Let me say the big Metropolitan in Manhattan is not on this list for a reason. It’s too big and too crowded, OK? I’ve never felt so claustrophobic as I did the last time I visited.
Also, I see I did a rundown on New England museums and college galleries back in 2015, so you can go to the Red Barn archive for those.
With that, let’s turn the spotlight.
- Cleveland: The city was once the home of some powerful industrialists, including the Rockefellers, and this collection reflects that. It has some stellar old masters and a leading Asian collection. Plus, admission is free.
- Chicago: Masterpieces by the mile. A muscular feast for the eyeballs.
- National Gallery: The third of the truly encyclopedic collections on my list, I always feel it should have been built in Pittsburgh, where Andrew Mellon amassed his fortune. Still, it feels more leisurely to me than many others, and the Rothko court is my favorite. But don’t overlook the two rare Vermeers.
- Phillips Collection: Also in Washington, D.C., this assembly of old houses in the Dupont Circle neighborhood has an intimate feel and some stunning Impressionists and modern works, including major Americans.
- Dayton: I grew up with this then-free collection at hand. What makes it remarkable was the astute decision to go after masterworks by lesser known painters rather than third-rate works by the big names, a strategy the New York Times hailed.
- The Taft: This modest collection in the family homestead just off downtown Cincinnati is a disarming salute to personal collecting, one strong on period French like Corot.
- Baltimore: The famed Cone sisters’ collection of Impressionists and early modern masters is featured at the Baltimore Museum of Art on the edge of the Johns Hopkins campus. Don’t confuse it with the Walters, down by the Washington Monument in Mount Vernon Place, which goes more for antiquity and doodads. My bedroom in Bolton Hill looked out toward the apartment building where the sisters once crowded their assembly into a few rooms.
- Brooklyn: Way too overlooked, even with its major Asian galleries, among the best in America. Check the schedule before you go, since its budgeting closes halls on a rotating basis.
- Victoria, British Columbia: The Royal BC Museum, situated downtown by the ferry landing, focuses on natural history, but its presentation of indigenous culture is stunning. Pacific Northwest Native totem poles, lodges, clothing and costuming are reverently displayed, gallery after gallery. Tell me this isn’t a visual masterpieces experience. It really is a vast art installation.
- MOMA: Don’t know what it’s like now, but I did get to view the panoramic Monet, back before the fire, as well as Picasso’s Guernica, now returned to Spain. All this was before the Museum of Modern Art expanded its home.
- A squirrel-proof bird feeder. So this one becomes a gift for the birds, too, while greatly amusing us as we watch the furry tales in their frustration.
- Electronics support, including an external speaker for my laptop and a smartphone.
- Recordings and books. Even two exquisite journals from Venice! One year I got a big collection of CDs spanning the New York Philharmonic’s history, while another was CD copies of some of the earliest wax recordings. One gift was even Max Rudolf’s book, The Grammar of Conducting, along with a real baton.
- Wool socks and other clothing. Yes, they are appreciated.
- Lenses. My camera and fine binoculars. Plus a microscope, back when. Think it came from the Sears catalog.
- Martini glasses. It’s a joke in our household. Oh, yes, the hand-carved olive skewer.
- Indoor pool swim pass. Something I used almost daily.
- Revels workshop, where I learned I could sing with the pros. Led me to become a charter member of the Revels Singers chorus in Boston.
- Ceramic vase with a “frog” to hold a flower stem. It’s a great way to admire a single bloom close-up.
- A mummy sleeping bag, still in use 45 years later. Yes, I know they make them lighter today, but this one has memories.
What gifts do you treasure?
Since the ground isn’t frozen, this will melt off quickly. But it’s what greeted us when we woke up this morning.
My first exposure to a winter of heavy snowfall started off the day after Thanksgiving and continued, with one melting around Groundhog Day, until nearly Palm Sunday. That was Upstate New York, with around 130 inches of snow total.
The stories I could tell since!
School teachers in the classroom aren’t the only instructors I’ve had in life. Some have definitely been mentors, others more guides, even in passing, and then there were crucial colleagues.
Here’s a sampling:
- Scoutmaster Bob: He loved nature with a childlike awe while insisting on the Old Way when it came to camping and hiking. The lessons made me far more independent in the coming years.
- Joel: An ambitious youth pastor who made room for a lost adolescent. I learned a lot about politics from him.
- Gene and Doris: A girlfriend’s parents who raised my vision beyond my side of town and its status in life.
- Marcy: Ace photojournalist who heightened my appreciation of masterful image and its graphic arts presentation. Her photos had a distinct style. And eventually she won a Pulitzer.
- Kurt: Two Buckeyes discovering the wonders of the Cascades at the same time. He had his own way with a camera, too, as well as an editor.
- Howard and Myrtle: Opened the Bible to me in a personal way.
- Bill and Fran: They helped me bridge my intellectual world with the Wilburite Quaker tradition.
- Bob and Ruby: The central Mennonites in my theological and choral music expansion in my Baltimore years.
- Jack and Sarah: Originals in more ways than one, in their leap from tenured university positions to Old Order dairy farmers. Her gentle touch as an elder touch was a blessing in a difficult personal time.
- Paul: The other Quaker in my mostly Mennonite circle and a fine musician, to boot. We were two bachelors trying to navigate a social scene safely.
Greater Boston is comprised of many suburbs that were originally Colonial towns out in the country. As a result, much of the metropolitan area today retains a village feel in addition to its cosmopolitan chic.
Each town – or, in many cases, now city – is different, however subtly.
Let me illustrate with Watertown, where my choir rehearses.
- It’s on the Charles River, which once powered its paper mills and other factories. Today the river has lovely parks and pathways, as well as crewing teams practicing out on the water in season.
- The impressive Arsenal produced military armaments from 1816 through World War II. Today it’s a shopping district, and its restored antebellum commander’s mansion is a kind of museum.
- Settled in 1630, Watertown soon became the seat of the Whitney family of invention, investment, and horse-breeding fame.
- It’s largely overshadowed by neighboring Cambridge and the Harvard crowd. The famed Mount Vernon Cemetery, the first garden style burying ground in America, 1831, is usually thought of as being in Cambridge, when it fact it lies mostly in Watertown, with a who’s who of famous Americans buried in its rolling grounds.
- Watertown has a wide ethnic range of residents, mostly working class or professionals.
- The Armenian Library and Museum of America is well worth visiting for exhibits that acknowledge many genocides beyond their own. Watertown is the third largest center of the Armenian diaspora in the United States, surpassed by only two cities in California.
- When it comes to cheap eats, I think it definitely beats hipper Cambridge. Some of the best Chinese I’ve ever had was in a modest storefront in Watertown Square, and I’m really sold on the Iranian takeout just up the street. But we also like Wild Willy’s.
- The Perkins School for the Blind, founded in 1829, is the oldest such institution in the U.S. and is world famous. It manufactures its own machine to record text in braille. It moved to Watertown in 1912.
- I really like the public library, which even has its own coffee shop.
- The Gore Place is an opulent summer home built by a man who a fortune in speculating in Revolutionary War debt.
When Jaya and Joshua set of for the Pacific Northwest in my novel Nearly Canaan, what they expect to find is something very much like the Olympic Peninsula rather than the fertile desert where they land.
Here’s some of the alternative.
- Set on the far western end of Washington state, the Olympic Peninsula is an anvil of land comprising nearly 3,600 square miles – more than Rhode Island and Delaware combined. It has rare temperate rainforests, glacier-clad mountains, hot springs, timber-tangled shorelines, tall seastacks in the surf, hot springs, waterfalls, large lakes, and eight Native tribes and their reservations.
- Olympic National Park at the heart of the peninsula covers nearly a million acres and includes the state’s second-largest mountain range, crowned by 7,980-feet-tall Mount Olympus. Glacier-climbing skills are essential for ascent and descent. The park is the system’s sixth most popular, attracting more than 30 million visitors a year.
- The restoration of elk was so essential to the park’s mission that it was nearly named Elk National Park.
- The town of Forks gets 119.7 inches of precipitation a year – making it the wettest municipality in the continental U.S. And the nearby Hoh rainforest receives 140 to 170 inches a year.
- The peninsula abuts the Pacific Ocean on the west, the Strait of San Juan de Fuco on the north, and Puget Sound on the east. Its rugged interior shunts auto traffic toward the coastlines.
- The 300-mile, two-lane Route 101 loop around the peninsula is considered a three-day drive. More, for those who investigate scenic offshoots. There are no alternatives for traversing the peninsula.
- Hot springs access is available to the public at Sol Duc. Other sites are local secrets.
- Following the biggest dam removal in U.S. history, completed in 2014, the Elwah River once again runs wild for fish migration.
- There are more than 60 named glaciers.
- While the Olympics Range is seen prominently from Seattle on a clear day, its tallest point, Mount Olympus, is visible from no city.
Hope that serves as an introduction. We haven’t even touched on Port Townsend.