the middle of downtown, where we’ve already got way to much traffic). San Franciscans likewise rejected his demands, which were equally ridiculous, and ultimately he ended up breaking ground in Los Angelus (where he had NOT wanted it to go).

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2a04.jpg

I’m guess that since it does not yet have a HOME, his collection had been broken up into multiple traveling exhibits, and this is one of them. If it comes to a town near you, you can come and either enjoyed the lesson (which I found a bit boring, and at times questionable in what it was preaching), on how we develop as individuals…. or you can just enjoy looking at all the costumes and stuff… which is what I did.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2a05.jpg

Like I said the exhibit was highly interactive. On arrival each of us was given a bracelet, and an audioguide unit, which has a sound-wave dish on it, that we wore on a lanyard over our chests with the dish facing out; each of which came with an earpiece. They then tried to explain to us as a group, how to use it — but that explanation was actually very rushed and confusing (whoever came up with this system deserved a spanking). 

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2999.jpg
The source of the sound waves, and you had to stand right where the light was aiming to pick it up

With this system, where you’re standing and what you’re facing determines what you hear — assuming you’re in range of a transmitter, and the audio device you’re wearing is working right… which a lot of the time it wasn’t. If you weren’t listening to individual narratives in your earpiece what you heard was soundtracks from various Star Wars movies playing in the background. That said, it wasn’t one of those systems where you key in a number and a track plays, rather you had to stand exactly where they wanted you to (these sound areas were clearly marked, see below) where your unit would then pick up the audio signal. UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2a08.jpg

But there was any number of issues with the sound devices themselves. The first one they gave me didn’t work, as in it was on and I was standing where I needed to be, and I STILL wasn’t hearing anything. They first switched out the earphones, still no good… So they replaced it with a second device … Which worked, but as I walked through the exhibit I was noticing that my sound was glitchy and realized that the wires in the earphones were shorting, so I had to futze with that, wiggling it this way or that… or no sound.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_29d5.jpgSo the devices had issues, AND the attached earphones were also having issues. This was particularly problematic for folks with small children a few of whom were complaining…. VERY loudly, “DAD I can’t hear anything!!” which was annoying the parents — and every one else.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_29b0.jpg

From what I saw, most parents never really took the time to figure out why their kids could not  hear– as in, “well mine works, so you must be using it wrong.” But of course it wasn’t the kids fault, it was the technology.

IMG_5293What I couldn’t understand was, WHY did the show’s designers went with this old fashioned system of individual units with ear pieces, each of which can break down for a myriad of reasons, rather than a sound system like I saw at the Computer History Museum in Silicon Valley. That one was customer proof and cheaper in the long run because of no issues of wear and tear on the individual units.  If you look carefully at the picture above you’ll see a woman watching a video in the middle of wide open space…  and not wearing any sort of audio device. Where she’s sitting the sound is completely loud, clear and as distinct as if she’d been wearing headphones … YET, from where I stood taking the picture, I heard barely a whisper of that sound. If you look above her head, in the photo, you’ll see a white square hanging from the ceiling… That’s a speaker that produces highly directed sound waves. As in, she can hear it loudly and distinctly from the assigned seating spot (the padded bar) without it annoying someone a few feet away… and NO need for individual units which customers can break.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2a06.jpg
The wrist band is placed into the Hexagon (6 sided shape), the shape lights up when activated

As previously mentioned, it was interactive… and to that end we were also all given wristbands similar to what they have at the Disney parks for tracking fast passes. Actually, as I thought about it I realized that these bands were probably exactly like the technology at Disney, which made a lot of sense as the big black rat now owns the Star-Wars franchise, and was most likely deeply involved in the designing of this educational exhibition.  As first you entered the exhibition space you “checked in”

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_29c7.jpg

And then after seeing the intro movie, you’re given a chance to create your character within the Star Wars Universe, picking a race, gender, skin tone, and some basic abilities (like creating a character in role playing video game).

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2a07.jpg
I chose to be a Togruta, whatever that is

….and then as you walked through the exhibit at each location you were able to customize the character’s development as you made choices about its personality, abilities, and cumulative lifetime experiences

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_29ca.jpg
Among the choices were what occupation your character had

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2a09.jpg

…. your planet of origin, the abilities you wanted to develop (so for instance you might be born with musical talent, but that doesn’t matter if you don’t work on learning music), the parenting style of your parents, and experiences your character has had that influenced who you become… AFTER each choice, you stand and listen to a video with explanations of how the decisions you just made might impact your identity over time (using star wars characters as examples). And you keep doing this till you get to the FINAL decision….

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_29a2.jpg
Come to the Dark side, we have cookies

 And then as you were leaving the exhibit, as is the case with Epcot’s Spaceship earth, you could have the results of your character’s development emailed to your home address, as a free souvenir of your visitUNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2995.jpg

Not to mention you could shop the gift shop, for even more stuff…

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2a0a.jpg

That said, as a social scientist, Ph.D in cultural anthropology, yadda yadda, I didn’t agree with some of the twabble they were pushing in terms of identity development … it was seriously over simplistic and at times more concerned with political correctness than truth…

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_29eb.jpg

But… let’s face it… while how they put the thing together was interesting to me in a technological sense, NONE Of this is what I came for. I came to see Star Wars stuff!!!!

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2a0c.jpg

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2a0d.jpg

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2982

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2a0f.jpgUNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2a0b.jpg

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2a12.jpg

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2a10.jpg

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2a11

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2a16.jpg

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2a17.jpg

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_29b1.jpgUNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2a15.jpg

 

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2a13.jpgUNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2a14.jpg

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2a18.jpg

Some of the kids who came to the exhibit had totally dressed for the event, including the little boy above wearing a brown Jedi robe that was clearly purchased for him at a Disney park. Other kids were wearing their Star Wars T-shirts. Of course I was wearing a Star Wars T-shirt AND my Star Wars jewelry (my AT-AT necklace and death-star earrings).  

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_29e5.jpg

Advertisements

The transformation of the city of Pontiac, Illinois

Located about an hour and a half southwest of Chicago is the small city of Pontiac Illinois. To be honest, the only mentions of this place that I ever heard growing up referred to the state prison located at the south end of town. In recent years however the city has made a concerted to transform itself into a tourism destination, and in my opinion is well on its way.

IMG_2292

Firstly, in the center of town is a very attractive turn of the century styled Town Hall.

fullsizeoutput_4da2.jpeg

Until I approached it I hadn’t known that this was one of the towns included in the National Park Service’s Looking for Lincoln Trek.

IMG_0285.JPG

I also found it was quite attractive on the inside as well, although not quite as nice as on the outside (they need to work on that). It’s a bit too spartan (other than the floors) and why is Lincoln looking at the ground?IMG_0286.JPGAlso, one does not expect with a population of just shy of 12K people to have four museums (I went to two of them, the Auto museum and the Gilding arts one, and they were both worth the visit). In addition, the city has been embracing the tourism tactic of hiring artists to pain murals around the downtown area to beautify itIMG_0284.JPGAnd another very cute thing that they’ve done is to scatter these cars for kids on street corners around townIMG_0287

I really have to give my props to the Mayor and city consul of Pontiac Illinois for transforming their little town from a town whose major employer was a state prison into something worthy of extended visits from those doing the route 66 trek, as well day trips for people living in the Chicagoland area.

The Iconic Berghoff Resturant in Downtown Chicago, Illinois

The Berghoff Restaurant is a MUST visit traditional German restaurant in downtown Chicago, which is also one of the city’s landmarks. First opened in 1898 by Herman Joseph Berghoff, a recent immigrant from Germany, this restaurant has been run by successive generations of the founding family until it first closed 2006. Unrecognized by the family, the restaurant was so iconic to Chicago residents that its closing created something of major scandal, with outcries of horror and loss so resounding and vociferous that one of the great-grandchildren of the founders, who had not wanted to run it, changed her mind and reopened it shortly there after.

IMG_2524

In 2016 that same great-granddaughter (who REALLY had not wanted to run) sold it to her brother, but other than laying off the entire staff and only rehiring the ones who were NOT cantankerous old farts (I will say service has improved MARKEDLY since they did it) nothing has really changed.

IMG_0143

They have essentially kept the menu full of its old artery clogging classics, but have added some new newer, healthier options (when people ask me what German food is like I describe it thus, “meat, meat, meat… more meat, a bit more meat… and something white on the side.”). So if you look at the images below it is photos from two different visits one in 2013, with a friend visiting from China, and the other with a one I’ve known my whole life (I actually just went to the Shiva for her mother in law last night) where we got healthy food.

IMG_0142
Eating at the Berghoffs with friends: 2013 left, when we got a corned beef sandwich… and the difference in 2017, a healthy plate of grilled fish and veggies with very little oil, on the right

I remember the first time my mom took me here, I couldn’t have been more than seven or eight years old. If you look at the very first image of this post (see above), and look down the street between the tall building you’ll see the roof of what is the Art Institute of Chicago, which is not only one of the FINEST art museums in the world, it’s also my Alma Mater. Every time my mom took me there, that visit was almost always followed up by a meal the Berghoff.

IMG_2618

This time, like EVERY other, I got a mug of their Root-beer. I LOVE their root beer, it has a licorice taste to it which you don’t normally find in root beers. That said, during this last visit I noted they were installing a microbrewery INSIDE the restaurant. This place has ALWAYS had their own brew, but I guess having the huge brewing vat sitting in your place makes you a bit trendier (and hopefully more profitable) … but again, no substantial changes.

IMG_2614

All through the restaurant are murals and photographs of the Chicago world’s fair, including this one bottom left of the ORIGINAL Ferris Wheel (sometimes referred to as the Chicago Wheel), which served as an attraction back in 1893 at the World’s Columbian Exposition, i.e., the White City, i.e., the Chicago world’s fair, which was held along the lake on Chicago South’s side. In its honor Chicago has opened up one on Navy Pier by the lake, which offers some great views of the city

IMG_2616

One thing that I had never realized and this is one of my favorite places to go to where I have eaten at my whole life… is that the Adams street, where the Berghoff is located, is also one of the end points for Route 66… who knew?

IMG_2617

Grand Canyon, South Rim, Arizona

It’s the Grand Canyon, South Rim… it’s a classic! Rather than drive here, however, I took the train ride from Williams, AZ (on Route 66) where I was spending the night.

IMG_8118.jpg

To be honest, the three hours the Train service allowed me was ENOUGH, in large part because my pinky toe on my right foot was seriously unhappy with me (I had sprained it and rather than let it rest and keeping it elevated, I had been driving cross-country and doing a load of walking.) As such, rather than walk I first took the shuttle bus for invalids (organized by the train company) from the train to

IMG_8094.jpg
I LOVE the fact that an old-fashioned station wagon drove up just then, haven’t seen one of those since the 1970’s

El Tovar.. in order to get some lunch, and to see it because … HARVEY HOUSE!!!

IMG_8098.jpg

IMG_8156.jpg

IMG_8054

On the train I had asked the girl to suggest which of the restaurants had the best food, and she said the main restaurant at the El Tovar for sure… but I had done so much snacking on the way over that, while looking over their lunch menu, I found I wasn’t actually all that hungry, so I opted for the Onion Soup

IMG_0587.JPG

It was VERY good (definitely a cut above the average), and every person I spoke to at the surrounding tables was also extremely happy with their food. Let’s face it, you don’t expect food at restaurants like this actually be good, especially when the food prices are relatively reasonable. (You’re paying for the location, ambiance and view).IMG_0588

That said, the room is also quite spectacular…. both its interior and decorations,

IMG_8057

And of course if you’re very lucky (I wasn’t) you’ll be placed next to a widow with an amazing view.

IMG_0589

The bottom right image was from my table… I was WAY in the back but that said, ….Heh, my table was RIGHT next to the electric plug and my iPhone’s battery was down to 20% after the train ride.

IMG_0590
A bar, that also has a wonderful view

I wandered around the building a bit afterwards, cause it was gorgeous (and a Hardy House that had been kept authentic over time)… ‘

IMG_0597Directly adjacent to the El Tovar is Hopi House, which is also a historic landmark, that is used as store for mostly high-end Native American goods. It was designed by Mary Colter, the same woman who designed almost all of the Harvey Houses. IMG_0598IMG_8096IMG_0601After checking it out, I went to look at the rim…. pictures don’t do it justice, there’s something unreal about it.IMG_8107.jpgThat said, I was in AWE of how clear the view was. I kept saying to people, “do you realize that a few years ago you wouldn’t have seen this? That there was a horrible haze mucking it up? That its only because of the Clean air act, and the recent closing of some near by coal-burning power stations that you can see this so clearly” Apparently nobody did… Not only that but some Trump supporters actually started yelling at me (I’m shitting you not.)IMG_0602IMG_8114.jpg

IMG_8119.jpgMy weather karma is continuing— like I said it was supposed to be raining today…

IMG_8129IMG_0606IMG_0605IMG_8216At the other end of the part of the southern rim that I had walked along, is the Bright Angel Lodge which was also designed by Mary Colter, and this one has a very famous fireplace (that the one behind me in the images below)…. which again has amazing views at its restaurant… only the girl on the train told me the food isn’t quite as good.

IMG_0603

Adjacent to it is an ice-cream place that also serves sandwiches, and pretzels and snacks (all the food you’d eat while standing outside)… although while I was there mostly all people were buying was the ice cream.

IMG_0604 As they warned us on the train, there’s a HUGE fine, like $500 if they catch you feeding a squirrel… and that they will try to steal your food if you don’t watch out… what they neglected to mention is the little buggers bite, and will infect you with the plague!!!!

IMG_3023

After this I took an un-scenic shortcut back to the train station, because it was about time to go back to Williams, and if you miss the train you’re kind of screwed.

A stroll and a Cruise (Homes of the rich and famous, Miami style)

After having to head into the city to do some business: targetless wanderings through Miami’s downtown area, musings on her public transit system, and cruise …

img_7559

Today I had some errands to run in Miami proper that required I drag my ass out of bed obscenely early (for me) and get into town by 9:30 am. I wasn’t able to do what I needed (I showed up to the office without an appointment) but I was able to get a promise that they’d deal with me on Friday at 10am… so I’ll be heading there again then. However, since I was already downtown, I took to wandering.

First, I walked to the seashore (a block away), and then south along the coast; and, for the first time in my life saw a dolphin in the wild! Till now I’ve only ever seen them either in aquariums, or in caged up “swim with the dolphins” type things, which I find horrific, as they’re good for us and definitely not so great for them. This dolphin was getting jiggy with a seagull, they seemed to be almost playing with each other, and the dolphin practically swam right up to the walkway in the process. I was so stunned that I was slow to pull out my iPhone, and missed the interplay, but was able to get some pics of the dolphin as it swam away.

img_7669

Because of the recently concluded Art Basel Miami, essentially a viewing forum/event that lasts about a week where the world’s top art galleries can present their best wares to potential buyers (essentially the top 1% of income earners, and museums, etc.)  — it began shortly after I arrived on Nov. 28th and was pretty much over by Dec. 4th, there are still a whole slew of temporary outdoor art available for viewing along Miami’s ocean front.

img_7770

I had not known about the event before I arrived (the timing was completely coincidental) but I learned about it from my host, because a German couple (both artists) who were renting one of the downstairs rooms were both working it. (They both worked for one of the galleries that was showing work, although he’s apparently somewhat successful as a struggling painter in his own right — I don’t remember his name. When I went, it was mostly because I was in town that day anyway — more paperwork, although in sum it was rather like going to a very good but insanely expensive museum … $45 for one day’s entry — and there wasn’t even free wine and cheese.)

The next thing I discovered was that the downtown train system in Miami is free (BOGGLE!!). I had taken a Lyft/Uber type taxi into town, so I figured I would try out the rapid transit system which I had heard was pretty decent by US standards (in other words, lousy). I entered the system looking for where I was supposed to pay… kept looking, and still not finding, and then when the doors of a train opened I stuck my head in thinking “maybe there’s a conductor?” (the Metra system in Chicago still has old fashioned conductors)…  but there wasn’t. So I asked a woman siting on one of the few seats (only four per car), “is this free?” and she responded, “yup.” So I got in and road around, and… I’ll admit, I was using the ride to pick up some much needed balls from Pokémon stops — yup, still addicted to the game.

img_7769

After a while the train came to a halt at a station, and the loudspeaker informed us the system had broken down and please be patient… so I waited, and waited… and finally decided to just get out and walk. I found myself at what the city intends to be a museum park (like what we’ve already got in Chicago). They have an Modern Art museum … and they are in the process of building a (what I later learned was a new home for a) science museum — that had formerly been located in Coconut Grove across the street from Vizcaya Museum & Gardens; apparently, when it’s done, it is ultimately going to house the world largest shark tank (I have some thoughts on that, but they’re particularly cynical).

I had not yet had lunch (or any coffee for that matter), and according to my Yelp app, the Pérez Art Museum — which has very modern art, not really to my taste so I didn’t go in) also had fairly highly rated cafe, described as good enough so as to be worth eating at even if you weren’t going to see the art…I had Ceviche with pomegranate seeds, and iced coffee — and they were nice enough to give me a large plastic to-go cup of the iced coffee for my ‘refill’.

img_7665

Not long after, as I was walking along the shore line… one of my best friends, Carmi, who lives in Florida, called to chat, and when I told him about the train he said that it was considered by many Floridians to be an economic debacle. According to him, it cost so much and so few people actually ever use it, that the city could have instead offered free taxi fares within the same covered area – for life – to anyone who wanted one, and it would have been cheaper (and more likely to be utilized).

In fact, the city also put up a bicycle rental system scattered around the city, which is NOT free, and cost them a pittance by comparison to set up… which IS from what I could see taken full advantage of.

fsep6188

Although I’ve seen similar systems in other places where the bikes are less to do with tourists and more to do lowering traffic on the roads and/or smog levels (China for instance)… and in those cases the first 15 or 20 minutes are usually free — like the train — only better because if you plan it right you have free access to a bike 24/hours a day with no worries about it being stolen.

img_7563

img_7771

The yellow building is called The Freedom Tower (and should not be confused with the one in New York City which replaced the Twin Towers that were destroyed on 9/11) because it was used, at one point, as the processing facility for refugees from Castro‘s Cuba. Before that it was the offices of a newspaper, and now.. since we’re opening up normal relations with Cuba, it has become a museum — but ironically, not a history museum — instead it’s yet another modern art museum.

Next I headed towards the Bayside Marketplace, which my tripadvisor app was listing it as #12 of the best things to do in Miami (it’s sad how for a lot of towns in the USA the best thing to do is to go to the mall).  And as I walked through the stores that were NOT national chains — most of them were — I was like, “HEY, the 1970’s are back!”

Back when I was a kid my dad (a professor) had this one graduate student who was the consummate Hippie type. He and his wife were both these laid back granola types, and I used to love hanging out at their house. They loved, but couldn’t have, any kids of their own (this was before in vitro fertilization) and they weren’t stable enough economically to be allowed to to adopt —  back then they didn’t allow cross ethnic adoptions… so they set up their place up so that all the kids on their street would want come over there to hang out there. They had all these board games, and toys and cool stuff (like door handles with roses embedded in them). At one point, he and my dad were both presenting a paper at an academic conference in London, and the wife’s sister (who was her exact opposite) had flown over to hang out in London with us. Unlike the wife, who had married a Hippie, this sister had married a VERY rich guy from Beverly Hills, and was living THAT 70’s lifestyle; firstly, her husband apparently had NEVER seen her without her full face makeup applied, and — even in the cold of winter (or London summers) — she wore outfits so low cut that at least 1/2 of each breast was always exposed. My English male cousins, goggle eyed, would just stared at her with their jaws hanging open waiting for something to fall out. Walking around the Marketplace, half of the dresses there (in the locally owned shops) had neck lines that cut a deep V all the way down to the belly button, just like her outfits all used to do, so that if your wore them you’d risk your breasts being are completely exposed. Since then, the only time I’ve seen this sort of thing were on formal dresses at… like the Oscars, being worn by stars like JLo who are very proud of their bodies, but apparently in Miami these are now considered appropriate for daily wear.

However, one of the good things I found at the Market place was that there were like a few different cruise companies offering hour and a half tours of the bay for the VERY affordable price of $20 (I’m guessing this may have been due to it being a weekday during the off season) and 10% off of any drink from the bar.

So, I got myself a diet breaking virgin Mojito (normally I’m very careful to only drink black coffee or water) because this is Miami and I haven’t had once since I arrived…

fjxo1049

………….and then I’m went to go on a Bay side-cruise of the Port of Miami….

img_7772IMG_7774.JPGimg_7583img_7641

…………that included what’s was described as a tour of millionaires row.

img_7604

img_7613

This is apparently the Miami home of the singer Enrique Martín Morales, formerly of the boy band Menudo —  better known as, Ricky Martin

img_7614According to the tour guide, this rental property is popular with rappers and other stars who don’t already own homes in the area, as a place to throw parties.
—– It rents out for the low, low price of $30,000……. a WEEK!!!

img_7623
A great view of the Miami coastline, described by some as the third nicest in the U.S.A.  (after NYC and Chicago, of course) … we were all instructed to grab our camera’s for it

Then They took us to tour around Star Island.

img_7627And this is the home, supposedly (Wikipedia claims that some of the tour guides, including possibly my own, fib about who does or does not live in these homes) of one of the best selling artists of all time,  a singer/songwriter who with over 120 million records to his name worldwide; he has recorded in 14 languages, and has more than 400 gold and platinum records…..  Julio José Iglesias de la Cueva, better known as Julio Iglesias.

img_7631This estate is over 6 acres with a reported 31,615 sq ft of house and is lined with imported (and VERY erect) African Palm Trees is worth $122,000,000 and is (actually) the home of Dr Phillip Frost, who is on the Forbes wealthiest humans lists.
img_7632
Born of an observant Jewish family and served as the lieutenant commander for the U.S. Public Health Service at the National Cancer Institute, from 1963 to 1965… …..who, according to our tour guide used to own Pfizer — she called it the house Viagra built

img_7644And this comparatively modest home, apparently, belongs to Beckham’s David and Victoria… he being considered one of the greatest soccer players in the world, and she a former member of the Spice Girls.

img_7775

Howard Finster’s Paradise Garden

The former back yard of an artist: Remember the iconic talking heads album cover? Well this is the home of the Howard Finster, the Baptist ‘tent revival’ preacher who created those images.

IMG_7751

One of the most acclaimed (by the mass media — but not so much the art world) folk art artists of his day, he even did Jonnie Carson, Finster was the darling of the rock and roll world since REM filmed one of their early music videos in his back garden.

Howard Finster had been a tent revival preacher who felt a calling from God to pass ‘his’ word via art rather than in preaching… Creating art then became a compunction for Finster. He was initially ‘discovered’ by art professors at the university of Georgia, Athens.. And then by one of the most influential gallery owners in NYC (soho), and then by the likes of REM and the talking heads. According to the intro movie Keith Haring did a pilgrimage to here before he died and as you walk around you can see clear evidence of his handiwork.

 

When I got here originally I drove up and there was this smiling guy sitting on a grass cutter the kind you can drive around and according to go to the guy at the front door I was the first person to show up today. I had the place to myself, at least or a while. As soon as I got to the front door a big orange tabby walked up and demanded entrance and the guy working the front door dutifully let him in.

IMG_7750

When you first enter the museum you directed towards watch a half hour movie about the artist; it explains his life and motivation for his work (serving G-d). The moment I sat down to watch it the orange tabby came right over, jumped on my lap and proceeded to demand to be petted, so I scratched him about the ears for about 10 minutes, till he decided to get even more affectionate. Now I love cats, used to have three of them, but I have since been diagnosed as seriously allergic to them (which is why I no longer have any), so I had to nudge him to the floor. He gave me a pissed-off glance and walked away. Clearly from the cats perspective the job of any visitor is to pet him. As soon as the movie was over I ran to the bathroom, to wash my hands & arms which were now covered with cat, and splashed water on my eyes which had gone all itchy (I respect and obey cats to my own detriment). I later learned that there were in fact three orange tabbies who see it as your job as a visitor to pet them. 

IMG_7735

Otherwise, you are left alone to wander his mazelike gardens. Towards the back he constructed a house of mirrors that I suppose was intended to create the infinity of spirit ….
By the way, this is what I saw in the sky on the way driving to here

…. so that by the time I arrived to his Paradise Garden I was already predisposed to see ‘the spirit’ (if you will) in Finster’s art.  

All in all, this place was pretty amazing. Also, I had apparently unplugged the cork because after me a few car loads of artsy types just pulled in 

Booth Western Art Museum; Cartersville, GA

A Smithsonian Affiliate museum: while a lot of the art work here is ‘so-so,’ there are quite a few impressive pieces (often borrowed), especially among some of the modern art works.

IMG_7421

I’ve spent a fairly decent amount of time in the Southwest, in large part living on the Navajo Reservation, so I’m pretty familiar with this sort of work, and have seen better collections out there; that said, considering this is in the southeast I’m guessing its probably the best publicly viewable collection of Southwestern narrative art in this part of the country. It’s also a Smithsonian Affiliate which means they get to borrow things from that collection that the Smithsonian would otherwise keep in storage, like this incredibly racist piece which seems to have come from the Buffalo Bill Historical Center.

What I particularly enjoyed, were some of the modern art works.

IMG_7386

And this is a process I do not believe I have ever seen before, cast paper

The museums also contains some examples of paintings produced to be used for things such as book covers for western-genre literature, film posters, and magazine covers, etc. I found this particularly interesting as the wife of an old high-school friend of mine is an artist who specializes in the western genre and has had her work used for magazine covers, etc… so I checked to see if they had any of her work, but they did not.

What initially brought me the museum however was an Ansel Adams exhibition  (I was a photography major as an undergrad). It was an OK exhibition, it had a few of his photos and a collection of works by other who either influenced him, or were influenced by him. Of the latter, the most surprising ones were these:

And then this was one of the ones I might like in my own home

IMG_7395 

Nacoochee Mound & Sautee Nacoochee, GA

While the Indian mound is essentially a mildly offensive tourist trap, the tiny village of Sautee — just down the street — is in my opinion well worth the visit:

fullsizeoutput_332b

Located in Georgia, just outside of Helena, there is this Indian mound that really impressed me, at least until I learned from online sources (such as Atlas Obscura) that it had already been excavated, and then replaced (and is therefore a replica rather than the original) — a fact that none of the signs at the location tell you … nor one shared with me by locals.

The area in which it sits could best be described as countrified yuppie. It’s all gift shops and locally made artesian soaps cheeses and art etc., none of whom I suppose have any motivation to tell the truth about historical mound their shops are adjacent to. Not only did the locals not share the actual facts with me, I was, I would argue, actively misled by them. I can’t remember if it was the saleswoman at the racist antiques store across the street (which sold Sambo dolls and ‘Song of the South‘ DVD’s) or one of the other locals business people who initially assured me that the mound was an Indian burial mound that had been kept in “almost pristine condition” in large part because of the gazebo that a local farmer had opted to place on the top, that kept him and future farmers from leveling it.

In fact, if you look closely and read the sign, and then go to this site, you’ll discover that the sign is mostly a pack of lies!!!! There is no evidence that DeSoto visited, and archeologists are fairly certain that the mound predates any Cherokee habitation of the area.

Consider for instance “legend” that is associated to the mound:

“The legend of the Nacoochee Indian Mound states that Indian lovers from opposing tribes are buried within the mound.  Sautee, a brave of the Chicksaw Tribe, and Nacoochee, the daughter of a Cherokee Chief fell immediately and hopelessly in love when a Chicksaw band stopped in Cherokee territory at a designated resting place.  The two lovers met in the night and ran away to nearby Yonah Mountain to spend a few idyllic days together.  When they later confronted Nacoochee’s father with the idea of creating peace between the two nations, Chief Wahoo ordered Sautee thrown from the high cliffs of Yonah Mountain while Nacoochee was forced to watch.  Almost immediately, Nacoochee broke away from her father’s restraining hands and leaped from the cliff to join her lover.  At the foot of the cliff, the lovers dragged their broken bodies together and locked in a final embrace and died there.  The Chief, overcome with remorse realized the greatness of love and buried the lovers, still locked in death, near the banks of the Chattahoochee River as a burial mound.”
source: Southernhighroads.org

Seems a bit TOO Romeo and Juliet for my tastes… that and the fact that the mound is listed on the National registry of historical places may, in actuality, have more to do with it’s having been located on the estate of L.C. Hardman, a former Georgia Governor, than anything else. … none of which I learned till I started researching the location for this blog post.

I have to say that in retrospect, as someone who has deep personal connections to the Native American community, I felt a bit ‘ripped off’ by my experience at this location. On the upside, it’s not someplace I went out of my way to see, it just happened to be along the drive… but that said, some honesty would be appreciated! I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised, considering this is located just outside of Helen, GA, (notable only for German architecture and restaurants — only one of which is any good — it is essentially a tourist trap aimed at anyone in search of a little touch of a Bavaria in the midst of the Appalachian foothills).

That said, directly adjacent is one of the actual gathering points (of which there were many) for the Trail of Tears… a forced relocation (that for those Native Americans not affluent enough to purchase transit devolved into an ultimately genocidal/ethnic cleansing) of the south eastern United states, during the administration of Andrew Jackson.

IMG_7191

 fullsizeoutput_332c

That said, I did find one major “FIND” a bit further down Unicoi turnpike… first you’ll find a very cute “village/crossroads” (not more than few stores) of Sautee Nacoochee which includes the ridiculously picturesque Old Sautee’s Store and market,

IMG_0002

walking distance from which you’ll find the Folk Pottery Museum of Northeast Georgia, a museum for the Traditional pottery of the area, built as an annex to a converted historic school, which now serves as the Sautee Nacoochee Center, a gallery and visual arts center for local artists (and a lot of what they have for sale — and at affordable prices considering it’s original art…  are, at least in my opinion, really good)

IMG_0001