Candida Höfer in Mexico, NC Art Museum

German photographer Candida Höfer has been exhibiting her large-scale photographs of building interiors since 1975.  In 2015, she toured Mexico, photographing beautiful spaces of iconic Mexican buildings including the National Museum of Art in Mexico City, Teatro Juarez in Guanajuato and UNESCO World Heritage Site Hospicio Cabañas in Guadalajara.  Her photos constituted the Candida Höfer in Mexico exhibit at the North Carolina Museum of Art.

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Hospicio Cabañas, in Guadalajara, 2015, by Candida Höfer

An interesting aspect of Höfer’s photographs is that the interiors are usually devoid of people.  Considering that the buildings are very busy public structures, she’s presenting an unusual view of them.  Another aspect of her photography is that she usually shoots the interiors straight-on rather than from an angle.  This provides a formal a formal composition to the spaces.

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Teatro Juarez, Guanajuato, 2015, by Candida Höfer

Not all of her photos are large format or large scale.  This photo of a simple doorway is a great counterpoint to the majesty of her larger photos.

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Passage II, 2015, by Candida Höfer

As a photographer, I find a lot of inspiration in Höfer’s work. Being a bit of an introvert, I’m much more comfortable photographing buildings than people.  I also started college as an architect student before changing direction.  Höfer’s photos give me a quality and beauty that I can strive for in my photography.

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National Museum of Art, Mexico City, 2015, by Candida Höfer

The exhibit was organized by Galería OMR in recognition of the Mexico-Germany Dual Year and is touring the United States.  While the exhibit is over at the North Carolina Art Museum, it moves next to the Sean Kelly Gallery in New York City, where it will be on exhibition from February 2nd through March 16th.  If you’re interested in photography, you’ll like the exhibit.

 

 

Cynthia Daignault, Light Atlas, NC Art Museum

We had the opportunity to view Cynthia Daignault’s wonderful large-scale artwork, Light Atlas, as part of the Georgia O’Keeffe exhibit, the Beyond, at the North Carolina Art Museum.  Daigault is an American painter known for multi-part installations of paintings that follow a theme.

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Light Atlas by Cynthia Daignault

Light Atlas began when, during a conversation, Daignault realized that she could name the works of 100 men whose work defines America, but couldn’t think of a single woman whose work did the same.  In 2014, she started off on a year-long journey to explore America and to create a record of her experience.  She traveled along the outside border of the country, stopping every 25 miles to document, through sketches and photos, what she saw.  The trip covered 30,000 miles and created a virtual 360-degree portrait of the United States.

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Detail of Light Atlas by Cynthia Daignault

Daignault used her sketches and photos to create 360 small paintings that show all aspects of America, both the beautiful and the, at times, mundane.  It’s an interesting work of art and one the proves the adage that the whole is greater than the parts.  Light Atlas could easily keep your attention for hours, which, in these times of short attention spans, is not an easy task.  If you have the opportunity to view Light Atlas, it’s well worth the time.

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One section of Light Atlas by Cynthia Daignault

George Rickey, Three Red Lines, NC Art Museum

One of the North Carolina’s Art Museum’s newest pieces, Three Red Lines is a kinetic sculpture by American Sculptor George Rickey.  The graceful red arms slowly move back and forth in an arc.  It’s a beautiful sculpture and the slow arcs of the arms can be mesmerizing.

During World War II, Ricky worked worked in aircraft and gunnery systems and became interested in mechanics and movement.  He combined his art training with his love of mechanics to create large kinetic sculptures that moved with air currents.  His work has been exhibited around the globe including in Germany, Japan and the Netherlands.

The work, along with sculptures by Spanish artist Joan Miró and American artist Ellworth Kelly are on loan from the Hirschorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C.

george rickey- three red lines

Our Lady of the Pillar, by Eça de Queirós

José Maria de Eça de Queiros is considered one of Portugal’s greatest writers.  He’s most famous for his novel The Sin of Father Amaro, first published in 1875.

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National Library of Portugal [Public domain]

Our Lady of the Pillar, originally published in the Gazeta de Notícias in 1895, is a fantasy story set in Seville Spain in the fifteenth century.  Don Rui de Cardenas, a devotee of Our Lady of the Pillar (the Blessed Virgin Mary), falls in love with the beautiful Dona Leonor, the young wife of wealthy nobleman Don Alonso de Lara.

Although Don Rui is smitten with Dona Leonor, he can’t so much as catch her eye as they enter the church.  He gives up on his love and devotes himself to honoring Our Lady of the Pillar.

Don Alonso, meanwhile, hears that a young man has been pursuing Dona Leonor and, being quite jealous, has her removed to their estate at Cabril, some ways outside Seville.  Don Alonso, enraged at a misperceived infidelity by his young wife, holds her at knife point and forces her to write a letter to Don Rui, professing a love for the young man who, in reality, she has never really noticed.

Don Alonso has the letter delivered to Don Rui, in an effort to lure the young man to the estate, where Don Alonso’s plan is to murder him as he enters Dona Leonor’s bedroom.  I don’t want to give away the story, so I’ll just say that the story takes a fantastic twist at this point.  This short story is well worth reading and is one of Eça de Queiros’ best works.

Our Lady of the Pillar is a free download at Project Gutenberg.   Enjoy.

Afonso Henriques, Portugal’s First King

Much has been made of Portugal’s influence on J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books.  Rowling was living in Porto when she began working on her wonderful series of books, so it’s no wonder that Livraria Lello, the beautiful bookstore in Porto, inspired Diagon Alley’s premier bookstore, Flourish and Blotts, as well as Hogwart’s wonderful moving staircases.

Another potential Portuguese influence on the Harry Potter series may be the legendary Afonso Henriques, the first king of Portugal.  Born in Guimarães in 1106, Afonso Henriques was the son of Henri of Burgundy, a French noble, and Teresa of León, the daughter of King Alfonso VI of León and Castile where Portugal was, at the time, a county.  While Afonso Henriques was not a wizard, his French and Galician parentage could make him Portugal’s “half-blood Prince”.

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Statue of Afonso Henriques in Guimarães

Afonso Henriques took the first step towards Portuguese independence in 1128,  when his army defeated Galician forces, led by his mother and her lover, Count Fernando Peres de Trava, in the battle of São Mamede.  Afonso’s fight to make Portugal an independent kingdom reached an important point in 1140 at the battle of Valdevez, when Portuguese forces defeated the army of Alfonso VII of León.  The victory led to Alfonso VII recognizing Portugal as a kingdom with the Treaty of Zamora.

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The battle of Valdevez depicted on the wall of São Bento Railway Station in Porto

The victory over Alfonso VII’s army was an important step towards independence, but it wasn’t until 1179 that Portugal was recognized as an independent kingdom, and Afonso as king, when Pope Alexander III issued a papal bull recognizing the kingdom.

Afonso Henriques, now Afonso I, made Coimbra his residence, where he funded the construction of the Santa Cruz Monastery and the Sé Velha, or old cathedral, and is buried in the Santa Cruz Monastery.   Afonso Henriques died in 1185, after leading Portugal for 46 years as the country’s first king.

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The construction of the Sé Velha, or old Cathedral, was funded by Afonso Henriques

Understandably, Afonso Henriques is a Portuguese hero and his legend has not dimmed in the 900 years since his birth.  Portugal’s first king is honored with statues and paintings throughout the country.  He has also been the subject of several postage stamps, including this heroic likeness from 1940, which commemorates the 800th anniversary of Portuguese Independence.

Portugal Anniversary

George Wythe House, Williamsburg, VA.

This beautiful house, photographed several years ago after a snowstorm, was the home of America’s first law professor and signer of the Declaration of Independence, George Wythe.  Born in 1726 and admitted to the bar at the tender age of twenty, Wythe was a respected scholar, educator and judge.

As a teacher at the College of William and Mary, Wythe was mentor to future Presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe and future Chief Justice of the United States John Marshall.  Wythe and Jefferson remained life-long friends.  When Wythe died in 1806, a victim of suspected poisoning by his sister’s grandson, George Wythe Sweeney, Wythe left his extensive library to his friend Jefferson.  Years later Jefferson followed his friend’s example and left his library to the University of Virginia.

The Wythe House is one of the most beautiful colonial houses in Williamsburg and is well worth a visit.

George Wythe House

Nazaré Funicular

The Portuguese beach town of Nazaré is divided into two distinct parts- Praia, which is the lower section of the town and built along the beach, and Sitio, which is the more traditional area built atop the cliff that overlooks Praia.  There is a steep walking path that can be used to climb to Sitio, but the easier way is to ride the funicular.

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Nazaré’s funicular connects Praia to Sitio

A funicular is basically a railway car that is moved by a series of cables up and down steep inclines.  Nazaré’s funicular was originally opened in 1889, but the current cars date from the most recent renovation in 2002.  Riding the funicular up the 42-degree slope provides some great views of Nazaré and is pretty fun to boot.  While one railway car makes its way to Sitio from Praia, a second car makes its way back down, passing each other at roughly the halfway point.

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The two railway cars of the funicular approach the point where they pass

The ride takes just a few minutes and is popular with both tourists and Nazaré residents, who use the railway to visit shops in Praia or the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Nazaré, the beautiful church in Sitio.  The renovated lobby in Praia is quite nice,with a beautiful mural on one wall and traditional Portuguese pavement flooring.

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The lower lobby of the Nazaré funicular

Elavador da NazareFuniculars and elevators are quite common in Portugal and have been celebrated by the country with several postal stamp issues.  This stamp, issued in 2010, celebrates Nazaré’s funicular.

If you’re visiting Nazaré, it’s well worth the time to take a ride on the funicular to Sitio.  In addition to the sanctuary, you’ll find the Fortaleza, with the surfing museum, and the tiny Ermida da Memória, or Memory Hermitage Chapel, which celebrates the legend of Nazaré.  You’ll also have some stunning views of Praia and, to the north, the famous North Beach, where world record waves draw surfers from all over the world.

Small Memories, by José Saramago

José Saramago was one of Portugal’s greatest and most revered authors.  The winner of the Nobel Prize in 1998, Saramago passed away in 1010, leaving behind a rich legacy of fantastical novels like Blindness and the Stone Raft.  Small Memories was one of his last books, and is a memoir of his early life growing up between his grandparents’ farm in the small rural village of Azinhaga, and Lisbon, where his parents moved when his father got a job as a policeman.

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1998 postal issue honoring Saramago’s Nobel Prize award.

Told from a distance of eight decades, the small snippets of Saramago’s early life are simple but touching.  The stories deal with the death of his brother, who died at four years old, visiting his grandparents, farmers who, though illiterate, had a tremendous impact on Saramago’s life, and life as a young child in the tenements of Lisbon.

One memory tells of his grandparents bringing the weakest piglets into their bed on especially cold nights.  While it’s obvious from the stories in this little book that Saramago’s grandparents were, in fact, kind and loving, the story of the piglets emphasizes just how valuable the piglets were to a poor farm family.  From a practical viewpoint, the loss of the animals would mean a loss of income and could make the coming year harder.

If you’re interested in reading José Saramago’s books, Small Memories would be a good starting point.  Saramago’s novels can be difficult reads; punctuation is rare and paragraphs can go on for page after page.  Small Memories, is unusual in that it conforms to normal expectations regarding punctuation and layout, so it would be an easier read for those new to Saramago’s writing.  It’s also a sweetly told and enjoyable memoir.  As an added bonus, the family photos included at the end of the memoir, accompanied by Saramago’s sometimes tongue in cheek descriptions, will leave you smiling.

If you’re interested in reading Small Memories, you can purchase it Small Memories you can purchase it here.

Capitol Building, Williamsburg

Colonial Williamsburg at dusk is a magical place.  This photo was taken a few years ago after a day of snow.  The H-shaped building, one of the first buildings reconstructed during the restoration of Colonial Williamsburg during the 1930s, was home to the House of Burgesses from 1705 until it was destroyed by fire in 1747.  It’s well worth touring the Capitol Building during a visit to Williamsburg.  It’s a beautiful structure and you get a history lesson with the tour.

Capitol

The Piano Cemetery, by José Luís Peixoto

For many non-Portuguese readers, Portuguese literature IS José Saramago, Fernando Pessoa and Luís de Camões.  It’s not easy to find information on Portuguese authors or English translations of their books.  I was quite happy when I found The Piano Cemetery, by José Luís Peixoto.

At the heart of the novel is the true story of athlete Francisco Lázaro, who carried the the Portuguese flag in the country’s first-ever appearance in the Olympic Games, the 1912 Summer Olympics in Stockholm, Sweden.  Unfortunately, Lázaro, an amateur athlete and carpenter, became the first person to die during a modern Olympic event, when he collapsed at the 30 kilometer mark.

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Portuguese marathoner Francisco Lázaro

The Piano Cemetery tells the fictionalized story of the Lázaro family, carpenters who would rather be piano makers.  The piano cemetery is a back room at their workshop that is full of broken and discarded pianos that the family occasionally uses to make repairs.  The room is also where many important events in the history of the family take place.

Narrated by three generations of Lázaro men, the Piano Cemetery is a beautifully-written dreamlike journey through the history of the family.  Full of the contradictions that make up life- birth and death, new love and love lost, joy and pain- the book is a wonderful, melancholic read.  The novel also captures the uniquely Portuguese concept of saudade, a feeling of loss or incompleteness or longing for something that is being missed.  While loss is a major theme of the novel, it leaves you with a feeling of hope for the future of the family.

José Luís Peixoto is one of Portugal’s most acclaimed writers and a winner of the José Saramago Literary Prize.  I wasn’t surprised to learn that he also writes poetry; the cadence and use of repetition in the Piano Cemetery is quite poetic in places.  Peixoto is also a fan of the Portuguese goth metal band Moonspell and has collaborated with them in a book based on their album, the Antidote.

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José Luís Peixoto from http://www.joseluispeixoto.net

Peixoto’s books have been translated into 26 languages, but for me, he is a new discovery.  I enjoyed the Piano Cemetery and will be picking up more of his books.  If you’d like to read the Piano Cemetery, you can purchase the book from Amazon here.