Monday, August 23, 2010

North African ‘Desert Jewels’ on Exhibit at Philadelphia Museum of Art

An exhibition of historic jewelry and photographs from North Africa will be on display at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in an exhibition called Desert Jewels, September 4 – December 5.

For thousands of years, North Africa, a region that comprises the modern nations of Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Libya and Egypt, has been a crossroads for trade and the transmission of cultural influences from the Middle East, sub-Saharan Africa and Europe. This exhibition explores the richly diverse artistic heritage of North Africa through the presentation of a group of extraordinary works of the jeweler’s art collected over the course of three decades by Xavier Guerrand-Hermès, of the Paris-based fashion empire. It includes 93 pieces of jewelry complemented by 28 late 19th- and early 20th-century images by photographers who were captivated by the allure of North Africa. The exhibit features ornate necklaces, bracelets, rings, and earrings, many of which have not been publicly displayed before this exhibition.

The exhibit will be in the new Ruth and Raymond G. Perelman Building, across the street from the main museum building.

“These objects illuminate the rich history of North African craftsmanship, which has been shaped by the imprint of many different cultural traditions,” said Timothy Rub, the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s George D. Widener director and CEO. “We are pleased to collaborate with the Museum for African Art to share this exceptional collection, which is remarkable not only for its quality and great beauty, but also for the rich insights it provides into the customs and cultural diversity of North Africa.”

Examples of jewelry created with combinations of silver, coral, amber, coins, and semi-precious stones demonstrate the shared aesthetic heritage of many North African societies, the Philadelphia Museum said in a statement. Meanwhile, variations in materials and motifs reflect significant regional differences. Brightly colored necklaces of amazonite beads or large amber beads, such as the Three-Strand Necklace made in Morocco, symbolize wealth, while pendants or enameled beads known as tagguemout are used to encourage the wearer’s fertility. Many of the works in the exhibition indicate regional and group identity, and many were designed to protect the wearer from harm. Hand-shaped amulets, or Khamsa, typically made of silver, are the most popular form of protective jewelry, and are sometimes engraved with prayers and inscriptions in Arabic and Hebrew. The jewelry on view also identifies its wearer. Women receive jewelry from their husbands when they marry and wear it as a symbolic expression of social codes and cultural identity. Some of the jewelry on view is unique to a specific geographic location.

Beginning in the 1860s, European photographers seeking images of foreign locales, set up studios in the major cities of North Africa, photographing women wearing their jewels, as well as documenting markets, ancient archaeological sites and landscapes. The popularity of these photographs, which featured images of Arabs, Jews, Imazighen (also known as Berbers) and people from sub-Saharan Africa, reflected Europeans’ growing fascination with the so-called Orient.

These photographs came to the attention of Western collectors in the 19th century, when archaeological monuments in the region were being explored, visited, and, in some cases, pillaged. Important photographers of the day including the Scotsman George Washington Wilson, the Neurdine brothers from France, and the Turkish photographer Pascal Sabah, visited the region. Some of their images were used for postcards, while other remained in little-known collections.

Captions: (Top) Necklace with central pendant, Tagguemout, 20th Century, Draa Valley, Morocco, Silver, coral, enamel, coins, glass, copal, shell, cotton, plastic, buttons, Photo courtesy of Karen L. Willis/Museum for African Art.

(Second image) Hand pendant with salamander motif, Khamsa 19th or 20th Century, MoroccoSilver, bronze.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Friendly Fenway Park

Yes, it’s America’s oldest ballpark. Yes, it has the “Green Monster,” “Pesky’s Pole,” and other nooks and crannies that makes seeing a game at what John Updike called the “lyric little bandbox,” a memorial experience. But the thing that makes Fenway Park a truly great place is the people. And any conversation about the people of Fenway has to start with the ushers.

After attending a game at Fenway with standing room tickets on August 3, I’ve concluded that to be an usher at the historic ballpark you must meet the following criteria:

* Male;
* Retired;
* Irish;
* Catholic; and most importantly
* Good natured

I was attending the game with two minor (very minor) celebrities: “Fred Johnson” and “Disgruntle Guy” of the Fred Johnson Sports Show, an irregularly aired sports talk program on Live365 Internet radio. The good natured part of the ushers’ requirements came in handy as we wandered around the ballpark often in places where we shouldn’t be, asking silly questions and being in the way of others while taking pictures and video of our experience.

"Disgruntle Guy," "Fred Johnson" and Yours Truly

"Fred Johnson" and "Disgruntle Guy"

For example, we first entered the stadium behind home plate halfway into the first section of seats. It was a beautiful view. While showing the usher our tickets he pointed to the top of the first section and told us we could pretty much stand anywhere. Mr. Johnson asked the only question that mattered: “Is there beer up there?” The thin septuagenarian, wearing the official green shirt and khakis Fenway employee uniform, responded in a raspy voice from a bygone era: “Fenway Park without beer? Never gonna happen.”

The standing areas are marked “Standing” on the ground behind the last row of seats in the first section. We moved around a lot. At one point we found an empty space where we had a clear view of the field. I was taking pictures of the game and an usher came over and gave me some advice. The result is the opening picture. He then offered to take pictures of the three of us (the second picture). After that he politely told us we were in a “no standing” area. Mr. Johnson was inadvertently standing on the “No.” for “No Standing.” “I only let you stand there so you could take pictures,” the usher said.

Another usher moved us away twice from a no standing area. As we moved away to another section he said, “You’re making me work too hard.”

It turns out our experience wasn’t unique. The ushers and all other workers are old hands at dealing with tourists, locals, drunks, fanatics and every other kind of person that walks into the stadium. They are trained to be friendly and helpful. They do this for everyone and for everyone the game is an event.

You may have heard that the “Red Sox Nation” is a bit fanatical about their team. I’m here to tell you they are bat-shit crazy (look left). The Sheraton hotel where I stayed for four days looked like the headquarters of a Red Sox convention, with the lobby full of people wearing Red Sox hats, shirts and other “memorabilia.” If you wanted to strike a conversation all you had to do was ask is if they were going to the game today. This scene was played out in hotels all over the city, as fans from all over New England spent days in Boston happily pumping money into the city’s economy. An hour and half before the game the bars and restaurants around the stadium in the Back Bay neighborhood were alive with fans. People were lined up outside the Will Call gates and ticket entrances. The true measure of Red Sox fandom is that Fenway Park, as of August 9, has a streak of 742 consecutive sellouts dating back to May of 2003.

The game itself takes on the flavor of a rock concert or an evangelical church service. Cheers and applause are intensified as their sounds rattle around the metal beams, concrete and brick of the old building. Conversations naturally take on a louder tone. At the concessions beneath or behind the first section of seats it’s the same thing as excited people run in and out of the tunnels to their seats. The Italian sausage sandwich is the food of choice washed down with a Samuel Adams beer.

Fred Johnson Eats an Italian Pork Sausage Sandwich at Fenway Park

And it’s a democratic experience where everyone has access to all areas of the ballpark, unlike their arch rivals at Yankee Stadium where the high roller seats are separated with a chain from the rest of the rabble.

Yes, there was a ballgame that evening and it was good one. Beloved Mike Lowell, playing for the first time since June 22 and who was rumored to be the subject of trades, received a standing ovation for his first at bat and before the crowd had a chance to sit down drove the first pitch over the Green Monster for a two-run homer, driving the place into a state of bedlam.

After several questionable pitches at batters the benches cleared twice for a near brawl. The Red Sox won 3-1.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Boston and Me

Even if the City of Boston didn’t name a street after me I would still like the place. After all, there are few things not to like about the city by the bay that’s not named San Francisco. I never knew its residents even heard of me, but here I am famous, with a street named after me in Little Italy. I am both honored and humbled by this recognition.

Water has a way of shaping a city. It's appearance, the way people navigate it, its food, its architecture, even its attitude. Boston is no exception. Most cities are built on a grid. The bay surrounding Boston prevents this. Inlets and harbors carve circular paths, inlets slice through the city. Compass points become meaningless. That's okay because Boston is still an easy city to get around.


I walked the heart of this great city from Back Bay to the South Bay, from Chinatown to Little Italy and from one body of water to another and another. When I was too tired to walk or got lost too many times, I took the “T,” the city’s efficient and easy-to-use subway system
. Parks, historical sites, museums, great neighborhoods and places to drink—many places to drink—makes it easy to stumble upon something special. It’s a college town, so there’s a youthfulness and energy that fuels the bars, nightclubs and cafes—even in the summertime when I went.

Then there’s Fenway Park, the nation’s oldest ballpark that is absolutely worth a visit during a game, even if you don’t like baseball and can only get standing room tickets.

I spent a few days in this clean, vibrant city and enjoyed nearly all of my experiences. There are plenty of people writing about the must-see historical sites or other high touristed areas. I will highlight certain parts of this diverse city that I experienced.

It’s so close to my home in Philadelphia yet I rarely ever visited and I never stayed more than a few hours. But I’ll be returning.

So it turns out Tony DeMarco Way wasn’t named after me. It was named after a hard-hitting boxer who was a welterweight champion in the 1950s. That’s okay Boston; I still think you’re swell.