Showing posts with label couchsurfing. Show all posts
Showing posts with label couchsurfing. Show all posts

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

What's there to do in Wichita, Kansas? Why not see breathtaking art?

No matter where I go in the world, I swear I could find the most interesting things to do in any given town. Wichita, Kansas was no exception. In fact, there were so many interesting things to do around Wichita, I couldn't fit them all in.

Walt and Mary, my couchsurfing hosts in Columbia, Missouri, had recommended two attractions nearby in Mary's hometown, of Hutchinson, Kansas.

I didn't get around to seeing: the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center or the Kansas Underground Salt Museum. Why, you'd have to go all the way to Poland or Austria to see something similar to this salt mine! I didn't get it done. Next time.

I ask you, however, what is something really wonderful in your neighborhood you haven't yet experienced? The problem isn't finding interesting things to do - it's actually doing them! What are you waiting for? Go see it! There may never be a next time.
I am mesmerized with this Modernist view
from the main lobby in the Wichita Art Museum.
These pictures make me giddy!
One of the fun things my friend from Prague, Gulnara, and I did while I was visiting her in Wichita was go see the Wichita Art Museum. I love the surprise of finding this modernist museum in the middle of the prairie.

I was enthralled to find two fantastic exhibits there: the Harmon and Harriet Kelley Collection of African-American Art and another exhibit called "Visions of Mexican Art."
Surprise matters.
a Dale Chihuly glass sculpture
in the main lobby or entrance foyer
has become an American art museum cliché.

I say that respectfully, because I recognize
the energy, power, and majesty of his pieces.

Please surprise me, curators.
Is there a new way his works could be exhibited?
From the visions of Mexico exhibit:
a new representation of Chac Mool,
the ancient Mayan God.
Another artist's homage to Frida Kahlo.
Love her!
These paintings were from Mexico's innovative art-for-taxes program that allowed Mexican artists to pay their taxes with their creative output.

The African-American collection represented works from three centuries. I love African-American art and music, especially jazz. Two of my favorite American artists are Romare Bearden and Jean Michel-Basquiat. Romare Bearden is represented in the collection, yet there were many drop-dead gorgeous works new to me. How proud these collectors must be to have assembled this collection of extraordinary works on paper. Thank you for sharing it, Dr. and Mrs. Kelley.
Sharecropper, 1952
by Elizabeth Catlett
"Jitterbugs III," ca. 1941-42
by William Henry Johnson
"Dance Composition, #35," 1981
by Eldzier Cortor
"Anyone's Date," 1940
by Ernest T. Crichlow
"Thistle," 1966
by Walter Williams
an expatriate artist who lived in Denmark
during the 1960's.

You can see the Scandinavian influence
in the background, yes?
"Boogie Woogie"
by Charles Louis Sallee, Jr.

I loved the energy communicated
in just these few simple lines.
"Street Car Scene," 1945
by John Woodrow Wilson

What do you suppose he's thinking?
"The Carpenters," 1977
by Jacob Lawrence

Do you know any carpenters?
Lawrence completely captured
their stance, their energy, &
the dignity of their work.
I love this piece.

What I deeply appreciated about the Wichita Art Museum's mounting of these two shows is their highlighting of the best of the America's minority populations (here assuming that Mexican culture carries over into America).

All over the world, institutions are in crisis for breaking their social contracts with their publics, but I've noticed museums have really stepped up to help their citizens cope with change, prepare for change, and accept change.

In Wichita, it was these very visible celebrations of two ethnic groups that will make up a larger segment of American life in the future.

In Prague, I saw the City Museum of Prague put on a terrific exhibit explaining Vietnamese culture to the Czech population, because Czechs have a hard time relating to their new Asian immigrants.

In Istanbul, the Istanbul Modern Art Museum mounted a show celebrating all of the Armenian-designed buildings in Istanbul, generating recognition for Armenian contributions to the beautiful city people experience today.

I admire the work of these museums. Our globe thirsts for this level of strategic engagement. Acceptance of "the other" can't happen fast enough. These institutions, probably operating with very small budgets, are engaging their publics beyond the museum's artistic mission, to an even larger mission of cross-cultural understanding. Bravo!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Touring the William Jefferson Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock, Arkansas

A typical Ozark road sign
We took a scenic route
It wouldn't do to fly back to America without spending more time with my girls than just graduation weekend. I picked their brains about what we could do that was in the area because who knew when we would be back in the center of America again.

Should we go to St. Louis and see the Arch? One of them had already done it. Go to Hannibal, Missouri and celebrate Mark Twain? My girls failed to see how that would be interesting (obviously, they need to read more Twain as he's hilariously funny). Drive the river road along the Mississippi? Go see the Eisenhower Presidential Library in Salina, Kansas?
The gorgeous Ozark Mountains
on the way to Little Rock, Arkansas.
They reminded me of the Lubéron in Provence.
All they need is their own Cézanne to paint them.
Of course, then the real estate prices would quintuple.
We settled on driving down to Little Rock, Arkansas to see the Willliam Jefferson Clinton Presidential Library. All three of us love American presidential libraries because they are so evocative of the times and teach us so much about the American political experience.
Small town riverside dinner view
in Allison, Arkansas
When I first visited my youngest daughter at Mizzou her freshman year, I couchsurfed with a fun couple in Columbia, Walt and Mary. I joked then that I would be back in four years when my child graduated. I was!
Mammoth Spring
See how the water springs up out of nowhere?
My girls and I took the route Walt recommended down to Arkansas because he had suggested such outstanding local history sites during my last visit.
One of the highlights on the trip down was stopping just across the Arkansas border to see Mammoth Spring State Park with a beautiful natural spring. My girls had both loved their geology courses in college and so it was fun for them to see the water come pouring out of the ground there.
The beautiful Arkansas river trail
perfect for runners and walkers.
Eventually it will be 17 miles long.
Isn't it beautiful?
Blessed to share
American democratic heritage with my girls -
like my Mom and Dad did with me
The William Jefferson Clinton Presidential Library -
First Federal building certified by the
Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design
(LEED) program
The next day we woke up bright and early to devote the day to the museum and library. I remember when the museum was first built, critics derided it for having the appearance of a 'double wide' mobile home. I snickered when I saw pictures of it on TV because it did sort of look like one.
Having been to it in person now, I consider that a cheap shot. President Clinton wanted the old historic railroad bridge, built in the 19th century, to represent the bridge to the 20th century. His library and museum, right next to it, represented his administration of America as a bridge to the 21st century. The metaphor works. Listening to him explain it on the audioguide, I was grateful for politicians who think in 100-year cycles rather than to the next quarter or election. Where can we find more of those?
There's that 100-year cycle again.
Diagonally across from the museum
is this magnificent old railroad station
where the University of Arkansas
Clinton School of Public Service
is housed.

Let's all say this gorgeous phrase together
from the building:
"The Choctaw Route."

Even more gorgeous,
the name of the passenger train
that did this route was:
"The Choctaw Rocket."
A glorious view of the Railroad Bridge
from "42,"
the elegant cafe in the library.

A pretend shiny dime to whomever can guess
why the cafe is named '42!'
Clinton's stump speech
What's not to like?
I was Bob Dole's Story County, Iowa campaign co-chair in one of his presidential campaigns. I admired Dole's wartime service to his country, his moderate Main Street Republican views, and his biting sense of humor. It was fun to host Elizabeth Dole for a coffee at my mother's home. That was when I was still a Republican.

Even though Gov. Bill Clinton beat Senator Dole in the presidential campaign, Bob Dole was later asked to give the Inaugural Lecture at the University of Arkansas Bill Clinton School of Public Service. I love that about American politics. I admire the stature of Bill Clinton inviting him to do so, and the equal virtue of Bob Dole accepting. As citizens, we should demand our politicians not polarize us and find the common ground.
It's easy to understand why librarians
would support Clinton.

He is a famous practitoner
of recreational reading
(reading for the fun of it).

The library showcased the books that influenced him.
One of them was "Creating a Nation of Readers."
A nation of readers can continually renew themselves.
I came around a corner
 and had my breath taken away
by this fine assemblage
of young American talent.
How can we not have hope for the future, America?

Their teacher told me they were the
"The Gentleman's Club,"
2nd and 3rd grade
from Pine Bluff, Arkansas.
Norman Rockwell, did I
"do good" with this picture?
Look at those faces!

Two future leaders
thoughtfully take in
a reproduction of the Cabinet Meeting Room.

The pace of change can seem so slow in America that I forget how much things can change in one generation. Examples from the library include: it was during the Clinton Administration that gay people were first eligible for security clearances. The introduction and benediction to Clinton's inauguration seemed so overtly Christian. America would be much more inclusive now. There were photos from the Little Rock school desegregation episode that said, "race mixing is communism." Laughable. Everything seems to get labeled communism or socialism these days. This is a long tradition of over-the-top political rhetoric.
Three stellar staff members at the museum.

The lady on the right told me
that she was halfway through a PhD
but never graduated from high school
because she was a member of the senior class
of Central High School that lost their senior year
when the Governor chose to shut the high school down
rather than integrate.

 2,914 other seniors lost their senior year as well.
Zany gifts to the Presidential family
 are always a popular exhibit at these libraries.
Hillary Clinton and a bench!
One of the things you could look up
 was the Presidential Daily Schedule
and see what the President did on any given day.
I looked up the days surrounding Vaclav Havel's State Visit.
The menu for the Czech Republic State Dinner
with President Vaclav Havel
The best description of this whole event is in
Hillary Clinton's book, "Entertaining at the White House."
While Presidents have to consider things on a level beyond the personal, one thing the Museum brings home is how the personal stories of those from foreign countries inform the President about their nations.

I know President Clinton knew far more culturally about the Czech Republic than necessary (given the 10 million population) simply because of his friendship with Vaclav Havel. Havel had taken President Clinton to the Reduta and even to Czech novelist Bohumil Rabal's favorite pub "The Golden Tiger." The pub keeps Clinton and Havel's picture on the wall.

Nelson Mandela gave the Clintons a personal tour of his prison cell at Robbins Island and described to them what it had been like there. Do Presidents still have the time to invest in that level of personal narrative in understanding a country? I hope so. The Robbins Island visit is detailed in the museum.

One thing I felt the Library and Museum couldn't do justice to was President Clinton's biggest success. His fiscal discipline resulted in the longest peacetime economic expansion in American history. That discipline unleashed a period of enormous creativity in American business. How do you exhibit fiscal restraint in a museum? Maybe the best exhibits of the output created during this time of fiscal restraint are out in the Computer History Museum in California!
President Clinton wanted his library
to echo the bones of
Trinity Library in Dublin.

My one disappointment with the library was the temporary exhibition space was devoted to promoting a corporation instead of hosting an exhibit that would teach us as citizens more about politics. I appreciate that the majority of the population loves sports, but what do the St. Louis Cardinals have to do with a presidential library? It seemed wierd that there were season ticket promotions as a sidebar to the Cardinals exhibit. Respectfully, our experience could have been that much richer with a political exhibit.
You might also like:

An Evening of Jazz at the Reduta

Entering the Land of Lincoln

What Inspires Stories?

The Springfield Race Riots of 1908

Sites outside my blog:

C-Span's coverage of Clinton's Presidential Library

William Jefferson Clinton Presidential Library website

Monday, March 19, 2012

Making Expat Friends through Internations Expat Social Network

Friends having fun!
That's how we spell it: Y-M-C-A
How was anyone an expat before the Internet? That was when people really left home and immersed themselves completely in another country. No TV shows from home, no news from home, only snail mail, and a new culture where English was not the global language it is today.  That was expat commitment on a whole other level.
Enjoying new Internations friends in Turkey
Gratefully, these days, the Internet provides us not only the comforts of our familiar media, but also tools to help us make the most of our new overseas city as quickly as possible. Before I left to go overseas, I made my first Prague friends through blogging. I started a blog and connected with expats in Prague that were also already blogging. That seems quite a slow, laborious way to make friends now that I think about it. At the time, in 2008, I thought I was high tech!
The Turkish gesture for sincerity:
A hand over the heart
What do all the people who are too busy or lazy to write a blog do? There are new, quicker ways to make friends before arrival in a new city. I first discovered couchsurfing as a way to meet locals as I travelled, and as a way to experience amazing events with fellow expats.  Couchsurfing participants skew fairly young demographically. What has been a wonderful resource for me in Istanbul is the expatriate professional's social network called Internations. It's designed to connect global minds in over 250 communities worldwide.

To use Internations, you first need an invitation from an expat who is already a member. That's easy enough to secure. They can send you an email invitation and then you too are a basic member. I've enjoyed my free basic membership for a couple of years now. Through that basic membership, I have access to all kinds of relevant information like city and relocation guides and an expat magazine. Those resources are highly valuable if first starting out or daydreaming about "hmmm, where should I go next?" I've occasionally used the forum feature in the Istanbul section of Internations where people post their job openings or 'positions wanted' listings, their moving sales, and their color commentary. I find that valuable. I've mostly used it to source books.
Sampling Turkish wine together
There is also an Internations paid membership, called the Albatross membership, which has a small monthly cost. It allows people to send unlimited messages to others in the network. I could imagine that would be useful to someone who organizes lots of activities or does business with other professionals. The Albatross membership would be useful for anyone who does business with expats because there is an advanced search feature that allows people to search by nationality, organization, or interests. Albatross membership also provides people free entry into the monthly megaparty held in each city. I find those parties to be meat-market-like and skippable even though they are often in beautiful and interesting locations. It's hard to have an in-depth conversation with anyone at one of those events.

The feature on Internations that has been a Godsend to me is the local events section.  Nice people all over the city organize outings and/or actual groups that meet on an ongoing basis. My hike to the Belgrad Forest was an event advertised on Internations by my friend Yasemin. I've also joined two different groups on Internations that have been so fun and so full of terrific, delightful people that I keep coming back to them again and again. I will write about my Internations book group and travel group both in later posts. I also appreciate that the basic Internations membership allows me to organize my connections with new friends in a different place than Facebook. That's useful if I'm not ready to make someone a Facebook friend.
Chilled Out in a Cappadochian Cave
I'm always surprised when sheer visits to a site don't translate into enough traffic to generate revenue. For example, I thought reader's consistent daily visits to the New York Times were enough for them to go out and sell advertising based on high viewership. I thought my consistent return to Internations was too.  Apparently not though, because both organizations have demanded a new monthly fee for a specific level of service beyond the minimum. I hate it when that happens! Aren't my eyeballs enough?
Dinner at Meze by Lemon Tree,
Frequently rated #1 restaurant in Istanbul
on Tripadvisor
Reluctantly, due to the new fees, my groups on Internations have concluded that we will go elsewhere for our organization and communication. My book group had set up an entire alternative communication method as we were limited to only five messages a month each on Internations (imagine how frequently we'd have visited if we could have done all of our communication with each other through the site - that limit made us create backup plans) and my travel group has already migrated to Facebook. Will Internations stay interesting if access becomes so restricted that people move their energy elsewhere?

Have you become a member of Internations? What's been your experience? What have you valued the most?

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

My First Day in Sofia, Bulgaria

Arriving at the Central Bus Station
I almost felt as if I was at the Denver, Colorado airport
with these white-capped "mountain" roofs

My couchsurfing host Kamilla had given me excellent directions in advance for finding my way from the bus station to her place.  Bulgarians on the tram showed me how to pay and made sure I didn't miss my stop.  When I got to Kamilla's place though, no one answered the bell.  While I had stored most of my luggage, I brought one suitcase into town with enough stuff to get through a couple of days. Hmmm, if she wasn't home, I would need to take my suitcase with me sightseeing that day.  No problem. I could do that. I'm not one to let that slow me down.

A couple of Bulgarian ladies noticed me standing there and asked me what I needed.  When I told them the situation, and that I was ready to go sightseeing, they insisted on walking me the one kilometer or so to what they felt was most important for me to see. I couldn't believe the time they gave me! And I found that friendly attitude all day long.  Bulgarians made me feel incredibly welcome. My sidewalk hostesses said I needed to start with a couple churches.

This giant egg was opposite
the Russian church.
The sign says,
"This is the egg of happiness.
Touch the egg and make a wish."

Church of St. Nicholas the Miracle Maker,
a Russian Orthodox Church,
built on the site of a mosque.

It was started in 1907 to pacify a Russian diplomat
who refused to attend Bulgarian Orthodox services.
I would have just reposted the diplomat somewhere else,
but then, Sofia wouldn't have this gorgeous church today.

The outside has been lovingly restored
by a Russian government
no longer threatened by religion.
The inside,
full of candles
and the damage candle smoke can do,
is much darker and mystical.

 Upon entering the church,
I returned to an intuition I often have
when I encounter Russian culture:
a sense that an American
can never completely understand
"strange Russian soul."

A beautiful side view.
This church was just down the street
from the most visited church in Sofia.

I was glad I had taught myself
how to read and pronounce
the Cyrillic alphabet about 20 years ago.
I could get a sense of what this sign said:
something like Moscow House in Sofia.
The Russian Embassy?

This is the most visited church
in Sofia, Bulgaria:
built to honor the Russian soldiers who liberated Bulgaria
from the Ottoman Empire.
Gee, no wonder Bulgaria and Russia
have always been so tight.

Beautiful iron scroll work outside the church.

A mosaic of Jesus just outside the front door.
And on the other side of the front door,
a mosaic of St. Sophia and her three daughters:
Faith, Hope, and Charity.

I tagged along with a tour group to listen to a description of the church.  It was very beautiful and I could have enjoyed the church even more if someone had turned the lights on.  The tour guide said that her company had asked the Bulgarians many, many times to light the inside of the church (it has sublime chandeliers waiting to do just that) but the Bulgarians had never been willing to turn on the lights due to the costs.  She said, "tourists would be willing to pay, no problem, just to see it.  That didn't sway the authorities. They weren't going to charge people even one lev to enter a church."

I agree with the tour guide.  It would be as if a Bulgarian had traveled halfway across the world to see the Jefferson and Lincoln monuments and Americans didn't bother to honor their interest by lighting them at night.  I suggest putting the utility costs in the Bulgarian national budget if Bulgaria doesn't want to charge tourists.  Many people only have one day to get a sense of the country - why not make the opportunity to tell the Bulgarian story count?

It was at this church that I learned the single most impressive fact about Bulgarians: during centuries of Ottoman rule, a majority of them resisted conversion and remained Orthodox Christians.  That attests to a level of stubbornness and will that is truly uncommon.  People who can do that, can do anything.

This lion statue
is a part of a memorial
to unknown soldiers
who have fought on behalf of Bulgaria
through the years.
It's fairly recent,
having been put here in the early 1980s.

Next to the cathedral
was the second most ancient church
in Bulgaria: the Hagia Sophia
(in English, St. Sophia's Church)
During Ottoman times,
it had been turned into a mosque
and minarets were added.

I went into St. Sophia's church, and it just so happened a service was in progress.  I slipped into a back seat and listened.  It was magical.  The parishioners were so devout they were standing and carrying flowers.  There were unseen someones, (monks? a choir?) chanting an unbelievably beautiful liturgy.  I could not believe my luck to get to see and hear this. I sat down, not being quite as devout as all those standing, and also worshiping outside of my own Christian tradition so I could beg off as not knowing when to stand, and also being a tourist rolling a suitcase all over Sofia in need of a little rest. Wow, that chant was magnificent!

All of a sudden, the service seemed to be over and the standing parishioners parted.  Many people up front seemed to be crying.  Could they have been that moved by the service? I marveled to myself about Eastern mysticism that I could never quite completely understand.

Then I saw what the parishioners had been standing around with their flowers.  A casket! And a photo of the departed! OMG, I've CRASHED somebody's funeral. I wheeled my suitcase, as quietly as one can wheel a suitcase over cobblestones, back out the front door.

It's one thing to see a church, but this time, in my own boorish fashion, I saw an ancient church in use.  Even with my unexpected need to skedaddle, I felt deeply grateful to have heard and seen what I did. Later a Bulgarian told me that only very important people would get to have their funeral in that church. I licked my wounds in a nearby park before grabbing my suitcase and "rolling on."

My goal was the Happy Bar and Grill, closer to the center, which I remembered from my Prague chaplain's blog as a place he had eaten. As I was heading there, I heard someone behind me call my name. I didn't know a soul in Bulgaria.  I turned around and there was Kamilla, fresh from the doctor's office and the tourist office where she had stopped to get some literature about Bulgaria to share with me. She had recognized me on the street!

Kamilla was an incredibly thoughtful hostess
to have provided all of this literature.
We enjoyed really delicious roasted vegetables
at our outdoor cafe.

When I had made a comment earlier
to a Bulgarian saying I had heard
about the miniskirts at Happy Bar & Grill,
the lady said, 
"Hey, it's a free country!"
Why, yes, yes it is.
  Kind of gave me shivers when she said it.

I loved the contrast of the
Happy Bar & Grill
miniskirts with a
a priest in ancient garb
waiting to cross the street.

After lunch, we went back to Kamilla's apartment and I opened my suitcase to discover I had grabbed the wrong one.  This one was filled with books.  So I had spent my day wheeling a suitcase full of books all over Sofia. Sigh.

I went back to the bus station and traded suitcases.  When the luggage attendant discovered that I could say "thank you" in Russian, she immediately dropped her demand that I pay for the privilege of changing out my suitcases. Man, these Bulgarians and Russians are tight.

I'll continue with my first evening in Bulgaria in my next post.
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