Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Offbeat New York - The Frick Collection

An industrialist and patron of art bought a doomed library in the heart of New York to build an adobe where he can live in peace surrounded by classic ageless art that froze time around them.

Fast forward to 2017
I wandered around the ornate rooms of a small museum, which was once a mansion, listening to facts about a prized collection of an industrialist!

I am talking about one of the lesser known museums of New York – The Frick’s Collection. Located on the Fifth Ave, Upper East Side, right next to central park, stands this beautiful house of Henry Clay Frick which has been a public library since 1930! Overshadowed by fame of the Met, which is close by, people don’t really know much about the Frick Collection but it sure is a paradise for any art lover for so many reasons.

Henry Clay Frick was a pioneer of art and often collected art pieces from a specific collection or era to build his own collection. Back in the time, Frick moved into this mansion knowing that he wanted to inculcate the love for art, that he had, in people. Hence, he wanted to build his house in a way that not only will he be able to freeze time in some sense while walking in the corridors of his mansion, but also engage people in conversation with art when they see his collection. And thus, in his will he had made his house a public library, that is run till date!

The Frick collection is a collection of some of the well-known paintings by major European Artists, as well as numerous sculpture, astronomical clocks and porcelain. Some rooms also have exquisite 18th century French furniture and rugs on display that tell you of the taste of luxury and appreciation of unique carpentry Frick had After Frick's death. The Frick Collection also has contributions from Frick’s his daughter, Helen Clay Frick, expanded the collection majorly with paintings and made the place what it is today.

For me however, the paintings were not the focus. I was spellbound by the mechanism behind every clock that was present in the last 4 rooms and by a small French writing table that was meant for Frick’s wife. Wondering if I read all the information like a nerd? Wrong! You get a very efficient audio guide in Frick’s museum to tell you about every small piece in the collection.

Apart from the art collection, the architecture of the building itself is pretty stunning. The library building that Frick bought (which stood where the museum is today) was built in Neo-Greek style, which was torn down to make way for Thomas Hastings’ Beaux-Arts architecture vision for the Frick’s residence. But even the new structure incorporated some elements of the old building like the façade and the central courtyard (the only place you can click photos in) thus keeping both the old and the new together.

Today, the place not only keeps the old-school art collection but also promotes new musicians and writers by giving out the place for small concerts and book reading sessions. After all, they are a form of art too right. I know, the place might sound very bookish, but you need to be there, explore the house, feel the vibe and get lost in the paintings to understand the spell this place can cast on anyone. And given that the place is small, doable, not noisy at all, usually has music or talk sessions and is super close to Central park is reason to visit, right?

This was my forth time in a museum that was previously someone's residence, and I thoroughly enjoyed my visit. Have you ever visited a similar museum? How was your experience? Let me know in the comments below!

P.S. How and when to get there:
Frick’s museum is about 1.5 miles away from the Grand Central Terminal and the best way to get there is by taking a bus. The place is open from 10 AM to 6 PM on all days except Mondays. It is closed on Mondays and on most Fridays the place is open till 9 PM. However, the best day of the week to visit Frick’s is Wednesdays, from 2-6 PM when you can pay as you wish. Apart from that any event at Frick’s is worth visiting.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Offbeat New York - PepsiCo Sculpture Gardens

Pepsico Headquarters, Purchase 
About thirty miles north of the busy concrete jungle of Manhattan, in a quiet upstate area, is the headquarters of one of the most famous food and beverages companies of the world. Tucked away in a arboraceous area called Purchase is the headquarters of Pepsico and this very place has become one of my favourite offbeat places in New York! Pepsico headquarters is not one of those corporate spaces where you gape at shiny high-rises, but it is a space where you feel close to nature and art at the same time – courtesy their world class sculpture gardens.

The very first look!

When I moved to New York for my internship, one of my professors suggested Donald Kendall Sculpture garden to me and said that it was her favourite place to visit for tranquil hours, back when she used to stay in New York. Till then, I didn’t even know of this place but once I started researching about this place, I just could wait to visit it.

I still don't know what they were but it sure fascinated me.

This unique 160-acre garden space houses a collection of 45 modern sculptures promoting 20th century structure art which is known for being a fusion of quirky abstract thoughts, earthly elements and cultural features. If you really love art you would be lost in searching these hidden treasures in the vast space. 

The red collection with that classic reflection!

And in case you do not understand art much, you would still lose track of time while enjoying the perfect harmony of Nature’s beauty and Human imagination.

Welcome to my kingdom

The place is called sculpture gardens and not garden for a reason. Apart from the 45 sculptures the area also has a number of distinct lawns, groves, ponds, and fountains, as well as landscaped gardens in the southern side. Every sculpture blends perfectly in the natural setting that is set around it and I just loved spending time at almost all of them.

The subtle play of metal and light

My personal favourite spaces were the mini forest near the totem poles, the pond near the grizzly bear and the harp pond where nature had its own way of displaying its love for music!

And some classic fusion are too!

The best part about this space is that it is offbeat and not well-known like the rest of the visit worthy places of NYC, even though it is just 30 mins by train from Grand Central. Also, I feel this place sure is unique since even after being house of world class structures and being so well maintained, there is absolutely no entry fees.

Totem trio.

And if you are still wondering why the place is called a world class collection of outdoor sculptures, guess what, famous artists like Richard Erdman, Henry Moore, Arnaldo Pomodoro and Alexander Calder (Knew his form of art from Seattle Olympic Sculpture Garden!) So, art lovers for sure you need to visit this place, and nature lovers like me – I think I have given you enough reasons to visit in this post, right?

And they soar...

How to get there?
The best way to reach Pepsico Sculpture Gardens is via train from Grand Central to – Port Chester Station or White plains. By road you can take the NY9A North from Manhattan to reach Purchase.

Unfortunately, now you can only visit the gardens on weekends from 10:00 AM TO 4:00 PM.


Things to remember:
Playing sports and taking pets in the garden is not permitted.
It is a no smoking zone.
The park is huge and you have to walk all the way, so carry water! Bicycles, skateboards, rollerskates are prohibited.

Bye for now!


Saturday, July 1, 2017

Postcards from Poughkeepsie

Where is Poughkeepsie?

The only constant in Poughkeepsie - The Hudson
After coming to USA, I think this is the first time I am staying in a small ‘town’ (not considering Grand Canyon Village). For most, the word Poughkeepsie only rings a bell if they have seen Friends and to be frank, I was also one of those till last year. And then Hidden Figures, the movie came out! I googled a bit around IBM Fortran and found out that IBM Poughkeepsie was its birthplace. Hence, I started thinking Poughkeepsie might be a type of Hi-Tech city with tall building – since it was a part of New York. But Poughkeepsie, to my surprise turned out to be a quaint little urban town, that seems to have crawled out of the cocoon of a village in the recent past.

Sunset over the Walkway over Hudson and Our Lady of Mount Carmel's Church
Poughkeepsie, is a small town in upstate New York, that is totally untouched by the Skyscraper craze you think of the minute New York is mentioned. A small old church and close by a bright white church – both talking about the time passed by in their own way, a small station that connects this sleepy town to the ever-busy city of New York, the constant company of the Hudson, spaced out historical sites like Franklin Roosevelt’s house - now turned into a library and museum, Samuel Morse’s house (scientist who invented Morse Code) – now turned into a wedding and exhibition centre, and some hiking trails – this was the Poughkeepsie I read about.

Where once Samuel Morse lived (Source)
At first, I thought it would be just the perfect way to spend a slow summer exploring, discovering and falling in love with nature, history and the quiet. But unfortunately, l am extremely disappointed with Poughkeepsie – probably I had some high expectations or probably because I had not been exposed to remote areas of USA, but sure I have struggled to settle down in Poughkeepsie. All the above-mentioned facts were not false but travelling in the town is a task if you do not own a car, and so is exploring history, because it isn’t as extensive as I expected or maybe not that well preserved.

One of the many old dying building of Poughkeepsie
But like every place, Poughkeepsie does have one highlight – the Hudson. Walkway over the Hudson turned out to be my silver lining and my area of peace in Poughkeepsie, or rather the park overlooking the walkway. Just off the town’s train station, one you hear a faint gurgle of a flowing stream. As you approach the sound, it gets louder and you reach a small waterfall and then there is the quiet – quiet of the expansive Hudson. 

The small stream that joins the Hudson from Poughkeepsie
Here, on the Hudson, one can see the old Cantilever bridge that still stands tall and has been a landmark of this town since 1889! Initially built as a double track railway track, this bridge was once the only fixed Hudson River crossing between Albany and New York City, but in the late 1900 it went out of function due to a fire accident. After a lot of legal and functional issues, the bridge was eventually converted to a pedestrian ‘walkway’ and has been the most visited place of Poughkeepsie ever since.

The Walkway over the Hudson!
I love spending my evenings in Upper Landing Park, the park from where you get the lift to this historic bridge and the park from I am sending out all these postcards from on my blog today.

The part of Poughkeepsie I loved
Despite my disappointment with the town, Upper Landing Park and Walkway over the Hudson are places where I feel close to history, nature and the quiet, I was expecting!

There always in a silver lining right?
Have you ever traveled to a place with a lot of expectations and met with only disappointment? How was your experience? Do let me know in the comments below!

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Quirky Seattle - Fremont

The very first view of Fremont that caught my eyes.
A 20 minutes’ bus ride from Downtown Seattle, and the bus would drop you off near a café next to a bridge declaring the place to be Fremont. At first sight, it would be just like any other neighbourhood of Seattle, but look closely and you would be able to notice a colourful funky but informative direction post. Lo behold! You are at the Centre of the Universe. Now notice people around you. At any time of a bright day you would notice people with kids walking or people of bikes moving in a particular direction. Follow them, out of curiosity (not stalking level) and there below the bridge you will meet the famous troll of Seattle!


Welcome to a super interesting and quirky neighbourhood - Fremont!
For many people, who frequently travel to western countries – Graffiti and random statues at middle of some random street might not be an interesting encounter. But being from India, at least the statues and structures at seemingly insignificant corners of Seattle fascinated me a lot. Recently, a blogger friend of mine decided to do a series on street art across the globe and it was that series that prompted me to write this post because Fremont in Seattle is a must visit for its quirkiness!

Do you see the centre of the universe? 
Fremont, Seattle is known to be a treasure house of creativity! From the centre of the universe to life size statue of Lenin, from a troll under the bridge to Patches & Gertrude dancing away to glory – you can see it all during a languid stroll in the neighbourhood! Here are the five things to see when in Fremont Seattle:

Say Hello to the Troll!

1.   Troll under the bridge – I have already mentioned it so many times, that I am sure you knew this was a must in my list. In 1989, Fremont Arts Council decided to give some life to the folklore of troll under the Aurora Bridge and thus this troll was born. But unlike Scandinavian folklore where trolls were feared this troll is a friendly non-living being loved by kids and adults alike and is one of the most frequented sites in Fremont.
A handshake with Lenin?

2.  Statue of Lenin – This life size cast bronze sculpture of Vladimir Lenin was created by Emil Venkov and installed in Slovenia in 1988. Wondering then how it got to Seattle? In 1989, An American veteran - Lewis Carpenter found statue lying in ruin after the 1989 Revolution. As an appreciation and recognition of skill and craftsmanship of Venkov, Carpenter was determined to save the statue. Carpenter mortgaged his house to get the sculpture and got it to Issaquah. After he died the statue was owned by his family and they installed it temporarily in Fremont for viewing and sale. The reason this statue is worth seeing is because apparently, it is the only representation portraying Lenin surrounded by guns and flames instead of holding a book or waving his hat – symbolizing his violet ways of revolution.
When we made the people wear colours of University of Washington

3.  People Waiting for the Interurban – The electric trolleys don’t run from Seattle to Everett anymore, but still some people wait at Fremont to board one. Not real people, but aluminium statues with a dog at Fremont Interurban stop, installed in 1979, are the funkiest of the lot of statues in the area. You can dress them the way you want and make them as real as you want and that makes this buck really special!
Dancing away to glory!

4.  Patches & Gertrude – I didn’t know this, but Patches and Gertrude were titular characters of a famous live kids show that ran for about two decades and had a huge fan following in the Puget Sound region. In 2008, a life size statue of ‘Patches and Gertrude forever in Dance’ was installed, courtesy fan contributions. Interestingly, this installation has a place to leave buttons on Patches’ famously multi button jacket and a bronze TV box in form of a donation box. Donations left with patches makes its way to the Seattle Children’s Hospital – hence making kids happy even after all this time!
I was aiming for the moon and imaging night, in case you are wondering why my eyes are closed.

5.  The Centre of the Universe – Do you want to know exactly how far is moon from where you are standing? Do you know how much distance you need to cover to travel to Antarctica? Do you know where Paris is exactly – distance, direction, any idea? Well the answer is at the Centre of the Universe if the a colourful post right at the start of Fremont Neighbourhood. And if you like geography or are inquisitive about random distances and places – you must spend some time at the Centre of the Universe!

Apart from theses – you should also see the rocket, have some local cider, and be part of some Neighbourhood parade like the Oktober Fest or Solstice parade!
Have you been to any place that is equally fun and quirky? Do let me know in the comments below!

In case you just want to spend a peaceful evening - Fremont has that option too!

Monday, June 12, 2017

Kashmir Tales – The Carpet Weavers

If you guys have been following my blog regularly, you might have noticed I always go quiet for two weeks every three months. First of all - my apologies and than you all for still following me! I am trying to juggle with work and full time education along with travelling and my travel blog, and every 3 month I have exams which leaves me with no time to write for a week. But as always, I am back and this time with the final chapter of my Kashmir Tales.

The carpet weaving machine
Kashmir flaunts its pristine gift of nature and survives with quaint, war zoned, recovering lanes full hopeful faces searching for life and smiling at what they have. Beautiful, quiet and enchanting is the place but equally amazing is the amount of art that flourished and has survived in this state. We have all heard of the Pashmina weaving that happens only in Kashmir but another thing that is ethnic to Kashmir is the Kashmiri carpet and rug weaving and guess what carpets made in Kashmir are not famous just in India but worldwide!

When I travel, I interact a lot with locals, get to know the place and its people as much as I can, collect stories, but often fail to pen them all down. In this current series of Kashmir Tales, I have made a conscious effort to share a piece of my local exploration of Kashmir and today I want to tell you more about the carpet weavers of the area.

During my stay in Srinagar I visited one of the premier carpet manufacturers and dealers of Kashmiri Carpets – Shawart Palace. Not really old, but well known for bringing a lot of carpet weavers under one roof. Right when you enter Shawart, you see a loom and a man weaving there, pretty oblivious to the customers entering and staring at his work. You see the work for about 20 minutes and it leaves you awestruck. You walk inside and you see a plethora of completed designs and you are mesmerized with the intricate work that has gone into each of the carpets and rugs in the room.

Rug and carpet weaving in Kashmir dates back to 11th century when the locals wove simpleton rugs for their own houses. Eventually with advent of Mughals in the Kashmir valley the rugs got artistic. But it was in the early 15th century when Badshah Zain-ul-Abidin brought a lot of Persian artisans with him to the valley who with the locals created regal rugs and carpets by blending pure wool and silk and by using the old school Persian techniques of hand woven rugs.

My dad, deep in conversation with the owner of the place.
The store owner at Shawart Palace told us that Kashmiri Carpets were famous because of their design and technique. Unlike the common carpets, that are tufted, Kashmiri rugs are hand knotted and hence are strong and ageless in a way. He also told me how these carpets are in high demand abroad, especially in gulf countries for, unlike the Persian rugs, Kashmiri rugs use bright colours as major thread work is of silk on wool and still manage to create major Islamic designs, oriental prints, floral styles and now days a lot of Rajasthani prints too. He said they have 50 something weavers working for their store and one weaver finishes a standard 900 by 900 knots carpet in about 8 months but as carpets sell for very high rates abroad it the produce is enough to give the workers, the shop and the actual carpet handloom more than enough revenue per year.

I did not dare ask him how much overpriced or under-priced a rug is at the store for Indians from the point of view of a weaver and how much a weaver earns. Neither did I questions the price of the ones they export, because looking around at the work I thought rich people wouldn’t mind paying for the quality they would be getting due to the skillfulness and diligence of the craftsmen who pour their hearts out for months to create these seemingly ostentatious carpets.

I feel a lot of times that some form of art is priceless and the Kashmiri carpets sure seem to fall in the priceless zone.

Do you guys talk to locals during your travel and try to find more about some famous art or cultural trait of the place? Do let me know in the comments below.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Kashmir Tales – Walnut Wood Carving

Wood is just everywhere in Kashmir, but something is special at most places!
Last week I told you about how the heart of a city was dying in Kashmir, so today I decided to show you how and entire local industry of Kashmir has survived the test of time!

So much to see and so much to admire!
On my way back from Sonmarg to Srinagar, I stopped midway to click photos in the middle of nowhere, there - a small stream cascaded through a huge groove of seemingly dead old trees. While gazing around I noticed a group of three Shikaras loaded with pieces of wood trunks and two men unloading them from the shikara and transporting them in a small truck. Out of curiosity I asked out driver what that was? And if it was wood for bats – wooden bats are manufactured in great numbers in Kashmir. He said it was a ‘Budha Wontkul’ which meant old walnut tree and he said ‘Yeah Dal ya Baramulla jaega.’ (This will go to Dal Lake or Baramulla)

Walnut wood carving!
On our way back he told us how most of the carving work we see inside the famous houseboats is actually walnut wood carving all done locally. Since Jammu and Kashmir is the only place in India where you find walnut trees, it made sense that the locals preferred walnut to teak or saal for carving and making wooden furniture. Walnut carving in Kashmir dates back to the early 15th century and is believed to have come with Uzbek Missionaries to the Mughal period.

Some silently worked on the cold winter morning

Luckily the very next day I got to visit Dijoo Art Emporium in Dal lake which is one of the oldest lake based walnut wood carpentry centres of Srinagar. I saw a few logs outside and the huge boat and a man working diligently, creating objects delicately carved, chiseled and designed out of walnut wood. I saw it and I went inside without any hesitation to know more about the work on walnut wood. The Shop head at that time was more than eager to answer my fifty or so curious questions. He told me that they sell their material to outside Kashmir and their major buyers are from Delhi and Mumbai.

While some showed us what they were making.
He laughed at my naïve queries around why walnut and why not any other local trees or teak that is used to build the houseboats. He replied to me with a proud smile – ‘Yeh Teak Weak humare ghar ka nahi na, hum toh akhrot ke pedos se kamaal karna jaante hain!’ (Teak is not a local tree here. We are skilled enough to work with walnut trees then why compromise with wood quality – meaning walnut wood was of higher quality.) When I asked him if due to demand a lot of walnut grooves were being destroyed and that was bad since it is very rare in India as it is – he told me that locals cut a walnut tree only after it is 250 to 300 years old and that too if the tree doesn’t yield well for straight 3 years or so.

A relative of mine had got this walnut wood clock ages ago

He also told me that the oldest walnut grooves were in the Sonmarg area but the area has thinned down due to the demand. (Which told me why there just few logs on those shikaras) The locals apparently plan 2 shrubs in spring for every tree cut during winters but since they do not cut the trees before age, walnut wood work has been getting expensive with time. He told me the costliest wood work were the ones made from the wood closest to the roots because they are darker and more durable compared to the trunks or the branches but due to shortage of raw materials lot of manufacturers have started using the bark and branches of younger trees extensively for they work leaving the tree still in place to grow, because exporting walnuts is also a big part of Kashmir’s economy.

Table full of art

With so much information to process and so many artifacts to admire, I was one happy traveler that day, proud to know how locals value their produce and nature. He offered me to visit their main factory in town just outside Srinagar the next day but unfortunately, due to my travel plans I had to give that a miss. I collected a number of Shikaras and branch carved maple leaves from the man at work just outside the store and left happy to have known more about a local art that has survived the test of time and is still strong in the Kashmir Valley.