Thoughts on thoughts and images of beautiful things
When thinking about how to describe myself, I find it hard to say exactly what defines me. I think we are always evolving and changing, creating ourselves and growing into ourselves. So it is not easy to have a clear-cut definition of who one is in one instance that can apply at all times, because we are never the same. We are always changing.
Those precious steps on my wedding day that we won’t be able to take.
The grandchildren you won’t get to meet and hold and play with.
The movies we won’t be able to go see.
The music we can’t listen to in the car.
The restaurants we can’t go to and the wine and conversation we can’t enjoy.
All of the places we won’t be able to travel to and explore.
The big important life decisions I can’t run by you, over and over again.
The history and the politics you can’t teach me.
The doctors’ appointments you won’t be by my side for.
The failures you won’t be able to comfort me for, and the accomplishments you won’t be able to rejoice in.
Love you, miss you, can’t believe I was lucky enough to be your little girl. Realizing more and more everyday just how lucky I was. Trying to learn how to do life without your guidance, support, and love.
Yes, this is in reference to Lorde’s “Perfect Places”, a song that I love so much. My perfect place is a small town in the Berkshires in Massachusetts where my mom grew up and where I lived for a short time before moving to Chicago. Although it was a short time, it was a perfect time.
The time has come for my family to say goodbye to my mother’s childhood home there. We have been extremely lucky to have it and to love it for so long, but it is now going to a new family. They are excited to be the next inhabitants and caretakers of the home, and I’m sure they will cherish it and create their own beautiful memories in it. How lucky are those who get to wake up and go to sleep in such a beautiful place every day.
Whenever I see a Massachusetts license plate, the simple white background with the letters in blue and numbers in red, my heart swells with both joy and grief – joy as I recall my season of life there, and grief for a place that I once called home, and a longing for that feeling of home that I haven’t quite found since.
I can’t completely describe what encapsulates my time there, just that it was my perfect place and my perfect time. I feel so very lucky to have had that time in that place. But it certainly makes saying goodbye so much harder.
I was becoming my person there. I felt brave, strong, and independent for the first time in my life, and maybe the only time really. I had a fire for life that year, a sense of freedom and lightness.
So often in life we’re thinking about what’s next and looking to the future. That year I truly enjoyed my present moment. I wasn’t looking forward and I wasn’t looking backward. Yes, I had fun researching graduate programs and submitting my applications, but I already knew that I wanted to go to grad school the following year before moving to Williamstown. So it was just a natural course of events of what was next.
Pure joy, pure comfort, pure love. I hope to feel this way about a place again someday.
“It’s been Rome back to the Romans, which is the bright side of a terrible time. For once, you can meet your friends outside for cocktails in the Piazza Navona, and you remember why it’s so good to be alive.”
I am a Roman by birth but not by blood, so I suppose that makes me a bit of a tourist, even though I was born there and lived there until I was 8. My time there was quite a long time ago now, and as an innocent child unaware of my surroundings, I didn’t grasp the nuisance of tourists in my city. Now that I live a big city, living out my big girl life in Chicago, I do understand the annoyance of tourists taking in the city around me. I am not trying to compare Chicago to Rome, and I can only imagine the frustrations that Romans have with the constant onslaught of tourists. So I can appreciate that Romans may be loving this time sans tourists due to the worldwide pandemic, and regaining their city to enjoy it for themselves in a way that perhaps they have never been able to experience it. There is something magical about walking around Rome early in the morning before the crowds get up and come out. I imagine that it may feel a bit like that now. Rome back to the Romans.
I come from a family of collectors. My parents collect art and antiques, my maternal grandparents collected art, antiques, and midcentury modern Scandinavian furniture, and my paternal grandmother was a hoarder. While collecting seems to be more thoughtful and intentional than hoarding, I think it is still a form of hoarding. In stride with familial traditions, I began collecting objects when I was in high school. After going to countless auctions and estate sales with my parents, which I hated as kid, I began to sense a taste for certain objects when I was in high school and I felt a need to create a collection of objects of my own that spoke to me. This desire was further fulfilled by the discovery of a fair store in my hometown, and not only did I love the objects themselves, I loved knowing that they were made by artisans who were perfecting their craft, carrying on artisanal traditions, and getting paid fairly in order to live a good life. I also added to my collection with trips to antique stores and garden stores. The curation of my collection resulted in these objects accumulating in boxes that I stored in my parents’s attic because I didn’t have space or a need for them at the time, but I dreamt of how I would use them in my future apartment in the city when I was “all grown up”. I have slowly taken things from these boxes to my various apartments in my adult life, and now these boxes reside in my childhood bedroom at my parents’ house for easy access.
I really connected with this letter to the editor by Hanya Yanagihara in The New York Times Style Magazine, as I’m constantly battling between wanting to collect and to live a full life surrounded by my collection, and navigating the overwhelming feeling of burden by these objects and the desire to go in the extreme opposite direction and become the queen of all minimalists. I have no resolution for this battle at this point in time, and I don’t foresee having such a resolution anytime soon. I love these objects that I have slowly and intentionally collected over time, and I will be sad if I let them go, but I also cringe at the idea of having a plethora of cluttered objects around me with no purpose but to sit pretty on the shelf.
This struggle is particularly top of mind at the moment as my parents and I have been going through the painful and stressful process of cleaning out my grandparents’ home to get it ready to sell. It is full of things that we all love and want to keep, but of course the dilemma of what to do with them and where to put them prevails. With the addition of these things into my collection and my parents’ collection, this struggle isn’t going anywhere and it’s about to get worse. I fear that “add it in, take it away” will be a driving force throughout this upheaval, which while completely logical and rational, is a gut-wrenching process for those of us who are collectors at heart.
My first trip to California was to the great sprawling metropolis of Los Angeles, and it was actually quite a bit as I had pictured it. I’ve heard people describe it as a series of suburbs connected by 5 lane highways, and we certainly used them to get around to various neighborhoods. It was interesting to try to guess how long it would take for us to get to each place; not that we had to do much guessing with GPS, but as a friend of ours there put it, everything is anywhere between 10 and 50 minutes away. We were pleasantly surprised that we didn’t have to deal with the nightmarish traffic that is attributed to L.A. Maybe it’s not as bad as they say, or maybe we just got lucky!
Our flight got in late, but our introduction to the city at a friend’s apartment in North Hollywood with a beautiful, tropical courtyard was already a nice change from the chilly midwest (our trip was in early May). The first thing I noticed the next morning as we started out with a driving tour through the Hollywood Hills neighborhood was the vegetation. I was so in love with the vegetation – all of the cacti, the variety of palm trees, combined with the sun and blue skies, is bound to raise anyone’s spirits. I also really enjoyed seeing the architecture of the houses, colorful stucco, and tile roofs. Driving up and down the winding roads of the Hollywood Hills was an amazing introduction to L.A. because for me it was the epitome of why we travel – to be transported and immersed into a world different from our own. The houses, their precarious driveways, and the views provided an invigorating look into the rich and famous culture of L.A. I felt transported into a movie!
Next up on the agenda was a hike at Griffith Park, and my were our Midwestern asses not prepared! By all accounts, it’s not a difficult hike, if you can even call it a hike. I’m sure the locals consider it a walk. But living in the Midwest, we are not used to that kind of terrain. It was a beautiful walk though! We stopped by the Griffith Observatory (hello La La Land fans!) and admired its Greek and Beaux-Arts architecture, while eyeing the Hollywood sign in the distance. And to think that I wanted to hike up to the Hollywood sign…nope!
The next day we drove to downtown L.A. to see the Walt Disney Concert Hall designed by Frank Gehry, the Cathedral of Our Lady of Angels, and The Broad art museum. The concert hall was a sight to behold, as the massive steel structures converged together and gleamed in the light. We couldn’t leave downtown before looking for the Cecil Hotel, which wasn’t as eerie as we had pictured after watching Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel on Netflix. We also didn’t want to leave downtown before at least poking our heads into skid row. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but it was definitely sad and shocking. I was surprised by the fact that there are businesses there that people who don’t live in skid row go to, and they just walk past all of the disorder and bleakness around them without blinking an eye – just a day in the neighborhood, conducting normal business. Our last stop in the area was the fashion district, with the seemingly endless rows of clothing stores and vendor tents set up on the sidewalks.
That afternoon we went to LACMA. I love art, so I always try to go to an art museum when I visit a new city. Your eyes are delighted before you even enter, as the architecture of the whole museum campus is enchanting. The bright red steel elements juxtaposed with the stone, and the palm trees hugging the museum’s facade on all sides is worth seeing, even if you don’t go inside. It reminded me of Centre Pompidou in Paris. With an outdoor restaurant and bar, and the iconic Urban Light display by Chris Burden (hello No Strings Attached fans!), it’s a multifaceted gem of a destination. We saw a wonderful exhibition on the artist Yoshitomo Nara, who paints captivating large-scale portraits.
We drove through Beverly Hills and, of course, played Weezer’s Beverly Hills. We walked down Rodeo Drive, stopped into some stores, and pretended that we could actually afford anything there. Rodeo Drive was as I had pictured, with beautiful and glamorous people everywhere, photoshoots taking place on various corners, and a collection of stores that screams capitalism and consumerism. But again, beautiful with the palm trees and fancy cars everywhere you look that most people only get to see in the movies.
We wanted to experience a California beach and the Pacific Ocean, so the next day we went to Santa Monica and Venice. The Santa Monica pier was packed! Walking along the boardwalk was a touristy experience and not something that I would necessarily do again. There was music, there were dogs, there was fair food, and people excitedly/nervously posing with snakes around their necks. We then set our sights on a calmer kind of vibe and walked along the Venice canals – so pretty and relaxing. Venice Beach was only a short walk away and we got to enjoy the water and the sand, and watched surfers do their thing in the Pacific Ocean.
Driving along the Pacific Coast Highway at sunset en route to Calabasas for my boyfriend’s birthday dinner was one of my favorite parts of the trip. It’s a gorgeous drive with sweeping views of the ocean, and it started to get more hilly and winding as we got closer to Calabasas. The restaurant was tucked away in the hills and had an upscale cabin feel with a decadent menu featuring wild game. It certainly did not disappoint!
Before our trip, my boyfriend and I did a lot of research on restaurants by category/cuisine and we watched City of Gold, the documentary about food critic Jonathan Gold. Inspired by Gold’s passion for food in L.A., we tried to go to some of the restaurants featured in the documentary. Great documentary!
I went to the Art Institute of Chicago recently for the first time since the covid pandemic hit the U.S. last Spring, and I was surprised by how much I felt like I had to re-learn how to look at art and get the most out of a museum visit. I suppose we’ll have to re-learn how to do a lot of things post-pandemic. The Art Institute was quite crowded, which I was not expecting, and there was a three hour wait for the Monet exhibition. I didn’t wait for it, but I definitely want to see it before it goes down in June. It was incredible and rather surreal to see some of my favorite works of art at the museum, and I found myself spending more time than usual in front of them to soak them all in – scanning them from top to bottom so that I didn’t miss anything. I mostly went for the Henri Toulouse-Lautrec special exhibition, Toulouse-Lautrec and the Celebrity Culture of Paris. He’s one of my favorite artists and I always spend time with his works when I go to the Art Institute. They are typically on display in a room close to where the special exhibit is now. To have a full room dedicated to him and his large colorful posters and prints was spectacular. I love the playful imagery in his works that have a slight sense of mockery underneath their artistic virtue.
During my first museum visit since the pandemic started, I had this New York Times article about museums in the Berkshires on my mind. The Berkshires hold a special place in my heart. I love the beauty and the peacefulness of these majestic mountains, that take on a purple hue in just the right light. My mom grew up in the Berkshires and I lived there for one year before going to grad school. This area might be rural, but it is certainly rich and vibrant in art and culture. With numerous museums for its small scope and population, it’s a destination for visitors seeking solace in nature and intellectual awakening in its cultural institutions. The house that my mom grew up in in Williamstown, MA (the same house that I spent my time in while living there) was just steps away from the Clark Art Institute. We also took advantage of and appreciated MASS MoCA and the other museums in the area.
What I really appreciated about this article was the commentary on contemporary art. Contemporary art is certainly contemporary, relatively speaking, but it’s not as contemporary as it claims to be. As this article points out, it can’t keep up with the current times that we have experienced over the past year. What then, one can argue, is the value of contemporary art? I agree with the author, Jason Farago, that we can learn just as much from the old masters as we can from contemporary art. Furthermore, art isn’t so much about what we can learn from it, but how it reminds us of our humanity.
“If I seek out art in a time of national catastrophe, it’s not because I need that catastrophe explained to me. And it’s not because I want to block that catastrophe out with a veil of pretty pictures. It’s simpler than that. It’s because I need to be reminded what to live for.”
I’ve watched American Honey and Nomadland over the past few weeks, both for the first time, and what a happy coincidence that I watched the two in the vicinity of one another. I wanted to see American Honey in theaters when it first came out, but it had a short run at my local movie theater and I missed it. So I finally made a point to stream it at home. After all the accolades that Nomadland received at the Golden Globe awards this year, I was curious to watch it, even though it didn’t really spark my interest previously.
I loved American Honey for its dreamy, whimsical, and intimate glimpse of a facet of life that, while all too real for those living it, is not as familiar to many people. I kept trying to put myself in Star’s shoes, the main character who is so closely followed by the camera throughout the movie. The intimate camera work and focus on the main character reminded me of Blue Is the Warmest Color, another movie which I love so much and is one of my favorites. As I was trying to put myself in Star’s shoes and imagine how desperate she must have felt with her circumstances to go on this cross-country adventure with strangers, I was reminded of how vastly different peoples’ circumstances and experiences, which are beyond one’s control, can be. I admired her bravery and her resolve, even her recklessness, which always somehow ended up in her favor. I loved the music and the lighting that created the dream-like aura throughout the movie, despite its sad, melancholic undertones. Each character so interesting in their own right, making up the troupe of nomads in search of any glimmer of triumph and jubilation – any reason to celebrate as a means to escape their daily grind to get by. Yet they find that their camaraderie and continued pursuit of adventure is perhaps enough to carry on.
What I loved about watching Nomadland soon after American Honey, was the similar attention to landscape and the characters’ surroundings in both, and seeing the nomadic lifestyle from different perspectives due to the difference in age of the nomads. In American Honey, they’re constantly chasing that elusive euphoric feeling fueled by drugs and alcohol. In Nomadland, they’re chasing exploration of land, exploration of self, and bonding with others who harbor the same nomadic lifestyle. The landscape in Nomadland, a central character in itself, is breathtaking, and Frances McDormand’s performance is so simple in some ways, but speaks volumes in its simplicity.
Both movies are about solitude, as a natural facet of our human condition, but also about the strides we make to connect with others. Both are about our relationship with nature and our surroundings, even if that place is not fixed and is always changing as we’re propelled toward novelty and transformation. Both mostly star real people as opposed to actors, which is striking for their performance that isn’t really much of a performance at all.
I’ve never been a big reader, but have always wished that I was. The way Hanya Yanagihara, editor of The New York Times Style Magazine, describes the power of a story to take hold of you only reinforces this desire. Our imagination sparked by the what if possibilities that literature affords an author is so exciting. The world that an author can create is truly a testament to the power of the mind and artistic expression. As Yanagihara points out, as an audience we tend be more drawn to stories that are outlandish and exaggerated. They catch our attention because they are different from our experiences, and perhaps encompass that which is not possible for us to experience in our life, making them even more alluring.
She goes on to discuss the art form of theater and what it is that draws us to this particular art form, one of the oldest. Similar to other art forms that we seek for entertainment and out of intellectual curiosity, like movies or concerts, theater offers us the suspension of our own reality for a short time while we’re witnessing what’s playing out in front of us. Like film, theater also affords us the opportunity to watch a human experience as an outsider looking in, removed from the action, but yet feeling all of the emotions of the characters that we’re watching. Unlike movies or concerts though, there is something more immediate and intimate about theater since the characters acting out these life-like scenarios are doing so right in front of our noses and we can literally touch them with our own hands.
What I love about the arts is their promise of teaching us something about ourselves, both about our human nature and our individual complexities, as they reflect back to us a clarity and a challenge that leaves us with more questions to investigate. All at once, this duality carries on the intrigue that draws us to the arts in the first place.
Seeing these ‘Then & Now’ pictures of Paris by Eugene Atget are striking, showing the parallel between the late 1800s/early 1900s and the past several months as the pandemic has taken hold of the world and forced people to stay at home. I have loved photography since I was in high school and took a few black & white dark room photography classes. I was also in the photography club that met on Fridays after school. I have been in awe of Atget’s photographs since my family took a trip to France for three weeks one summer when I was in high school. His photographs are eerie, majestic, and magical depictions of Paris, laced in fog and devoid of people. He achieved these dreamy scenes by getting up early and taking photographs before the streets swelled with Parisians and tourists.
The present day photos of Paris during the pandemic were taken by Mauricio Lima, who has followed in Atget’s footsteps and recreated the same scenes. The lesson learned from both Atget’s and Lima’s depictions of Paris is that people may need Paris, but Paris does not need people. It stands in its grandeur, with or without its inhabitants and visitors. I don’t quite know what to make of this, whether to be comforted or insulted, but I think we can all rest assured that the magic of Paris can endure and outlast adversity.
I remember seeing people going to drive-in movies in shows and movies and thought they were so cool, but I never had a chance to go to one because drive-ins were so few and far between. There certainly weren’t any where I lived. Imagine my excitement when the drive-in made a resurgence in recent months because of the pandemic! I went to a drive-in movie and concert for Halloween, my first one, and it was mostly as I pictured it, albeit a bit cold. The movie was The Exorcist, apropos the occasion, and the music was punk. Sitting in the car, eating popcorn, and trying to get the sound right on the radio was fun, although trying to find a good angle so that everyone in the car could see proved to be a bit challenging. It was not the drive-in date make-out scenario you might be picturing that you’ve seen in the movies. There were four of us in the car, one couple and two friends. The concert portion of the night was a unique experience with everyone out in front of their cars, sharing in the music together, but separately. No mosh pits!
This article by Judy Carmack Bross about the nostalgia evoked by drive-in movies perfectly encapsulates how audiences have received and rejoiced the drive-in, forced by the circumstances of the pandemic. While drive-ins are mostly pop-up fixtures at the moment, hopefully they’ll stick around in some capacity after the pandemic, since they’ve regained popularity. I know that I myself want to go to more!