Friday, January 25, 2008
Martin Van Buren, Ted Widmer
I bought the book used off of amazon.com for like $3.00 - yay! It was only 200 pages, so I felt pretty confident about reading it. It was filled with lots of interesting tidbits:
- MVB was the first President to hail from New York
- MVB was the first President of non-English descent (he was Dutch!)
- MVB began what is now the Democratic Party
- MVB was the first man to run for President as an Independent (this was after he was already President).
- MVB was the fifth longest living President
As for the book...This book briefly covered his life; early years, his rise to political fame, his Presidency and his retirement. Widmer, does a great job in just 200 pages of giving the reader a sense of who Martin Van Buren was. He also does a great job of making you realize why Martin Van Buren should be remembered and pointing out all the great things he accomplished in the name of democracy, without overselling him and making the reader believe he should go down in history as one of the most important Presidents. This book is a good read for the regular reader, one who does not normally read non-fiction or biographies. I did not find it too dense and it flowed nicely.
I have to say my expectations where low for MVB, but I found him to be pretty darn fascinating. Next up William Henry Harrison, or as many of your may remember, Tippecanoe and Tyler too!
Saturday, January 19, 2008
We choose The Frick Collection. It is located at East 70th Street and 5th. It is the collection of Henry Clay Frick, when he passed in 1919 he stated in his will that after the death of his wife, the home was to be turned into a museum. We had heard many good things about this museum, which is why is was our pick.
We got their in the early afternoon and agreed that we would not spend more than 2 hours there. Having toured many museums together now, we have come to the realization that 2 hours is our limit in a museum, after the 2 hour mark, it's just not fun anymore.
Our tickets came with audioguides, which we were both very happy about. We went downstairs to see the special exhibit on Gabriel de Saint-Aubin (1724-1780), which we both enjoyed. Then we went back upstairs to begin looking at the permanent collection. The museum really is a house (or a mansion really)! There are a couple of rooms that feel more like you're in a gallery but most of the time you are walking through Frick's study or dining room or living room.
The art collection really blew me away. I didn't have high expectations that I was going to know many of the artisits, I don't know why. But lo and behold there were plenty of artisits that I knew, El Greco, Renoir, Vermeer, Valezquez, Lippi, Rembrandt, Whistler, etc. The audioguides were great, the perfect amount of information on each piece and you could listen to only what you wanted to.
We wandered through the mansion, sometimes together, sometimes on our own, just taking in the beauty of the collection that Mr. Frick had put together. The best part though is that the house has an indoor courtyard, which in NYC is a little bit of heaven. It's beautiful and so peaceful so we spent some time just sitting in there and talking.
There were so many beautiful pieces that it is difficult to choose my favorites but some of my favorites were:
St. John the Evangelist - the way this particular picture was lit up in the museum made it really stand out.
St. Francis in the Desert
Virgin Child with Saints and Donor
OK that's just to name a few - but if you go to the website you can see a lot of the collection. It was a wonderful afternoon spent and I'm looking forward to our many more NYC adventures!
Thursday, January 17, 2008
First Man in Rome, Colleen McCullough (3 Stars)
I picked up this book because having found many books written about Florence during the Renaissance I was excited to have found a book so favorably reviewed about Rome, especially Rome during Roman times.
The First Man in Rome, covers many subject matters & characters, but if I had to paraphrase it I would say it was about Rome during the time that "the new man" entered the scene. Gaius Marius, a new man, has money, power and desire to hold a consulship in Rome, however he is missing the family name and history that one needs in order to climb the Roman Senate ladder. Gaius Julias Ceasar as well as Lucius Cornelius ("Sulla") on the other hand have the all important name but no money. Over the course of the book the reader follows all of these characters as they work towards that top spot, whether for themselves or their family. McCullough thoroughly covers military campaigns in both Africa and Gaul as well as covers the workings of the Senate.
While I definitely felt I learned a lot from this book, I would say that it was not an enjoyable read. More so a book that I plodded through to get to the end. (It felt as long as it was in other words...) There wasn't enough everyday life in the book to lighten the load of the politics and military campaigns which dominated the storyline. I would agree that it's not a book for everyone, I'm glad I read it but I won't be picking up the other books in the series to see what happens...
The Magician's Guild, Trudi Canavan (4 Stars)
I picked this book up because I was missing on Harry Potter, there I said it! I had never really ventured into the world of Science Fiction prior to HP. My sister's boyfriend recommended this series to me.
In the first book in the trilogy of the Magician's Guild, the reader meets Sonea, a girl from the dwells (poor neighborhood) who one day realizes she has magical powers that she never knew about. The Guild is concerned because a magician who's powers are self-discovered as opposed to cultivated tend to be especially strong Magicians. Sonea, afraid of the Guild, makes a "contract" with the Thieves asking them to hide her. The chase begins, and continues for half of the book. Faced with the decision to join the Guild or try to survive on her own, Sonea struggles with whether or not the Magician's of the Guild are trustworthy.
The book was not a difficult book to read, easily could be read by any child who read HP. I will say that in the beginning I wasn't overly impressed but as the story developed I was sucked in more and more. I will definitely be picking up the next two books in the trilogy and hope they will be just as fun. This in no way compares to the magic of HP but I'm glad I'm continuing to explore the Science Fiction world of literature because I think it holds a lot of potential books for me to enjoy!
The Road, Cormac McCarthy (5 Stars)
Many of you already know the story, a man and his son are heading south, in a post apocalyptic United States. The Road is their story of survival, human nature, and love.
I had heard mixed reviews about this book so I tried to go in without any expectations and I think that helped me appreciate it to the fullest. It is a book that will stay with you for days and that will have you question, "What would I do in this situation?" more than once. As many a reviewer has said before me, it is "hauntingly beautiful" and I truly think that is the best way to describe it.
It is a worthwhile read.
The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald (5 Stars)
I've decided that 2008 is "the year of the classics." So to start it off, I picked up this book after about 12 years and I have to say I loved it just as much the second time around. Fitzgerald's descriptive ability is effortless and filled with beautiful imagery that stays with you forever. Everything just jumps off the pages and makes you feel as if you are in the book itself, partying at Gatsby's mansion or lounging with Daisy Buchanan. It is a beautiful book, a MUST read, and definitely a true classic!
Stardust - 4 stars
On the way to Italy I looked up from reading and realized this movie was playing. If you remember I read this book a couple of months ago in preparation for the movie coming out and then I never ended up seeing the movie! I was so excited, so instead of sleeping I stayed up and watched.
Stardust takes place in the city of Wall, England. Tristan Thorn is in love with Victoria, a girl from town. One night while they're talking he professes his love for her and she laughs him away. He says he would do anything for her, even catch that falling star (cue falling star) and she accepts his challenge. Victoria gives Tristan one week to bring back the star otherwise she's going to marry someone else in town.
Tristan sets off towards the wall that no person in town is supposed to cross over and enters the fantasy kingdom of Stormhold where he searches for the falling star and has many adventures along the way!
I have to say that I really enjoyed the movie, it was fun, it made me laugh at parts and I got lost in the magical land. I thought it was actually better than the book, more action packed. It was certainly an enjoyable movie for a long flight!
Jane Austen Book Club - 4.5 stars
This was the first of 3 movies they played on the flight back, just to give you a sense of how long that plane ride really was!!! I was excited to see this movie, even though I hadn't yet read the book, because it looked like a fun movie. Jon of course was like, "Is this a chick flick?" I said yes and he shrugged his shoulders saying, "Well, what else am I going to do?" So we settled in for the movie.
The Jane Austen Book Club is about a "circle of friends" and two newbies who are drawn together because of life experiences and decide to start a book club that will discuss only Jane Austen books. As they read a book each month the movie also delves into things going on in their personal life...divorces, injuries, falling in love, falling out of love, affairs, loss of loved ones, etc.
The movie is definitely very "romanticized" but sometimes that's what movies should be, and in this case it completely won me over, I laughed out loud at parts, I cried, and I loved that it revolved around books!
It is definitely a guilty pleasure movie that I will enjoy probably many more times in my life:)
The Nanny Diaries - 3 stars
So we didn't watch the 2nd movie because it was some violent, shoot 'em up, Italian flick and I just couldn't watch 3 movies in a row! Then The Nanny Diaries came on and I once again decided to put my book down and escape into a movie world.
In the Nanny Diaries, Annie graduates from college and doesn't know what she wants to do with her life. She feels pressure to go into the financial industry but doesn't think that's where she wants to be. Because she's not ready to make any "real" decisions she decides to nanny for a summer and then make decisions regarding her life. Unbeknownst to her Nannying isn't as easy as it seems. She gets entangled in the families problems and finds it difficult to just leave them when she knows that she should...in the end she learns from them and they learn from her.
I didn't enjoy this movie as much as I had enjoyed the other two. I don't know why, maybe because I'm not a huge Scarlett Johansen fan. It was still fun and enjoyable but just not as fun and enjoyable as the other two movies.
National Treasure: Book of Secrets - 3 stars
Our first Friday back, I was still really sick and getting over whatever it was that hit me so bad upon our arrival back in the states. So we decided to take it easy and go to an early movie. We had seen the first National Treasure movie and enjoyed it (4 stars) so we decided, since it had topped the box-office for 3 weeks we might as well go check out the 2nd one.
In National Treasure: Book of Secrets, The Gates Family, at a public speaking affair is accused by someone that their relative who they claim to be a hero during the Civil War, really was a conspirator in the assasination of President Lincoln. Thus the search begins to unravel the clues provided and find the truth to this accusation.
The same cast of characters are back for fun the 2nd time around and the formula works once again. It was cheezy fun, and I must say I can understand why it did so well in the box-office. I'm sure we can count on two hands how many movies have come out in the past year that aren't animated but yet are family friendly (no cursing, no sex, no real violence!) Not many.
Cyrano de Bergerac - 3 stars
I had had this Netflix movie at home for a month or so, having rented it prior to seeing the play Cyrano de Bergerac on Broadway. I had rented it in the hope that I would watch it before I went to see the play and then I would know what the story line was. However, I just never got around to it in December.
The story of Cyrano de Bergerac is that he falls in love with his cousin, who is in love with a man in his regiment. The man in his regiment, Christian, is very handsome but not very bright, so they team up (Christian's looks with Cyrano's wit) and woo the beautiful Roxanne. As expected complications arise....
I had rented the 1950 version with Jose Ferrer and I have to say that I enjoyed it. I gave it 3 stars because I thought it was a little over acted and after having just seen the play, I wasn't completely engrossed in it. Jose Ferrer was great as Cyrano and it reminded me again that I want to read the book!
Saturday, January 5, 2008
Jon running on the way to the Circus Maximus.
Jon posing for a pic mid-run around the Circus Maximus with the Palatine Hill in the background!
Our feet on the Appian Way!!!
Friday, January 4, 2008
Me enjoying some yummy Gelato!
Thursday, January 3, 2008
We wanted to take our time though so we thoroughly explored the museum as well as spending ample time with the man of the hour! I'm sorry but he really is just beautiful. It looks as if he could just walk off the stand he's on that's how real he looks. It is an unbelievable piece of art, one that anyone can appreciate, regardless of their knowledge of art. After an hour or so at The Accademia we wandered over to the San Marco Museum. This is an old monastery in Florence that has frescoes in each monks cell from Fra Angelico an important artist in Florence. It was an interesting musuem, very different from most you would normally visit, seeing the cells that the monks lived in as well as the frescoes was neat.
After that it was on to lunch and then getting to the Uffizi in time for our 2:00 PM reservations. Again we had decided to spend no more than 2-2 1/2 hours in this museum, so that we could appreciate it as opposed to being museumed out. The Uffizi is bigger than you think it's going to be, but once again has a very logical layout that is easy to follow. Here we got to see Boticelli's Birth of Venus among other famous paintings.
By the time we left we were done for the day - so we had a nice quiet dinner at this really cute restaurant! Then we went back to our hostel for another night of 500 Rummi and wine! Florence was all about activity during the day and relaxing at night!
No pictures from this day becasue they don't allow you to take pics in any of the museums we visited today. That was something we definitely noticed in Florence as opposed to Rome, you really can't take pictures in most of the museums.
Wednesday, January 2, 2008
Views of the Duomo from Fort Belvedere.
Well, we got up REALLY early to get on a 6:30AM train to head to Florence. We got to Florence around 9ish, checked into our hostel and then headed out to explore.
Florence is this quaint medieval town. First stop, The Duomo! It's free to enter the Duomo so we walked around outside first taking it in. It's white and green which is a very different look from any of the other churches we saw in Italy (outside of Florence that is - it's a very popular look in Florence!) The inside isn't really all that much to look at, what you're really there for is to climb to the top of the Duomo. So we waited in line and then started climbing those steps. When you get to the cupola you can look at the Dome, which is painted. Prior to heading to Italy I had read Brunelleschi's Dome by Ross King which describes in detail how historians think Brunelleschi made the Dome, to this day it is still a mystery how it stays up! So it was pretty neat to see it in real life. Then we finished climbing to the top and had beautiful views of Tuscany.
After that we headed over to the Boboli Gardens, our plan was to eat our sandwiches in the garden, but we couldn't find the entrance at first so we ended up just eating them on the street - oh well! We eventually found the Gardens and spent the afternoon exploring the Boboli and Barberini Gardens at Fort Belvedere. We decided to take advantage of being outside most of the day since the forecast was calling for rain for the next two days we were there.
The reason I titled this post hiking was because between the stairs to the top of the Duomo and the hills we climbed in and around the Gardens, we were talking about how we spent the day "urban hiking" our legs were so tired!
On our way back to the hostel to get ready for dinner we spent some time on the Ponte Vecchio Bridge looking out at the Arno and just taking in all the shops.
Then we had a nice dinner and bought a bottle of wine and headed back to the hostel for a chill night of wine and 500 rummi!
Tuesday, January 1, 2008
We got sandwiches and ate them by the Grand Canal. Then we took a 45-minute Vaparetto Ride down the Grand Canal to see all the old Palaces that line the Canal. It was a really nice way to spend an hour - out in the sun, exploring the water of Venice.
We walked St. Mark's Square, through the Jewish Ghetto, over by the University and the Accademia, just everywhere. It was such a fun and relaxing day. We had dinner in Santa Margerita Square near the University and then headed over to San Vidal Church to see a Vivaldi concert performed by Interpreti Veneziani. I had read about these concerts and really wanted to attend one. Since there wasn't much open I figured this would be a good "event" for our day. We were so lucky, we got to see the Four Seasons by Vivaldi performed. The setting was beautiful, they dimmed all the lights and lit candles all around the church. There were a couple of hundred people sitting in the church. They had two intermissions and then like 10 encores - it was crazy! But they were really really good and it was a very special night! Listening to Vivaldi will always remind me of our New Year's Day in Venice. If you click on the link you can listen to them performing - so good.