Posted by: kimberlysullivan | August 22, 2017

Oslo’s National Museum of Art

National Museum of Art, Oslo, NorwayOn a visit to Oslo, there were three museums I wanted to visit, but I only had time for one. Therefore, the centrally-located National Museum of Art made the cut, and I have two more museums I need to see on my next trip!

Oslo’s National Museum of Art is definitely worth the trip on your next visit. It’s a good-sized, but not overwhelming museum, and there were good audio guides included in the price of the ticket.

The Bridal Procession in Hardanger, 1848

Bridal journey in Hardanger, 1848

Although the Munch Room is the most famous, and contains one of the world’s most recognizable paintings – don’t make a beeline there. There’s plenty more to see.

It was interesting to see how – in the absence of serious art institutes in Norway many years ago – Norwegian artists would go to train first in Dresden, and later in Paris and Rome. Those artists often adopted styles they learned there.

Two girls on a plain, 1883

Two girls on a plain, 1883

But luckily, there were many artists who painted homegrown scenes, and there are many interesting examples at this museum, including Brudeferden i Hardanger (Bridal journey in Hardanger) painted by Norwegian romantic nationalism painter Adolph Tidemand in 1848. The painting depicts the natural beauty of Norway’s fjords and the traditions surrounding the bride’s journey to her new home.

I also loved “Two girls on a plain”, painted in 1883 by Erik Theodor Werenskiold. Werenskiold was known for his depictions of Norwegian peasant life , and I enjoyed this depiction of these two young girls (friends? sisters?) taking a break from  their grueling labor to chat and enjoy the weak sunlight as they observe the landscape around them.

After all, they probably know all too well that the winter months won’t afford such time for leisure and quite contemplation.

Grindelwaldgletscher, 1838

Grindelwaldgletscher, 1838

And then there are depictions of Norway’s harsh and imposing – yet beautiful – nature, particularly in Thomas Fernley’s Grindelwaldgletscher, painted in 1838.

This monumental, romantic scene depicts the power of nature and inspires awe, even more so because beside this glacier stands a man observing the ice formation. He is a mere speck beside the mighty glacier.

Although the Norwegian romantic painters deserve a visit, it is Norway’s most famous son who attracts all the crowds – and the room dedicated to him is the highlight of the museum.

The Scream, 1893

The Scream, 1893

Edvard Much (1863-1944) is Norway’s most famous artist, and The Scream, painted in 1893, is his most famous painting. The painting needs no introduction and, not surprisingly, it has the largest crowd around it.

Knowing about the embarrassing history of thefts of this iconic painting – one such theft in which a post-it was left by the thieves in the space it previously occupied suggesting the museum invest in better security – I expected it to be, well, more closely guarded. But Oslo is not Paris or New York, so it was nice to be able to admire this painting without the glass and arms-length barriers in place.

The Dance of Life, 1925

The Dance of Life, 1925

The Dance of Life (1899) is also there, the painting thought to follow a woman through the various stages of her life: young and virginal in white, at the height of her sexual power on the dance floor (with a partner believed to be a self-portrait of Munch himself, and a much more ravaged version clad in black on the far left. The moon creates a phallic symbol on the sea, perhaps symbolizing fertility. It’s an arresting painting, one I saw many years ago at a Munch exhibition, but I was thrilled to see it in its natural home.

I’ve chosen two of my favorites, but all of the Munch collection is impressive to see – and next time in Oslo I will also get to the dedicated Munch Museum, although I’ve seen much of the (impressive) collection at a Swiss exhibition years ago.

So be sure to visit Oslo’s National Gallery on your next visit to Norway.

Oslo National Gallery, Norway

Reading on location

Enjoying the excellent The Admissions on an idyllic beach in the Bahamas

I’ve already written a post about context reading.

The concept is the same as ‘context drinking’ – how that Tuscan wine just tastes so much better when  you drink it on holidays on a sunny piazza  in Italy than it does when you bring it home to Peoria.

Location reading

Reading Beatriz Williams as I relaxed sore muscles after days of skiing in Val Gardena

When I travel I often look for books set in the places I’m visiting. It always helps to bring the location to life.

But I also notice that being on holiday – and probably being so relaxed and happy – also makes me remember the books I was reading on those vacations better … even without the link to the specific location.

Many of the books I’ve enjoyed on these holidays were excellent, others were average, but they stick in my mind longer because I was happy and relaxed when reading them.

Location Reading

Reading The Human Flies on a perfect spring day in Sperlonga, Italy

And I link scenes or chapters to the location I was where I read them.

If I’d had the time and money to do this in college, I would have been far better off booking plane tickets and jetting off to exotic locales to study.

Admittedly, I’m not sure if this system works as well with economics or physics textbooks. But it’s certainly worth a try.

Location reading

Bliss in Bali

And even the books that would have quickly trickled out of my already-overloaded brain lodge there longer when I’m reading them at a location I enjoy.

Here I am reading lazily at a great hotel in Bali.

Location reading

ALWAYS love reading in the mountains of Abruzzo

The book was by an author I enjoy, but it was set in Italy and everything was off with the novel. The only reason much of it still remains lodged in my brain is because of how this lazy pool and beach reading punctuated my relaxing days in paradise.

Do you blame me?

So when I read books on holidays, I realize I often recall where I was when I was reading certain segments or chapters – and sometimes those vacation memories are much sharper than the stories themselves.

Happy “location reading” on your holidays this summer!

Posted by: kimberlysullivan | August 15, 2017

Bigger than Versailles – the Royal palace at Caserta

Regia di Caserta, ItalyI’ve already written about exploring the amazing gardens of the Reggia di Caserta.

It had been years I’d been ‘ meaning to visit’, so I was thrilled to finally make it to this royal palace in Italy’s southern Campagna region.

Regia di Caserta, ItalyAfter the impressive gardens – DO do do dedicate enough time for a proper wander in them – the palace is a bit of a let-down. Yes, it was built to be larger than Versailles, but this was at the end of the 18th century, so by Italian standards, it’s almost modern.

The Royal Palace of Caserta (Reggia di Caserta) was built for the Bourbon kings of Naples. Construction began in 1752.

Reggia di Caserta, ItalyCharles VII of Naples worked alongside his architect Luigi Vanvitelli, using Versailles as their model. Vanvitelli died in 1773 and the project was taken over by his son, Carlo. It was only fully completed in 1845, even if the royal family began living there in 1780.

The palace has a remarkable five floors,  1,200 rooms and 1 ,742 windows. Oh, lucky servants…

There is also a spectacular library and a theatre modeled after San Carlo in Naples (see my earlier post about that famous opera house).

Reggia di Caserta, ItalyNot surprisingly, with 235,000 square meters,  it is the largest royal residence in the world. Caserta boats 40 monumental rooms, compared to Versailles’ 22.

During World War II, the palace would become the site of the Allied Force Headquarters, and in April 1945, it was here that the Germans signed their unconditional surrender of forces in Italy.

Don’t miss the spectacular Reggia di Caserta – and, in particular, its stunning gardens – when you next visit this region.

And when you return home, be thankful you do not have 1,742 windows to clean …

Reggia di Caserta, Italy

Posted by: kimberlysullivan | August 11, 2017

Book Review: The Expatriates

The Expatriates novel coverI enjoyed this novel following the lives of three expatriate women living in Hong Kong.

The Expatriates by Janice Y.K. Lee explores the lives of three women – all adrift in their own way –  living in Hong Kong’s expat community.

Mercy is a Korean-American Ivy League grad who has been drifting ever since graduating and setting up roots in Hong Kong. Margaret is the wealthy housewife of an American executive, whose coolness masks her own disappointments. And Hilary is a wife and a mother of three trying to come to grips with a devastating loss.

I’ve long been an expatriate myself, but primarily in countries more expensive than my own, and where I’ve worked to live as part of the new culture. Perhaps because of this, I always find myself fascinated by the disturbing aspect of expatriate life in many countries, where hired help is inexpensive and middle class western expatriates begin to feel it’s normal to have an army of around-the-clock servants – or ‘helpers’ as they are called here. I enjoyed this euphemism, since ‘helpers’ implies that the women themselves were somehow participating in the work, which rarely seemed to be the case.

This worrisome aspect of expatriate life is handled deftly in this novel, as is the resulting feelings of superiority and ‘otherness’ of these expatriate groups who do not try to mix with the locals and who never really become a part of the culture in which they are living.

In this expatriate world, the foreigners all cling together in a claustrophobic, narrow world where one befriends primarily those of one’s own nationality. These were the aspects of the novel I enjoyed most.

I also enjoyed the individual voices of the three women and following their stories, although I felt the first half of the novel was stronger than the second.

An enjoyable and thought-provoking novel. I’ll look forward to reading more by Lee.


Posted by: kimberlysullivan | August 8, 2017

Outdoor cinema at Piazza Vittorio – Rome

After two years of its absence and semi-absence, I’m so pleased that Notti di cinema a Piazza Vittorio has returned once again.

The two screens, often showing four films outdoor on summer evenings is one of those great Roman traditions for Roman summer. The outdoor films run from 4 July – 10 September.

I’ve been a few times this summer, and I’ll be sure to make it more evenings.

It’s a great tradition on a beautiful square that – sadly – has seen a sharp decline in recent years. Let’s hope cultural initiatives like this can focus more (needed) attention on keeping Roman parks and squares clean and safe to be enjoyed by Romans and visitors alike.

Enjoy the movies on Rome’s Piazza Vittorio this summer!

Posted by: kimberlysullivan | August 4, 2017

Book review: Hidden

Hidden novel coverThis is the third novel I’ve read – and enjoyed – by Canadian author, Catherine McKenzie.

Hidden is the story of a love triangle that unravels slowly following the death of Jeff, beloved father of Seth and husband of Claire and possible lover of Tish, a colleague who works at the same corporation, in another location.

I liked how the story was slowly revealed as we leaned about the lives of Jeff, Claire and Tish, with their normal stresses about life, careers, money, families, boredom, penchant to take (foolish?) risks,  grief – and how the characters face these.

The novel moved along quickly for me, even though there was arguably not much happening.

Nevertheless, McKenzie’s well developed characters managed to pull me in quickly, and I liked the play of time between past and present that kept the novel moving along at a good pace.

Hidden was an enjoyable read, with interesting and well-drawn characters I’ve grown to expect from a Catherine McKenzie novel.

If you want to see my review for another Catherine McKenzie novel, you can see my review of Fractured here.

Posted by: kimberlysullivan | August 1, 2017

NY cuisine: Eating hotdogs on the steps of the Met

Met Museum, NYI’ve been dragging my kids to museums ever since they were little. Actually, when they were really little it was easiest, since back then they really couldn’t complain. : )

When I’m back in NY, I always love to go to the museums, and since we are members at the Met (the Metropolitan Museum of Art), we spend a significant amount of time here.

The good thing about Membership is that you can duck in for just a short time on each visit – ideal with kids, and something we do whenever we’re back.

However, I’m not disinclined to resort to bribery in the quest for culture. Or shall we call it “providing incentives”?

In fact, the Met has been synonymous ( at least in my kids’ minds) with the equation:

  • Visit to see exhibitions = Hot dog and a lemonade on the steps afterwards (followed by a stop in the playground).

Now that they are older, the playground no longer holds the lure it used to, but there is no lack of enthusiasm for the hot dogs.

Eating hot dogs on the steps of the Met following a Met visit has become something we do on every visit, and as you’ll see the next time you’re there, we’re hardly alone on this.

So enjoy your day of culture – and hot dogs – next time you’re visiting New York’s Met Museum.

Posted by: kimberlysullivan | July 28, 2017

Not a plotter, just a fretter and wheelspinner?

“I hardly do any preplanning, just fretting and wheel spinning

Geoff Dyer

Had to laugh when I read this writing quote by British novelist Geoff Dyer, and realized I really could relate.

I also do minimal planning before a story. Generally, I have a scene or a big-picture idea. I may even have a voice of one character.

Although this looser approach allows my imagination to ‘run loose’, and I often have settings or characters I hadn’t considered when I set out to write my story, the flip side is that I may also spend a little too much time running around like these little hamsters above.

‘Fretting and wheel spinning’ seems a pretty apt description some days. I may as well own up to it and picture myself in that little wheel when I don’t see myself getting anywhere.

Posted by: kimberlysullivan | July 25, 2017

‘The most beautiful track in Italy’ – in Formia

CONI, Formia, ItalyI’ve already written about the Italian seaside town of Formia. Formia is south of Rome at the edge of Italy’s Lazio region.

Since 1955, it has been famous as the site of Italy’s Olympic Committee (CONI) training center, with a  beautiful campus, running track, indoor track, gym and sports facilities that hosts professional athletes from Italy and around the world.

CONI, Formia, ItalyMy son had the chance to attend a two-week running camp at the Formia center this summer, and he enthused about the location and the facilities – and called the track “the most beautiful in Italy.”

Located as it is just across from the sea and with the mountains towering behind, he may just be right.

CONI, Formia, ItalyIt doesn’t hurt that just beyond the beautifully manicured campus, the sea beckons. The athletes have access to a beautiful beach a few steps away from the training facilities.

Must be a nice way to relax after tough training sessions.

CONI, Formia, Italy

Post-workout in a tub of ice takes some getting used to …

Aside from the beautiful track, the indoor facilities are quite impressive, too. This includes the only 150 indoor meter track in Italy and the only indoor pole vaulting facility in Europe. There are also all the relax and recuperation facilities – steam baths, saunas, pool and ice bath that my son enjoyed and suffered in equal measures.

CONI, Formia, Italy

Days on the track pre-ice bath …

But what a fabulous place to train and practice. I was terribly envious at pick-up and drop-off.

If one has to suffer during workouts, certainly better to suffer in style.

And as much as he loved the training and the new friends, my son was most impressed at meeting many of his sports heroes who were training the same weeks in Formia, and were nice enough to chat with him about track and field. That made his year.

CONI, Formia,LazioWe’ll be cheering them on at the London World Championships this summer.

So I can’t help but agree that Formia hosts the most beautiful track in Italy – and the ideal weather and environment make it an ideal year-round training venue.

We both (runner and taxi driver) look forward to getting back here!

CONI, Formia, Lazio

Posted by: kimberlysullivan | July 21, 2017

Book review: The Trophy Son

Trophy SonThere was a lot of publicity around this novel by Douglas Brunt when it was released this summer, and I was curious to read it.

In this novel, we follow the story of tennis prodigy Anton Stratis, who is pushed into professional tennis by his overbearing father, who tried and failed to create a tennis star of his older son, but hits the bull’s eye with the second.

Although the story of obnoxious tennis parents is a familiar one – Andre Agassi, Steffi Graff, Jennifer Capriati, to name a few – I felt this story started out well, but seemed to drop the thread a little too quickly. It was too much a carbon copy of Agassi’s own story, but Anton is quickly able to use his father’s wealth to procure trainers and an entourage, thereby sidelining his father, and one major problem (and the one that provides the novel with its title) seems to disappear suspiciously quickly.

The book is well organized, following Anton’s ascent into the tennis world, showing how he will do everything it takes – including steroid use – to make it to the top. It’s a fast-paced and easy read, especially suited to summer reading.

What didn’t work for me were two elements. The first is that too many characters  – including the protagonist, sadly – seemed strangely flat. This was a shame, because at the beginning, I was drawn in as a reader by a strong sense of voice. But this didn’t seem consistent throughout the novel. We are in Anton’s head, seeing the matches and the competition from his perspective, yet I often felt we were at arm’s length.

Perhaps it’s because Anton is always telling us things, rather than seeing them ourselves. There’s one segment where we are introduced to the fact that he suffers from obsessive compulsive disorder. This seems dropped fairly quickly, and then it’s mentioned in passing that he’s living with this but doesn’t suffer from it anymore. A forgotten thread? Even the romantic element was a bit flat, and I didn’t feel very interested in whether or not it would work out in the end.

As a reader, I was also bothered by the use of real tennis players’ names when there are allegations of steroid use. Up until that point, real tennis players are named in passing, but the top-seeded players/Anton’s rivals are fictitious. The author could have used that formula for the doping allegations, too.

I suspect it generates more ‘controversy’ to use real names, but as a reader I found it gimmicky, and too close to defamation for comfort. I hope this won’t become the norm in contemporary literature.

For me, these two elements kept this novel from being much better than it could have been, but it’s still a quick and enjoyable read.

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