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Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Once again I find myself in Vienna, Austria just before Christmas for a work trip. Many of you know that I retired earlier this year, but I was requested to come back to assist with a workshop this week that I have helped to run for the past seven years. It is hard to say no to an overseas trip and Vienna is particularly beautiful at this time of the year. There are lots of Christmas markets throughout the city, wirh the largest one in front of the Rathaus (City Hall).

In the market there are rows and rows of vendors selling all kinds of products, including a wide variety of food and beverages. My personal favorite is the käsekrainer, a large sausage filled with chunks of cheese that melt when the sausage is grilled. I usually have mine in a hard crusted roll (like a mini baguette) with lots of spicy mustard. The most popular item for consumption, though, appears to be glühwein, hot spicy wine, served in festive mugs. You put down a deposit on the mugs and either return them or take them away with you.

Most of my daylight hours, which seem really limited at this time of the year, are filled with work, but I managed to make it to the Rathaus Christmas Market and grabbed a few photos one evening earlier this week. Hopefully they give you a sense of the festive atmosphere at the market, though you don’t get the smells of the food cooking in the open air and the sounds of the Christmas music, with a variety of individuals and groups performing live.

Merry Christmas in advance and Happy Holidays to those of you who do not celebrate Christmas.

Vienna Christmas Market 2019

Vienna Christmas Market 2019

Vienna Christmas Market 2019

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I spent some of my favorite moments during my recent trip to Paris exploring again the Rodin Museum and its wonderful outdoor sculpture garden. There is something really special about seeing sculptures outdoors, where the time of day, the season, and the weather can make them come alive in new ways that are not possible in the controlled confines of an indoor museum.

When I travelled to Washington D.C. on Saturday, one of my goals was to see some of the Rodin sculptures that I recalled were in the Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden. The garden is sunken slightly below ground level and as I descended I immediately spotted the large sculpture known as The Burghers of Calais (Les Bourgeois de Calais). This multi-person sculpture is very well-known and I had seen another casting of it recently in Paris. (According to French law, there can be only 12 original castings of a Rodin sculpture, and both the one that I saw in Paris and this one are original castings.)

I couldn’t remember the story behind the sculpture, so I turned to Wikipedia. From a factual perspective, the sculpture commemorates an event during the Hundred Years’ War, when Calais, a French port on the English Channel, was under siege by the English for about eleven months. As you study the faces and the postures of the men in the sculpture, you realize that it is much more than a monument to a historical event.

According to Wikipedia, “Edward, the king of England, offered to spare the people of the city if six of its leaders would surrender themselves to him, presumably to be executed. Edward demanded that they walk out wearing nooses around their necks, and carrying the keys to the city and the castle. One of the wealthiest of the town leaders, Eustache de Saint Pierre, volunteered first and five other burghers joined with him. Saint Pierre led this envoy of volunteers to the city gates. It was this moment, and the poignant mix of defeat, heroic self-sacrifice, and willingness to face imminent death that Rodin captured in his sculpture.”

The sculpture in the second image is known simply as The Walking Man (L’homme qui marche). I am amazed at Rodin’s skill in capturing a sense of movement in such an incomplete figure. For me, it’s like a three-dimensional sketch that has come to life.

The final Rodin sculpture that I wanted to highlight is known as the Crouching Woman (also known as Lust). I find the pose of the woman to be intriguing and the Rodin Museum, which has a terracotta version of the sculpture, asserts that it “looks like a compact block with limbs gathered together and pressed tightly against the torso. This block-like sculpture reflects Rodin’s aesthetic analysis of Michelangelo’s sculpture: it is a work that, to quote the great Italian artist, could roll down a hill without breaking.”

These Rodin sculptures remind me of Paris, but in a greater sense, they highlight my heightened appreciation for the work of artists. Sometimes artists capture beauty and other times they create beauty (and often they do both at the same time). What is beauty? That will have to be the subject of a separate blog someday.

 

Burghers of Calais

The Walking Man

Crouching Woman

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I have lived in the Virginia suburbs of Washington D.C. for over 25 years. Like most people who live in the region, I rarely travel into the city except when I have guests. We tend to look a bit negatively at tourists, who impede our paths and generally get in the way as we rush about trying to get important things—primarily work—accomplished. It is a bit of a stereotype, but it does seem to be that most people in this area are very focused and driven.

As I continued to struggle to readapt to “normal” life after my glorious three weeks in Paris, I started to wonder how things would look differently if I approached Washington D.C. with the same sense of awe and enthusiasm that I felt for Paris. What if I stopped taking for granted all of the treasures our nation’s capital has to offer and looked at them with fresh eyes?

Saturday, I grabbed the camera gear and the raincoat that I used in Paris and rode into the city on the Metro system. I had a relaxing time visiting several of the Smithsonian museums, which all have no admission fee, so you don’t have to exhaust yourself trying to get your money’s worth. I may cover my museum experience in another posting.

What struck me the most during the day, however, was the view that greeted me when I walked out of the National Gallery of Art at closing time. It was starting to get dark and lights had come on, gently illuminating some of the buildings. As I looked to the left, I could see the U.S. Capitol Building, home of Congress, and to the right in the distance was the Washington Monument, with a part of the Lincoln Memorial visible behind it. Wow!

Now I realize that most people don’t have Washington D.C. in their backyard, but I encourage you to look afresh at the area in which you live. Imagine that you have traveled thousands of miles to see its unique beauties. For me, that change in attitude helped me to look beyond the familiar and better appreciate the beauty that was always there. I had always used that approach in my wildlife photography and only now realize how it can be broadened into so many other areas of my life.

U.S. Capitol

Washington Monument

U.S. Capitol

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I am back from Paris now, but very much still under its influence. My final night in Paris, I walked down to the Seine River just before midnight. A light drizzle was falling, but I did not care. If anything, the rain made everything more beautiful, creating additional reflections on the cobblestone streets. As I crossed a bridge over the river,  I could see the Eiffel Tower all lit up, its searchlight piercing in and out of the clouds. It was magical!

I was having a great time trying to capture the scene when suddenly the lights on the tower went out. It was as if the Eiffel Tower had suddenly disappeared. I knew that the tower’s lights were not on all night, but I did not expected them to be extinguished right at midnight. Reality sometime has a way of crashing in on moments of fantasy.

One of my readers, Michael Scandling, challenged me to be out walking the streets at midnight to see if I might end up in the 1920’s having a drink with Hemingway. Obviously he too had seen the 2011 movie Midnight in Paris. The lead character played by Owen WIlson spends a lot of time wandering the streets of Paris and suddenly at midnight he repeatedly ends up in the 1920s, rubbing elbows with famous authors, actors, and artists of that era. Who wouldn’t want to have a chance to talk to icons like Cole Porter, Picasso, Gertrude Stein, and Salvador Dali? The movie additionally has wonderful footage of many places in Paris that are very familiar to me. It is one of the few DVDs that I have purchased in the past ten years.

Alas, real life does not generally play out as it does in the movies. Instead I quietly continued my walk, watching as waiters stacked up chairs in restaurants and lights began to dim as Paris prepared to sleep. For many in Paris, it was the end to just another day, but for me it was special, it was midnight on my final day in this special city, at least for this trip.

Eiffel Tower

Eiffel Tower

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Folks have responded so well to my little art projects that I thought I would show you a few pages from my sketchbook from the last few days, as I get ready to head towards teh airport. The first one is a little more elaborate and was done at my desk on the basis of a photo that I included in a recent posting. It took a lot longer than the others and I had the benefit of having carefully composed the shot with my camera. Composition is a lot harder when you have a scene right in front of you and you try to decide what part of it you want to draw.

The other two sketches were done outdoors as I stood looking at the Pont Saint-Michel across the Seine and then a few minutes later when I was looking at Notre Dame from an overlook point. They were definitely quick sketches, ironically enough because I was on my way to a sketching tour.

It is challenging but fun to learn to feel secure enough to try to draw in public. I am not paranoid in stating that people are watching you—they are.

This will probably be my last posting from Paris, though I have a few more postings that I have conceptualized that I will probably do after my return. Three weeks ago, I remember warning readers that my postings would be different while I was in Paris and they definitely have been. In many ways, I am happy to be ending this trip with a posting with handmade images, images that are deeply personal and reflective of the way that I spent my time here.

Thanks to all of who have stuck with me on this trip and have encouraged me along the way. It has been a weird and wonderful time. As most of you know, the French word for “memories” is “souvenirs.” These little drawings will help to spark my memories in ways that no mass-produced “souvenirs” could ever do.

“Au revoir, Paris.” It doesn’t really mean “good-bye”—it’s more like “Farewell, until we meet again.” I am pretty sure I will be back again before too long.

 

Montmartre sketch

Pont St Michel Bridge sketch

Notre Dame de Paris sketch

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I knew that doing a painting of Notre Dame de Paris is well beyond my current skill level with watercolors, but I decided this evening that I had to give it a try before I leave this beautiful city tomorrow. I just got done with my little painting using DaVinci watercolors on Fabriano Artistico paper and it is 5×7 inches in size (13×18 cm).

I won’t bore you will all of the reasons why this is a tough subject, but I chose the front view, which made things a little easier and I ended up simplifying a lot of details. The paper is not really flat at the moment, which means the photo I took looks a little warped, but I think you can see well enough what I accomplished.

All in all, I’m pretty happy with the results. I may give it another go from home, but it is recognizable, I think as Notre Dame—I especially thrilled that I completed this while I was still in Paris.

In case you are curious, I based it roughly on a photo that I took today that is included after the painting.

 

Notre Dame de Paris

Notre Dame de Paris

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I’m normally very self-conscious about taking photos of people in public, but today I decided to throw caution to the wind and tried to capture images of a few of the guys who caught my attention.

The first image shows a young guy who was at the overlook area in front of Sacre Coeur and was trying to interest people in tours of the city in a bright orange vintage Citroën 2CV, the one that looks vaguely like the original Volkswagen Beetle.

I first heard the guy the second image playing the bongos (with a tambourine to his side) on a bench across the Seine from me, on a bank of Île de la Cité, the island on which Notre Dame de Paris is located. Although I was a long way away, he seemed to sense my presence and looked up at me for a moment before returning to his music.

During my final visit to Place de Tertre in Montmartre late this afternoon, I again watched Jean-Marc Lambert, my favorite watercolor artist at work. You may recognize him in the final photo from an earlier posting I did about him. Unlike the two previous times, I did not engage with him, but silently and wistfully watched from a distance.

Tour guide in Paris

Bongos player in Paris

Watercolor painter in Paris

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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