Sunday, May 25, 2008

New York-Pen Festival-Day 2-Grand Central Station

Years ago, when I was a teenager thinking of becoming a nun, I used to take the train from the small town of Suffern (where I went to an all girls’ Catholic boarding school) to New York City in order to see my spiritual director. When the train arrived at Grand Central Terminal, I transferred to the subway to head downtown.

It had been 50 years since I last visited the station and during that time has been slated for demolition, saved by a Supreme Court decision, and transformed into an architectural wonder by the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA). On May 2nd, I decided to take a memory walk back to the station and was stunned at its new beauty. I gaped at the ceiling, lusted through its food markets, gawked at the travelers bustling through it. But best of all, I arrived at the tail end of the Music Under New York auditions. Not that I was glad to have missed most of it but rather than I was glad I hadn't missed all of it.

Music Under New York is “one of the many visual and performing arts programs administered by the MTA. subway riders in New York City are treated to sound provided by all types of musicians and performers sound . . .More than 100 performers and ensembles participate in over 150 weekly performances in approximately 25 locations throughout the transit system.”

I inched my way into a mix of several long tables of audition judges, rolling cameras and newscasters, and people like me lured by the sound emanating from a second story balcony. A sister act was rolling to a close and a Scottish bagpipe player, complete with tartan kilt and hat, waited in the wings. What I wouldn't have done for a camera (imagine touring New York on my own and forgetting my camera?). And he was good! Could get that bagpipe to hymn tunes of sorrow and of joy. Nothing like a good highland dance tune to get the blood up. Next to perform were an ensemble of Chinese musicians playing historic instruments, a brass group served up some real smooth jazz, and a blues, bluegrass, folk five-some fiddled and stumped up a storm. Please forgive the lack of specifics as I didn’t have a note pad and had only my cell phone with me (not exactly the best cameras . . . hence the less than wonderful photo). I returned the next day to take photos with my digital camera . . . and though the terminal was still impressive the performers were not there to add their timbre to city architecture. (Play on words deliberate).

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

New York: Pen Festival: Day One

On April 30, I arrive in New York for The Pen Festival of World Literature. A plethora of events awaits me . . . all of them in different locations. I don't know New York. I have work ahead of me. Agenda number one: find my way around the city. Assignment: get acquainted with the streets. Best method: walk

I walk from the Marriott East Side (525 Lexington and 49th)cross town to 6th Avenue and down to 42nd Street to find Town Hall, where I will attend Public Lives/Private Lives for an event featuring Salman Rushdie, Michael Ondaatje, Annie Proulx, Ian McEvan that evening, where these famous world writers will “peel back the layers of their literary selves” to reveal from whence arise their creative voices.

I find Town Hall, then walk uptown on Fifth Avenue, to find the Instituto Cervantes where at 1 p.m. Latin American and Spanish authors will discuss “New Directions in Spanish Literature.”

I didn't realize I would be waylaid by the New York Public Library on 42nd St. It is 10 am and the doors of the library are just opening. Crowds of people line the stairway awaiting entry. The great stone lions keep watch. On the terrace people sit at iron-wrought tables under delicate trees, reading the papers and chatting. They sip coffee that they’ve brought with them. The plaza resembles a café but there are no waiters.

A large placard in front of the stairs announces a “Sketches on Glass: Cliche-Verre” exhibition. I know I cannot pass by the opportunity to view etchings by Impressionist artists Corot, Daubigny, Rousseau, and Millet. I follow the crowds through the great doors, open my backpack for the guards, climb the central staircase to the third floor, and turn to the right.

The exhibit stuns me into quietude. I move from sketch to sketch slowly, trying to absorb the landscapes presented here … captured by a technique that combined printmaking and photography – what is essentially a hand-drawn or painted negative on glass. When I remember to check my watch, I am stunned to find I have only one-half hour to find my way to the Cervantes Institute for the lecture at 1 p.m.

Photo: Mailman in NY

Friday, May 16, 2008

How to eat Big Bowl Noodle Soup

After our trip to the Grotto in Portland, Bill coded Asian Food into his GPA system which brought up several such places nearby. Hit or miss, we selected one (I forgot to write the name of this restaurant down but it was Vietnamese and was called Pho Vong’s Café or something like that). When we were each served a platter of condiments, we had no idea what to do with them until we saw another diner peeling the entire sprig of basil -- 20 or more leaves -- into his bowl along with the bean sprouts and lime wedges which he squeezed into the already deliciously spicy soup.

“That’s an awful lot of basil,” I thought. Nevertheless, Bill and I followed suit. From now on, that is how I want to eat Big Bowl Noodle Soup. It was scrumptious. And those bean sprout came in mighty handy, forming a trellis of sorts when mixed with which to lift the thin noodles with our chopsticks.

From now on, that’s how I want to eat Big Bowl Noodle Soup. I wonder how often I’ll be able to satisfy that wish.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Multnomah Falls, Portland

How much can you pack into one day of hiking and sight-seeing? A lot in a city like Portland where scenic marvels are within day-trip distance.

My husband Bill and I (he captured the photo to the right) spent Saturday morning hiking to the Japanese Gardens and that afternoon we headed off for the snow-covered heights of Mount Hood and Multnomah Falls, the second highest waterfall in the nation. We managed to get halfway to the mountain when the narrow twisting road convinced us that snaking up its flanks would deprive us of the opportunity to see the falls while there was still enough light. It wasn't as if we'd missed the mountain. It looms like a snow covered volcano over the Portland horizon to the east and can be seen from most any place in the city.

We arrived just as an environmental fiesta was coming to a close. Far, far, above us a practice session for an emergency rescue crew was winding down, one final rescue worker doing the last rappel of the day. Rather than the flying leaps and rapid bounce off the rocks that I'd always associated with rappelling (too many adventure movies perhaps), this young man descended very slowly, very carefully, arriving at the bottom to a scattering of applause from spectators who despite the chill weather were eating ice-cream cones.

How does one describe the falls? With adjectives or metaphors? With wild abandon or cautious steps? All of the above and more but rather than risk over-writing I'll leave you to imagine the roar of its drop and the force of its height and presence.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune named Beryl as a "Best of 2006 Minnesota Authors." Her book The Scent of God was a “Notable” Book Sense selection for April 2006.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Japanese Gardens

The Japanese Gardens of Washington Park

Mass transit will take you most anywhere in Portland proper but it’s important to know where to get off. Especially if you’re heading to the Japanese Gardens in Washington Park. If you get off at the right place but at the wrong stop, you might – as Bill and I discovered -- be in for a long walk.

Getting off at the Washington Park stop (Zoo) might not be the best place to disembark – when our main reason for going was to see the Japanese Gardens. If however, we’d wanted to get an idea of Washington Park’s many offerings, the zoo stop was a very good place to get off. To get to the Japanese Gardens from the Zoo stop we had to traverse a few miles (or so it seemed) of the park’s meandering trails, many of which were in an uphill direction.

The trails through Washington Park are quite wonderful. They lead to overlooks, and through various terrains. My favorite trail, leading (we hoped – we had no map) toward the Japanese Gardens, was the Magnolia Trail adorned as it was with a variety of magnolia trees, most of them in full bloom.

As we made our way down a rather muddy trail toward the Gardens, we noted a crowd of people and tents stretched along the entry way to the gardens. An annual plant sale of some sort which we bypassed quickly. Once within the garden confines, I felt the noise and bustle outside its walls fall from me like a discarded cloak.

The Japanese garden concept goes far back in history and is influenced by Shinto, Buddhist, and Taoist philosophy and is intended to create a sense of peace, harmony and tranquility. Every garden contains three primary elements: stone, water, and plants (for a four season tapestry).

The Portland Japanese Gardens include a variety of styles – each of them exquisite with the varying textures and colors of carefully selected trees, shrubs, and flowers. There are two gardens with raked sand, a ceremonial tea house with both inner and outer gardens, a strolling garden with an upper pond and moon bridge and a lower pond with a cascading waterfall, and a natural garden with smaller ponds, waterfalls, and tiny bridges and on the far east side of the gardens a view of downtown Portland and Mount Hood.

As Bill and I left the gardens, having little desire to return the way we came, we asked a man wearing a badge the shortest way back to the trains and we treated to what had to be one of the most involved, intricate, and confusing directions we’d ever encountered in all our traveling days. We were rescued by a “stranger” who wasn’t as acquainted with the gardens but whose directions saved the day. “Go down through the Rose Garden, stay to the left, and keep going down until you reach the road.”

And so we did.Publish Post

Portland Journey: The Grotto

Bill and I were not sure what to expect when we set out to find The Grotto located a bit northeast of Portland City Center. Built by Servite Father Ambrose Mayer in fulfillment of a boyhood promise to do something special for God in return for his mothers life, it could have been another Necedah,* save that the description of The Grotto’s botanical gardens with reflecting ponds and over 1100 varieties of plants and trees sounded alluring.

The Grotto is not listed as one of the top “things to see” in Portland which is perhaps just as well, for without crowds of tourists it remains an oasis of beauty, peace and tranquility midst the city’s busy environs.

The shrine consists of two levels. The lower level built at the base of a towering cliff is the site of the Grotto moss-laden cave itself, 30 feet wide, 30 feet deep and almost 50 feet high with a Carrara marble replica of Michelangelo’s Pieta as the focal point. Also on that level is a visitors’ complex and conference center and a lovely chapel. Bill and I arrived in time to visit the Grotto, warm up with some hot coffee in the visitors’ center and attend a noon Mass with a scattering of other religious: 4 priests and one Servite brother in his religious habit on the altar, and a few nuns.

The upper level is reached by taking an elevator 110 feet upward to the second level where the monastery, the botanical gardens, and the meditation chapel with a glass wall facing the panorama of the Columbia River and snow covered mountains. Bill and I spent several hours wandering the beautifully groomed trails and snapping photos of the exquisite flowers and shrubs (many in full bloom) growing midst towering redwoods. One of the reflective pools fed by running streams and small waterfalls held a mallard couple, heads tucked into their wings on a moss covered rock. Were they real, we wondered? One of the mallards answered our questions when it lifted its head and stretched it skyward. The restful companionship of those mallards a lovely metaphor for our experience at the shrine which lifted our hearts and opened our spirits.

*Necedah, Wisconsin, is the site where Our Lady is said to have appeared to a local woman. Perhaps it was the overcast day or the gaudily painted statues of Jesus and Mary dripping with blood that were responsible but rather than inspiring devotion this shrine depressed my husband and me.

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