#24 Paris, Narita

February 22, 2018

Originally intended as a small book, “Glimpses: In which a Casual Traveler Ruminates on Passing Scenes—1989-2011″, I should like to share it with my readers in a more informal manner as a series of Blogs accessible from our website.

France: Paris: Walked the famous flea market and while at a booth that featured posters, found a small piece of paper stuck to the back of one of the posters I was turning over. Gently peeling it off, I discovered it was a page from a sketchbook that contained three separate pencil drawings: two small portraits with some inscriptions in French beneath each and an oval landscape alongside. The landscape had immediately attracted my eye and I asked the vendor what he wanted for it. He glanced at the drawing and said “Twenty francs.” I knew he did not even know the drawing had been there before I discovered it and thought I might do better. “It isn’t signed. Do you know who did it?” I asked. He pretended to study it and finally said, “No.” “I’ll give you ten for it,” I said. A Gallic shrug and an unspoken acceptance. I still have no idea who did the drawing, but have since been able to decipher the writing by dredging up my old college-day French lessons. I have not figured out who the upper figure is, but the lower one is obviously Dumas (as confirmed by the words below the drawing). One more treasure for my walls back home!

Japan: Narita: Taking advantage of a few hours layover on our way to Beijing, Cornelia and I stroll through the town, a small guide book in our hands. We were looking for a small monastery, unable to decipher signs along the way. Totally lost, we stopped a young woman to ask for directions — language difficulties! We pointed out the place in our brochure, but she looked at us helplessly as she had no words to tell us how or where to go. Suddenly a car pulled up and a large smile appeared as she beckoned us to get into the back seat as she slid next to the woman behind the wheel. A bit taken aback, we got in and, with the driver’s (her mother, it turned out) limited English, were told that it was easier to take us where we wanted to go rather than try to give us directions. How nice to be treated so hospitably by complete strangers!

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#23 Shanghai, Lubeck

February 15, 2018

Originally intended as a small book, “Glimpses: In which a Casual Traveler Ruminates on Passing Scenes—1989-2011″, I should like to share it with my readers in a more informal manner as a series of Blogs accessible from our website.

Shirley and her Dad at a Senior Citizens Center

China: Shanghai: Sightseeing with “Shirley” and “Joe”, our guides during our visit to attend the inaugural opening of Chen Chi’s museum at the Jai Tong University, they took us to a senior citizen center where Shirley’s father was spending the day. A beautiful place — more of an oriental mini-palace with flower-filled gardens surrounding each building, so unlike many of our nondescript and impersonal “old-age” residences — we found her father painting in an arts-and-crafts building, putting the final touches to a large rooster emerging from the rice paper spread out on the table before him. “Ah,” I remarked. “My symbol — the year of the cock. I was born in 1933.” Shirley translated for me, whereupon her father smiled broadly and immediately began folding up his still slightly damp painting. When he had completed his folding — transforming the rather large painting into a wallet-sized wad — he handed it to me with a slight bow. “Oh, no!” I protested, but Shirley assured me that her dad would be offended if I did not accept. I bowed in return and gladly accepted the gift (which is now properly framed — the folds still discernible — and hanging in my study). Upon my return to the States, I picked out a small Hudson Valley landscape that I had recently painted and promptly packed it off to Shirley and Joe to give to her father the next time she saw him. I hope that he was as pleased as I.
Another memorable moment with our guides: having dinner at a restaurant with them and their son, “Jack” who, after watching me eating with a fork, tried to do it himself. As adept as me with chopsticks (which is zero), “Jack” was a delight to watch as he struggled to get food off his plate and into his mouth. All of us had a good laugh. (Note: Chen Chi, the reason for our visit, was an artist I had met in NYC and about whom I wrote several books and a profile in ART TIMES.)

Germany: Lubeck: Visited this small city to visit the home of Thomas Mann (it was gone, destroyed during the war) and found instead a small print shop. Browsing through a box of plastic-wrapped prints, I came across a small pencil drawing of a soldier seated at a small café table, his back to the viewer and some lightly-sketched people in the background. It immediately appealed to me so I purchased it. When I got home, I unwrapped it from its protective plastic covering to have it properly framed — only to discover that there was a second drawing hidden from view on the reverse! I had it double-framed and now can enjoy either side at my pleasure — a special “find” for me!


# 22 Wushi China, Valais Switzerland

February 2, 2018

Raymond far right surrounded by school children

Originally intended as a small book, “Glimpses: In which a Casual Traveler Ruminates on Passing Scenes—1989-2011″, I should like to share it with my readers in a more informal manner as a series of Blogs accessible from our website.

China: Wushi (Wuxi): Visiting Chen Chi’s home town of Wuxi, we (our guides “Shirley” and “Joe”, Cornelia and I) took a short boat ride out to Turtle Island where Chi once did some of his early work. It happened that it was a holiday for school children, and we found ourselves surrounded by kids grouped by different colored outfits and attended by teachers. At one point a young boy touched my arm and, holding out a piece of paper, spoke to me. I turned to Joe and asked him what the boy was saying. “He’s asking you to make your mark for him – to write down your name.” I smiled at the boy and alongside my name drew a self-caricature that I sometimes include at the end of my notes to friends. His eyes lit up and as he passed it around to his friends, eyes lit up all over the boat as what seemed to be hundreds of little hands with scraps of paper in them were thrust at me. And, it didn’t end there! During the day, as we strolled around Turtle Island, the word must have spread as we were constantly being waylaid by new kids in different colored outfits shyly approaching with their papers held out to me. Some tried out their limited English: “Hell-o”, “How are you?” and when I would say “Nee Haw” they would collapse into gales of laughter. What a day! After signing I don’t know how many papers, fans, napkins, and whatever, I felt like a visiting rock star!

Switzerland: Valais: Studio apartment next to our friends Heinz and Christiane, some 3000 feet up in Aminona — outside our window I view the Val d/Anniviers, looking south to Italy, far below to the city of Sienne at our feet. The peaks across the way (the highest, Weisshorn) tease me as I try from day to day to capture them in oil or watercolor sketches (in the apartment next door, Heinz is doing the same, I know) with the light constantly changing the vista, mountain peaks coming in and out of view as clouds reveal or screen them.

 

On the third day of exasperation, I cross the hallway to see how Heinz is doing, and learn a secret! He has several paintings underway, each started at a different time of the day. As the light changes, he begins a new canvas, setting aside the earlier one until he can resume it the next day — in all, about four canvases, each a work-in-progress. Aha! Immediately one can see the difference between a writer who paints and a painter who paints! In any event, at the end of our week-long stay, I have enough sketches (and photos) to cobble something together when I return to my studio back home. (I hope).


#21 Quebec, Rügen, Bruges, Bavaria

February 1, 2018

Originally intended as a small book, “Glimpses: In which a Casual Traveler Ruminates on Passing Scenes—1989-2011″, I should like to share it with my readers in a more informal manner as a series of Blogs. 

Canada: Quebec City: “Rue des Artistes” — a North American version of the “Via Margutta” in Rome…odd how two cities from different continents can merge in the mind.

Germany: Rügen: While wandering this small island off the coast of northern Germany, I was delighted to come across the same sharply, pointed rocks along the shore that captured the attention of Caspar David Friedrich, the great German Romanticist painter. Again, that empathic shiver!

Belgium: Bruges: While visiting the Jarczyks in Cologne, we rent a car and take Cornelia’s mother Elsie and my daughter Barbara (Jonason) to Bruges, the “Venice of the North”, for a one-day sight-seeing trip. Boat ride along the canals; Michelangelo’s Madonna in the church. Barbara buys lace as a souvenir of the trip (I wonder if she still has it tucked away someplace?).

Watercolor of Neuschwanstein by Heinrich J. Jarczyk

Watercolor of Neuschwanstein by Heinrich J. Jarczyk

Germany: Neuschwanstein, Bavaria: Rode up in a horse-drawn open carriage to this fairy-tale castle perched on a mountain built by a king whose subjects called him mad. Fitting. Yet, about 100 years later the descendants of those who called him crazy used this castle to house the thousands of works of art stolen by Nazi thugs from France during WWII. Not so fitting. I guess “madness” is a relative term.


#20

January 25, 2018

Originally intended as a small book, “Glimpses: In which a Casual Traveler Ruminates on Passing Scenes—1989-2011″, I should like to share it with my readers in a more informal manner as a series of Blogs. 

Elsie Seckel has what was probably her very first beer. And then she had another.

Elsie Seckel has what was probably her very first beer. And then she had another.

Germany: Cologne (an old tavern): Elsie (my mother-in-law) drinking German beer — something we thought we’d never see. Two glasses!

USA: NYC: I was invited to attend the opening reception of an art show which featured the work of a Ukrainian artist — Natalia Pohrebinska — that I had profiled in ART TIMES a few months before and, upon entering the gallery, was pleasantly surprised to see that the artist had framed my article and had hung it in a prominent place on the wall. A few inches above the framed article was a few words in what I had rightly assumed to be the Ukrainian language, its Cyrillic alphabet beyond my knowledge or ability to figure out. I had supposed it to be a reference to my article, perhaps some words to bring it to the notice of visitors to the show, and felt pleased that the artist had taken the time to frame it and hang it alongside her work. My curiosity grew, however, as I saw people glance up at the strange words, some exchanging a few words amongst themselves from time to time. Unable to curb my curiosity any longer, I drifted towards two women who, after looking up at the article, were speaking in what I supposed was Ukrainian. “Pardon me,” I interrupted. “Could you tell me what that says up there above that article?” I was rewarded with a friendly smile. “Of course,” came the heavily accented voice of the woman nearest me. “It says, ‘Do Not Smoke’.”  Не палити
Instant ego deflation! Don’t let anyone ever tell you that writers are above all that…

Newgrange, Painting by Raymond J. Steiner

Newgrange, Painting by Raymond J. Steiner

Ireland: Boyne Valley: Exploring along the River Boyne one day and unexpectedly came upon one of Ireland’s famous megalithic tombs, “Newgrange”. Located in County Meath, the tomb is uncannily laid out with a stone passage that captures the direct rays of sunlight at the Winter Solstice that lights up the interior cavern. Primitives? I don’t think so!


#19 Berlin, Amsterdam

January 17, 2018

Originally intended as a small book, “Glimpses: In which a Casual Traveler Ruminates on Passing Scenes—1989-2011″, I should like to share it with my readers in a more informal manner as a series of Blogs.

Painting on Silk by Silke

Painting on Silk by Silke

Germany: Berlin: During one of my visits to our friends Jacky and Jörg, Jörg introduced me to his young cousin Silke, an artist who made delicate paintings on silk (an appropriate ground for a woman named Silke!). I spent an afternoon with her at her apartment to watch her at work, snapping photos of her as she applied her brush to the stretched panel of silk, her boyfriend hovering nearby all the while. (Silke is a beautiful young woman, and I could sense how uneasy he was to have a man spending so much time with her in her studio). How delighted I was, when some weeks after our return to the States, I received a small card of thanks from her with one of her original silk paintings enclosed!

Holland: Amsterdam On the suggestion of the artist Françoise Gilot whom I had met and wrote about in ART TIMES, I sought out the gallery that represented her in that country. The gallery, located on the main canal, was a handsome building, the owner welcoming and pleased that I had taken the trouble to visit. Her English was excellent, and I commented on that fact. “Oh, I lived in America for awhile — mostly in New York State. Both in Manhattan and in a small upstate town.” “Oh,” I said. “Where upstate?” “Woodstock,” she said. “I visited and stayed with some friends there.” “It wouldn’t have been the van Hamels, by any chance?” I asked. “You know them?” she asked. “Oh yes. Manette and Dick have been friends for some time. I know her as an artist,” I added. “I’ll have to tell her that I met you.” “Please do,” she said. “Will you be visiting their son while you are here?” “I didn’t know they had a son,” I said. “I only know her daughter, the prima ballerina, Martine van Hamel.” “Oh, but you must stop in and say hello to him. He lives on a barge just down the canal from here.”

Meeting up with Cornelia who had been visiting the Anne Frank House while I was at the gallery, I told her about my visit and we decided to look up the van Hamel son. We did not find him at his barge but at a nearby gallery where he was setting up a show. When we knocked, he opened the door and we said, “Your mother says hello!” Surprise, and then amusement as we shared our story with him. Another pleasure when we returned to share the whole story with Dick and Manette back in Woodstock.


#18 Arles, Florence

January 9, 2018

Originally intended as a small book, “Glimpses: In which a Casual Traveler Ruminates on Passing Scenes—1989-2011″, I should like to share it with my readers in a more informal manner as a series of Blogs. 

France: Arles: Getting off the train at the little station in January 1989 and then walking toward town, both of us pulling our wheeled suitcases behind us and seeking a place to stay, made me flash back to that day when Gauguin pulled into the same train station just over 100 years ago in October of 1888 — although he had arrived in the pre-dawn hours — and walked the same way — through the Medieval Gates — into town in search of the “Yellow House” where Vincent van Gogh anxiously awaited his arrival. The Yellow House is no more; though the old Roman arena is still there — only a short walk from our room — and one of those old drawbridges crossing a tributary to the Rhone that van Gogh had made famous (I walked across it, though I doubt if this particular one was yet built during his stay). I’d heard about a local dish made of ox that I was anxious to try, but when we went in search of a restaurant all but two were closed — and they were Vietnamese. So, on that first night, we ate “Chinese” though it was an adventure to hear Orientals speaking French. At the time, they were celebrating an “Arles 31éme Salon International des Santonniers” (Dec 88-Apr 89) — I still have a souvenir t-shirt with “Vincent” emblazoned on the front from the event, though it is slowly becoming more tattered as I often wear it when I paint. For inspiration? Who knows?

Italy: Florence: On the way from the train station to our pensione, bags in tow and unsure of where we were going, I happened to look down and saw a wallet lying in the street. I stopped to pick it up and, glancing inside, found no money but what were obviously the press documents of some journalist. Feeling a sense of kinship, I resolved to find a police station after we checked in to our rooms in order to officially declare my “find”. The police station — in fact right in the train station itself — was easy to find and I entered to discover several smartly-dressed policeman standing about. My Italian is extremely poor, and I immediately found myself in difficulty in trying to explain why I was there. At first, they seemed to think I was telling them that I had lost my wallet and did not seem overly interested in the problem. Finally, through laying the wallet on the floor and pantomiming my walking along and discovering it, they understood. Immediate change in attitude. Smiles and amiability as I handed over the wallet. “There is no money”, the policeman said in fairly good English. I shook my head and held my palms up. Again: “No money?” I shook my head ‘no’ more firmly and pointed out the papers of the wallet’s owner, them my credentials, and tried to explain my reasons for being such a Good Samaritan. They still seemed doubtful about the lack of money, but after almost 45 minutes of mis-communication and suspicion, eventually they took my card along with the wallet and hailed me with a round of “grazias”. Greatly relieved, I returned to our hotel where Cornelia was beginning to wonder what had happened to me and I told her that the next time I saw what might be a wallet laying in the street that I would look the other way. The ordeal had left me more than a little disenchanted with my first experience of Florence, but things got considerably better the next several days. And even better some months later, when I received a letter from Italy in my home mail. I immediately recognized the name of the sender — the name I had said and heard over and over in the Florence police station. My neighbor, a native of Italy, had to read the letter to me, but it was gratifying to know that the gentleman was “molto” appreciative of my gesture and happy to get back his papers. So, I guess my good deed finally did bear some fruit!