Monet in Vienna

I have very little aesthetic sense.  I studied Aesthetics as a Philosophy major in college, and I was pretty much terrified the entire time.  My professor once said that my aesthetic sense was only evolved as far as, “me likey; me no likey”.  She was absolutely right.  I enjoy art, but I don’t understand it.  I can’t explain why I like one piece and dislike another one — I just do.  I have no appreciation for technique or sophistication.  And I can’t even begin to differentiate “good” art from “bad” art, nor can I have a reasonable conversation about whether or not that’s even a valid distinction to make.  That being said, there are pieces of art that I enjoy, and artists whose work I admire.  As all art is well beyond my own ability, I can appreciate all of it as an impressive demonstration of a skill I will never have.

Like many of the uncultured art appreciators of the world, my “favorite” artists are the best known.  I like Monet, Van Gogh, Rembrandt and (some) Picasso.  Living in Vienna, and visiting some amazing places that truly appreciate great art (like Rome and Paris), I’ve had the opportunity to see a lot of art that I enjoy, and a lot of art that is relatively famous.  I’m grateful to have had that opportunity, and I’m trying to make a point of seeing more art when I get the chance.  I don’t get the chance all that often.  Between the boys’ school schedule, pickups, drop offs, errands, and everything else in life, I don’t often get to see a lot of art.

But, when the Belvedere hosted a Monet exhibit this past winter, I convinced a friend to join me and we went to see it.

I’ve always loved Monet.  The colors are beautiful, and his art just makes a lot of sense to me (my theory is that because my vision is pretty poor, his art looks how everything looks to me).  I know that his waterlilies are among his most famous paintings, but I’ve always been more enthusiastic about his London paintings (they were some of the first paintings I ever really loved).  We were lucky enough to get to see two of them in person, which was really fantastic.  The exhibit also showed some of his seascapes, and a bit of work by other artists who were inspired by Monet.  I thoroughly enjoyed (most) of it.

I’m still ignorant when it comes to art, but I’m really glad we went to see the exhibit.  (I feel very slightly less uncultured now.)  We finished up our morning with a stroll around the frozen gardens of the Belvedere Palace.  It was a great day, and an enriching experience, regardless of my lack of aesthetic.



There are 10 principles of learning at B’s school, attributes said to be sought after and valued in the International Baccalaureate program.  When the kids demonstrate one of these attributes during their school day, B’s teacher gives out armbands.  B had gotten armbands for being a risk-taker (for trying something at lunch that he’d never had before), for being caring (for looking after a classmate who was having a rough day), for being a thinker (for making connections between a lesson in class and his life at home) and many other things.  It’s a great bit of positive reinforcement, and I’m impressed at how well these paper bands motivate the kids.  B is so proud when he brings one home, and I’ve seen the kids clamoring to get credit for one when I go into B’s class.  To B, at least, the most coveted of all the bands is the “action” band, awarded for demonstrating learning at home, specifically learning related to the unit of study.  The kids can get an “action” band for bringing in a book related to a subject of study, for doing an art project related to what they’re learning at school, or bringing in a related item that they found at home.  (It’s basically an “extra credit” assignment, and it’s very open ended.)

002Back in October, B had been very envious of the “action” bands the other kids had gotten and so he decided, entirely on his own, to make a glitter-glue drawing of the circulatory and respiratory systems, because that’s what they’d been studying in class.  The first few days after he’d decided, he forgot to actually do it, but he eventually sat down with his glitter glue and paper and made a lovely picture of the heart, lungs, veins and arteries.  He was so proud, and I knew his teacher was going to like it.  I was so proud of him.  He had conceived of and executed the entire thing on his own.  It was a perfect choice of an activity to get an “action” band.


He had his heart set on taking it to school the next morning.  After he’d gone to bed, I checked on it, and it was still quite wet, so, wanting to help him out, I moved his artwork to another spot, close to the fan, hoping to help it dry by morning.  And, in so doing, I smeared the whole thing.  I was horrified.  I tried to fix it with a toothpick, attempting to push the globs of pink, gold, red and blue glitter back to their original spots, but it was no use.  It was ruined.  I cried.

When B got up the next morning, I explained it to him, and he was disappointed, but surprisingly understanding.  I felt terrible.  I suggested that he could take it in anyway, 037and explain to his teacher what had happened, or that I could go in with him and explain it, but he didn’t want to.  He wanted it to be right.  So, instead, he came home that day and started over.  He took just as much time and care making it for the second time.  And I left it completely alone while it dried.

He took it to school the day after, and got an action band for his work.  He was absolutely proud of it, and I was profoundly impressed by his work and determination … and by his ability to forgive my well-intentioned mistake.

Visiting the Louvre


On our first trip to Paris, we had a busy itinerary, and, when the trip was over, there was one thing on our “must see” list that we’d had to skip — a visit to the Louvre.  I was disappointed, but it was the right decision.  By the day we had planned to go, the kids were tired of waiting in lines and having to be patient and quiet.  A trip to a massive art museum just wasn’t the right choice.  So, we skipped it, but I knew I’d want to go back.


I’m not an art person.  My mind appreciates art made with words, and art made of movement, but somehow I’m lacking the ability to understand or appreciate most fine art.  I don’t know why — it’s just not a skill a possess.  But I do still like to try.  I can appreciate art on a basic level (a philosophy professor in college described people with my aesthetic sense as being from the “me likey/me no likey” school of thought) and I’m always interested in the social/cultural/religious context of art.  I guess I’m a better sociologist than I am an appreciator of art (and I’m not a sociologist, either).

151Regardless, I like to try to look at art even though I struggle to see what others do.  And it feels to me like visiting the Louvre is an important part of being in Paris — especially because they have art I’ve actually heard of (although when I went to the Vatican Museum I was pleasantly surprised to find that my favorite things turned out to not be things I’d heard of before).

Last time, we visited the exterior of the Louvre, and this time we made a point to actually go in.  We planned to go the day that it was supposed to rain, and although there was a little rain in the morning, mostly it ended up just being a very hot day.  By the time we got over to the Louvre, just before lunchtime, it was hot and sunny and I wasn’t looking forward to waiting in the sun in the long line to get in.  Luckily, I’d read up beforehand, and in Rick Steves’ guide for Paris, he outlined a few other alternative (underground) entrances, which was nice, because although we had to wait a bit (although not as long as I expected) to get in, we did it in the shade and relative cool underground shopping area.

158After waiting through the security line, we finally made it to the main entrance of the Louvre, under the giant pyramid.  Since the kids were tired, and we wanted to enjoy as much time there as possible, we went to the information desk and borrowed (for free!) two strollers for the boys.  (As a note — I’ve said before that I love Paris, except for how much crime there is.  As we were waiting at the information desk, a man came up who had been pickpocketed just steps away from where we were standing.  It really does happen just about everywhere tourists go in the city.)  After the security line, the ticket line was so short as to be a complete non-event.

The Louvre is massive, and it’s a little overwhelming, especially for someone without a good sense for art.  I really couldn’t tell which sections we’d enjoy the most, or where we should start, so we just chose 4 things we really wanted to see (and likely the most touristy items in the entire museum — Cupid & Psyche, Winged Victory, the Venus de Milo and the Mona Lisa) and decided to start with those.  Although the strollers were a nice touch, and the elevators were plentiful, it was still a pain to get around the museum.  Even *with* the elevators, there were stairs to traverse everywhere, and the wait to get into an elevator was VERY long at times.  (Still, I’m glad we did the strollers.  The kids each slept through part of the museum, and I suspect that we all enjoyed a longer and more peaceful visit because of it.  The museum was also very hot the day we were there, and I think we all would have been uncomfortable if we’d been carrying the kids around, which is probably what would have happened if we hadn’t had the strollers.)


Even with my limited aesthetics, I really enjoyed the museum.  There was just so much to see.  The sculptures we chose in particular were all lovely (Winged Victory was my favorite — and I loved the way it was presented) and we were treated to many other fine items as we walked along.  Each of the boys was fascinated with different Greek statues, and they actually enjoyed studying them for a bit (which was a nice surprise).  We were lucky enough to happen upon a hidden no-stairs access to the area where the Mona Lisa was housed, and the woman who was guarding the entrance was nice enough to let us through.

167I’d heard — a lot — prior to going how underwhelming the Mona Lisa could be.  And I get that.  There’s so much build up about it, and it’s so revered, that actually looking at it, you definitely might expect it to be bigger.  But since I’d been so prepared to be unimpressed by it, I was pleased to find that I wasn’t.  I really liked it.  (Although I can’t say why, because, as I’ve said, I have no art sense.)  It is stunning to see the level of attention and protection that this one little painting gets.  But I was glad to get the chance to see it, and happy to wait, along with the kids, to get our turn at the front of the crowd.  (At the end of the day, B said it had been his favorite part of the Louvre, and that the Louvre had been his favorite part of Paris, although he’s since revised his opinion and bestowed that honor on the Jardin du Luxembourg.)

If I had it to do over again . . . I’d probably do almost exactly what we did (which I almost never get to say).  We went in the late morning, and I think that contributed to the crowds not being too bad (even though it was a Monday, which is supposed to be quite crowded).  Entering via the Galerie du Carrousel underground mall entrance was really functional (we left via the main pyramid entrance to get the full effect).  We were lucky that we weren’t victim to any sort of pickpocketing, but I think if I went again I would be sure to bring absolutely nothing of value.  It’s so easy to get distracted looking at the art, and take your eyes off of your bag for a second.  Even though the stairs were a pain, I think borrowing the strollers was a great idea — and if we had gotten tired of pushing them around, we could have just returned them, too.  And I think that choosing a few iconic items to see first, and then seeing what state the kids were in, was a good idea.  By the time we negotiated the stairs and elevators and saw the things we really wanted to see, we had actually seen a significant portion of two wings of the museum, so it worked out.


We had a great time.  I’m so glad we went.  The kids enjoyed it, the museum was lovely, and it felt really nice to experience a piece that had been missing from our Parisian adventures.

The best art in Italy

Yesterday, we went to visit the Vatican City. I was surprised at how excited I was to be there and about how it affected me. I was raised Catholic, but I haven’t been even a remotely practicing member of any religion for about 20 years.

But from even before we arrived, I felt a connection to that part of my life, and even more strongly to the people in my life for whom Catholicism has been important. I couldn’t help but think a lot about how excited my grandmother, who passed away over 10 years ago, would be about us visiting Vatican City.

My feeling of connection and nostalgia was so strong that I actually bought myself a Rosary at the museum gift shop. (I’m as surprised as anyone about that, but it seemed like the thing to do.) In some ways, that connection to my personal history was one of my favorite things about my visit to Vatican City.

20130301-152500.jpgAnother of my favorite things was my kids’ reactions. They loved it. Within the first few minutes of exploring the museum, both of the boys were running around on an outdoor patio shouting, “I love Varican City!” I’m not sure exactly what they loved so much, but they were really enthusiastic about it.

20130301-152529.jpgAnd then, we started in on the museum, and got to see so much amazing art. I loved the detail of the map room, from the ornate ceiling to the beautiful, incredibly detailed maps of Italy from the 16th century. I was captivated by Rapheal’s “School of Athens” and the signifance of its placement in the Vatican. And then we got to the Sistine Chapel, which was the part I was most looking forward to. The scope and the detail were awesome, and it was incredibly special to be in such a magnificent space. (As a note, although we loved the Vatican Museum, we wish we hadn’t brought the stroller, because there were so many stairs, and the elevators were only for wheelchairs.)

20130301-152657.jpgBut of all the art we saw, my favorite was yet to come. At dinner, Benjamin and Liam decorated their placemats with drawings of fire trucks and happy stick figures. Benjamin is at the point where his drawings are starting to really look like what he imagines — I’m not sure when he got so good, maybe he was inspired by Michelangelo and Raphael — and it is wonderful to see his placemat collection of smiling family members and friends. Of all the art we’ve seen, it’s definitely my favorite.

Lange nacht der Museen


So, who walked around for 5 hours today, went to 6 different museums, saw Monets, Picassos, Opera costumes, live butterflies, the Austrian State Archives and is now really tired?  Me!

027Today is the “Night of the Museums” in Austria – for a flat 13 Euro price, you get admission to over 100 museums in Vienna, all of which are open until 1 a.m.  (They even have a series of buses to drive you around from museum to museum, also included in the price.)  I just found out about it this week, and just yesterday was thinking, “Wow, that would have been cool”, but I couldn’t imagine dragging Liam and Benjamin through museum exhibits that didn’t even open until 6 p.m., and didn’t have the energy to try to make heroic childcare plans.  Then, today, my friend Krishana asked if I wanted to join her and some friends, and so I went!


(Dan, ever the good sport, stayed home with the boys and did dinner, bath time, story time and bed time entirely on his own.  I am so grateful to have had a little “grown up” time out on my own.)


035We went to the State Hall of the Austrian Library, which is beautiful and impressive.  We went to the Butterfly House, which was hot and hosted many people and not many butterflies (I don’t know if they were put off by the tremendous influx of visitors wielding flash cameras, or just the late hour, but we only saw about 6 butterflies, and none of them were moving).  We went to the Albertina and saw an exhibit of “classical modernism” — a huge exhibit of everything from Monet to Picasso (and in between) donated almost entirely out of a single private collection.  We went to the State Opera Museum and looked at beautiful, old opera costumes.  We went to the State Archives, which houses tons of historical documents (including, apparently, the first print of Luther’s theses, but after getting caught up, unintentionally, in a long German guided tour, we bailed before actually seeing it).  We went to the Schottenstift museum at the 038800+ year old church across the street from my apartment (and may have been deemed a security threat, because it’s possible a security guard followed us through a portion of that museum — very strange).  We tried to go to the “Third Man” sewer tour, but it was too popular and already booked up by the time we got over to Karlsplatz, and we thought about going to the Demel tour and tasting, but that line was (understandably) very long.  There were at least a dozen other places I would have loved to have gone, given infinite time and energy — observatories, train museums, modern art museums, natural history museums, chocolate museums — they had everything!

039I had a blast.  It was a great way to see some of the more traditional offerings of Vienna, as well as some rather esoteric ones (not sure I would have made a point of seeing the Opera Museum or the State Archives any other time).  It was a really fun evening, and we’ll definitely make a point to go next year.  (Evidently, in the spring, they do a similar “church night” where the churches in Vienna are open to tours — can’t wait for that, either.)  Glad to have been a part of such a fun, Viennese activity, and grateful that I can say I’ve been into a least a few museums since I’ve been here.