Saturday, March 10, 2018

Florida Spring Break: Largo & Clearwater

On our fifth and final day of vacation, we drove an hour to Indian Rocks Beach on the recommendation of a friend. The beach itself was beautiful, but the weather was not, being 60 degrees and windy. (Nevertheless, this did not stop two older couples in bathing suits and sweatshirts, who set up chairs and an umbrella a little ways from us. The friend explained that, "Every day is a beach day in Florida.") We stayed a few minutes to enjoy the vista but quickly moved on to our next stop, the Florida Botanical Gardens. Entrance to their 30 acres is free, but it was still rather early in the year to see much growing. I decided that if we lived in a warmer climate, I would want dwarf palmetto and red shrimp plants in my garden.

It's a pineapple plant!

Although there wasn't too much growing, the physical structures were interesting, including this gazebo in the Wedding Garden, with "Love is the flower of life. D.H. Lawrence" inscribed on the patio. There was also a little stone chaise lounge in the Jazz Garden, where I imagine someone could pop in their ear buds and unwind to the sounds of saxophones and double bass.

A pleasant bonus was discovering the Heritage Village, a collection of structures (homes, schools, shops) all moved from various locations around Central Florida to this "village." Some have exhibits inside, like this Gulf of Mexico Sponge Company shack, while others offer tours. There was a little white clapboard Methodist Church that had once been picked up by a hurricane and deposited some distance away on its property, facing a different direction. The congregation just left it that way!

Finally, we drove over to Spectrum Field in Clearwater to watch the Pittsburgh Pirates beat the Philadelphia Phillies. It was a better game than the Blue Jays vs Orioles, and "our" team won. For this game I had purchased us outfield "seats" on the berm, where we settled in the grass with other couples and families. Unfortunately, it was sunny to the point of being uncomfortable where we were, but it was chilly in the shade. I ended up getting sunburned. Afterward, we dropped off our rental car at the airport and settled in for a couple hours to wait for our flight. FrDrDr slept most of the way. We landed at midnight.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Florida Spring Break: Sarasota

Our fourth day of vacation we drove an hour south to Sarasota to take in a spring training baseball game. I was so excited to be in the company of fellow O's fanatics, in what is said to be one of the nicest Grapefruit League stadiums. Although the temps had been in the 80s the whole month of February, as soon as we arrived, they dived to 60-70s for highs. Thursday it barely reached 70 while we sat in the shade in 17 mph winds. It was one of our less enjoyable games, made more so by the fact that the Birds didn't do anything exciting until the bottom of the 9th inning, at which point the stadium was half empty, and their defeat was already assured. Dear Husband ate a "jumbo" dog for lunch, which he pronounced decent. I splurged on a $13 crab cake sandwich. The crab cake was respectable, but it was served with the most anemic slice of tomato I have ever seen, on a thoroughly uninspired cheap plain roll. The lemon ice was good and not too big (the ones they sell at the Pittsburgh park say "4 servings" on them!).

After the game we tootled over to the Ringling Estate in time for an early dinner and the $15-ticket discount at 5pm. We thought to get a hot meal at the restaurant but were turned away although there were many empty tables, because they had future reservations. So we settled for sharing a sandwich, a cookie, and a root beer from the cafe.

Although I wanted to ogle the Roaring Twenties mansion Ca'd'Zan (House of John) that John and Mable Ringling had built in 1924-1926, we only had 3 hours, so we focused on the Circus Museum. (They have a very large Museum of Art, but we were arted-out [see Sarasota 1 and 2]). Dear Husband's favorite part was Howard Tibbals' miniature model circus that he has built by hand over decades. Ringling wouldn't let him use the name, so he called it "Howard Brothers Circus."

Here is an aerialist lined up with her spangled horses, waiting to parade into the ring.

The circus's caged animals amounted to a rolling zoo.

This is an over-heard view from the second floor of the circus grounds.

There was an older circus that had inspired Tibbals. This is a shot of one of the decorated elephants.

There were also artifacts, video footage, and activities for kids (and the young at heart).

The entranceway was overseen by an enormous circus mural.

In the second building they keep old circus cars and cages, the tools that were used behind the scenes to repair everything, and the Ringlings' private railroad cars, which are FAN-cy. There was also a half-hour video about how the Ringlings struck it rich and moved from small-town Wisconsin to the Florida Gulf Coast, but we didn't have enough time to watch it. 

Thursday, March 8, 2018

St. Petersburg, Part the Second

After thoroughly stuffing our eyeballs with glass art at the Imagine Museum (click for post), we enjoyed a delicious hot lunch at a Venezuelan cafe before attempting to find parking for our second attraction, the Dali Museum. It turns out the course of this weekend's Formula 1 grand prix runs right by the museum, whose parking garage is being used to house all the trailers, so we wandered around 1st Avenue South before encountering 2nd Avenue North East and the free parking. The website I found via the museum's Facebook promised a "Dali Trolley," but we had to settle for a shuttle bus.

The museum itself began as the personal collection of Reynolds and Eleanor Morse, who developed a friendly patronage with Salvador (1904-1989) and Gala Dali (1894-1982). After 40 years of private enjoyment, the Morses donated it to St. Petersburg, which wanted to host a new museum. The first building opened in 1982. The new building--with an undulating geodesic glass and steel dome protruding through 18-inch-thick hurricane-proof concrete walls--opened in 2011. At its heart is a spirally concrete staircase that captures the mathematical, natural, and whimsical characteristics of so much of Dali's art.

Our first task was to secure "golden tickets" to the Dreams of Dali virtual reality exhibit by staking out the booth on the 3rd floor. The museum has taken Dali's Archaeological Reminiscence of Millet’s “Angelus” and made a 3-minute audiovisual experience. You put on glasses and headphones and explore the painting, which includes "Easter eggs" from his other works, while a soundtrack plays. It was pretty neat. What you see is projected on a large flat screen tv for the people waiting in line to enjoy. We snapped pics of each other (below). Afterward, we found the original painting in the gallery, and I was somewhat surprised to discover that its mood is possibly more hopeful. I guess because it's a "dreamscape" the video is cast in dark, noir-ish tones, but the central hue of the painting is orangish, although of dusk or dawn it's hard to say.

I got a free audio guide to listen to clips about the architecture. We walked the labyrinth in the Avant-garden (ha!) outside. We followed a docent around the special exhibit on Marcel Duchamp and Dali and were surprised to learn that Duchamp's famous urinal was "created" in 1917. By the time we found The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory--Dali's famous "melty clocks" painting--we were tired of walking and more than happy to get back to the shuttle stop and our rental car. Unenthused about a 1.5-hour commute through rushhour traffic home (twice what our morning trip had taken), we stopped for ice cream at a mom-and-pop stand before driving the last 45 minutes.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

St. Petersburgh, Part the First

The last three days of vacation were devoted to  a variety of day trips. On Wednesday, we took a day trip to St. Petersburg to visit two art museums, one new and the other established. The first was the Imagine Museum, opened just two months ago and still a work in progress with the labeling. (You didn't have to be a Grammar Nazi like me to notice all the misplaced or missing commas, but it helped.) Imagine Museum is an entire museum dedicated to the American art glass movement since the 1960s. The museum name reflects their out-sized institutional goals (complete with "inspiring" quotations on the gallery walls), but it has a truly impressive collection. I've shared some of our favorites with you.

Martin Lipofsky (1938-2016), "Seattle Series #2" (1990) 

Mark Peiser (1988- ), "Etude Tableau #6" (2015) 

Dale Chihuly (1941- ), "7-part Seaform Set" (1997)

 Daniel Dailey (1947- ), "Erudite" (2011)
We decided this "erudite" fellow was an undergraduate student wearing golden talismans from his classes: an Erlenmeyer flask for Chemistry, a hieroglyph for Egyptian history, what may have been a guitar fret, and maybe a pipe for blowing glass-?

Toots Zynsky (1951- ),  Tempestoso (2016) and ?
These were some of our favorite pieces. The sheets of glass are made of thin filaments fused together. The one on the left looks like both a whale's tail and the splash it might leave.

Jon Kuhn (1949- ), "Harvest Sun"[?]
Most of the pictures I took of the labels didn't come out, but I think I got the title correct.

This was one of our favorite pieces, because of the way that the clear glass flower stands out among the other colors and forms. I wish the label hadn't come out fuzzy.

This is part of a larger piece called "White Bamboo Wall" (2016) by Barbara Moore (1960- ). 
It combines both bamboo and orchids in such a way that I could look it at every day.

Shelley Muzylowski Allen, "Toward the East" (2016) 

 Eric Hilton (1927- ) and James Allen, "Dancing Cells" (2016)
This is a multimedia exhibit of glass, mirrors, and a video projected onto embedded screens.

Vivian Wang, "Cat" (2016)
This was one of DH's favorite pieces.

Rear: Kathleen Mulcahy (1952- ), "Eclipse" (2016)
Front: Brent Kee Young (1946- ), "Cubism V aka Western Tribute...
Aries, from the Matrix Series" (2016)

Me + crab, Me = satisfied (Yelp: 11 Chicks)

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Later, Alligator!: Hillsborough River State Park

The second day of vacation was predicted to be the warmest, so we chose to pick up our rental car and drive out to Hillsborough River State Park, where we rented a canoe. We paddled for two hours, goggling the many catfish on the river bottom, about 8 turtles either sunning themselves or jumping in the water, and a snow-white crane soaring over us. At one point I snapped a picture of the view in front of us. Then, as we drew closer, I realized there was a little grey heron of some kind hunting bugs in the lily pad. Then, as we passed the floating vegetation, I realized that a scaly back and a beady eye were peering back at us from among the greenery. It was our first alligator sighting! All told, we kept our distance from 5 different ‘gators. After a quick snack of trail mix observed with great interest by a couple of squirrels, we headed back toward town, eventually enjoying a lovely Thai meal with friend AEH from Champaign who happened to be in town for a conference. As you can see, there were lots of creatures out enjoying the sun that day:

First day: Florida Aquarium

Monday, March 5, 2018

Florida Spring Break: Tampa

Dear Husband and I started our Florida Spring Break vacation in true fashion: hectic, running for two flights, only one of which we made. Loathe to wake up much before 4am, we had set our alarm too late to make a 5:30am flight in a big-city airport. (If we’d been at one of the Central Illinois airports, we’d have made it, no problem.) So we were rerouted through Baltimore, where we met my paternal unit for breakfast. That almost turned into disaster, because going back through security took half an hour, most of that waiting for someone to swab the granola bars in my book bag for explosives. (Apparently some bad guy has made edible explosives-? I didn’t know that was even a thing, and our snacks were not so suspicious flying out of Pittsburgh.) In the fuss I lost one of my pink flamingo earrings, adding insult to injury.

Nevertheless, we arrived in Tampa just in time to make our 1 o’clock wild dolphin boat tour from the Florida Aquarium (this is a view of the rear of the aquarium as we returned). It couldn’t have been a more beautiful day to be out on the water. There were two “dolphin sightings” close in the port that may have just been fish stirred up the tug boat docking a freighter. Mostly we admired the scenery and listened to the naturalist describe how to differentiate between black cormorants, laughing gulls, and brown pelicans; the process of dredging the channel to build various islands; and why dog beaches protect sea turtles. We also learned that the tug boat had something called a "Z drive" that lets it move sideways faster than our little double decker could move forward!

Then we wandered through the aquarium, which is not particularly large but does have an impressive variety of creatures, from alligators to enormous river fish called red drums to roseate spoonbills to jelly fish to big spiny lobsters to a puffer fish to sea anemones and corals. They are currently running an exhibit about Madagascar, including lemurs and hissing cockroaches, as well as one about the Gulf of Mexico. We learned that there are something like 10,000 wild invasive snake species now living in Florida. (Our Lyft driver the next day told us we were safe up in Central Florida but that it was particularly bad down by Miami.) DH remarked that I resembled nothing so much as the alligator backed snapping turtle we watched placidly eating anything it could reach. (The one below is some kind of painted turtle.)


Later I was trying to get a picture of the big crustacean on the left, and this ugly toadfish on the right swam up. DH wanted to see sharks the most. He also got to touch a sting ray for the first time. I was impressed at how well seahorses swim with just their little back fin and “ears.” Another invasive species in the area is the lionfish, brought in by aquarium enthusiasts; it is reportedly edible and tastes good as fish nuggets! I wonder what the animals think of all of us: the spider crab at the bottom stood up like it was posing as soon as we approached its tank. Do you think it was trying to intimidate us away from its mate? By the time we had seen everything, we tired of looking. The first day closed with a family dinner (we’re staying with DH’s relatives).