So… about that ballad. Jane had a press conference she needed to attend last night and so took me along. I was at a very posh function, with well-dressed people, wearing the King of Boots… and a Dartmouth sweater. So it was already quite hilarious. The great and good of New Haven gathered for the launch of the International Arts & Ideas Festival. The line-up etc. was to be unveiled and tens poured into the room to hear about it. In an ace coincidence, I was here last summer for said festival and one of my best America memories is of dancing along to KC & the Sunshine Band on the green with the entire community joining in. This summer looks set to be amazing too: famous and up-and-coming music artists (from jazz violin to symphony orchestras), groundbreaking dance works, a lecture series… The list goes on.
Being very much a non-business bod, it was fascinating for me to see the machinations that go on in the corridors of city power, and how such events are run. An open bar and fancy finger food complimented the set-up (though I still don’t understand why serving something in a metal bucket makes it posh). For the first time ever, I enjoyed eating popcorn. A little too much popcorn, actually – another guest commented on it… But then said “no, it’s fine. It has like no calories in.” Not the thought that was foremost in my mind, but thanks? There are tensions in Camp New Haven, as certain people are appointed to things and others have their noses put out of joint. As both an outsider and a naive non-politician, I think ‘why can’t everyone work together to the same end of creating a brilliant festival for the community (and subsequent projects)?’ As a realist, I realise that no aspect of adult behaviour has ever followed such simple rules!
Anyway, I’m sure the festival is going to be both a hit and a hoot. I was really interested to see that there are International Festival Fellows: high school students who are helping to organise and publicise the event. Unfortunately, their role wasn’t really introduced during the event, so I went to the programme co-ordinator afterwards to ask how it works. An invitation to apply was sent out to high schools within the area that arts-interested students could be afforded this opportunity. They filled out a form, sent in a resume and wrote an essay as part of the application, and then the successful went on to an interview stage. It’s a great opportunity to experience the world of work (and particularly that of arts administration) for these youngsters, especially since the festival has such a great reputation and has been selected as one of CNN’s ’50 things to do in 50 states’. It’s such a cool experience – I just wish that either the co-ordinator, or indeed the students themselves, had been given the opportunity to explain it to the audience.
For her first attempt at making bread, Jane turned out a perfect Farmers Market-looking rustic artisan bread. Amazing. I’m pleased it worked out, given all of the worrying she did about it! There were also fresh scones for breakfast, so I was munching treat after treat.
Last night Jane and I were talking about cultural differences between Britain and the US, particularly in terms of confidence and approaching people you don’t know that well. Today we were talking about cultural differences across several countries: the world lives together in the Alston House, with guests from all kinds of places.
Er, yes – why wouldn’t I be back in Blue State? I needs my bean-filled mocha before I leave it again!
Etta James’ ‘At Last’. Tune.
Some good coffeeing and emailing later, I went to Chipotle for lunch. I promised myself I’d get to lunch here at least once while in the country. Yum yum. The speed of fast food places here, though, is still scary. Servers yell questions at you and you try to yell answers back. When there was an almighty CRASH from the kitchens, my face must’ve registered mega shock, because the server then said “sorry” to me. Whoops… I’d really like to go to America with my Dad one day, because I think it’d be really funny to see him cope with such interactions/imitate the American accent and for us to discuss the funny things that happened.
I went back to the Yale University Art Gallery this afternoon, because the last time I was there I barely did it viewing justice. There’s so much and so little time (and also so many different floors, elevator shafts and bathrooms – but only one exit – that it’s very easy to get lost). The temporary exhibition at the moment is of Japanese screens, decorated by brush and ink, often with calligraphy. It made me think that if I ever have a house, and one that could legitimately require room dividers, I’d like my Mum to do me a calligraphy screen; that would be beautiful.
I continued looking at the European galleries, because that’s mainly where my art interests lie. Like many of us, visual art gives me the uncomfortable feeling that I’m ‘doing it all wrong’, but I looked and had thoughts/ideas, and gained some aesthetic pleasure from the whole experience, and that’s what I was looking for.
I’m not going to bore you with my rambling thoughts on all the paintings I saw, but rather offer a few highlights that stuck out. I learned that the half-moon shaped panels (Italian Renaissance) were usually painted to be placed high up on an altarpiece and are called ‘lunettes’. Nice name. ‘The Temptation of Saint Anthony Abbot’ by Master of the Osservanza, tempera on panel was surprisingly effective. It almost looks three-dimensional, partly because it is so small and has three very colourful details in the foreground, one of which is a sort of fuchsia that doesn’t look like a Renaissance colour. I know that sounds ridiculous, but there it is. Those spectral gradations didn’t exist back then, or as finely as they did later on. It’s really striking (and I’m someone who has a dreadful habit of ignoring smaller paintings, especially if they’re hung near bigger paintings… I should basically be put to death by the artistic community…).
‘The Assumption of the Virgin’ by Luca di Tomme, displays figures textured with gold. It’s impressive how well it suggests rich patterned fabrics (like those of really expensive curtains). Also, there are two angels either side of Mary (intermingled with other, normal, rejoicing angels) with obviously folded arms and disgruntled expressions that Mary is getting all the attention. It strangely puts me in mind of Auden’s poem ‘Musee des Beaux Arts’, and showing the range of reactions to a given event: the pedestrian, the less sanguine, the ones that might be judged. One particular picture of the Virgin and Child appealed because the Christ child was depicted as an interested baby, reaching out to grasp a reed/quill? Young children are like that: interested, exploring through touch. I liked seeing this highly recognisable, yet little represented, angle on the matter. Jean-Francois Millet’s ‘Starry Night’ is really effective, with the stars as tiny pricklings of light across a nocturnal landscape. In a completely non-pejorative way, it’s pretty. And while very different, it also reminds you of Van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night’, which is never a bad thing.
Being me, I accidentally walked into every single class and tour group happening in the gallery at that time. It got to a point where I asked a guard “How am I doing this?” – and he looked confused, because we’d never met, and he didn’t know of my previous tour encounters. 5 Idiocy Points to me. One tour group was so large that I began to think I should never bother approaching the door, for I was destined never to pass. Eventually, a well-groomed tour guide ushered me through, which was kind. It highlighted one difference between Brits and Americans, though: a British steward would usher you through by shadowing you through the door with his/her hand, whereas an American will physically touch you. I don’t mind at all (well, I’m very protective of my bad arm, but that was out of the way), it’s just lightly shocking, because I am not from a tactile people!
Among the small yet ample Impressionist collection, Yale has a Degas sculpture. I have a bit of a Degas obsession anyway and have been entranced by one of his dancer sculptures before. This time, I was interested to read in the blurb, that Degas strengthened his sculptures with ‘clay and everyday objects like wire, broken paintbrushes, and wine corks.’ Thus they could be ‘endlessly modified and adjusted, allowing Degas to experiment with variations on different poses’. I never knew that. It disrupts our nice categorical idea of ‘sculpture by canonical artist as finished art product’. Jolt me out of my thinking, ED – you always were good at that.
I wandered into the America galleries upstairs, which I hadn’t seen before. It made me want to reread American Visions and made me once again grateful that my supervisor had me read it. Thomas Cole, Eakins – these are names that I recognise (which happens so rarely in art that I very much feel like a peacock that has temporarily fluffed its feathers. Fluff fluff!). Some of those landscapes; some of those new observations – just really appeal to me. Being a sucker for marble (because really HOW do you get that fluidity from stone? I mean, how?), I was very taken with Chauncey Bradley Ives’ ‘Undine rising from the waters’. For someone about to destroy her lover, her posture is remarkably serene, reposing almost within the water. I remember picking a favourite sculpture in San Pietro, Vatican City, because it depicted the folds and falls of material so well, and its the same idea here that captures me. Also, ‘Chauncey’ is a great name. It reminds me of Sir Vauncey Harpur-Crewe, a historical figure who figured largely in my childhood.
I met up with Jane again so that we could have some more time together ahead of catching my next Amtrak, and we went to the lovely bookshop that is Atticus. I had fun playing with a finger puppet book called Little Shark and also bought some greetings cards. Jane sneakily managed to buy me a (completely undeserved) present: I HAVE ANOTHER HEDGEHOG!! Hedgehog has a new friend!
We stumbled upon the grand opening of a new tea palace in New Haven, with countless varieties of loose leaf tea, rich decor and authentically dressed staff. They were providing free samples of different teas, so we had some incredible blueberry-infused white tea and marvelled at the many versions of the glass teapot.
I quite wanted to relive the fruit burst experience that is a Claire’s Cornercopia smoothie. Apple juice, fresh blueberries, fresh strawberries. Very refreshing. After the unveiling of new hedgehog, Jane and I spent time discussing the meanings of toys to different people’s lives and how their role changes as you grow up. This got us onto what you do and don’t need to save from the past (classic memory-object territory for me!), and how this varies person to person. I don’t consider myself a hoarder (ssh, Mum!) but I am a being shaped by, and actively shaping, a material world. Because I can interact with objects, those do inevitably take on certain meanings.
It’s all the thanks to Jane for having me to stay, providing me with yet more experiences (in essentially 24 hours!) and allowing me to continue the joy of my Fulbright experience. She thinks I’m a really fun and positive person, which is wonderful because that’s neither at all my perception of myself nor what I am known for. Truth is, Jane brings out the fun in me – she asks questions and inspires honesty, has an infectious enthusiasm and always wants to learn new things. Growing up, I was a timid (occasionally to the point of silence) little girl, who didn’t voluntarily spend time with new people and didn’t want to share things about herself. We’ve only known each other a brief time, but Jane’s impact on my life is huge – and her warmth continues to have be believe in the goodness (nay, general awesomeness!) of human beings. And because she fed my bunnies before we packed them.
I’m closing this post here, because although I haven’t arrived in New York yet, where I’m headed, there is no wifi. I’ll find a way of updating you with something tomorrow from a random location…
PS. Amtrak taps that you have to push up in order to get water: I will never understand why your aberrant form exists. But you have my attention.
Pics: Festival press conference; Festival fellows with the Mayor of New Haven; popcorn!; breakfast at The Alston House; Jane with the bunnies; the Alston bunny meets Tio & Bunnio; Chipotle burrito bowl; a little bit of Yale (near the Eng Fac); ‘Undine rising from the waters’ by Chauncey Bradley Ives; from the back; an example of a gallery (they are wonderfully lit and spacious); Jane with Eustace Kleinbaum; meeting new friends; sharing a smoothie; me and Jane with new hedgehog!