Sunday, August 13, 2006

A Sunny Day in Salem, Massachusetts

Still caught up in the gorgeousness that was the "Americans in Paris" exhibit at the MFA, Tommy and I went up to Salem to visit the Peabody Essex Museum and to see the show "Painting Summer."

First we wandered around Salem to find a nice spot for lunch. It's Salem, the seacoast, I was dying for fried clams and ice cream, but alas - I was denied. We couldn't find a decent (not skanky or scary) seafood place nearby so we settled on a place called Rockafella's (not related to Jay-Z). Let's just say that the waitress was nice, but it took 90 minutes for a pannini and a caesar salad. NOT recommended.

We wandered down to the Museum after lunch. It was Salem Days so there were street vendors and scary people - but no ice cream. When I say scary, I mean like Burmese Python carrying guy scary. It can also be amusing, such as when you find a poster advertising for Animal Communication seminars - and damned expensive ones to boot!
But the white guy selling the african drums with the devil horns attached to his head and donning pink fairy wings - was scary in an entirely different way. I forget that (some in) Salem are really into the withcy witch scary stuff, so the guy in the black velvet cape, shaved head, creepy makeup and bike shorts (Doc Martens boots, natch!) was just the icing on the weirdo cake. It gets to be a drag after a while. A bit of a one note tune. I hope Salem veers toward a Newburyport vibe (vs. a worn down seaport vibe.)

The Peabody Essex brought in a guest curator named Trevor Fairbrother (noted as an "Independant Scholar and Curator" on a portrait competition website) who put together an amazing group of paintings. The period covered is the 1850s to the present and includes works by Edward Hopper, Winslow Homer, Childe Hassam, Jamie Wyeth, Andrew Wyeth, John Singer Sargent, George Bellows and so many more amazing artists. The theme was a simple one - New England. The painting locations ranged from The Docks on Skowhegan Island, Maine to Farms Connecticut. Beach activities and still lifes, portraits, abstracts and super-realist paintings made for a fantastic viewing. It was, however, one of those days that I wished I had my iPod. The dreaded LOUD TALKY PEOPLE (seemingly a busload of elderly former curators or arty know-it-alls, GAH!!!) flooded each room of the exhibit. All I could do was will the cone of silence to fall down upon me as I read each description and tried to take in each painting. It took 3 attempts with the Maxfield Parrish painting. One nice (crazy) lady stood on guard to talk about the painting like she was there when it was painted. Grrrrrr. Must repeat mantra it's not nice to hit crazy people, it's not nice to hit crazy people, it's not nice to hit crazy people". Yeah, I feel better already.

Anyway, I did get to see all of the paintings up close. The Andrew Wyeth painting of the rooftop in Port Clyde, Maine was the most stunning painting for me, though the collection was vibrant and startling and pretty and just what you would hope for a 170 year span of New England paintings - very satisfying.


I wandered through the permanent collection galleries to look at the East India Trade objects including this gorgeous coral parure. A parure is a matching set of jewelry, usually containing a necklace, earrings, brooch, and a bracelet. I also wanted to see the amazing ship figures. The figures seemed espcially heroic on Sunday. We visited the exhibit for "The Yachting Photography of Willard B. Jackson" - a triumph of large format photography of yachts from other yachts. Stunning. Tommy and I looked at as much stuff as we could before they gently reminded people of the closing time.

We went on a wander to find the car (and seek out ice cream) and found the car long before we spotted any ice cream. I had hoped to see the somewhat notorious TV Land sculpture of Samantha Stevens from "Bewitched. The statue had a little opposition from the a certain faction of the witch population. I'm guessing the ones who take themselves verrrry seriously. I wasn't going to go out of my way for it (or make Tom drive in circles) but we sort of stumbled upon it on the way out of town. Two very nice, very foreign tourists took our photo in exchange for me taking theirs.

After my brush with fame, we drove over to the historic custom house on the waterfront and parked so we could take a walk out on the pier. A a reconstruction of a 171-foot three-masted Salem East Indiaman called the Friendship Salem is docked while the building of this amazing vessel continues.
The National Park Service in conjunction with a lot of dedicated and talented people is charged with completing and maintaining the ship. You can learn more here. If you are nautical at heart it's worth the trip and maybe a little donation. I found it rather beautiful.

We continued our drive around Salem and found our way to Salem Willows, a real old-fashioned New England beach spot complete with arcades and beach food and taffy, and surprisingly - willows! A large number of people were grilling and picknicking and enjoying the gorgeous weather. There are days when the weather is so agreeable it defies description. This was one of them. It made Salem Willows look like a place I would like to go back to explore a little more so I can experience the skee ball and the famed Chop Suey Sandwich - a mystery to me, but a landmark menu item for many years at Salem Willows. More one day perhaps.

We took the scenic route home - through Swampscott so I could finally get some damned ice cream. We had end of day treats at the ocean's edge, looked at Boston's skyline in the distance and tried to guess at which direction would have the least traffic. Crapshoot and cointoss it always works out the same - you are going to have to get on 128 and you are going to sit (however briefly). Whatev, it was Sunday night and we weren't in a rush - Entourage wasn't on for another two hours. Summer in New England, I don't know why people go anywhere else.

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