Monthly Archives: November 2015

Bold Thief Georgia O’Keeffe

Artist Georgia O’Keeffe was one of the most photographed women of her era. Her husband Alfred Stieglitz alone took more than 300 pictures of her long before the selfie era.  In one photograph that he didn’t take, all you can see is her left hand.  In that hand is a smooth black rock.   The story of her and the rock began on a float trip.

Georgia O’Keeffe was rafting on a river with photographer Eliot Porter. During their adventure, he found that smooth black rock and kept it.   She was also a rock collector and she liked Eliot’s rock.

Eliot and his wife invited O’Keeffe to Thanksgiving dinner.  While they were in the kitchen preparing food, the rock disappeared from the living room where O’Keeffe was.  The next time Eliot saw his rock, it was in her hand in a photo in Life Magazine.  She said it was her favorite.  This was in 1966, 17 years after she permanently moved to New Mexico.  She relocated there after Stieglitz’s death because, “It’s so beautiful there.  It’s ridiculous.”  I agree.

Georgia O’Keeffe doesn’t tend to inspire neutrality.  She’s one of those artists whom people either really admire or don’t like.  I’m with the admirers.  The don’t-likes frequently say that her creations-often enormous flowers, adobe walls with a shadow crossing them, etc.-are too simple, too facile; but each received careful preparation and planning.  They tended toward abstraction, but O’Keeffe labored over each one.   The essential elements she considered paramount in every painting were line, color, and composition.

One of the best things I saw in the excellent Georgia O’Keeffe Museum at 217 Johnson Street in Santa Fe last summer was her beat-up, well-used box of art materials.  I hadn’t been in this museum for many years and was pleased to discover that it was even better, and far more crowded, than I remembered.   It has become a 5 Compass Santa Fe attraction, but don’t expect to park anywhere near it.  It’s not too far, however, from the Governor’s Palace and far better to walk to it.


Like a child, I really appreciate O’Keeffe’s bold images like Black Hollyhock Blue Larkspur painted in 1930.   Ruth likes her too and often uses her in the classroom to teach students about art.  Children really respond to O’Keeffe’s in-your-face paintings.  They love to collect things too and respond to nature. Georgia said that nature was the true source of her art.  Like Ruth, Georgia taught school in Canyon, Texas, before marrying Stieglitz and becoming photographed and famous.

Eliot Porter reportedly introduced color to landscape photography.  He loved taking pictures of nature, and I can see why he and O’Keeffe were friends.  But I wonder if he and his wife ever invited her to Thanksgiving dinner again and if she eventually told him that she had stolen his rock on Thanksgiving Day?



Visit Oklahoma City


For Ruth and me 2015 has been the year of Iceland and Oklahoma City.  How’s that for contrast.   Late in 2014 I read an article that said Oklahoma City was the #1 U. S. destination for 2015, so we went twice to see if this was true.  It was.

Luckily we weren’t there on May 6 when a tornado ripped through town and killed 12 people.  Oklahoma is something of a tornado magnet.   It’s little wonder that half of the movie Twister’s locations were in Oklahoma.  Another downside in this state’s history is that, for Native Americans, it was at the end of the Trail of Tears.  And then there was the domestic terrorist bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah building in 1995.  The Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum downtown is all about this awful event.   Since Ruth & I didn’t make it there, I’ve listed is among my reasons to go back.

Other RTGBs are the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, probably Oklahoma City’s biggest tourist attraction, and the peculiar sounding Museum of Osteology, which is described as a skull and skeleton museum. Hmmmmm.

We did make it to some offbeat attractions on our 2 visits.  The American Banjo Museum was excellent.  The Ninety-Nines Museum of Women Pilots was worthwhile.  The Gaylord Pickens Oklahoma Heritage Museum was about famous Oklahomans, and they are legion.

Many were athletes.  Oklahoma City is a sports town.   Jim Thorpe, Mickey Mantle, and Johnny Bench all called Oklahoma home at some point in their lives.  And they’re only 3 of the many.   The downtown Chesapeake Energy Arena is home to the most cheer-inducing team in town, the NBA’s Thunder.   The city’s official visitor guide proudly boasts that We Are Thunder has been mentioned on Twitter more than 19 million times.  We asked our shuttle driver to take us to the restaurant in town with the most buzz and, as a result, dined at Kd’s Southern Cuisine.  KD stands for Kevin Durant, a much-awarded member of the Oklahoma City Thunder team. The other must-dine spot, if you enjoy beef, is authentic Cattlemen’s Steakhouse, a fixture in Stockyards City since 1910.

Three Oklahoma City attractions not-too-miss include Bricktown.  Once a fading warehouse area, it’s now a hot spot with a mile-long canal, water taxis, and almost 50 restaurants including Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar & Grill, Mickey Mantle’s Steakhouse, and Kd’s.   The Oklahoma History Center is the best state museum I’ve been in.  I’ve blogged about it, the Banjo museum, etc. OKCMOA, the Oklahoma City Museum of Art, attracts 125,000 visitors each year with its exciting temporary shows (Faberge) and comprehensive Dale Chihuly art glass collection, the finest outside of Seattle.  It’s here because Chihuly’s wife is an Oklahoman.

Skip the American Pigeon Museum and Library (odd hours and remote), the Route 66 Park (not much more than a remote lakeside playground), and any museum exclusively about the Oklahoma land rush (they’re all over the state and similar).



Heavenly Harpa Hall


At first I didn’t like Harpa Hall.  It seemed too dark and functional.   But then Ruth and I took a tour and I did a 180. It’s definitely 5 Compass.  I was missing the intentions of the designers.  I soon realized that Harpa’s walls and floors, which seemed so, well, uninviting, were intended to mirror lava flow. That was very appropriate.   This was, after all, Reykjavik.

Harpa is primarily a concert hall.  It opened in 2011.  It was built not near the harbor but over the harbor.  The building’s luminous facade, which I didn’t appreciate until I was inside, was designed by Icelander Olafur Eliasson. It’s hard to describe the sensory impact of his idea to include multi-colored LED strips among clear glass sheets that virtually cause the building to glow from within.  Other cultures–China, U.S. Denmark–also became involved in the brilliant design.  There are 10,000 windows throughout, many providing harbor views, and my first thought was that I was glad I’m not in charge of washing them.  They are cleaned 2 times a year.

Unfortunately, the day we were there was un-event-ful.  We were restricted to The Cube, lunch in an excellent restaurant, and a guided tour.  The Cube was not worth entering.  A 360º cinematic experience showing Iceland’s natural grandeur was promised but not delivered.  It occurred to me that I was, perhaps, being too critical.  I had, after all, just driven the magnificent Ring Road.  But, no.  The Cube was just not compelling.  The tour was.

It was also an attitude changer.  During it, our guide Elsa, told us that Icelanders were very keen on classical music but that it was only a small part of Harpa Hall’s offerings.  She showed us meeting rooms, told us about Harpa’s 4 auditoriums including a rock concert venue, showed us the main stage that was getting ready for opera.  She spoke of music festivals, plays, multi-faceted cultural events, etc.  Bjork and Tony Bennett have both performed here.  But not together.  Yet.

My thinking did a complete reversal when we were in the rock venue seen below.  Elsa was on one side and I was on the other.  In other words, a distance separated us when Elsa burst beautifully into song.  She had a fine voice and seemed to be singing just for me.  I could hear ever word.  The acoustics were that good.


Any trip to Reykjavik will be better for those who include Harpa Hall in their itinerary.


P.S.   1.   If your travel lit mentions a music store inside Harpa, be advised that it closed earlier this year.  However, Ruth found consolation and things to buy in its wonderful gift shop.   2.  A luxury hotel was supposed to be built next to Harpa but then the economic crisis occurred.  By 2018, a half-sized hotel with only 200 rooms will fill the already-there construction hole.  3. This will be my last Iceland blog until Ruth and I go back, hopefully, in 2016.

Monterey Bay Aquarium, Thrilling Visitors Since 1984


The Monterey Bay Aquarium is much more than just a fish zoo.  It treats marine life, even sharks, like visitors.   In cooperation with the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, it assiduously monitors the health of nearby bay and ocean.   With the goal of sustainability, it even told me what seafood to buy.  A visit to it is nothing less than a 5 Compass experience.

Since opening, it has been part of Cannery Row in Monterey. In fact, it’s partially in a former cannery named Hovden, whose brand was Portola. After sardines disappeared, Hovden was the last cannery to close.  Visitors to the Monterey Bay Aquarium enter through its building, and I was about the only one who paused to learn something about it before proceeding on to the sea otters and sharks.

Because Ruth and I had limited time, only one day, I asked one of the helpful employees what was essential to see.  She circled 5 areas on my map and told me to hurry up some stairs to witness the popular sea otter feeding that would take place in about 15 minutes.  By the time I got to the top, every window was 5 deep with families, and I couldn’t get anywhere near a good view so I abandoned the attempt in favor of sharks.

I attended a 15 minute lecture about sharks and began learning about the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s dedication to research.  First up was a film about great whites.   This aquarium was the first in the world to exhibit a great white. For 198 days it managed to play well with others, but then it attacked 2 other sharks and had to be set free.  Yes, set free.  Its monitors didn’t punish it for acting like a shark, they released it.  Our young host dropped a few lame jokes before telling us about ongoing shark research mostly around the Farallon Islands off the coast of California, where I won’t be vacationing.   There’s also a shark mosh pit halfway to Hawaii where males circle endlessly looking for mates.  They spend 6 or 7 months of their year cruising here, and human experts regularly haul them out of the water like pool toys to tag and study them before returning them to their home.

It’s not hard to lose track of time in the Monterey Bay Aquarium since it’s one of the best, maybe even THE best aquarium, I’ve ever been in.  My 4 favorite areas were the jellies, the color-filled reefs, the newest exhibit called Tentacles, and the penguins.   Jellies have always struck me as innocent looking drifters, so I’m forever amazed to learn about their Hyde side.  “A sea nettle,” I read in horrified fascination, “hunts by trailing those long tentacles covered with stinging cells…that stick tight and paralyze prey.”  Tentacles opened in spring, 2014, and it’s, in my opinion, the current star among the major exhibits.  It’s worth a day or more all by itself.  It was here that I read how important squid are to California’s economy.  I don’t like to eat squid or octopi, and I was quite disappointed to learn that scallops and halibut weren’t on list of the current best seafoods to buy.


This aquarium has an exceptional staff.  Ruth bought a cute collection of toy penguins and couldn’t identify one of them.  One lady volunteered to track down its name and email it to Ruth.  Three weeks after we had forgotten about it, the name showed up.  Ruth also took me by the hand to show me a quote. “In all things of nature there is something of the marvelous.”  This is attributed to Aristotle and really described the Monterey Bay Aquarium for me, but I doubt if Aristotle ever used the Greek word that’s equivalent to marvelous.


Iceland Ring Road Bests


The Ring Road is pretty spectacular the entire way.  However, when driving counterclockwise from Reykjavik to Akureyri, the scenery is slightly better than Akureyri to Reykjavik through Iceland’s northwest and along the west coast.  While the road is continuously gasp-worthy, there are countless individual attractions from Reykjavik to Akureyri with 4 stand out must-sees.

The town of Höfn has a busy harbor and 2,000 residents.  It’s often called the langoustine capital of Iceland and the gateway to the Vatnajökull glacier.  By the time Ruth and I drove the ring to this point, we were ready for a town. While those who stop for a meal wait to be served locally caught langoustines, a form of saltwater lobster that looks like a crayfish, they should ask a local to pronounce the name of this town, which means harbor in English.    Lonely Planet says it sounds like “an unexpected hiccup”, getting it exactly right.  I tried but never mastered it.  

Not too far past Höfn is the Eldhraun lava field.  I didn’t know what it was until I saw an article about it later.  I just instinctively knew it was important. Imagine the 3rd largest lava flow on Earth covered with vivid green moss for 232 square miles.  That’s Eldhraun.

Vatnajökull is the world’s largest ice cap not near a pole.  Buried under it are mountain peaks, volcanos, one-time lakes.   Travelers on the Ring Road get brief, dramatic glimpses of it.  The Jökulsá á Fjöllum River, Iceland’s 2nd largest, flows north from this glacier to the Arctic Ocean.  Vatnajökull National Park merged with Jökulsárgljúfur to create one massive national park.  Iceland has 3 national parks.  We saw part of Jók…..  The Jöku…. flowing north drops into some canyons along the way creating thunderous waterfalls. Dettifoss, which we hiked to, is the best one.  Dettifoss, seen above, is not especially high, but it has the greatest volume of any waterfall in Europe.  My biggest regret of the trip is that Ruth & I took the advice not to follow the road from the Dettifoss turnoff to Asbyrgi. Scheduled to be paved over the next couple of years, it’s said to be really rough going for now as it follows the river north into what is said to be an awesome canyon best seen, for now, on a 2 day hike.

Ring Road travelers see quite a bit of Mývatn, popular geothermal hot springs full of bathers.  They’re reportedly free of sulphur and completely pure.   Before we got to this tourist lake, we stopped at Námafjall, a smelly, high-temp geothermal area of mud pots that’s kind of the anti-Mývatn.  The intense hydrogen sulfide odor sent us quickly back to our rental car and on our way to Akureyri.