May 27, 2012


MAM has a number of meanings, but for this blog post we'll focus on two: 1) "mam" is Dutch for "mom", like in Gabri's mom Marianne who returned to Holland this Wednesday after spending three weeks with us, and 2) MAM is the acronym for the Milwaukee Art Museum. Both converged when we spent a day with Marianne at the MAM, and what better time to do that than during Mother's Day weekend. Gabriella clearly inherited the artistry from her mom, who in the last 10 years actually earned a degree in painting and one in ceramics from an art college in Belgium. So a visit to a good art museum is one of her favorite treats. The MAM definitely met the criteria: their collection is very good, but the new wing designed by Calatrava alone is worth the one hour drive.

The white concrete wing, or Quadracci Pavilion, was added in 2001, and contains the signature Calatrava white spines that are placed under an angle, like the three bridges he designed close by Amsterdam Airport. One of the MAM spines is the axis for a movable wing-like structure that opens up daily, and folds back over the tall, arched and airy structure at night or during high winds. When we arrived the wings were out in their full, 70 meters spanning glory, but with winds picking up over Lake Michigan we could witness them closing as well.

Inside the Quadracci Pavillion is perhaps even more spectacular than the outside wings that have quickly become the symbol of the city of Milwaukee. The huge arched atrium with windows overlooking the lake can compete with any other museum GABROEN visited in the world, so we should become a frequent visitor.
The collection on the museum's entire upper floor is based on the donation from one woman, and spans hundreds of mainly 20th century works from some very well known artists. That must have been some wealthy Milwaukee woman. And she actually not only had money, lots of it, but also good taste, and lots of it.

Next to the standard collection, there also was an awesome exhibit from New York artist Tara Donovan. She uses everyday materials like styrofoam cups, toothpicks or pencils and turns them into huge pieces of art. Such as the 30 feet wide and 15 feet high relief sculpture "Haze" made from ......... plastic drinking straws. You don't believe it until you see it up close with your own eyes. Or the coral like structure "Bluffs" in the picture below, made from just buttons and glue.

So if you ever get to the Midwest, make sure you include MAM on your trip. It's well worth it. Well worth for artsy mom and artsy daughter as well - they were in their happy element.

May 22, 2012

Last week's birthday

Last Wednesday GABROEN was a birthday girl, and to celebrate the occasion we made a sunset cruise along Chicago's lakefront. Captain Chris came waggling like a true sailor to meet us at Dusable Harbor right in the heart of downtown and invited us onboard the "We're gonna need a bigger boat" motor yacht for a cruise with just GABROEN, the birthday girl's mom Marianne, Captain Chris and first man Patrick (who seemed to have come along mainly untying and retying the ship and for the captain's companionship). Not that the captain needed his companionship, as he found a capable navigator in Gabriella and a companion in Marianne.

The cruise came with champagne, and the captain outdid himself by bringing along bottles of the birthday girl's favorite Veuve Clicquot. It was our version of the Wednesday beer can race that is organized weekly by the Chicago Yacht Club - they were out till just after sunset, but after that we had the lake pretty much to ourselves. And our drinks definitely tasted better...............
It was a perfect evening: clear blue skies, a little chilly on the lake, and an orange/pink/indigo sunset. The colors made Navy Pier look like Venice, and anyone who has visited this in daylight knows that that is quite a feat. Captain Chris entertained us with old and new stories of the city, including the times when the Navy (and George W Bush) actually practiced landing fighter jets on the pier as if it was an aircraft carrier. Or that he was out on a cruise the day before us for the 30th anniversary of a Russian couple, where the groom with guitar and all serenaded the bride against the backdrop of severe thunderstorms, and Chris didn't understand a word but was very touched nonetheless.

The skyline's starkly contrasting silhouette against the evening sky was breathtaking, and made for a very peaceful and almost meditative experience.
The only disturbances were helicopters patrolling the lake front, and the US Coast Guard speeding along the lake in their strangely designed zodiac boats with machine guns, all in preparation for the NATO summit that took place over the weekend. But that only added to the experience of watching the vibrant city while bobbing quietly on the little waves of Lake Michigan. This is by far the best venture point to enjoy the skyline lit up with thousands and thousands of lights.
 And not only that, it's also a pretty good pastime for a birthday. Happy birthday, sweet Gabri!


May 20, 2012

Pre-battle fluffiness

Remember our front yard a.k.a. parade ground covered with dandelions, GABROEN blogged about earlier (see Gazillions of dandelions)? Well, they are gone, disappeared, verschwunden, nix, nada left. And no army of parachute seeds gently floating in the breeze coming of Lake Michigan, as we hoped for in the same blog post. In stead, a very sudden end to our field of gazillion yellow dots turned white. The perpetrators? That other army, of course. The army of landscapers, coming in with their loud mowers, driving fast, bumping so much on the uneven terrain that they have to cling onto their chairs and steering handles to hold on to their dear lives, or at least to their dear spines.

These dandelions are pretty remarkable in evading the mowing blades, but once in their seeding stage there's no safe harbor for the tiny seeds. Fortunately the picture below shows how fluffy and pretty it all as, only a few hours pre-battlefield.

We just learned that plans to turn the parade ground back into a golf course (as it has been for years when the army was still here) are abandoned. Surprisingly, no one saw viability in commercializing the eighth golf course in a 5 mile radius. At least that battle was won. We won't be seeing an army of golf carts any time soon........

May 13, 2012

Antoni y GABROEN in Park Guell

After exploring Picasso and Barcelona's old town (see the post Pablo y GABROEN in El Born), I had some more time to spare from the conference. So it was time to check out the other influential genius who's name and legacy is almost synonymous with this city: the architect Antoni Gaudi. His whimsical, fairy tale style is probably best seen in Park Guell, on one of the hills surrounding the city, and definitely a stiff walk up.
The use of colorful mosaics, and the grand views on the city make this park one of the most popular spots in the city, and in the late afternoon sun it is a very pleasant place to enjoy the mild mediterranean climate and indulge in people-watching.

Less colorful than the mosaics or the people, but more striking as an architectural style are the organic forms that support the main square in the park. This organic style is what defines Gaudi, and what better place to see this than at La Sagrada Familia, his masterpiece which remains unfinished after more than a century of construction. Gaudi got involved a year after construction began in 1882, and he transformed the original high-gothic design of long vertical parallel pillars supporting an open structure to a so-called hyperbolic style of curved shapes that can carry more weight and thus allows for an even more airy design. The exterior is like a manmade corral reef of overwhelming sculpturing on one facade. In stark contrast, the other facade is decorated in art deco style with strong straight lines, almost in the cubist style of Picasso.

The interior reminded me most of a huge skeleton, particularly because Gaudi poured his signature organic sauce over the whole structure. And what is more fitting for a huge curved building than the good-old fisheye lens that I got for my birthday. Just look at the examples below of what great field of view you can capture..........

Construction is still ongoing, but oh so slowly because it depends on private donations. The 1992 olympics have certainly peaked interest in completing the building, which is still missing the central spire that is supposed to soar to 170 meters (560 ft), or twice as high as the current 8 smaller spires that were finished. When Gaudi died at age 73 (hit by a streetcar when crossing the street, and left for a homeless beggar because of his shabby clothes), the project was not even 25% completed, but he did live to see the crown top the first spires. The project is now racing towards completion by 2026, 100 years after his death. They are behind schedule, but what is a couple of years on one and a half century.

La Sagrada Familia - the Holy Family - was officially consecrated by the pope two years ago, and is a celebration of motherhood. Happy Mother's Day!

May 10, 2012

Pablo & Gabroen in El Born

I just spent a week in the great city of Barcelona for a conference in my area of work. Yes, I know, not a bad place at all for a conference. The conference industry is a very interesting one, and some cities almost seem to be built around it. Take a city like San Diego, that devoted a prominent part of its downtown bay front to a huge, architecturally unexciting conference center. Or Atlanta, where conference goers can choose between two large conference centers, one in a unsoulful downtown office area with a Hooters and Hardrock Cafe as the only dining options, the other conveniently and boringly next to the airport. Barcelona's conference center is not anywhere close to the city center either, but they did a nice job in restyling the 1992 olympic area with sleekly designed museums and hotels along the sea shore. My hotel had a 23rd floor roof top swimming pool, with amazing views of the Costa Brava.

I flew in a day early, to meet some people and have some spare time to explore the old town, including the neighborhoods El Born and Barri Gotic. It was packed with tourists, foreign high school students on tour, and soccer fans (more about the soccer later). This led to waiting lines at the top tourist sites, like the Picasso Museum. I had been in Barcelona only once before, exactly 20 years ago, for not even a day, and the Picasso museum was closed that time. So this time around I was eager to go in, and it was worth the 30 minute wait. Although not my favorite artist, Pablo was a character and a genius, and the museum focuses on his early work that shows his evolution from classic to cubist.

He also was a very prolific guy; one room is stuffed with 35 large oil paintings that he made in just over 2 months, all of them now very museum-worthy.

A pleasant cava on the Plaza Real and a dinner at a tiny tapas bar with the locals glued to the television for the European semifinals soccer between London's Chelsea and FC Barcelona, or Barca for the locals. The match was played that very evening in the iconic Camp Nou stadium only 3 miles down the road from us. Futbol is big all over the world, but it's huge in Barcelona, almost larger than life. Barca has its own TV channel, broadcasting 24/7, and everywhere you go you see banners and flags with the purple and red team colors. So you can imagine the city turned eerily silent when Barca lost, all the visitors holding their breath to see how the locals would react, the Chelsea supporters laying low, the Barca fans in disbelief.

The next night it became clear how the locals had wished to react. That's when Barca's nemesis Real Madrid lost in the other semifinal, and fireworks lit up the night sky all over Barcelona. These Catalans sure are a passionate bunch, and they live in a pretty place.

May 3, 2012

Dirty and Pink

GABROEN returned to great music city Chicago. This time to the Symphony Center, the home of the world renowned Chicago Symphony Orchestra. It's another beautiful theater in downtown, only two blocks from the Chicago Theater. You should not be afraid of heights, and be ready to lend a helping hand - or supporting arm - to older ladies, who are helpless when trying to descend the extremely steep and large steps on the upper balcony.

We earlier saw the Wiener Sangerknaben and the Soweto Gospel Choir here, but now it was time for something completely different: the little orchestra Pink Martini, that draws its inspiration from music from all over the world and fuses classical genres with jazz and old-fashioned pop. This global fusion creates a pretty weird and interesting collection of songs, but luckily the band leader, composer and pianist Thomas Lauderdale provided some context and funny anecdotes to explain the weirdness. So tonight's line up ranged from the soundtrack of the Japanese 1968 cult movie "Black Lizard" about a Tokyo crime queen who turns femme fatale and keeps a collection of her enabled former lovers/victims, to the classical protest song for French strikers "Je ne veux pas travailler". At one moment, you feel like you’re in the middle of a samba parade in Rio de Janeiro, and in the next, you’re in a French music hall of the 1930s or a palazzo in Napoli. It’s a bit like a musical travel diary, it's utterly strange but beautiful. The 15-man strong band provide a natural background to the center stage diva and singer China Forbes. Though fluent only in English, Forbes actually sings in 15 different languages! 

Pink Martini
The biggest fun of the evening comes when they invited someone in the audience to help Thomas Lauderdale out with playing the Schubert piano piece for four hands, followed by all five Turks for a Turkish sing-along and all four Greeks for a classical Greek anthem. The party was at its top when the front row was asked to form a conga line on and off stage. 

I have no idea why this little happy orchestra called themselves Pink Martini, but it sounds like the happy version of Gabri's favorite drink. Jean Power introduced her to the great website Durty Gurl Cocktail Condiments for olive juice - adding vermouth and New Amsterdam gin surely makes a nice dirty martini.