The Tiny Goddess and I are back from vacation and, apparently it was a good time to be out of the USA. For most of the time, I stayed off the grid: no internet, no e-mail, no Facebook, no website surfing, no Howard Stern, no using my iPhone except for taking some back-up photos. It was a modified, limited “media cleanse.” I did hear about what was going on in the USA -- some good things (Lebron James in, Scott Pruitt out), some bad (Trump practicing treason in the sense of “adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort” in Helsinki) – but I tried to separate myself from the digital noise, at least for a while.
It was a good time to be away from the USA and see some beautiful, interesting other places. We tried to avoid the “T-word” whenever possible, but occasionally he would rear his ugly orange head on the TG’s device and threaten to spoil things. (Which he is actually doing, but that’s another blog.)
I had every reason to pay attention to what I was experiencing: we went on a cruise of the Baltic Sea, traveling to some fantastic cities, none of which I had visited before. It was all new, all the time. In order: Stockholm, Helsinki, three days in St. Petersburg, Tallinn (Estonia), Klaipeda (Lithuania), Gdansk (Poland), Warnemunde (a German port), Copenhagen, Bruges, and Amsterdam. We started off with two days in Stockholm and ended with four days in Amsterdam, to round out the cruise.
And through the miracle of the internet, anyone can get a good taste of what we did and what we saw by clicking on the links at the bottom.
In Stockholm, I read Strindberg and watched Ingmar Bergman’s “Smiles of a Summer Night” on my laptop. In St. Petersberg, I read Dostoyevsky, read Pushkin poems that the TG bought for me, and watched my favorite “Uncle Vanya.” I walked on the Embankment and on Nevsky Prospekt, the day after reading about those places. (I read a lot of Dostoyevsky the whole trip; some of the best part of the vacation was reading his stories.)
We saw two ballets in St. Petersburg (one beautifully danced story ballet “The Fountain of Bakhchisarai” at the Mariinsky Theatre by the “Stars of the White Nights” and “Swan Lake” by the Mikhailovsky Ballet, the B-company in town).
The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam was one of the true highlights of the trip. I studied Vincent van Gogh and wrote a big paper (“a contract!”) on him in a modern art class I took at Sarah Lawrence with the estimable Carol Duncan. I thought that I knew something about van Gogh – I read many of his letters to Theo and studied the big critics from back then: John Rewald, Meyer Schapiro, etc. -- but this visit opened my eyes fully to van Gogh’s incredible achievement and the reasons for it and his worldwide acclaim. In a vacation filled with thrilling museum moments, my lingering time in front of “Sunflowers,” “Vincent’s Bedroom,” and “Wheat Field With Crows” was perhaps unequaled.
And, finally, we went to Anne Frank’s house, the “secret annex” where she and her family hid for more than two years before they were betrayed and sent to their deaths in concentration camps, all except Anne’s father Otto, who discovered her diary after the war and had it published.
Just before our trip, I read the Diary and, like the rest of the world, fell in love with this wonderful young woman and fine writer. She is everyone’s daughter/sister/friend. Walking through the house was quite a moving experience, generating all kinds of thoughts about the past…and the present. Right there in Europe, at home in the USA, and in Israel, too.
When I go through museums like the Hermitage or the Rijksmuseum or see hear Tchaikovsky’s music for “Swan Lake” or read Dostoyevsky’s “White Nights,” it gives me hope and pride in the human race. Sometimes, make that oftentimes, we do horrible things to each other, but sometimes people can do remarkable things. Beautiful things. I saw countless numbers of them on this trip in a very short period of time, the work of hundreds of painters, scupltors, architects, wood carvers, metal workers, jewelers, and craftsmen of all kinds; some eternally famous, some forever unknown. They each left Something Good behind them and wrote their names in the Book of Art.
The vacation did what all good vacations should do: energized me and restored my faith in humanity. Somewhat.
We came home with presents for Calder: little painted horses from Sweden and Denmark. We did a little Facetime with him while we were on the cruise, and he asked, “Is Europe beautiful?”
The answer is YES.
I also came home to good news about WHEN I GOT OUT. My editor/publisher read the latest draft and is happy with what I’ve done. We’re going full-speed ahead toward publication. Which is a long, slow time in the world of books.
The Hermitage site – slow but searchable – one of the world’s great museums, really – like the Met and MOMA combined
The Malachite Room in the Hermitage
A St. Petersburg canal cruise
Images of the Peterhof, Peter the Great’s magnificent summer residence
The Peterhof – Grand Palace, Peterhof Park and Gardens, etc.
The Fountains of Peterhof
Diana Vishneva dancing SWAN LAKE
The complete SWAN LAKE – from the Kirov Ballet (now the Mariinsky Theatre) – the cradle of ballet
“The Fountain of Bakhchisarai” – excerpts from a 1953 film with legendary performances by Ulanova and Plitsetkaya)
A Bruges canal cruise
The Rijksmuseum -- English language site
The Van Gogh Museum
Hannes Minnaar plays the piano – We saw an excellent recital by this young musician at the Concertgebouw.
A nice documentary about Rembrandt’s life
A smart lecture about Rembrandt’s self-portraits
Rembrandt’s house – the website
An Amsterdam canal cruise – one hour
Another Amsterdam canal cruise – 40 minutes
The money shot: the view from our hotel room in Amsterdam.