Category Archives: design

landscape-inspired design at canadian museum of civilization tells a story

Just across the river from Ottawa, Ontario, a visit to the Canadian Museum of  Civilization in Gatineau, Quebec – if only to experience its exterior and Grand Hall architecture and design – is well worth it.

014-001

The museum’s limestone exterior curving forms represent the outcropping bedrock of the Canadian Shield.

The Canadian Museum of Civilization, opened in 1989 and overlooking the Ottawa River and Parliament Buildings, was designed by landscape-inspired architect Douglas Cardinal. Without a single word, it tells, or rather shows, visitors stories of Canada’s history, its native people and culture.

The Ottawa River and Parliament Buildings of Ontario in the background

The Ottawa River and Parliament Buildings of Ontario in the background

In his Design Statement, Cardinal wrote that the building would “speak of the emergence of this continent, its forms sculptured by the winds, the rivers, the  glaciers.” Four natural features are  abstractly represented in the Museum’s form: the Canadian  Shield, the Glaciers, the streams formed by the melting  glaciers, and the Great Plains that stretched before the  receding glaciers.

IMG_0548

The outdoor water pools represent receding and melting glaciers

Inside the Grand Hall with views of the outside water elements, look up at the ceiling and you find yourself at the bottom of an enormous canoe. The oars become part of the walls (It took me to two visits to distinguish this).

017

A dozen towering totem poles are placed around the perimeter of the room. It is said to be the largest indoor display of totem poles in the world.

IMG_0558

IMG_0556

IMG_0559

Looking up finds you at the bottom of an enormous canoe

A wonderful sculpture located in the Grand Hall , the Spirit of Haida Gwaii by British Columbia artist Bill Reid, represents the Aboriginal heritage of the Haida Gwaii regions in Canada.

IMG_0563

Per wikipedia, it features Haida mythological figures in the canoe that represent the natural environment on which the ancient Haida relied for their very survival – the passengers are diverse, and not always in harmony, but depend on one another to live.

IMG_0562

IMG_0565

While the museum’s main collections – particularly the First Peoples Hall – are vast and satisfying and revealing of Canada’s history , an interesting hands-on Children’s Museum is also housed here where young ones can receive a “passport” and experience different world cultures (a ride on the Pakistani Bus was a favorite). To learn more, you can visit an architectural tour slideshow  featured here on the museum’s web site.

Advertisements

48 hours in montreal

The only place I know offering francophone culture so strongly this side of the Atlantic is in Montreal, Quebec – an island city in the middle of the St. Lawrence River. Montreal is a lively, international destination which offers much in history and architecture, arts and culture, festivals and dining.  We recently visited the city for a few days and found enough time to explore some of its best spots.

IMG_0639

Old Montreal

old Montreal

City Hall

 

Horse-drawn carriage in old Montreal

Horse-drawn carriage in old Montreal

A Great Night Sleep

Positive reviews from the NY Times Travel section prompted me to book a medium room at the hip and classy, no-snob boutique hotel, Le Petit Hotel,  in Old Montreal.

Room with a view.

Room with a view.

Comprised of only 24 rooms and a lobby café, the hotel is housed in a beautiful 19th Century building on the quieter, more residential side of Rue Saint-Paul Ouest. Its helpful staff provide you with excellent services, and gave us good suggestions during our stay. Tips: Request the well laid-out top floor/street view room and indulge in the (included) delicious breakfast offerings, especially the pain au chocolat and perfectly-brewed cappuccino. Online promotions are available and business travelers can receive room discounts.

Eats and Drinks

Hands down, our favorite dinner experienced in Montreal was at the fashionable Restaurant Holder on Rue McGill (order the veal or salmon), thanks to a tip by our hotel staff.  I’m told you also can’t go wrong with lunch at the busy but delicious Olive and Gourmando if you can handle the crowds (we couldn’t wait). You can’t leave Old Montreal without experiencing an evening drink on a rooftop terrace.

IMG_0659

The rooftop terrace at Hotel Nelligan on Rue St Paul is a perfect place to enjoy a glass of wine at sunset with views of Notre Dame. Get there by 9 pm if you want to snag a table. Just look out for the characteristic Eastern Canadian summer thunderstorms, as we experienced a downpour minutes after this picture was taken.

Getting Around by Foot, Bike and Metro

If you stay in Old Montreal, there is no better place to walk the streets – or get lost –  and soak in its history and architecture. Make sure you look up. Like in Europe, some of the best architectural details of a building are found in the direction of the sky.

IMG_0620

IMG_0618

IMG_0636

One of my favorite buildings is the Royal Bank of Canada building, where my mother worked in the early 1960s. In fact, I can proudly thank the influence of Montreal on my mother – and her bank teller friend – for my French name. Banking ceased only about a year ago. The inside of the building and the ceilings are breathtaking.

Inside the Royal Bank of Canada building.

Inside the Royal Bank of Canada building.

IMG_0622

Notre Dame is a centerpiece of the old city.

IMG_0627

Notre Dame

Notre Dame

To get further out to fashionable neighborhoods like the Plateau, grab a metro map and a day pass (9 Canadian dollars).

IMG_0683

Or you can rent a Bixi Bike – the public bike share system – to ride  along the old Port and a grab a view of architectural landmark Habitat 67, a model community and housing complex  designed by Israeli–Canadian architect Moshe Safdie for the World Fair in 1967.

Habitat 67

Habitat 67

If you are ambitious, you can get a closer look at Habitat 67 and other architectural icons like Biosphere by riding your bikes from Old Port to Parc Jean-Drapeau. Don’t repeat our mistake by aborting an attempt to reach the island via the Jacques Cartier Bridge, which looked shorter in distance from Old Port than it was.  Instead ride the opposite direction on the bicycle parkway.  This would be done best with a day bike rental, as opposed to a Bixi Bike, which charges you if you exceed a 30-minute time usage period.

Hike up Mont Royal

A hike up Mont Royal is lovely and a good way to walk off those morning pain au chocolats and rooftop terrace drinks,  and the view at the top is a nice reward. You can grab the #11 city bus back down to deliver you to Avenue Mont Royal, where you can find a metro station back to Old Montreal or wherever else you’d like to go.

IMG_0669

View from Mont Royal

View from the top of Mont Royal.

View from Mont Royal.

The Arts for Free (imagine!)

The permanent collection at Montreal’s Musee des Beaux Arts is always free. Please note special exhibitions are not, but on Wednesday nights tickets are half off. We visited the Museum’s current exhibit, “Utterly Breathtaking”  featuring Dale Chihuly’s large-scale, nature-inspired blown glass.

IMG_0699

While below the city surface, Francophone/Anglophone tensions are nothing to laugh at (unless you are Sugar Sammy, see my past post here), visiting Montreal offers travelers a uniquely bilingual, culture-rich experience in a place well-deserving of its lively reputation. Its residents seem to have a less- North American, more-European sense of enjoyment of life and leisure and we’re glad  we caught some of it there too.

(Please note Bringing Travel Home is not sponsored by any person or organization.  Both my travel and writing are independent.)

Chihuly at the Musee des Beaux-Arts Montreal

Blown glass fan or not, visiting American glass sculptor Dale Chihuly’s large-scale nature-inspired installation at Montreal’s Museum of Fine Arts – or Musee des Beaux-Arts – is a visual sensory experience.

Turquoise Reeds

Turquoise Reeds spring from trunks of old growth western cedar.

71 years old, blinded in one eye from a head-on car accident and having suffered a shoulder injury, Chihuly now serves as what he calls choreographer and visionary of his art, and employs others to do the actual muscle work of making his glass creations. Other than the color and beauty, I was struck by the size of the glass pieces. They are really big. To transport, it must take a lot of packing (miles of bubble wrap?) to keep his art safe from breaking.

IMG_0693

Persian Ceiling

The extent of my experience with blown glass is collecting the small figurines in Venice, and I was blown – pardon the play on words – away by the effect this exhibit, called “Utterly Breathtaking”, had on all those present, this writer included. Visitors can sit leisurely on cushions placed on the floors in the corners of the Chandelier room and take it in.

Chandeliers and Towers.

IMG_0694

IMG_0696

Gardens – Mille Fiori.

IMG_0699

IMG_0704

Glass Neon Forest.

IMG_0709

Boats. (I read he purposely dumped pieces of his glass art in the water to be retrieved onto a boat and liked the effect).

IMG_0706

IMG_0705

Macchia Forest. (Macchia means “marks or spots” in Italian and he worked with spots of color in these pieces illuminated by light shining down into the bowls).

IMG_0710

If you are in Montreal, take advantage of the half-off tickets ($10 Canadian) on Wednesdays from 5 – 9 pm. “Utterly Breathtaking” runs until 20 October, 2013.

IMG_0688

fine art photography for europhiles

Our home is a collection of old and new. When returning to the states after living in Europe, we shipped many of our favorite things that held sentimental value from our time spent there. Our yellow modern Italian couches and other furniture pieces, dishes, artwork such as framed antique maps, books, and, naturally, our Alessi favorites, as I describe in this past post.

But what had become a challenge was an update to our artwork. Over our modern Italian couches and near several framed black and white photographs, hung a fresco-like painting of Siena on canvas purchased in Italy. It held sentimental value but felt old-fashioned. In fact, much of today’s European and Italian design is more modern than those Americans promoting Tuscan kitchens would like to believe. Our Northern Italian friends have the latest in glass tile, and favor clean lines, modern art and appliances over a traditional look. While we have many traditional items in our home such as a large french-style kitchen pine table, it became clear it was time to update this piece of art on the wall. But how? How does a Europhile – lover of history and things old – accomplish this?

I found my solution last month, while perusing the shelves at our local bookstore downtown for Christmas presents. Above the books, I discovered artistic photographs displayed around the room. The art show was featuring the work of Northern California photographer Dee Conway.

"Room in the Louvre", Dee Conway

“Room in the Louvre” Dee Conway

Several sepia-colored prints from photographs featuring European  architecture that appeared to be near or around Paris caught my attention. (The photos are archival prints on watercolor paper from a film negative).

9019-073-4A[1]

Dee Conway

Dee Conway

Dee Conway

One photograph in particular, shot wide angle by Conway from a circular window looking out onto the Louvre’s back courtyard produces a peaceful effect with its shadows, texture and clouds.  Quite large and framed in light wood, the photograph – for me – feels so familiar and represents why views like these in Europe never fail to catch my eye and keep me gazing; they fill my soul and spirit when I’m there. I never tire of it.

"The Louvre", Dee Conway

“The Louvre”, Dee Conway

One of her framed photographs has taken the place of the Siena fresco and, with the addition of a few Missoni-style, brightly-striped couch pillows, our room has been updated with the most perfect effect.

All photos by permission of Dee Conway photography at http://deeconway.com/

temple to wine and art

I’ve been wanting to visit the stunning architecture and grounds at Clos Pegase Winery in Calistoga, Napa Valley for some time now after reading this post on “30 things to do in Napa Valley” by Jenna at her blog, This is my Happiness.

 Clos Pegase is named after Pegasus, the winged horse of Greek mythology. According to napanow.com, legend says that the birth of both wine and art happened when Pegasus’ hooves unleashed the sacred Spring of the Muses.  Even without trying a drop of wine – which I plan to do next time –  this winery is a stop worth making. If you go this time of year, the crowds are smaller, the colors brighter.

The winery is an example of postmodernist architecture, “which merges modern and ancient architecture with strong allusions to ancient Mediterranean themes, especially Crete.”

Mythology is at the heart of many of its pieces. Children like my daughter, who are fans of  author Rick Riordan (Percy Jackson and the Olympians series)  will appreciate the art. 

Gaia, Mother Earth. A sculpture by Henry Moore, one of the 2oth Century’s most well-known sculptors.

This Bacchus once graced the Italian Royal Palace in Torino, Italy. (19th Century)

You can picnic and enjoy a glass of their wine near this fountain from 17th Century Italy.

A thumbs up experience at Clos Pegase, according to the whole family.

Where are your favorite places to enjoy outdoor art?

longtime love affair with the cinquecento

Let’s for a moment pretend I’m not a carpool mom of two active school-age kids, who require school drops offs and pick ups and rides to tennis and soccer and playdates. Let’s pretend my kids don’t also have friends who require drop offs and pick ups, and backpacks and sports equipment that require storing. Let’s just pretend.

If that were me, a non-carpool-driving, equipment-lugging mom, then our next car would be, without doubt, the recently resurrected Italian-designed Fiat 500 –  or Fiat “cinquecento”as it’s called in Italy.

The new Fiat 500 in white available now in the U.S.

I, like many Europhiles, have seen these Italian iconic cars over the years when traveling there.

We’ve snapped photos and posed in front of them. They live in our scrapbooks now.

My scrapbooks over the years include photos of me posing in front of original Fiat cinquecentos when traveling in Italy.

If we could, we would tie our hair back in a scarf like Sophia Loren, slip our Armani sunglasses over our eyes and drive it home.

Now we can.

In this 2011 NY Times review of the Fiat 500,  we learn “the consensus of people I invited along as passengers was that traveling in the car made them feel young, sporty and ‘very European.’ And the arrival of such an economical car as gas prices flirt with $4 a gallon seems timely.”

A fun, new advertising campaign for the American market – “The Next Wave of Italians has Arrived” – was filmed on the Amalfi Coast and launched earlier this summer.

Small, sporty, affordable, European, easy parking?  At around $16,000? Forget the Honda Odyssey minivan that has taken over my town. Forget the kids (this time). We can use the other car for field and road trips.

 I’m not pretending.

Standing next to our friend’s red Fiat 500 in Tuscany a few months ago.

top 3 new experiences this spring in Italy

On our trip back to Italy last month, we walked a lot down memory lane – visiting our old apartments, old jobs, old friends, favorite beaches, buildings, bars and restaurants. The children were gracious, my oldest posing in front of the hospital she was born and standing on the lungolago for a picture where I strolled her endlessly years ago.

But what was equally enjoyable was the creation of new memories with our children through new experiences in an old country with endless things to discover.

Three of our favorite new Italian finds this Spring include:

Visiting the Madame Fisscher exhibit at Palazzo Grassi, Venice (through July 15, 2012)

Even if you are not a contemporary art fan or have had enough of Venice (but is that possible in the city that never gets old?), it may be worth visiting this exhibit if only to  enter the breathtaking Palazzo Grassi for the first time.

From the brochure, “The exhibit offers a journey through Urs Fischer’s artistic career from the nineties to today.  His work, characterized by humor, penchant for paradox and virtuosity of execution, employes simultaneously an extraordinary diversity of media and materials.  It calls into question the history of art and sculpture, our relationship to the body, the notion of time and the status of the object.”  Our favorites include “Untitled”,  two men in candle wax allowing visitors to witness the transformation as the flame burns (the head representing Fischer himself had fallen into his hands when we were there) and the idea of the importance of all processes of transformation, the body’s endurance and duration of artwork; Jeff Koons monumental pink “Balloon Dog” (which is used to contrast a nearby Fischer work);  “A Light Sigh is the Sound of my Life”,  an enormous sphere, slowly rotating on itself made of different materials (what looked like skin and hair). My daughter also gave a thumbs up to the “floating” cigarette box  hung by a thin wire from the ceiling while the naked professional model/woman in the “Necrophonia” room was a surprise.

Eating at GustaPizza, Florence

Near Piazza Santo Spirito in Florence I ate some of the best pizza I’ve had in central and northern Italy. Our friend who lives in the area introduced it to us. Delicious and affordable,  my pizza came with rucola and grana (above) while the kids had Margherita. If you are traveling in the area this summer, this casual restaurant is not to miss.

Renting a motorboat, Lago di Garda

All the years we lived on the lake, while we enjoyed its stunning water by ferry-boat and swimming, it’s hard to believe we never rented a boat. On the lungolago in our old village of Toscolano Maderno, you can rent a motor boat for an hour for 75 euros. While a splurge for us, the kids agree it was one of the best activities we chose to do on the trip. The views of the villas and castles and mountains lining the coast are best experienced by boat. The boats go fast enough to feel the thrill of bumping over small waves and wind through the hair.