The Berkshires-Xu Bing at MASS MOCA

During our recent trip to the Berkshires in Massachusetts we returned to the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA) in North Adams, MA.  The gallery space is amazing and the art is, well, modern.  It is my favourite contemporary art gallery (and that includes visits to modern art galleries in New York City and London, England)


Inner beauty MASS MoCA
Inner beauty MASS MoCA

The work of Chinese artist Xu Bing is on display until later this year in a number of the galleries in MASS MoCA.  Xu Bing is one of the most important Chinese contemporary artist working today.  According to the gallery brochure “All of the works on view part of a series or are part of long-term projects that are still unfolding.” 

If you go, Phoenix is the installation you must see.  From the MASS MoCA website “The installation features two monumental birds fabricated entirely from materials harvested from construction sites in urban China, including demolition debris, steel beams, tools, and remnants of the daily lives of migrant laborers. At once fierce and strangely beautiful, the mythic Phoenixes bear witness to the complex interconnection between labor, history, commercial development, and the rapid accumulation of wealth in today’s China.”  The work was originally commissioned by a real estate developer in China.  The work proved controversial, the funding was cut and other sources of support had to be secured.  

Each Phoenix is nearly 100 feet long and the two of them weigh over 20 tons.

The front of one Phoenix
The front of one Phoenix

Phoenix was scheduled to take four months to complete.  Due to several factors including the Beijing Olympics, the global financial crisis and the rejection by the real estate developers who commissioned the work, Phoenix took two years to complete.  The Artis Talk video inside the the MASS MoCA link above gives you a sense of the artist along with an explanation of his art.


See the workers' shovels
See the workers’ shovels

The Phoenix is something to behold.  Trash from the construction site, workers shovels, construction hats and empty canisters and so many other remnants form two beautiful birds.  They are internally lit with LED lights.


Single photos do small justice to the exhibit.  Phoenix and MASS Moca are both something to be seen.  If you have occasion to be anywhere close to North Adams MA, USA, a visit to MASS MoCA will not disappoint.

An Aversion to Oscar

Such hype there is every year when the Academy Awards Ceremony is shown on television.  There are tons of promotions about the movies and great speculation about who will win what.  My memory dims but I think I may have watched a complete Academy Awards Ceremony 30 years ago.  Maybe.  Some of the issue is I can’t stay awake that late but mostly I can’t stand watching the whole spectacle.  

I may sit still for the opening ceremonies but it doesn’t take long before I make myself scarce.  The whole thing drives me nuts.  The pre-show, the red carpet, the endless talking heads but mostly it’s the acceptance speeches.  It sounds like this to me:  I’d like to thank my chauffeur and the lawn maintenance person and the person who cleans the pool and the person who let me merge into traffic last Tuesday.  ARRRRGGGGHHH.  I can’t stand it.  I usually retreat to another room to read a book.

Anyone else feel this way?

Lynn Miles-Ottawa International Writers Festival

The 2012 Fall International Writers Festival is underway in Ottawa.  I have attended a number of events with a couple more in my plans over the next few days. It is one of the pleasures of feeling you have time to do this sort of thing when paid work doesn’t take up so much of every day.

The Songwriter’s Circle Event this year showcased the 25 year career of the award-winning Ottawa singer/songwriter Lynn Miles.  

Lynn Miles


I volunteered once again to blog about the event for the Writers Festival.  If you are so inclined, you can find my contribution along with blogs on other events in this link to the Writers Festival Blog.  

I find these events very interesting.  It’s something to hear directly from authors and in particular from those you have either read or plan to read.  The creative process is a marvel, really.

Have you attended a book reading?  What was your experience?

A Prairie Home Companion and We Were There!

Garrison who?

Some twenty years ago my sister gave me an album on cassette tape (remember those…or maybe not).  She’d heard about the performer, Garrison Keillor, on CBC radio.  Mr. Keillor, an American, is well-known as an National Public Radio (NPR) radio performer, an author, a humourist and essayist.  The album was “A Young Lutheran’s Guide to the Orchestra” and I listened to it time and time again.  I enjoyed the music and the stories that went with the album.  This makes me think I should likely buy it again-in a format I can listen to these days.

A Prairie Home Companion

Garrison Keillor is the host of the weekly NPR radio show A Prairie Home Companion (PHC). I often listen to the archived shows.  There was a 2006 movie of the same name.  The movie was set around a single radio show and used the same set that Keillor and colleagues perform on at each show.  The show is quirky and warm and often showcases well-known performers as well as  local musical talent (the show is based in Minneapolis but does travel across the U.S. during the year).

Tanglewood, June 30, 2012

We seized an opportunity to see a live performance of the PHC last week in Lenox, Massachusetts.  The venue is Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston
Symphony Orchestra.  

The stage is in the “shed” and you can purchase tickets either in the shed or out on the lawn.  We learned that to picnic on the lawn before and during the concert is part of the charm of Tanglewood performances.  The venue (The Serge Koussevitzky Music Shed and lawn) can accommodate upwards of 20,000.  

The day was perfect, June 30th, 2012 as we drove to Tanglewood.  It was sunny and very warm, with a little breeze. The concert was great.  Keillor said (tongue in cheek) they like to give local talent a chance and so had Arlo Guthrie as one of the guests.  You can hear the show on the archives of the PHC website.  I was thrilled to be at the concert and enjoyed the evening immensely.  

The Encores

And one of the very best parts of the experience was what happened after the live broadcast (2 hours) signed off.  The PHC broadcast starts at 6pm and ends around 8pm. A number of audience members left early, probably thinking getting out of the parking area would be a nightmare.  Another number left at the end of the show while many of us stayed and called for an encore.  And did we get encores.  Pure singing-some folk, some songs from long ago (my Dad would have loved their choices) and some rock and roll.  All the band and guest performers (e.g. Arlo Guthrie) came out and the songs went on one after the other.  The audience stood and clapped and sang and danced.  They walked up the aisles to get closer to the stage soaking up the experience.

After they had played for almost an additional two hours and left the stage for the third time we started toward the car.  We weren’t aware of the after show soiree and we hadn’t eaten.  It was closing on to 10pm.  We were on our way to the parking lot and heard the band start up again!  

PHC/Tanglewood Advice

  • If you have a chance, attend a PHC live performance-no matter where it’s being held
  • If you go to Tanglewood buy tickets in the Shed
  • Arrive early (grounds open at 4 pm for 5:45 pm show)
  • Pack a lovely picnic lunch with accompanying beverages.  Eat on the lawn and then pack up the bits, take them back to the car and take your seat in the shed.  
  • Buy tickets for next year…I plan to!  

Do you have a concert or live show experience that stands out in your memory?  A performance you found so very enjoyable.  What were the reasons? Who you attended with, the performer, the venue, the weather…it seems a combination of all of the above for me.  



Caine’s Arcade

There was a heartwarming story in the paper recently about Caine Monroy, a 9 year old who lives in East Los Angeles.  He is the subject of a short film that has become a recent Internet viral sensation.  The film is Caine’s Arcade.  

Over and over again we see the impact of Internet and social media exposure (good and bad).  This one is good (we trust).  Take a look at the sidebar and note how much money has been donated towards Caine’s college education and towards a trust fund to foster creativity and enterpreneurship in young children.  

Among many creative children (I think of a nephew of ours in particular) who have built many things from scratch, it is the luck of the draw in this day and age to have an independent film maker show up and shine a light on one special young boy.  

What do you think of social media and its ability to instantly shine a light on everything from heartwarming human interest stories, to singing babies, to a father shooting his daughter’s laptop for what he saw as her ungratefulness and on and on.  Are we better off for it?


A Blog Topic Can Keep You Current-Even If You Aren’t Interested

Background: When you have a blog you can see some of the ways people find your site.  They may google a certain topic-for example, “scotch and chocolate” and since there’s a blog about that subject on my blog they may click on my site.  I understand how that can happen.  Some searches though come in through a bit of a tangent and one search that started to appear recently was about Canadian rock and guitar/singer/songwriter legend Randy Bachman.  He spoke at the Ottawa International Writers Festival this fall about his new book “Randy Bachman’s Vinyl Stories”.  

Gossip Search:  I noticed searches over the last while that were not about plain ol’ Randy Bachman or about his book but they ran along the lines of “Is Randy Bachman separated?” or “Who is Randy Bachman dating?”.  What is this, I thought.  I have no business in Mr. Bachman’s personal life, nor am I particularly interested.  However  just as once in a while one might peek at that gossip magazine when in the line up at the local grocery store, I found myself wondering what was up.  If I find that this blog leads me to the equivalent of reading gossip magazines, then it’s time to call it a day on the whole thing.  

I’m sure you aren’t interested-you don’t look at tabloids, or read articles about the lives of people in the public eye.  Just to keep you up to date though the question about Randy Bachman’s marital status seems to have an answer.  And if you click on the link, I’ll know someone is interested.  You can run, but you can’t hide.  


Being Behind the Curve Can Put You Ahead

Technology: a true story

I have owned an iPod for several years.  It was a gift from my husband who thought it was time for me to come out of the dark ages when it came to music listening devices.

An oldie but a goodie

 I have used it over time-certainly not maximized it but used it.  In this life beyond flat-out work, I thought it would be handy to take the iPod to the gym.  During a visit to the local Apple store I asked if there was a carrying case for my ol’ iPod.  The “Genius” at the store could hardly wipe the smile off his face.  While he didn’t say it outright-what I took away from his response was ” Are you kidding?  That thing is an antique.  They manufactured that iPod before I was born”.  

Apple Can Find You

When you buy a product from Apple and you register for warranty, they can find you.  We’ve changed provinces since the iPod purchase but recently I got an e-mail from Apple:

Dear iPod nano owner,

Apple has determined that, in very rare cases, the battery in the iPod nano (1st generation)may overheat and pose a safety risk. Affected iPod nanos were sold between September 2005 and December 2006.

This issue has been traced to a single battery supplier that produced batteries with a manufacturing defect. Apple recommends that you stop using your iPod nano (1st gen) and follow the process noted below to order a replacement unit, free of charge.

Moral of the Story: It Pays to Be a Luddite

I plan to follow the process and return this stone age iPod and receive another iPod Nano. It appears the replacement will be another 1st gen so the Apple Genius at the Apple store probably won’t have accessories for me.  I was hoping for a new one-it’s the size of a large postage stamp.  How many 1st gen iPods are still around?  Where do you think they went-are they all attending some group therapy sessions for unloved and unwanted technology?  

MASS MoCA-Not a Large Specialty Coffee

Not all that long ago we took a road trip.  We journeyed quite a distance into and across the states of New York and Massachusetts.  We were well inland during the trip.   It was late fall and there was some colour left in the trees-all in all a pretty drive.  Parts of the drive that were not so scenic were the many deserted warehouses and factories-sitting derelict and sometimes vandalized.  They tell of a time, decades ago, when those building housed vibrant industries and employed many people.  One building that has been rejuvenated and beautifully so is the former factory that now houses the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art or Mass MoCA  in North Adams, MA.  It is the largest museum of contemporary art in the United States.  The museum is on the site of a former textile printing factory.  As you walk up to the museum you come upon trees in an unusual spot.  

Larger than the patio upside down tomato plants

There are several buildings and floors of exhibits.  The exposed brick and hardwood floors provide a wonderful background for art.  

The exhibit One Floor Up More Highly by Katharina Gross was housed in a space that is as large as a football field.  

One Floor Up More Highly exhibit

Three floors in the main building displayed wall art conceived by Sol LeWitt.  The exhibit will be at MASS MoCA for 25 years-you have plenty of time to see it.  LeWitt‘s wall drawings were usually executed by people other than the artist himself.       I compare it to designing Vogue sewing patterns and then others make the outfit.  He would use teams of assistants to create his works. Between 1968 and his death in 2007, LeWitt created more than 1,270 wall drawings.  The art and the manner in which it was created is remarkable.  We thoroughly enjoyed the museum and plan to return to MASS MoCA.  A good to do that might be after May 2012, there will be an exhibit of Canadian contemporary art – Oh, Canada .  If you plan to go to North Adams, let me know, we have some thoughts on accommodation.  

Have you ever seen Sol LeWitt’s art?  I think we may have seen it in other galleries.

Sol LeWitt

Sol Lewitt


The International Writers Festival wrapped up recently in Ottawa.  I took in several events.  It is wonderful to have some time to do that sort of thing when one is beyond full-time work.  I have eyed the events at the Festival over the years and always found reasons why there didn’t seem to be the time to attend.  Now, I have scads more discretionary time-ah, it’s heaven.

True Story

  • University of Saskatchewan, college days

As an undergrad student at the University of Saskatchewan many years ago, there was a period over a couple of years when a group of us hung out together.  Some of us were in the College of Pharmacy, one in the College of Engineering and another was pursuing a degree in history.  The fellow who was in history came with a nickname, a self-proclaimed nickname, he was “Cleveland Thomas Ohio”.  We called him Cleve.  Our group enjoyed going to movies, drinking beer, playing cards and shooting the breeze. We had a great time together.  I distinctly remember how Cleve regaled us with stories of kings and queens of long ago. He put them into a tale where he made the past come alive.  I recall thinking “why can’t I see that when I read history” for I was one who had to memorize history for it would lay flat and lifeless on the page and it wouldn’t stick in my brain.

  • Life and careers

Cleve continued and earned a number of degrees at the U of S.  For a time he was a teacher.  I saw him a few times over the years and would hear of his growing accomplishments as a writer over time.  

  • Ottawa International Writers Festival 2011. 

And so it was that this college friend from decades ago came to our city to read from his latest book,  A Good Man.  I combed through photo albums to find pictures of those days so long ago.  The best I could do were pictures from a Hallowe’en dress up party (I hope it was Hallowe’en-either that or we had a weird sense of fashion).  Our youthful visages did not yet show the lines of life we now sport. I made copies of the photos and off we went to event. It was delightful to be at the reading and listen to the interview that followed. As he read I saw the accomplished novelist and short story writer and I also remembered the undergrad student.  Afterward we had a little visit, the author and me. Cleveland Thomas Ohio is no more.  He is the winner of two Governor General Awards and he has been made an Officer of the Order of Canada along with many other recognitions that former history student, Guy Vanderhaeghe.  He’s still full of good stories and good humour as you can see.  

Cleve (okay, it's really Guy) and me


Blog of a Blog-Ottawa International Writers Festival

The Writers Festival here in Ottawa ends today.  This year (since I am beyond full-time, flat-out work) I have had the luxury of attending a number of events.  One of the events was based on the book (and therefore the Canadian comedy troupe) Air Farce.  I volunteered to blog about the event for the Writers Festival and if you are so inclined, you can find my contribution along with blogs on other events in this link to the Festival Blog.  

I have a story, a true story about another festival event but that’s for another day.