Thursday, February 27, 2014

Something Silly

Sometimes when I get bored, I'll play around with Microsoft Paint. I'm not much of an artist but I love to play with shapes. One afternoon, playing with ovals, I came up with this scene. Please be aware that no digital olives were injured in the making of this picture. Their counterparts in my fridge weren't quite as lucky. 

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Florida Fauna

Cormorant right off shore

As I mentioned before, we saw a lot of art museums in Florida. My family visited two places regularly whenever we went to a new place: an art museum and a zoo. As a family we appreciate animals and birds. Both my parents and I are birders and we are all fans of getting to see animals and wildlife whenever we get the chance. I did a lot of birding in Florida. We saw Anhingas, cormorants, ibises, pelicans, and tons of gulls and sanderlings. The favorites were the tiny sanderlings that fed at the shore, running in and out of the waves. Birds were everywhere. It was wonderful.

Great Egret just hanging out near the Ringling Art Museum

Birding was done on the beach and in the car, but we spent plenty of our time looking at other things. Our first full day in Florida, we headed out to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, to see both their star (Winter, the dolphin from the movie Dolphin Tale) and the rest of the aquatic residents. Clearwater's Aquarium is a rescue and rehabilitation center for marine creatures. Winter, the big attraction, is a dolphin who lost its tail in the lines of crab trap. The aquarium has taught Winter to swim with a prosthetic tail. We watched one of the training sessions as they explained how the dolphin got around regularly with and without the tail. Winter was interesting but I was more captivated by some of the other less famous residents.

Winter with her prosthetic tail

There were injured turtles who couldn't submerge after collisions with boats or fisherman which was heart-wrenching. I was so happy to see that these beautiful but damaged creatures had a place to go where they would be taken care of. There were otters, one of which had been hit by a car and the other that had been orphaned at too young an age for rerelease. But my favorite was a dolphin named Nicholas whose mother had beached herself (because of an illness) when Nicholas was very young. Both dolphins had been horribly sunburned and Nicholas' mother had died. The dolphin was now 11 and was quite the flirt. He'd swim by and check us out and pose for the camera. The white on his topside is where he was sunburnt. But my favorite part of the aquarium was talking with the volunteers and trainers. Everyone was so passionate about helping injured animals. It was incredible to see these beautiful animals being rescued and cared for.

Nicholas flirting with us

On Thursday my parents and I ended up in downtown Tampa to see the well recommended Florida Aquarium. After touring I can see why it was recommended. I don't remember the last time I visited an aquarium that I enjoyed so much. This had fish and birds I'd never seen in zoos or aquariums before. There was whole section on seahorses and other similar style fish, most of which were new to me. There were local Florida birds in vast open areas of the exhibition (one poor man even got pooped on by a Roseate Spoonbill). The main tank had a wall sized glass and benches set up, to just sit and watch the schools of fish swim by. As we were heading out a woman with a penguin in a cart stopped to tell us about them. The aquarium was both educational and beautiful. The fish and birds were well kept. Everything was sparkling and clean. It was lovely to see so many creatures well cared for at both aquariums.
Roseate Spoonbill with great aim

Seeing animals in aquariums is one thing, but seeing them in the wild is always a huge thrill for me. On Wednesday we drove north to Crystal, Florida to swim with manatees. Sadly I have no pictures of the day. I didn't bring my camera on the boat and I don't have anything that would work underwater. We had hoped to get the chance to swim with these incredible creatures and I'd found a number of companies that offered excursions. We chose Manatee Tour and Dive, because it didn't have pictures of people touching or hugging manatees on their website. I wanted something that respected the space that creatures need in the wild. They were a fantastic organization. We went for a two and a half hour tour with Captain Casey who took us out snorkeling to see these incredible animals. I had no clue how big manatees really are. They are like small cars underwater. My favorite encounter happened by accident. As we were heading back to the dock, Casey turned the boat back around after spotting a lone manatee out by an underwater spring. It was incredibly clear water and there were hundreds of fish around. But it was the manatee that made me catch my breath. We watched it surface to breath twice, completely undisturbed by us. The second time it rose, it stopped to watch me for a second and then returned to the bottom to rest. It was huge and slow and covered in algae and I realized just how beautiful and old these creatures look when they aren't in a zoo and scrubbed clean. Gentle giants of the water. So beautiful. So peaceful. It was an amazing day and an amazing trip.

The curious Epaulette Shark that walked rather than swam

Sandy the Penguin in his rolling glass wagon

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

A Profusion of Art

While we spent plenty of time at the beach in Clearwater, art museums were probably our largest activity. Over the course of seven days, we managed to hit five art museums. Did I mention it was rainy and cooler most of the trip? But the real reason is that my family loves art museums. Well, museums of any kind. Growing up we would hit most of the major museums in a city. Tampa and St. Pete were no different.

One of the main reasons I got invited on this trip is because my mother noticed that St. Petersburg is the home of The Dali Museum, a beautiful modern museum featuring almost 100 of the master surrealist's works. I've been a Dali fan since I was a child. At one point I saw his Cannibalism in Autumn and was instantly hooked. Over my life I've had nearly a dozen books of his work. So we spent our first full day at The Dali. Sadly I couldn't take any pictures of the actual art. But I did get the picture from outside (above) and the joy of standing in front of his work. It was amazing to see the individual brush strokes for some of pieces. I could recite titles (and Dali has some wild ones) for most of the paintings. There were only a few images that I hadn't seen. There is something breathtaking about standing in the presence of such masterpieces as The Hallucinogenic Toreador or Gala Contemplating the Mediterranean Sea which at Twenty Meters Becomes the Portrait of Abraham Lincoln (Homage to Rothko). These are huge wall sized works and each brush stroke is so incredibly precise. Even his small works are filled with little details that made me take my time with each painting. It was well worth the visit for this fan. And my sister said she was an avid fan by the end of the museum.

The exhibition across the hall for Andy Warhol interested us far less and we only gave the pop culture icon a cursory glance. Then we headed a couple blocks away to the Chihuly Collection. Dale Chihuly is the master of glass. Every time I've gotten to see his work I've fallen more in love with his colors and shapes. We moved from room to room, just gasping at the large installations. The museum offered a lovely setting for his work. My favorite has to be the one below. The boat was the size of a room and filled to the brim with glass. Thankfully I could take pictures in there. And I took many. I'll have them spread out throughout the post, because this was really one of only two museums that allowed pictures.

Emilie left us very early on Thursday morning and took all of the best weather with her. So we headed indoors to the Tampa Aquarium (that will be its own post) and the Tampa Museum of Art. The museum is in an incredibly modern building that was a work of art in itself. The antiquities were what drew us the most. It's hard to not be awed by pottery and sculpture from before the common era. A marble bust caught my eye quickly and I was shocked to see how good it looked considering it was 1st century c.e. The rest of the museum is currently featuring an exhibition from GraphicStudio, a print studio that operates out of University of Southern Florida. Some of the prints were fascinating. It was certainly more my style of art than my parents. I found and fell in love with the work of Christian Marclay. I loved his mixture of prints and sound effects, particularly a room long scroll of sounds. I'll be looking at more of his work. My favorite piece of the day was the statue in the second story balcony, In Mortal Repose by Diana Al-Hadid.

The next day we finally made it back to St. Petersburg for the recommended Museum of Fine Art. This lovely old museum was filled with antiquities, modern art, impressionists, and some fantastic sculpture. They had three Monet's that quickly caught my attention. I've become fascinated with the Impressionists lately and Monet in particular. I was also reading a book about his Seine series and was delighted to find one in the museum. The Asian collection was wonderful although my favorite may not have been the most exotic. There was a collection of materials a scholar would have. I spent at least 20 minutes looking from object to object, just enraptured. Leave it to me to find the book/learning related art. It was probably the most diverse, and most interesting collection we saw the entire week.

The last museum we saw was the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art. And yes, that Ringling. John Ringling founded the Ringling Brothers Circus and went on to great fame and fortune in the circus business. He turned that profit into a very lovely house and rather extensive art collection. We drove down to Sarasota the last day of the trip to view the Circus Museum and the art museum. I have to admit that by the time I got here I was a little tired of art museums. So I didn't give this museum quite as much attention as it deserves. I wrote down three different artists I liked but mostly I just moved from room to room, seeing what caught my eye. My absolute favorite was the piece below from an artist I'd never heard of. I'll be checking out more of his work. It was a lot of art over a couple of days but looking back, I was glad we saw so many different types of art and find something to inspire at each one.

Roman Courtship by Sir William Reynolds-Stephens

Sunday, February 16, 2014

I've Still Got Sand in my Shoes

It was cold but felt wonderful
I've been home for a week now and am only finally readjusted to life. I spent the week before in Clearwater Beach, Florida and am missing the beach so badly it's painful. Back in December my parents mentioned that they were thinking of taking a trip in February to get away from the cold and snow. I happily volunteered to keep them company. My little sister and I ended up accompanying my parents to one of the prettiest beach I've seen in a while.

My parents in front of our beautiful hotel
We stayed on Clearwater Beach, just outside of Clearwater/St. Petersburg. The hotel was amazing, the kind of place that gets featured in Travel and Leisure magazine (a magazine I love). It was the Sandpearl Resort, and it was every bit as lovely as the pictures. The weather was warm and lovely the first two days and then became cooler and rainy. Of course by cooler I mean 50s, which was at least 50 degrees warmer than it was here.

The view from the balcony
We had an amazing trip. We swam with manatees, saw some incredible artwork, ate great food, and spent lots of time relaxing. I'll be sharing most of my pictures over the next couple of days. But today is all about the beach. Clearwater Beach is a pristine stretch of white sand. This is sand so soft that your feet melt into it. There is nothing course in this sand. There are shells everywhere. I brought back a small collection of them. It was one of our favorite pastimes to walk the beach and collect shells. Most of the time, with the mist and rain, we had the beach to ourselves, as my sister demonstrates below.

My sister enjoying the beach to herself
My sister on our long walk
The Gulf was way too cold for swimming but we walked in the water. I spent half of my time with the bottom of my pants soaked. But I loved the feel of the water on my feet. I'd forgotten that the sun could provide warmth. I'd forgotten that there is water that didn't freeze in the winter. I sat out on the balcony in the room and wrote and thawed. A wonderful trip.

 Watching the sunset as we did every night.