Monday, July 18, 2016


Anish Kapoor's Halo, Peabody-Essex Museum

Valerie says: The last time I went to Boston the fastest way to get there was by Amtrak, and that took five fours - IF the train had no delays, and that was a mighty big IF.  But I recently discovered that a Bolt Bus will pick me up a short walk from my home at 7am and get me to Boston just after 11am, with amenities like internet and pretty comfortable seats, so I got a round trip ticket under sixty dollars, found a GREAT place to stay using AirBnB (my second excellent experience with them) and off I went.

The first thing I bought on arrival at South Station was a seven day transit pass called a Charlie Card, which offered me full access for seven days for $21.25.

  A single ride is $1.75, so essentially you get the full value of the card if you use it twelve times.  But I hardly need tell you the benefit of not having to buy a new ticket each time you want to board, or how wonderful it is not to worry if you have correct change, or if you will buy your ticket in time to catch the next train, or if you're going in the right direction.  By the third day my Charlie Card had more than paid for itself.  (And when I left on the fourth day, I left it where someone might find it and get further use out of it.)

The oldest subway system in the United States, it's a bit antiquated, but in a world of rapid change, there's something to be said for the antiquated.  The trolleys run very regularly, and I never experienced much of a wait or too much crowding.  Here you can see I was separated from my driver by a slack canvas curtain, not bullet-proof plexiglass.  The New York City subway system is pretty automated, but the Boston system responds more readily to individual needs.  The drivers were always very nice (actually, everyone in Boston is very friendly).  Drivers hit their bells before they leave the station (since many stops are outdoors at ground level, and traversed by pedestrians), but some may hit it once or twice, while others will rhythmically tap out a one note tune.

I had an easy train ride to my BnB stop.

On alighting, there was a very helpful map of my neighborhood. I photographed it, just in case I lost my bearings.  The Coolidge Corner station turns out to be just blocks from President Kennedy's birthplace, circled in red.  I didn't stop there, but I was tickled to know I was in a historic area.

Wandering up Harvard Street, my eyes were drawn to a marvelous pair of eyeglasses that appeared to change color depending on how the light hit them (or what angle I viewed them from.  Imagine my surprise and delight to see the LA Eyeworks name and typeface on one of the temples.  This was a great way to start my trip.

I was advised to have brunch at Zaftig's (who speaks Yiddish?  If you don't, zaftig is literally Yiddish for  juicy, but when applied to women, we would translate it as pleasantly plump.)  I wound up not going (there was a line), but how could you not want to eat at a restaurant which beckons visitors with a portrait that looks like a Modigliani?

My AirBnB digs turned out to be the refinished attic of a private home.  I had the whole floor to myself, a king size bed and a fully equipped private bathroom.  Windows provided light and cross ventilation, and backyard birds provided entertainment.  After dropping off my small suitcase, I took the subway to the Museum of Fine Arts, where all visitors are greeted by a gigantic inflatable flower (bigger than about 10 people standing together) by Choi Jeong Hwa on the front lawn.  I've already put it on Instagram, so click on the link to see it inflate and deflate.   I was a little floored by the $25 admission, particularly since it was already 3pm by the time I arrived.  The ticket is, however, good for a second admission if used within seven days, which mollified me a bit.  Tickets for seniors, by the way, are reduced by less than 10% (to $23), and the minimum age for eligibility is 65.

Inside, they were showing Techstyle, a show of fashion using new technology.  The exhibition opens with a very edgy video featuring pop star Viktoria Modesta as she shows off her unique prosthetic leg.  (For the full screen version click here.)

To watch (yes, watch) the LED lights dress click here; for the marvelous Iris van Herpen creation click here.  I really enjoyed the red dress below.  I have to quote the label verbatim, as I couldn't possibly reword it myself.  "... a flexible 3-D printed garment that comes off of the printer ready to wear.  ...  allows the customer to change the direction, roundness and height of the individual panels.  Generated from a body scan, the dress can be fully customized using a design app on the company's website.  Assembly of the dress is as easy as snapping together three pieces."  A collaboration of Nervous System and Shapeways.

What was especially nice about this, however, was that the museum shop had some really great souvenirs related to it.  Have you noticed that museum shops have become all about tee shirts and magnets and umbrellas and erasers?  Are you old enough to remember when museums sold truly breathtaking objects that weren't available anywhere else?  If so, then you can probably understand my great pleasure at seeing two necklaces, earrings, and a bracelet in the museum shop, all made in the same color as the dress, using the same technology, and all affordably priced.

I also got to see their exhibition on Nubian gold before I had to run off to the Institute of Contemporary Art to meet the delightful Mayra Gonzalez, whom Jean and I met not long ago when she and her husband Biorn had a booth at the Manhattan Vintage Show.   To my chagrin, I could feel myself coming down with a cold, which drained a bit of my energy.  Luckily for me, Mayra was a great sport, and allowed me to gorge myself on protein (a wagyu slider) and calm myself with an excellent glass of red wine before we attempted to see the featured show, the wonderfully unsettling collages/(dare one say?) dolls/puppets of Geoffrey Farmer.  (See a few more of the exhibition pieces  here.)

In the dark, I made my way back from Mayra and ICA to Coolidge Corner on public transportation with no trouble.  I stopped at a drugstore and bought my usual array of cold medications: Hall's Mentolyptus, Theraflu Severe Cold and Cough, Advil Cold & Sinus, Mucinex D and generic aspirin.  Thank heaven for these.  By the next morning, I felt as though I had escaped the worst of it, and would only have to be vigilant.

The next morning, I set out for Boston's second best known museum, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.  It's unfortunate that most of us know it best for the 1990 theft of 13 works of art, including Rembrandt's Storm on the Sea of Galilee and Vermeer's The Concert.  Gardner's original mission was to bring art to early 20th century Boston, and share it with the public after her death.  The building, in which Gardner lived, and the courtyard by themselves are a marvel before one even begins to enjoy the artwork, which is (as it was during her lifetime) all over her home.   This can look a bit like a fire sale, and the untutored eye (that is to say, my eye, for example) can miss a good deal.  I heard a guard pointing out a Degas drawing to a visitor.  I would have overlooked it.  Later, admiring a roomful of dense wood carvings from approximately the 16th centuries, a guard helpfully told me that I had just passed by a 14th century Giotto as well as a Simone Martini.      A look at the internet will acquaint readers with the best known works, so I'll post two photos of works that get far less attention.

I loved this clever 19th century Japanese lantern depicting a man and woman in a pleasure boat, with  frothing waves at the base.  All of us are familiar with the oval collapsing Japanese lanterns, but this metalwork lantern is quite unusual.  Clearly, Gardner did not limit herself to art that was "safe" and "approved" by the experts of her day (although she did have experts advising her).

Another work I quite enjoyed was a huge tapestry (on which I found no information) in which everyone's clothing was lovingly portrayed in lavish detail.  In contrast to all the splendor, however, at the feet of the central figure are two open cases containing severed heads.

From there I traveled to Newbury Street.  This was perhaps my only real disappointment in Boston.  There was nothing on Newbury Street that one couldn't see in midtown Manhattan.  Just as in Soho, the interesting shops could not manage the rising rents, and left.  And just as in Manhattan, there is no new go-to location.  The shops have either dispersed or closed.  Change is inevitable, but not all change is good.  I stocked up on protein at The Met Back Bay (one of the few restaurants on Newbury), eating my second hamburger in as many days.  The fries were scrumptious.

After that, I had very little time to visit the Mobilia Gallery, which I came to know through Manhattan's annual SOFA (sculptural objects and functional art) handcrafted art fair.  When I called, owner Linda Behar instructed me to take the #72 bus from Harvard Square (which I looked for in vain), or walk down Brattle Street.  I can't thank Linda enough for telling me about Brattle Street.  It has block after block after block of the most Norman-Rockwellian-ideal-America-of-your-dreams homes, built before anyone ever thought of quick drying concrete.  They look the way homes were probably always supposed to look.  They are big enough for the large families of old, with porches and trees and fences.  They look as though they were designed by intelligent, self-effacing architects who focused on form following function, but added beauty in the details.  Nothing is gilt.  There are no gravel driveways in the front, and no SUVs in them.  If there are columns, they are there to support weight.  There is no aluminum siding; there are no elves or jockeys.  There is the fragrance of greenery, and there are carefully tended gardens.  Hurrying to see Mobilia before it closed, I took no pictures, which I deeply regret.  This photo of a Brattle Street home taken off the internet gives you some idea, but you really have to take a leisurely stroll down Brattle Street for yourself.

Everything about Mobilia Gallery is a feast for the eyes, including the bathroom.  In an unusual turn of events, I did not ask for the bathroom - I was invited to enjoy looking at it.  How many people can say that they have - or even that they have visited - a bathroom that's fun just to be in and look at?  Mobilia is small, and they use their space very well.  My favorite objects, the jewelry (no surprise there), were in cases that would have been difficult to photograph unless I was suspended from the ceiling (now, there's a thought!), but I'm pleased to show you a sliver of the bathroom.  If you look at this and think Mobilia specializes in teapots, you need to think more broadly.  Mobilia takes pride in their inclusiveness.  They embrace and endless variety of media and techniques.  A great place to visit and support.

The day I arrived in Boston, temperatures were close to ninety degrees; overnight they dropped into the sixties, and stayed there for the length of my visit.  Needless to say, I had brought clothes only for extreme heat, and little tiny cotton knit jackets for air conditioned commercial venues.  Because I was fighting off a cold, I wound up wearing the warmest things I had - that is, more or less the same thing every day.  My AirBnB hostess was beyond kind to me when she lent me a light down jacket, which I wore with much relief and much appreciation.

The next afternoon (after a lazy morning) I met up with Mayra and Biorn, who spirited me away to Salem for a visit to the Peabody-Essex Museum, and later to tiny, colorful, salt air Marblehead for ice cream.  There might not be an inch of Marblehead (below) from which you can't see the water.

The Peabody-Essex Museum, based in a seaport town, has a wealth of art and artifacts relating to its history in trading and shipping.  One room, devoted to the industry, displayed a number of mastheads.  (Fun facts: a ship's masthead generally gave a clue as to the name of the ship; many sailors refused to board ships without a masthead, thinking them unlucky.)  In the photo below, you can not only see the size of the masthead, you can also see that I'm wearing the same warm clothes I'd worn the day before.

There was a room featuring Chinese art for the foreign market.  Among them, this astonishingly delicate fan.  To the naked eye, it appears to be lace, but in fact it is carved ivory.

The Peabody-Essex keeps up with the times, and has a fair selection of modern art.  Thus the Anish Kapoor (2006) in the opening photo.  We did make the great mistake of not visiting the gift shop first, and were summarily kicked out at closing time, leaving all sorts of goodies to be purchased by others, some other day.  Readers, learn from my mistake!  We did make up for it, though, eating a scrumptious seafood dinner afterward at a marvelous Salem restaurant which specializes in fresh mussels.  We had a short walk through a bit of Salem, but it was clear when we left that I had only dipped my toe in its waters.

On the last day of my four day trip, I went back to the Museum of Fine Arts.    While changing trains, I ran into musicians in Revolutionary War period clothing on the steps of the Boston Public Library.

The woman's dress is wonderfully done.  Here it is from behind.  It would have been hard work matching up all the stripes at the back, and the flared hips must also have been a challenge.

When I arrived at the museum, I expected to waltz in with my old ticket, but I was abruptly stopped by a guard, who told me I had to trade that ticket in for a new one.  (Why, I wondered, and wonder still.)  When I'd bought my ticket on Thursday, there had been no line.  Now there was a line of about 20 people.  I went up to the members' desk and asked if having already purchased my ticket gave me special dispensation not to stand on line.  It doesn't.  This seems like something that could be improved.

The MFA has an excellent collection of Impressionist, Post-Impressionist and Fauvist art, so I made my way through those galleries in a leisurely manner.  Readers have already seen the Museum's van Gogh and Gaugin paintings, so here's a little detail of Paul Signac's Antibes - The Pink Cloud (1916). The brushwork is marvelous.

There was a wonderful Louise Nevelson in the modern section,

a huge, saucy neon sign on the main floor, by Jeppe Hein (which is not nearly as dark or as fuzzy as it appears here),

and an extremely tasty roast beef sandwich (more beef in three days than I ordinarily consume in three months) and organic Cabernet Sauvignon in the small cafe by the gift shop. (I had short conversations with several people as I ate, and in fact with quite a few people as I made my way around the city.  I found Bostonians to be open, friendly, and interested.)

In the afternoon, the handcrafts, pre-Columbian and Native American sections held more wonders before I had to leave.  Besides the wait for my ticket, my only other complaint about the museum was the tendency here - as at many other museums these days - to name absolutely every square inch after some benefactor or other.  It is, one supposes, a sign of the times, since museums are having trouble fund raising (who isn't?), and so instead of having, say, The Egyptian Wing, museums now have The John Q. Smith and Mary Ellen Jones Smith Memorial Egyptian Wing.  That's one word for a remarkably advanced civilization that built the pyramids and the Sphinx, and lasted several thousand years, and nine words for two people who paid for a room.  There just seems to be something odd about that.

Some of you will say all I did was visit museums, and you're right.  But that was the right way to go.  Now I have a great excuse to go back and see everything I missed.  If you have been thinking of going, give in to your impulse.


  1. Thank you for the virtual Boston Museum Tour! Aside from the drop in temperature, it looks like you enjoyed your trip, and I'm envious you were able to spend time with Mayra and Biorn - such a lovely couple!

  2. Wow Boston sounds wonderful. Thanks for giving us a virtual tour

  3. Thank you so much for a fabulous tour of Boston. As always, your writing is visual, appetising and full of making me feel as though I have visited with you.

  4. FABULOUS!!!! I grew up just outside of Boston and remember skipping school to go to the Gardner Museum. I liked it much better than math class. I also went a museum in Portland OR recently and loved the gift shop! It had lovely, unusual things that reflected the exhibits. Maybe that's the new spot for shopping off-line. I also remember Newbury St from the late 60's and it was fabulous. I still have some handmade glass beads that I bought at a place called The Artisan Shop (I still remember the name, I loved it so much!!!)

    Maybe someday we can revisit Boston together. My sweetie isn't much for museums. xoxoxo

  5. You are a great travel blogger. Wonderful museums and the photo of you is fabulous. xo