Friday, November 9, 2012

Day 61: Barstow to Sunnyvale

We left Barstow at 8:00, very early for us. We arrived home at 4:15, the longest driving day of the trip. There was a cold wind the whole day, and light rain for a short while. We saw wind-turbines fringing the mountains around Tehachapi. On I-5 we observed that agriculture in California is even more intense and diverse than other states, but quite a lot of cropland in the central valley has been abandoned because of water restrictions; signs posted by farmers along the road protest the "Congress-created Dust Bowl." We discussed the competing needs of agriculture and wild Pacific salmon.

Everything is fine at our house. One of our dear neighbors has moved, but the "anchor" of the neighborhood, who knows all the news, happened to be out for his walk and he greeted us.

We have a tremendous sense of accomplishment. We covered 8,700 miles and visited 39 museums. Of 60 nights in motels, Dan negotiated 8 freebees. We saw three national memorials: Flight 93 Memorial in Pennsylvania, 9/11 Memorial in Manhattan, and the Oklahoma City National Memorial. We had pleasant visits with 5 friends.

Dan did almost all the driving. Twice drowsiness forced him to let me drive for an hour. Nothing wakes Dan up like my driving. (It's not like I get a lot of practice.) His driving was virtually flawless, rarely frightening me. The only accident we saw was a big rig on its side across the highway; no emergency vehicles, the big excitement was over. Tow trucks were working on getting the truck upright. In our travels we have twice seen those big trucks turned over on the opposite side of the road. Trucks are the big danger on the road: there are so many of them and they are so competitive; the drivers are pushing themselves and liable to make a mis-step. It's scary to be on an old-fashioned two-way road with no divider. Highway construction was extensive all around the nation; this is good.

It's shocking how divided the nation is. In this last election Colorado legalized the recreational use of marijuana; while we were in Oklahoma, an 'open-carry' law went into effect enabling registered gun owners to carry their weapon openly. In Texas we drove through town after town with no activity or prominent institution except a church; and as we were driving on Sunday, the parking lots were all full.

We saw a phenomenal amount of poverty. Along the state routes you see people living in very remote places in shacks and single-wide motor homes and combinations of the two, surrounded by decades of detritus. Small towns that look largely abandoned. That's another big division in this country: poverty vs. luxury. We felt very lucky to be skimming by it all in our climate-controlled chariot.

All during this trip we enjoyed the largesse of rich people. We saw many museums that were originally founded by individual art collectors who wanted to share their collections; we benefitted from their spirit of philanthropy.

Dan loves the new mini-van. It gave him all the support he needed and enhanced the trip a lot. There is almost too much space; our stuff sort of sloshed around in a semi-organized fashion. We were able to take clothes for all the weather changes and to bring back whatever we wanted.

This is the fourth time we have traveled coast to coast looking at art museums. This was the most successful trip. We had a very detailed plan and stuck to it. We had to skip one museum when we both had a cold, but we crammed in a few places that weren't on the plan.

We got healthier and stronger on the trip. We did not come home all broken down and worn out. In fact, Dan didn't pause for breath after we got home before he went to the Post Office and Safeway.

The next phase of the trip is to process the data we gathered, meaning we have to edit our photos and figure out how we want to share them. It's going to be a busy winter.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Day 60/60: Flagstaff to Barstow

It's difficult to work out the timing between Amarillo and Sunnyvale. The way the cities are spaced, you can do 3 long days or 4 short days. Since long days of driving are dangerous, especially when you are driving into the late afternoon sun, we opted for 4 short days.

The scenery between Flagstaff and Barstow is pretty. Nice healthy pine forest leaving Flagstaff. One mountain range after another.

We had lunch at Denny's in Needles; an acceptable chicken salad. Needles is a pretty small town without much going for it.

We stayed at a number of Comfort Suite hotels (toward the high end of the Choice hotel chain) on the trip, enough to get the last two nights of the trip free, based on points. Last night we had a truly crummy Quality Inn (toward the low end of the Choice hotel chain; reminded me of how we used to travel), but tonight's Quality Inn is pretty nice: more spacious, fresher and more functional, with a swinging bar and Mexican restaurant.

It was 29 degrees in Flagstaff when we awoke; it was 89 degrees in Barstow when we arrived.

You may notice that this was the 60th of 60 days and still we're not home. Actually it was 60 nights in motels, and 61 days on the road. Home tomorrow. We were not especially in a hurry to get home, until Amarillo. This last few days with all driving and few distractions makes us impatient.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Day 59/60: Albuquerque to Flagstaff

Dan hadn't taken any photos for a couple of days, so he decided we should start the day by shooting the sculpture garden surrounding the Albuquerque Museum of Art. They have a few things by semi-important contemporary artists, and many cowboy and Indian type works by regional artists. The sky was clear and the temperature was slightly chilly, quite nice. Why didn't we tour the museum? We have visited the Albuquerque Museum a couple times in the past; they don't allow photos; they weren't open today.

It was about 9:30 when we got under way. The land in New Mexico is picturesque—mesas, buttes, and reefs of red rock near and far—but it appears to be virtually useless. Almost no agriculture, no mining, no drilling, hardly any railroads along I-40; just tourist stops and souvenirs. We stopped for pictures of the Paloma pueblo, which isn't very picturesque; more shacks than adobes, more vacant than occupied.

We stopped for lunch at our favorite place in Gallup—Don Diego's. This is a large and bustling place, serving both New Mexican and American food. It has become more upscale over the years and recently got a tasteful makeover in which they eliminated all their Mexican bric-a-brac and bright colors and replaced it with beige furniture and framed photos of Native Americans in their daily lives, and native dress. Nevertheless, everyone associated with the restaurant looks to be of Mexican descent, including most of the customers, and the food is authentic New Mexican style, which both Dan and I are partial to. We had the pork carnitas; it was terrific. I bought a turquoise bracelet from one of the constant succession of Native American vendors. He claimed that he and his family made jewelry together, but it was stamped 'Mex.' I can't really say why I went for it.

We stopped again in Winslow, Arizona to investigate a hotel called La Posada. A friend of Dan's had stayed there and had a room with a balcony over-looking the railroad tracks; he enjoyed watching the frequent passing trains. I was interested because La Posada was designed by one of the earliest women architects, Mary Coulter (or Colter, I've seen both). She was a contemporary of Frank Lloyd Wright and Julia Morgan, but she was very unassuming in her manner and didn't attract much attention. She was the architect and interior decorator for the Fred Harvey chain of hotels along the Santa Fe railroad. It was she who decided to use or adapt local Southwest styles, featuring local materials and decorative motives. Before her, Harvey was considering a Swiss chalet style for his hotels. So we owe Mary Coulter a lot. La Posada is a pleasant place; not especially impressive. It is a private business and every inch is used to display or sell art, in addition to being a functional hotel; anyway, it has been through so many changes it is hard to know Coulter's aesthetic intentions.

We got into Flagstaff about 4:30. Our room at the Quality Inn is cramped; only one person can move at a time. "But it was free!" Dan keeps saying. Also we could park right by the door. The freeway is hard by us on one side and the railway on the other, and the sound-proofing is not so hot. Dan went to the Outback Steakhouse for dinner; I decided to rest and watch the election returns.

We managed to stay up long enough to see the President declared the winner, but not to see his acceptance speech. No offense to any Republicans in the crowd (actually, I don't think I have any Republican friends), but I am inexpressibly relieved to have the President returned to the White House.

Day 58/60: Amarillo to Albuquerque

By the time Dan gassed up the car and made a reservation for our last night on the road--negotiating a freebie from Choice Hotels based on points--it was 9:30 when we left. The sky was clear and the temp was 51 degrees.

We passed a little more cattle country in Texas, but as we approached New Mexico, the land became pure desert with little vegetation or economic use, beyond the occasional unhappy cow lying in the shade of a billboard. We soon crossed into New Mexico and changed to Mountain time, rolling the clock back again. Keeps me busy changing all the clocks. Red earth. Mesas and reefs. In the high country there were piñon pine and juniper.

The highlight of the day was an excellent meal in Moriarty. Because a satellite with many spokes was perched over it on a tall post, we spontaneously pulled into a restaurant called El Comedor de Anaya. The menu said the restaurant had been a family business for a few generations. Dan ordered brilliantly. Seeing tilapia tacos on the menu, he asked if he could have that without the taco shell; I followed his lead. We got beautifully grilled tilapia with authentic New Mexico style rice and beans, and a little salad and guacamole. It was great. I couldn't quit eating. Finished with sopapilla and honey. A winner of a meal! But it puzzled me because the waitress was 'white' non-Hispanic, and when the cook emerged from the kitchen she also appeared to be non-Hispanic. Could a middle-aged white woman cook authentic New Mexico style? When I inquired, the waitress said the cook was the daughter of the restaurant's founder, and that one of her brother's had been governor of New Mexico for awhile. So the food was good because the cook knew what she was doing, and she cared.

It was only another hour's drive through the Sandia range to Albuquerque. We got in about 2:30. The temperature was nice, low 70s.

Our first room had a so-called Murphy King, meaning the bed could be folded into the wall. Eh? Apparently some people fold the bed and use the room for meetings. The Murphy bed took up too much room when it was down, so we got the desk clerk to give us a regular king, which is much more comfortable.

Dan had dinner with an old friend of his that I've never met for various obscure reasons. Anyway, I didn't need any more food. I stayed in and worked on the blog.

When I was brushing my teeth before bed, I noticed the water was brown, both in the sink and the tub. I called the front desk. The clerk sent a maintenance guy up. He said the city had done something to the pipes that day and the water was running brown in some of the rooms. He and I ran the water for a long time, then he started getting calls from all the rooms with the same complaint. What a nightmare, for him and for us, too.

I ran the water in the sink and tub for over an hour, and flushed the toilet repeatedly. For a long time the water was very dark brown; sickening. When the maintenance guy came back, he said the city had experienced a rain water leak, which they repaired yesterday. I think he was planning to open a main line to drain the brown water. Eventually the water cleared up pretty much, but when the tub and sink drained completely, I saw they were black with filth. Oooo, yuck. What to do. I couldn't clean it with hand soap and a wash rag. I called the front desk twice asking for cleaning products. I got different answers but no action. Finally I got dressed and went to the front desk, begging for cleaning products. I really didn't think I could sleep with that filth in the bathtub; like a boogie man. For some reason there was still a housekeeper there at 9:45 and they got her to come up and clean up the mess. So I could relax finally and have a sleep. Dan, by the way, slept through the whole crisis.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Day 56/60: Forth Worth Museums

For the final art day of our journey we pulled a triple-header: 3 art museums in one day, bringing us to a total of 39. We were able to do that because the 3 museums are located near each other in a sort of cultural park.

Dan is a big fan of the Kimbell Musem, which has one of the biggest collections of European masters in this country; this was our third visit. This time there were a number of frustrations involved. The Kimbell is in one of the greatest buildings in this country, by Louis I. Kahn; his name is not so well-known, but he is considered a model for architectural trends. His thing was simplicity, concrete, and reflecting pools. I recall the serenity created by the pools around the building, and the light patterns they created in the arched porches. Serenity no more. The lovely building has been surrounded by construction, its pools are dry, the Isamu Noguchi sculpture garden is dry and forlorn, all the delicate trees that softened the ferocious Texas heat are gone. Everything is construction debris and promises.

Their big attraction was that they had their permanent collection arranged in the order it was acquired. That means a magnificent standing Boddisattva might be shown next to a work by Mondrian. Is that helpful? No, it is not. Museum directors like to think that making comparisons across periods of history and art forms is going to stimulate our appreciation. Rubbish. Much more revealing to keep things together that were created under similar influences, and are even reacting to each other. Anyway, we buzzed about for an hour and a half, cherry-picking our favorite works.

The Cardsharps by Caravaggio, c. 1595
Dan's photo
The Cheat with the Ace of Clubs by Georges de la Tour, c. 1634
Dan's photo
A panel painting by Michelangelo, which is a rare thing. This is the first known painting by Michelangelo, believed to be painted when he was 12 or 13! It was a copy of a painting by a German artist of the 1400s.
The Torment of St. Anthony by Michelangelo, 1487 or 1488
Jan's photo
We had lunch at the Kimbell. It was a soup and salad buffet. It worked.

Fortunately The Modern Art Museum is right across the street from the Kimbell, marked by a towering sculpture by Richard Serra.

Vortex by Richard Serra, 2002
Dan's photo
The Modern has a great building by Tadao Ando, who was much influenced by Louis I. Kahn. Again we have simplicity, concrete, and reflecting pools, with the addition of some glass walls: it has a cleansing effect on the mind.

Interior reflecting pool at The Modern
Dan's Photo
The frustration was that the whole second floor was closed for installation of some exhibit. We had a cold drink in their soothingly shady restaurant, took a few exterior shots, raced around the first floor, bagging a few photos. They had important works by Anselm Kiefer and Gerhardt Richter. A very cool Martin Puryear.

Book with Wings by Anselm Kiefer, 1992-1994
Dan's photo

Ladder for Booker T. Washington by Martin Puryear, 1996
Dan's photo
Twenty-five Colored Marilyns (detail) by Andy Warhol, 1962
Dan's photo
Then it was time for the Amon Carter. Even though it is only a block or two away, it is uphill through a park and the temperature was in the high 80s. Not wanting to arrive steaming and sweating, we took the car up to their parking lot. Also, we didn't have any time to waste with this aggressive schedule.

Entrance of Amon Carter Museum
Architect: Philip Johnson
Dan's photo
The building for the Amon Carter was designed by one of the deans of American architecture, Philip Johnson. Johnson not only designed many great buildings in his long career, he championed the cause of modern architecture as an art form, and his constant innovations were frequently at the head of trends. He first designed the Amon Carter in 1961 in what was then the International Style, which he pretty much invented, with streamlined Greek type features. This building has beautifully tapered columns forming a front portico. When the building was expanded around 2002, he designed that as well—which is quite unusual. He was in his 90s at the time, and died at the age of 98. The addition flows smoothly from the old building, functions very well, and has class.

The Amon Carter has American art, with a specialty in Remington and Russell. It is one of Dan's favorite museums. They have some real classics, such as Eakins' "Swimming." These are all Dan's photos.

Indian Women Moving (detail) by Charles M. Russell, 1898
The Smoke Signal by Frederic Remington, 1905
Thunderstorm on Narragansett Bay by Martin Johnson Heade,  1868
Swimming by Thomas Eakins, 1885
Crossing the Pasture by Winslow Homer, 1872
White Birch by Georgia O'Keeffe, 1925
The special exhibit was the American art from the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C., quite a treasure trove. No photos.

It was 85 degrees at 5:15 when we were driving back to Dallas. Thunderheads were gathering in the east; very pretty.

We talked about finding some place more interesting to eat, but we were pretty tired and we have a long day's driving tomorrow, so we ate here at the hotel again. This time we split the turf n surf. Dan had the filet mignon; I had the prawns. The veggies were fresh. It was all okay. We haven't had a special meal in a few days now.

Our Hilton Garden Inn here in Fort Worth definitely takes the prize for speedy elevators and abundant hot water. And Dan got a week-end deal where we paid only $89 per night and got one of the three nights free. It takes some persistence and negotiation to get these hotel deals, but Dan has got what it takes.

Day 57/60: Dallas to Amarillo

Thanks to rolling back the clock to Standard time, we got under way by 8:45. Sky was clear; there was a one-jacket chill. Traffic was light on Sunday morning. We were dumbfounded by the amount of highway or railway construction going on around the already complex freeway system. Dan says the freeway designers in Texas aren't as smart as those in California and the drivers are more aggressive. It took ages to get through Greater Dallas.

When we finally got out of town we were in cattle country. We saw cattle intermittently all day long, some in depressingly dry pasture. They were lowing, "I wanna go to California." In between was cotton, some of that was depressingly sparse. It looked like they were doing dry-land cotton farming, meaning low yield but vast acreage. The other major economic feature was railroads; all day coal trains passing oil tanker trains.

There were nice trees and low hills part of the way, but as you head west, Texas gets flatter and drier. You may have been to Kansas, but you ain't seen flat till you've been to Texas; not a rise for miles in some areas.

The only break we took was a slight detour to the town of Quanah, which raised a lot of questions. Quanah Parker was the last Comanche chief and was undefeated in war with the whites. But he came to see that white civilization was going to win out in the long run, and he adapted, learning to play a role in the white community. I'm assuming he must have lived in that town some time. The reason we took an interest is that rumor has it that my family is connected by marriage with his. I'm curious about this, but not enough to get into genealogical research. We took a photo of the monument to Quanah Parker in front of the court house. The town of Quanah appeared to be virtually a ghost town; it was Sunday afternoon in very churchy country, so it's hard to be sure if all those businesses were really closed.

For me the day was about a rattle. All day long there was a persistent rattle, no matter how I shifted things around or stuffed towels between them. Around 3:00 I realized the suitcases were packed on end so that they rocked against each other and the wall of the car. When I stopped the rattle, it was so wonderful, like not banging your head against the wall any more.

We got into Amarillo about 4:15. Pleasant temperature; low 70s.

We had a pleasant visit with my cousin and her daughter. My cousin has a wonderful house and an attentive daughter living nearby, and her other children are not far away.

Then we had dinner at Taco Joe's, across the parking lot from our hotel. No Mexicans even remotely involved. Dan was happy with his meal. I didn't have any appetite. I tasted his dish; it seemed corporate and overly spicy to me.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Day 54/60: Oklahoma City to Dallas

We got off to a leisurely start today because we had to go to the art museum to pick up some stuff that I had left in a locker the day before, and the museum didn't open until 11:00. This time Dan figured out the proper entrance so that I didn't have to walk so far; I just walked straight to the locker, opened it with the key I was still carrying, and walked out. No one noticed me coming or going.

So it was about 11:45 when we got started. Traffic on the freeway was jammed all the way out of Oklahoma City and through the suburbs due to construction. When we finally got out of town, we were in cattle country. Pretty dry except for one more fertile river canyon. We had about 3 1/2 hours of monotonous driving, with a stop at a Subway somewhere for a salad.

When we crossed into Texas it was 89 degrees, and the wind was high. Hard to believe.

Driving into Dallas was intimidating. There was a monumental construction project going on along both sides of the freeway: some kind of rail system? Anyway, traffic patterns kept changing, signs were hard to read, traffic was congested.

We got to our Hilton Garden Inn about 5:00, maybe later. Dan was dissatisfied with the first room they gave us, mainly because it overlooked the roof and blowers of the kitchen. So we moved to a room on the fifth floor with a view of the swimming pool and other big hotels in the distance. Anyway, it's a nice big functional room.

I've been feeling a little under par for a couple of days, so I went straight to bed. I actually watched a TV show, other than news, for the first time on the trip. Dan had dinner at the hotel café. We got in a good long night's sleep.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Day 53/60: OK City, Memorial, Museum

Even more frightening than international terrorism, which at least has an ostensible purpose, is homegrown terrorism, which is committed by someone who is just plain crazy, whatever his reasoning. In 1995 a madman named Timothy McVeigh detonated a truck load of explosive in front of the federal building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people just out of hatred. Dan decided we should visit the memorial to the victims first thing this morning. Clear skies, chilly breeze.

The footprint of the destroyed building and some adjacent buildings has been devoted to a memorial park featuring a long, shallow reflecting pool with a dedicatory façade at either end. Along one side of the pool is a broad lawn with a sculpted chair for each victim; each chair has a glass base with the name of the victim etched in it, a stone seat, and a metal back. It is quite effective, and rather pretty. We hung about there for awhile, but did not visit the museum, which is in a big building next door.

Our big goal for the day was the Oklahoma City Museum of Art. There is so much construction going on around it, it is hard to get a grip on how it looks or how it functions downtown. There are government buildings all around it. We couldn't even find the entrance; it seems you must go through their fancy café.

My strongest impression from the whole day is 'beware of using glass in the design of buildings, especially in hot places like Oklahoma.' The restaurant was a pretty place, with a long narrow shape and a high glass wall; it was so hot and bright in there that I really wanted to bolt, but it was the only source of caffeine available.

The main entrance was an even worse example. The entrance lobby has a 3 or 4 story glass tower. It looks fabulous; hanging in it is one of the tallest works by Dale Chihuly, a 3-story burst of yellow swirling glass.

Sculpture by Dale Chihuly
Atrium by Allen Brown, Architects
Photo by Jan
The problem is that it is so bright in there that the clerks can't read their computer screens, even though they wear visors, and it is 10 to 20 degrees hotter there than elsewhere in the museum. What is it like in the winter? I've seen this problem before. The great I.M. Pei used glass pyramids in some buildings I've seen; those buildings have similar problems. Big glass elements add architectural excitement, and sometimes they work very well; facing north helps; having the glass high enough over the room helps; tinted glass. Renzo Piano always provides lots of overhangs to mitigate the effect of using so much glass. The building has to function well in addition to looking good.

The first big treat of the art museum was a show of early 20th Century American art from the Brooklyn Museum, which we visited a few weeks back, and have visited twice previously. And the big treat of that was a few wonderful paintings by Georgia O'Keeffe that we had never seen; why don't they put them out? They have been showing the same painting by O'Keeffe, of the Brooklyn Bridge, for years, when they had these other fine things.

The second big treat was a very large collection of glass by Dale Chihuly. We asked an information person how it happened that the museum made such a commitment to Chihuly. She said that several years ago they had a big show of his work and it was so popular that the people of Oklahoma City raised the money to buy the works, with some cooperative negotiation on Chihuly's part. Good story.

Their permanent collection is sketchy, mostly American, a little European art. There were a number of good pieces by little known artists.

Contemplation by Doel Reed, ca. 1940
Photo by Jan
I especially appreciated a little show of op art by big names: Vasarely, Anuskiewicz, and Stanczak.

Vega D by Victor Vasarely, 1968
Radiant Red by Richard Anuszkiewicz, 1966
Photo by Jan
Burning Red by Julian Stanczak, 1969
Photo by Jan
We packed it in around 4:30. Ate dinner at the hotel restaurant; it was convenient. While we were eating, I realized that I had failed to get some stuff from a locker at the museum; I still had the locker key in my purse. That means we have to go to the museum again tomorrow before we leave for Dallas, and the museum does not open until 11:00.

On the practical side, this is a good Best Western Plus, and both nights here were free, thanks to Dan's negotiations back in Maine, or somewhere. Dan did a load of wash in the guest laundry before we left this morning.