American Art and Portrait Gallery

Last Saturday, after attending the NATS regional competition with one of my incredibly talented students :), I left the University of Maryland and had about 3 hours to kill in Washington DC (one of my favorite places to visit). So, for the first time ever, I went to the Smithsonian American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery. As with any other Smithsonian museum, I was not disappointed. I would have loved a couple of extra hours to finish touring the place sufficiently.

These two museums share one of Washington’s oldest, public buildings. This landmark was built in Greek Revival style, from 1836 to 1868. I must say, I was also impressed with the architecture of the courtyard, which opened in 2007. It is absolutely stunning, exhibiting a contemporary glass dome (pretty huge). The day was very cold, but the courtyard was nice and cozy, filled with natural sunlight. Next time I’m in DC, I’ll go there and sit for a while. Maybe I’ll order a cup of coffee and journal. It is simply beautiful.

               

Among my favorite exhibitions were the Time Magazine Covers from the 60’s (which runs until August of this year), and the permanent collection of paintings of all our American presidents, in the Portrait Gallery. The museum displays both American art and American history. The combination of those two, made me a very happy camper. 🙂

William Jefferson Clinton. Oil on Canvas. Chuck Close

George W. Bush.  Oil on Canvas. Robert Anderson.

George W. Bush. Oil on Canvas. Robert Anderson.

Andrew Jackson. Ferdinand Pettrich.

Andrew Jackson.
Ferdinand Pettrich.

Fiddler on the Roof: Musings and Pondering…

What a show! What a magically, wonderful show! As I prepare to be the music director for CWorks’ winter production, I can’t help but to ponder on the meaning and the impact this script and music will have on all of us. First of all, the show is highly entertaining due to its rich characters, fabulous music and dancing, timeless humor, and deep cultural connections. It is also thought provoking and enlightening, covering themes such as family values, tradition, and antisemitism.

I am a Christian, therefore I see everything in life through the lenses of my faith. From that perspective, I write this analysis of the content of this script. It is not exhaustive by any means. It simply reflects my own (limited) thoughts and pondering on the subject matter.

Brief Summary

In the fictional, Russian village of Anatevka, lives a milkman by the name of Tevya, along with his wife Golde and his 5 daughters. The story takes place at the turn of the 20th century, depicting life in a Jewish community coexisting with gentiles who, influenced and encouraged by the Tsar and a generalized antisemitic sentiment, persecute, drive away, and disperse the Jewish people living among them.

In the midst of this political turmoil, Tevya faces even greater challenges and difficulties in his own family. He has always held fast to the traditions of his people, but now his daughters are stepping away from his way of life, rejecting the old ways and choosing their own path. In Tevya’s mind, there is a struggle maintaining a balance between protecting the traditions of his people and supporting his loved ones. The fiddler on the roof illustrates such a struggle. In Tevya’s own words: “You might say every one of us is a fiddler on the roof, trying to scratch out a pleasant, simple tune without breaking his neck. It isn’t easy.”

Analysis

While there are many aspects of this show that could be analyzed, my aim is to limit it to the traditions depicted in this story. I find them fascinating and worth thinking about.

In Jewish communities there are discrepancies as to what is allowed or desired according to their religion. Much like Christianity, which has differences in denominations and cultures, yet has the same core system of belief across the board, Judaism has many faces and degrees of religiosity, while being united in common beliefs. This is not an analysis of Judaism in general, but a discussion on the traditions seen in this particular family and community of Anatevka.

Traditions

As far as I’m concerned, there are two types of traditions reflected in this story: Those ordained by God, and those made up by people. The script does not make a distinction between the two, but I think it’s worth mentioning the difference.

The God-mandated traditions are the ones that were established in Scripture from the time of Moses. The ones designed by man happened through the years and have strong cultural roots.

The Sabbath: The show opens with preparations for the Sabbath. The day of rest was most definitely established by God. In the Genesis account of the creation of the world, God worked for 6 days and rested on the 7th. One of the 10 commandments given by God to Moses said to “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy”. The Jewish nation was strictly ordered to maintain a day of rest, from generation to generation. The purpose of the Sabbath was to 1. provide time for everyone (including servants, slaves, and animals) to rest; 2. have a day dedicated to the worship of God, free of distractions; 3. to point to the Messiah. In fact, from Christianity’s world view, all God-mandated laws were given to prepare the way for Jesus, and in Jesus, all the law is perfectly kept and fulfilled (“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill it” – Matt 5:17). So how did Jesus fulfill the law? 1. By keeping it. 2. By becoming our rest. This sounds simplistic, but it truly is a remarkable, deep truth:

“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30

Jesus provides rest. This profound truth shows us that in our quest for salvation and in our desire to be right with God, man has always struggled to perform, do good, please a perfect God, and has always failed. Through religion, we cannot possibly reach God, because He is holy and we are not, he is perfect and we are flawed. All our efforts, in the end, are tiring and heavy. So when Jesus stretched out his arms on a cross and died on our behalf, He unequivocally declared that He, the only perfect sacrifice, paid the penalty for our sins. Therefore, we need to struggle no more. We can actually rest from trying to be right with God. We are right in Him. We now please God because we love him, not because we hope He will avert his wrath. It is the greatest of news! And it is most certainly true rest from our labor. JESUS IS OUR SABBATH.

Match-making: Now here we see a tradition that is not mandated in Scripture. This is a cultural custom which in many cases has proven to be very practical (I guess?) Match making is at the center of this story, as one of the traditions that is upheld, almost at the same level of the other God-given laws. We see examples of matches being made in Scripture, but there is no law dictating it as the only way to marry. Tevya’s daughters go against this tradition by choosing their own husbands. Even though he struggles with this, Tevya goes along with their choices (at least with two of the three daughters), proving he is progressive and caring enough to break from his own way of life in order to support and love his family.

Marriage: The topic of marriage is central to the story. Again, marriage is mandated by God back in the creation of Adam and Eve. It is the holiest of unions in the human realm and it is to be highly valued by God’s people. In Fiddler on the Roof, the issue of mixed marriages comes to light. We see in Scripture that God created all races and colors and He doesn’t have an issue with inter-racial marriages. However, it was clearly mandated to the Jewish nation that they were to marry within their own faith. Why? 1. To preserve the worship and the knowledge of God throughout the generations, and 2. Of course, to point to Christ.

First, the Jews were the only monotheistic people group for thousands of years. They were the only ones who had the truth of God in their minds, hearts, and in the written law of Moses. They were to marry each other to preserve and advance this knowledge. In Christianity, we see the same principle at work. God calls us to not be unequally yoked (II Co 6:14). This inequality has nothing to do with race, education, or cultural differences, and all to do with our faith.

Second, marriage points to Christ (Ephesians 5:22-32). More specifically, it points to the relationship between Jesus and his people (the church). What used to be a distant relationship between man and God, worshiping in a temple containing a big, heavy curtain for the purpose of separating man from God, has become a close, intimate relationship. Jesus has drawn near to us, opening the door for us to have access to God. Ephesians calls it a “great mystery”. I am very thankful for this reality. During this Christmas season, I am especially blessed by the knowledge that Jesus condescended and became a human, in order to be like me, make atonement for me, and have an intimate relationship with me.

Conclusion

I am so thankful for the Jewish people. They have been the recipients of God’s covenant and love, as well as His law and prophets. In spite of persecution, dispersion, attempts of annihilation, and hatred, God has preserved the Jews and has been true to His promise.

I am grateful for Jesus Christ, who was a Jew and fulfilled all the laws and the prophets. He has broken the divides that once separated the people of God from all other nations. In Christ, there is no longer Jew or gentile, male or female, master or slave. Salvation is equally available to all, through faith. There is no longer a need to strive to gain salvation, for He has done that for us. He is truly our rest.

Aside from the conceptual analysis of the main themes of this play, I am beyond excited to be a part of it, simply because it is fun and entertaining. And, of course, the music is fantastic! In fact, I need to stop writing this oh-so-long post and get downstairs to my piano to finish studying the music. After all, auditions start tomorrow!

If you live in RVA and want to see this amazing production, you can buy tickets here.

Shalom!

Fiddler on the Roof

Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

I just love this place. The building is elegant and spacious; The exhibits are appreciable and extensive; The atmosphere is inviting; The cafe, especially outdoors, is an art exhibit in it of itself; The cost is just right (free admission).

In addition to the availability 365 days a year, the museum offers multiple events for the community, including free Jazz nights on Thursday evenings, “Friday Art & Wine”, free walking tours, and a variety of art classes for children and adults. It is a wonderful place for a date night! It is also a peaceful spot to take a break from everyday life all by yourself.

Beautiful Museum Grounds

Beautiful Museum Grounds

Cafe

Cafe

Oil on canvas. “Street Scene Autumn”, Goodman

Oil on canvas. "Expressive Head", Lhote

Oil on canvas. “Expressive Head”, Lhote

Oil and acrylics on canvas. "Sisters", Hendricks

Oil and acrylics on canvas. “Sisters”, Hendricks

From the sublime to the ridiculous. Yes, modern art...

From the sublime to the ridiculous. Yes, modern art…

 

Virginia Holocaust Muesum

Lizette and I visited the Virginia Holocaust Museum in Richmond.

Cannot say it was a “fun” experience because there is nothing fun about walking through memories of atrocities and pain. It was, however, insightful and necessary.

I traveled to Poland years back and I visited Auschwitz concentration camp. I remember it clearly because it made a deep impression on me. I was expecting to feel some of the same emotions when I went to the local museum. I was pleased to find this less painful. However, in some ways, it hit a little closer to home because the gallery is filled with stories from local survivors. In fact, the audio from the guided tour was recorded by a Richmond survivor himself, who told his own story along the way.

In my opinion, everyone should visit their local Holocaust museum at least once in their lifetime. We owe it to ourselves to remember what happened. If you live in RVA or visit this area, I recommend this place. Admission is free. The layout of the building is user friendly, taking you easily from one section to the next without the need to backtrack. It will take about an hour to walk through the loop and you can either use their audio guide or simply read the information and go at your own pace.

A tribute to heroes who protected and cared for the persecuted

A tribute to heroes who protected and cared for the persecuted

Life size reproductions of pictures of those being liberated and replicas of American soldiers

Life size reproductions of pictures of those being liberated and replicas of American soldiers

Life-size replica of a scene during the Nuremberg trials, with actual footage playing in the background.

Life-size replica of a scene during the Nuremberg trials, with actual footage playing in the background.

Nazi flag, conveniently placed on floor so everyone can step on it.

Nazi flag, conveniently placed on floor so everyone can step on it.

Morada Bay Beach Cafe, Islamorada

A few months ago my friends Gene and Liz traveled to South Florida and asked us to recommend places to visit. Juan and I gave them a packed list of things to do in the Miami area and recommended they visit Key West as well (I mean, traveling through the Seven-Mile bridge is quite the experience). When they asked us where they should stop and eat along the Keys, we didn’t have a specific recommendation for them. I wish I would have known then what I recently discovered (thanks to my amazing girlfriends who took me there), because I would have suggested the Morada Bay Beach Cafe, located on Islamorada on mile marker 81.6.

I was there during a beautiful summer day. It was a bit overcast, especially towards the early afternoon (typical of South Florida), so the weather was very pleasant. The best part of my experience was the ability to sit and relax and have good conversation with friends overlooking the open water.

I give this restaurant 4 out of 5 starts for the following reasons:

The Atmosphere: Beautiful place, full of vibrancy and color as well as open spaces with a great view of the water. The tables sit on white sand for a great sea-side experience. After our meal, we sat under the palm trees by the sea wall and had a fantastically relaxing time.

The Service: The staff was very friendly and accommodating.

The Food: It was good, but not amazing. They do not have a gluten-free menu, making it hard for my friend, Laura, to find something to eat.

Overall: This beach cafe captures the taste and feel of the Keys. I also hear they have live music, which I didn’t get to enjoy (in fact, I heard my friend Cliff Stutts plays there in the evenings, and he happens to be one of the best bass players I’ve ever known :)) I would go back in a heart beat.

      

    

On a more comical note, here I am hugging a palm tree. This now Virginia girl really misses palm trees! Gotta hug them when I see them!

Regarding the beautiful ladies pictured here, I recently wrote a post about their friendship 🙂

After our meal, we decided to drive next door (we could have walked but it was about to rain) to the Bass Pro Shop Restaurant. My friend Carmen and her wonderful new hubby Dave had previously done their research. They discovered this place carried the best key lime pie in the area. If you go, make sure to ask for the best server, Bobbie. Tell her that Silvia sent you 🙂 Sit in the back porch and enjoy the view.

Unbroken

Let me start by saying that this is one of the best books I have ever read.

UNBROKEN: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand, is #1 in New York Times’s Bestseller list and will soon become a motion picture. It is a biography of Louis Zamperini, an airman who suffered the unimaginable in the hands of the Japanese, as a prisoner of war.

Top 4 reasons why I loved this book:

  1. This remarkable and well-written story was extensively researched and documented during the course of seven years.
  2. It enlightened me about the role of Japan in the war, which has been far less written about than Germany. The horrors were equally as devastating.
  3. One could expect this book to be dreadfully depressing or over-500-pages-of-boring. It’s neither. It kept me fully engaged, and even though there were times when I felt I couldn’t take any more devastation, I persevered because I expected redemption to come (as expressed in the title). Indeed, the book cover reads: “Survival, Resilience, and Redemption”, and that is exactly what shines through the story, in powerful fashion.
  4. I was rooting for Louie Zamperini from the very beginning of the narrative. During the course of the book, I was rooting for the many others who surrounded him and who made their way into the story. Last night, as I finished the book, I found myself crying out loud and thanking God for the good that can come out of evil.

I give this book 5 out of 5 stars! So go and buy it, or downloaded, or whatever you do to get a hold of your copy. Hurry!

Visiting the National Gallery of Art

I have been to Washington D.C several times, but until today, I had never had the opportunity to visit the National Gallery of Art. I visited (and Elise happily accompanied me) the West Building as well as the Sculpture Garden. Boy, oh boy, I just loved that place!

First of all, I was anticipating to pay for parking and possibly ride the metro and then walk to the gallery. I was a little nervous about that since the forecast called for 50% chance of thunderstorms. But fortunately, A. We discovered that parking on the streets on Sundays is free and we easily found a spot 3 blocks away, and B. It did not rain a single drop!

The West Building featuring a special exhibit of Degas/Cassatt

The West Building featuring a special exhibit of Degas/Cassatt

The West Building is gorgeous and the layout very user friendly. This marble structure was the largest of its kind when it was built in 1940. It is breathtaking to walk through marble columns and marble walls. The entire main floor sits under skylights, which results in having much natural light shining throughout the building. The smart and easy layout makes it simple to walk through the exhibits fluidly, without the need to backtrack. The rooms and halls are very spacious and welcoming, allowing for a very pleasant and peaceful experience.

Ceiling over the rotunda in the main floor of the West Building

Ceiling over the rotunda in the main floor of the West Building

With Elise on the main floor

With Elise on the main floor

Of course, there was not enough time to walk through the entire museum, so Elise and I decided to linger mostly around 19th and 20th Century art, especially French, our favorite. What a sweet experience.

Picasso's "Madame Picasso"

Picasso’s “Madame Picasso”

 

Monet’s “The Walk — Woman With a Parasol”

 

Degas' "The Dance Lesson"

Degas’ “The Dance Lesson”

Vigee-Lebrun's "The Marquise de Pezay and the Marquise de Rouge with her Sons"

Vigee-Lebrun’s “The Marquise de Pezay and the Marquise de Rouge with her Sons”

Sargent's "Street in Venice"

Sargent’s “Street in Venice”

Across the street from the West Building is the Sculpture Garden. We took a mid-day break and hung out at the water fountain (which I hear turns into an ice skating rink during the winter), did some people-watching, sculpture viewing, and Elise spent some time sketching under the warm sun. I especially enjoyed the greenery: all native trees, bushes, and huge, beautiful flowers. We ate lunch at the Pavilion Cafe and then headed back to the West Building to see the exhibits we had previously missed.

Me by the reflecting pool / water fountain. In the background is the National Archives Museum

Me by the reflecting pool / water fountain. In the background is the National Archives Museum

A girl and her sketch pad

A girl and her sketch pad

Pretty Gardens

Pretty Gardens

Overall, our day at the capital receives a rating of 5 out of 5. At the end of the day we were reasonably tired but pleasantly satisfied with our experience in the Art Gallery. I would love to go again in the not so distant future and “linger” in a different section of the building.

 

Exploring Virginia: Shenandoah Valley

Shenandoah Valley

After 2 years of living in Virginia, I finally got a chance to drive through Skyline Drive in Shenandoah Park. The weather was perfect and the sights from the overviews along the road were absolutely stunning. I grew up in Ecuador, surrounded by gorgeous mountains, but I lived most of my adult life in Florida, which has none. So this drive was like coming back home.

The only thing I wanted more of was time. Our drive was fairly short, and it takes several hours to go through the whole park. Now that we have a taste of it, we will be sure to go back again soon. I can’t wait to see it during the fall when the leaves are turning! Next time, I will bring my field guide, to make my bird watching more interesting.

Once hunger hit, we headed to our favorite spot in Charlottesville: Christian’s Pizza, at the downtown location. We love that place! The pizza is amazing, the pedestrian strip with outdoor cafes and shops is quaint and lively. It was the perfect way to end the day. (For more reviews on Christian’s Pizza, click here)

Game Review: BitWordy

Before you consider this online game review, keep the following in mind.

I’m in my 40’s. I’m not what you would call a gamer. I like games that distract my mind but make it work at the same time.

I like words.

I also like numbers.

I like games that are not too social so that I can play whenever I want to, and as much or as little as I like.

That said, here’s one of my favorite social media games:

BitWordy

If you like Boggle, you might really like this game. This is how it works: You look at a cube of letters and find as many words as you can in the span of 3 minutes. If you chose the standard option, words need to have a minimum of 3 letters each. You type as much as you see, as fast as you can. The space bar in your keyboard allows you to rotate the cube so you see it from different angles.

What I like about it:

  1. It’s a 3 minute commitment per game, which is very convenient if you are a busy person.

  2. You gain an “IQ” score which determines how good you are. Even if you don’t play against other people, you are competing against yourself, trying to improve your score. This works for me because I am, by nature, quite competitive.

  3. You have the option of playing against friends (I never chose this option) or going into a public room where everybody plays at the same time. There is no need to have social interaction with others playing but it does let you see your ranking in the room, which makes it, in my opinion, a little more fun. I opt for the “Open Room”, which is open to all player, no matter what their IQ is. Very rarely do I rise to the top of the room, but I like it nevertheless.

  4. This game is entertaining enough to distract you but it’s not mindless enough to make you feel like you’re wasting your brain. You are actually exercising it, and hopefully avoiding Alzheimer in your old age 😉

What I don’t like about it:

  1. You can only play it on a computer with keyboard. There is no app for Android or tablets, and I don’t think there is one for Apple either. However, the game is fairly new and as it gains more popularity, I’m sure it will expand and improve.
  2. Like any other game, it can be addictive! Who knows, maybe you will hate it, but if you grow to like it like I do, you’ll be glad they don’t have an app for your phone or you would be glued to it all day.

  3. You need to be fast at typing, which is not a problem for me. Just know it doesn’t use a touch screen.

  4. It is a Facebook app, so if you don’t have a fb, you can’t play it.

How to enjoy it:

Don’t be too hard on yourself. When you first try it, you will think you are as dumb as a door nail, because you will see others with IQ’s in the stratosphere. Expect that. Just play knowing you’ll get better with practice.

Try the beginners and intermediate rooms first. These will boost your confidence.

 

Please leave me a comment if you try it, and tell me how you like it. Who knows, maybe we can meet there one of these days.

 

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