Platform 9 3/4 . . . or, Ways My Family Travels Diagon-Alley

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At Kings Cross Station, London, Platform 9 3/4, driving a baggage cart through the brick wall like true Harry Potter fans. 2007 maybe?

We try to be normal.  We really do.  But every straight line we draw canters just a little to the side–and so, in travel (as in everything else), our lives run a little diagonally.

This truth was on full display a few years ago in Mirabell Gardens, Salzburg:

The thing for Americans to do here, besides wander and take in the beauty, is to stage photos that resemble scenes from The Sound of Music.  (The song, Do Re Mi was partly filmed here.)  Ideally, these photos look a little like this:

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This is the top gate at Mirabell.    (Notice the fortress, Hohensalzburg, on the hill in the background–it’s really a fantastic shot of the gardens and the city behind.)  We spent some time here.  We took some photos here.  But none looked like this.

What did they look like?  Well, look to your right.  DSC_0125   This is my son, sleeping (while being serenaded by an accordion player) on those same steps at the Mirabell Gardens.  Why is he sleeping, you ask?  He’s tired from sightseeing, but especially from running through the gardens.  Singing Do-Re-Mi?  Oh no.  No.  This child was reinacting some “American Ninja in Salzburg” screenplay known only to him.  My favorite scene from that movie, below.  (Clearly the people around him are a little surprised and amused by the sight.)

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I’ve been thinking about our quirky travels this past weekend while in Chicago with my daughter.  In another year, she’ll be heading off to college.  And my son, the masked ninja, begins high school in August.  They’ve grown up fast, and our travel adventures with them are changing.  I already miss the visits to “knight schools” and castles, the nativity plays we attended with dishtowels  on their heads, and their absolute inability to stand still for photos.

 

Still, I imagine our “diagonal” travels will continue into the future.  After all, they started before our children were born.  In Turkey, we were just two people with little dog garnering stares as we drove by in an old Volvo wagon.  On it’s own, that doesn’t sound so strange, but we stuck out like a sore thumb.  In Turkey, it wasn’t unusual to count 7 people on a motorcycle and sidecar.  So when we made our way through the streets– streets that might find two lanes stuffed with five “lanes,” including cars, giant trucks, mopeds, buses, and donkeys– our long wagon, carrying only two people and a tiny dog, was the thing outside of the norm.  Why waste such a long vehicle on so few travelers?  Why bother with a dog too small to herd sheep?  And why crawl slowly through the melee of a Turkish traffic jam instead of throwing yourself into the mix full throttle while laying on the horn?  Clearly, we were the nuts who didn’t understand the rules of the game.

When you travel, people always tell you to try to fit in– obey the customs, don’t be too awkward or too obvious.  It’s safer and more respectful to conform to the norm as best you can.

They tell us to try to fit in, but who does that, honestly?

Sometimes you just have to embrace the diagonal.  What else can you do?

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In Germany, 2008.

 

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Art in the Autumn #1 – Picasso: A Horse is a Horse

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Of course.  Of course?

Well, actually, not necessarily.

Take, for example, “The Picasso” in Daley Plaza in Chicago.  It is untitled– which is the first tricky thing about it.  No hints to tell you what it is.  I walked by it for years, always assuming it was a horse.  I’m sure I’ve heard plenty of Chicagoans refer to it as “the horse,”  which looked about right to me.  (The long muzzle, the powerful haunches, the glamorous mane– it all fits.)  But on our recent visit to Chicago, my daughter said, “It’s a baboon.”  That’s all, no debate.  Clearly, it’s a baboon.  Duh.  And, guess what?  I totally see that too.  (How could I not have seen that before?)

However  . . .

it turns out that if you view it from the side as you come around it, instead of straight on . . .

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Sculptor’s model.

it’s a woman’s profile.  In fact, at just the right angle, you really see the woman and her cheekbone lines from the front– especially if you look at the sculptor’s model in the Art Institute of Chicago.  The hair, the shoulders, the cheekbones, it’s all there.

Although that model could still be an especially fetching baboon.  Hard to say.

Picasso designed this mammoth statue for the city of Chicago– it’s 50 feet tall and weighs 163 tons.  At that size, whether or not you understand it, you will find yourself looking at it.

dsc_0689But wait– there’s more.  Because it’s a huge piece of art in a huge public space, you will find yourself as part of a community that interacts with it.  People navigate by it, eat lunch by it, stage movie scenes around it (remember the Blues Brothers?), and allow their children to play on it.

Can you do that?  Play on a Picasso?  Is that cool?  Some onlookers clearly think not, but others seem to believe this was Picasso’s intent all along– let the children run and slide on it!

Me?  In my head, it will always be a horse, but Picasso loved bending the lines of life.  I think he’d be thrilled that we are perplexed.  “Keep your eyes squinting at it, your mind chewing over it, your children running up and down on it,” this is what I think he’d say.

Picasso at Home, by Rene Burri
Picasso at Home, by Rene Burri

After all, he’s the guy who said, “Everything you can imagine is real,” and “The chief enemy of creativity is good sense.”

So Chicago has its untitled Picasso,  a gift given freely by the generous  artist– a little nonsense standing at the navel of a great city, daring its inhabitants to guess its riddle.  Pablo Picasso knew exactly what he was doing. . .because even if we don’t get it, we still get it.

“If I paint a wild horse, you might not see the horse…  
but surely you will see the wildness!”  Pablo Picasso

wink

 

 

Update to “Moon Pies and Moon Landings”

DSC_0960This may come as a shock, but apparently my Moon Pie post was not as loopy as it sounded to many of you. Turns out Moon Pies (or Orion Choco-Pies, their Russian/Asian doppelganger) really are a propaganda piece in the machine of Cold War.  The present tensions between North and South Korea, that is.

My sister sent me a link to this very interesting article from The Daily Mail (UK)–looks like it was published today.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3119500/Chocs-away-North-Korea-unleashes-latest-weapon-against-rivals-South-counterfeit-Choco-Pie-cakes-rival-delicacy-available-border.html

The opening lines of John Hall’s article read like this:

Chocs away! North Korea unleashes latest weapon against its rivals in the South – counterfeit Choco Pie cakes to rival delicacy available over the border

  • North Korea has a roaring black market in the popular Choco Pie snack
  • Sweet treats change hands for £3.60 in Pyongyang, but only 17p in Seoul 
  • So popular they are even used as alternative payment by some employers 
  • But Kim Jong-un is angry at the North’s love of a South Korean product 
  • He is now making his own Choco Pies in order to bring down their value 

Well, Mr. Kim Jong-un, the joke is on you.  You are just putty in the hands of the universal Moon Pie awakening.