30 May 2010

New Orleans, Day 2 of 3

New Orleans is keeping me quite engaged, despite the humidity that wears me down fast. Here is a recap of my day.

I started late morning by taking the St. Charles streetcar to Canal Street, for a McDonald's lunch. Afterwards, I transferred to the Canal Street streetcar and took it to the terminus at the City Park, leaving me only a quick walk away from New Orleans Museum of Art.

This museum does have a decent Asian art collection. I am starting on a familiar note, with a wooden Chinese Kwan Yin from about 1175.

The Chinese and Japanese collections put some emphasis on pottery made for European export. One of the Chinese examples was made for France's Louis XV, complete with a fleur-de-lis - and that's very appropriate for New Orleans, given that the fleur-de-lis continues to represent New Orleans and its French heritage.

The museum's Asian collections also include the other major culture, India. Here is one of two bronze Indian Avalokitesvaras in the collection. Of course, Avalokitesvara is the earlier, Indian male form of Kwan Yin.

Other Asian cultures are hard to find here. There are a couple of Cambodian stone sculptures in the hallway, but that's about it. While some larger museums elsewhere are trying to get their hands on some Korean art, that's not happened here yet, and I can forget about Thai or Vietnamese art as well.

It does have a nice overview of art of the Americas (various North American tribes, as well as some civilizations in and around Aztec and Maya areas, and even some Nazca art) as well as a look at African art, where art is in everyday objects, and animist religions put no emphasis on a higher power but heavy emphasis on various initiation ceremonies (where some of the art objects would come to use).

The museum's claim to fame, honestly, is the Faberge collection, seen here. A Facebook friend of mine, Wendy Westfaul, who is based in Houston but considers New Orleans her hometown, recommended the museum to me for this collection alone.

Love that turquoise serpent paperweight on the right, under the portrait!

The museum also has a great collection of miniature porcelain art, primarily from Meissen in Germany but some also from its key competitor Sevres in France.

This is a monkey band made by Meissen.

This museum is not known for British paintings, but this one made it here. It is entitled The Fifth Plague of Egypt, and was painted in 1800 by Joseph Mallord William Turner. While it depicts one of the plagues that descended on Egypt according to the Book of Exodus in the Bible, it really depicts the seventh plague, hailstorm, rather than the actual fifth, the death of livestock.

It actually belongs to the Indianapolis Museum of Art, known for its outstanding collection of British paintings. I was supposed to visit it during my Indianapolis visit in 2008, but ended up not going there, as I had to cut my miserable business trip early.

There is a story for the painting coming down to New Orleans. As the Indianapolis Colts and the New Orleans Saints became the two teams facing off in Super Bowl XLIV earlier this year, the two museums made a bet. Namely, the losing city's museum would loan a key artwork to the winning city's museum for three months. Of course, with the Saints' win, Indianapolis ended up sending this masterpiece this way.

The caption from the curator made that clear - and also made sure to add, GEAUX SAINTS!

It's pouring outside as I wrap up the museum. But it's still hot and muggy. I'm not liking this weather at all.

At least the view out is wonderful. City Park also has lots of oak trees. It is one of the largest urban parks in the US, in the same league as New York's Central Park, San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, and Chicago's Grant Park - though Los Angeles's mountainous Griffith Park trumps them all. Flooded and severely damaged by Hurricane Katrina, restorations and improvements are ongoing.

Nearby is this lovely botanical garden, home to some rose gardens, a small Japanese garden, a model railroad garden that uses rolling stock and buildings native to New Orleans, and a conservatory housing "living fossil" plants.

This waterlily pond is my favorite, however. But the muggy weather and the showers do make it miserable.

After a lengthy wait, I took the streetcars back to the hotel, for some Internet surfing, before coming back out to Bourbon Street around sunset, for a Philly cheesesteak sandwich and some soaking in of the atmosphere. This was also the first time I actually ventured into Bourbon beyond St. Ann Street. St. Ann is the de facto dividing line between the heterosexual Bourbon and the gay Bourbon (and the quiet residential areas beyond). The gay Bourbon had great men's activity, not so much in terms of lesbians.

While I was out and about, I picked up a phone message from local friend Morwen Madrigal. After phone tagging a few times, I got one final message from her - from her cell phone that had a 909 (yes, as in my neck of woods) area code! She used to have a work assignment in Southern California at the time, hence the 909 cell phone. I eventually met up with her, and her partner Betty Ann Davis, for a nice chat at a quiet local bar - we talked about lots of current events related things, including the oil spill, the teabaggers, the Catholic pedophile priests, and more. Morwen and I talk about these things over Facebook anyway, but it was a lovely opportunity to move the talk into the real world. The night ended with Betty driving me back to my hotel - saving me the trouble of walking all the way back to Canal for the streetcar.