A Visit to The Frick/Pittsburgh

I recently took one of those tests through a Facebook link, one on matching artists and their works. What I did not get correct was a reminder to myself that I never took a formal course in art history. My focus, as an undergraduate was music: chamber, orchestral, choral, opera, and song. It is a choice I would make, again, without hesitation.

In a sense, when it comes to art – paintings, sculpture, sketches, photographs, etc., I am almost a cliché. I know what I like. However, I have tried to get past this level of ignorance.

I grew up with access to some of the great collections of the world in midtown Manhattan. When living elsewhere or traveling, art museums were and are priority stops: the Boston Museum of Fine Art and the Isabella Stuart Gardner on the Fenway, the National Galleries of Washington, D.C. and of London, U.K., the Art Institute of Chicago, etc. However, before and after each visit, I make a point of reading about the major holdings. Additionally, 45 years of reading exhibits’ coverage in the NY Review of Books has been a master’s level education. Yes, this has been hit-and-miss, but it has made for an enjoyable journey.

Therefore, it was with the same attitude that I went to recent The Frick/Pittsburgh free exhibit of its core holdings, The Frick Collects: From Rubens to Monet. (Yes, I paid for a membership.) The Frick is small and reflects the specific tastes of Henry Clay and daughter Helen Frick. It is also manageable to view slowly and closely in a few hours. Which I did and learned.


  1. When you can get almost nose-close to a Rubens, the visible detail can be amazing.


I had not been familiar with Fragonard, beyond name recognition, but found this child’s portrait to be incredible:







Perhaps, best of all, as Henry Clay Frick liked portraits. The exhibit had four lined up.

Therefore, you could see how the styles of Hogarth (1st), Gainsborough (2nd), and Reynolds (3rd and 4th) differ.

[The Gainsborough is of Thomas Brinsley Sheridan, author of “The School for Scandal,” one of my favorite plays.]



The Frick/Pittsburgh is small, intimate, and exhibits change several times a year. A stop worth the time, when in Pittsburgh.

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Pennsylvania Wandering: PA 235, August 24, 2016

Pennsylvania Wandering: PA 235
August 24, 2016

I had to go to Hershey recently and found myself with enough time to take a late afternoon alternate route home.

Years ago, I would check out options for my weekly commute between Harrisburg and State College, so that I could avoid long delays due to major road word.

One area, known as the Lewistown Narrows was a challenge. One of the only two bypasses took me over and around Shade Mountain. Much of the route passed through Bald Eagle State Forest – yes, forest, not park. PA has many of both, and the forests are noticeably different. The rest passed through some lovely, rolling farmland.

One thing struck me, beyond the natural beauty. The roads through the forest reminded me of our travels through rural Cornwall and the Scottish Highlands. The roads are narrow. Many of the turns are hairpin. Blind spots are everywhere. The one visible difference was that forest on Shade Mountain is denser.

Those through the farmland reminded me of the English midlands and southeast Scotland. Rolling hills and valleys, with lush pastures.

The one negative of the photo part – I would pull over where I could, take a few shots and then move on – is that it is all but impossible to tell one area from another. So, please forgive the apparent photographic redundancy.

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They are not Animals, Just not Fully Housebroken

They have returned! The 39,000+ undergraduates enrolled, live and in person, for classes, about 200 yards – 183 meters for the engineers out there – from our front door. Of these, several thousand live within the same distance in every direction. They officially started showing up two weeks ago and tomorrow marks the start of home football season – one that the blue-and-white clad warriors should win.

Winning is good. For us, it is very good. Winning means happy students. Moreover, there will be few unhappy fans from the opposition, as it is a long trek from their much smaller campus, in northeastern Ohio, for the event.

For us, happy students are peaceful students. The worst case is a home loss, on a last-second score, by a hated rival, in a night game: disappointment + exhaustion from a full day of partying + for too many, too much alcohol. This has been a rare event, but occasionally an ugly one.

Let me state up front that I have no right complaining about student behavior, drunken or other. We both knew what undergraduate behavior meant, when we picked a home across from a student high-rise apartment building and within passing distance (sports metaphor alert!) of at least eight fraternity houses. I was a Greek and probably created the average amount of mayhem, in a similar neighborhood, when I attended a large, Midwestern research university.

I was particularly adept at damaging hedges at 2 AM on Saturday nights, especially in the frequent icy weather. The next day, I could not have located these, but I knew it had happened. The occasional re-distribution of beverage vessels, comestible wrappers, and – especially – loud, raucous cheers and the repeated singing of the school’s VERY famous fight song, off-key, of course.

We also knew that we really wanted a student apartment in our basement. We had lived there and rented that more than once, when we were students. So, again we knew what we were doing.

However, there are limits. The first weekend saw no more than the usual number of underage drinking violations, ambulance rides to the ER for alcohol poisoning, etc. Noise that exceeded the tolerance of some neighbors. (Our house is built like a brick-and-concrete bomb shelter, so we rarely notice, except when it occurs under our open windows.) Beer and miscellaneous beverage cans and bottles and assorted trash at the expected levels.

Some incidents crossed the line, however. Some homes, not ours, had damage: a piece removed from an expensive stone garden wall at one and shrubs relocated at others.

The tendency is to blame “the students.” However, there are 39,000. Most are well behaved and polite.

One close-by student rental, for several years, earned the name Cheerleader House, because the parents of one bought it for their daughter and some of her pom-pom carrying friends rented from her. You would not know students lived there, if you did not see them coming and going.

One year into varsity hockey, we now have a Hockey House. The reliable word is that a hint of problems whispered in the correct ear will bring a world of trouble down on the residents from their coach.

Yes, some get too rambunctious, but only realize after-the-fact and are appropriately apologetic. The few, however,….

We have also learned that every few years, we need gently to remind our youthful neighbors that they are not alone. That there are families with children, families of faculty and administrators, and more than one member of Borough Council sharing the turf. Sometimes we have to point out that we – and others – not only have a right to live where we do in relative peace, but have been doing so since before they were born/when their parents went here (some, when in town, stop by to say hello)/when their GRANDPARENTS enrolled here.

Saturday night will be the test. Our excellent (really) local gendarmerie can call the State Troopers – including some on horse – if they expect real problems. (Probably not this game.)

Nevertheless, we can expect a few desperadoes – I use the term literally – to choose our yard as an open-air outhouse. (A minor positive: gender equity for this behavior arrived about five years ago.) We can also expect more surprised, late-night trespassers hurriedly exiting our yard, pursued by well-concealed – and well-conditioned – constables on bicycles, across yards and down our numerous alleys.

We shall see.

Next time, some amusing anecdotes from more than a quarter century among our future leaders, educators, and scientists. (Heaven help us all!  )

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Vegan Spring

I had expected soup season to end two weeks ago. I cleared the parsnips, turnips, and butternut squash from the big freezer and hit the carrots and corn stocks hard. All from our local farmers’ harvests last summer and fall.

I used several large beef bones and pureed the marrow from these – along with some of the squash, carrot, and corn – into the stock. Finally, I added more chunky squash, carrot, corn, and potato. Even after carefully skimmed, it was the richest savory soup I have made. Even better, in a large enough quantity that most of it will be waiting for us come the first frost of autumn.

It was now spring – a bit late, but here. We took down storms from the older windows and outside doors, and put the screens in everywhere. So we could enjoy the scent of lilacs, mountain laurel, mock orange, and one other tree/shrub whose identity is an annual mystery, and allowed my allergies to bloom with them.

The summer Farmer’s Market opened with fresh asparagus – my favorite, early spinach, and spring onions. Plus a panoply of baked goods.

However, Spring is again uncertain: chill air in the 30s last night and predicted again for tonight. Plants recently moved outdoors, including my new tea plant (potted, as last season we confirmed that camellia sinensis cannot winter-over outside in this zone), are again in the house.

As I always believe that every cloud has a silver lining, I took advantage of the chill and cooked. Although not intentionally, I did vegan. Pasta with asparagus, spinach, and toasted pinoli. Healthy, aromatic, and delicious.

With recipe attached.

Tasty Pasta with Asparagus, Spinach, & Pinoli – Vegan

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A New Low in Irresponsible TV Advertising

Thanks to television advertising, I now know that erectile dysfunction plagues middle-aged, rugged he-men living in semi-deserted Great Plains and Mountain states (Viagra) and upscale, metrosexuals in the rest of the nation (Cialis). These promotions long ago crossed whatever line remained for good taste. To their credit, the creators of these promotions usually include disclaimers about physician oversight, contraindications, and possible side effects.

The need for one of these prescriptions has likely captured the available target population, paving the way for a new category of generally under-regulated quasi-medications targeting a mostly self-defined population of less-than-fully-male Americans suffering from Low T. (Can we get a unison gasp of The Horror!)

Supposedly treatable with over-the-counter creams and gels, Low-T advertising does identify issues of controlled dosing and potential risks from exposure for women and children to the hormones these treatments contain. In other words, caveat emptor and proceed at your own risk and the risk to others.

In reality, I have little concern or quibble with those who make the choice to use these possibly pseudoceuticals. I do take strong offense to the other, less than subtle messages in the most recent television product promotion I viewed. For those who have not had the privilege, I will set the stage:

  • A financially successful over-50 male, attempting to look early 30-something
  • His coquettish actually 30-something femme du jour
  • A top-down ride in a 1964-vintage Mustang convertible – sans seat belts, shoulder harness, or roll bar – through the higher reaches of either the Rockies or Sierras during what is clearly mid-summer fire season
  • A romantic launch of a Japanese lantern, heat source flaming away, into the evening sky, ready to set the surrounding hills ablaze, symbolic of their chemistry fueled passion


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Spring Days Bring Hugs, Kisses, and Tears (of Joy) to My Neighbors

They are gone and the town has fallen silent, after almost three days of overwhelmingly dignified commencement exercises. The weather cooperated more than not – a lovely Friday, a mild but somewhat drizzly Saturday, and a gloriously bright and cool Sunday morning.

Our neighbor made the probably wise decision years ago to forgo a single degree ceremony, in favor of more intimate events by undergraduate and graduate college for the 13,000 recipients, scattered among campuses across the Commonwealth.

My commencement (elsewhere) was an almost as large, combined rite of passage. The size assured a speaker of international note: President Johnson was set to show up until his relationship with us went South over foreign policy. However, we did get Robert C. Weaver, the first Secretary for Housing and Urban Development and the first African American to hold a top Presidential cabinet position.

On the other hand, we undergraduates had no meaningful role in the proceedings. We received congratulations en masse, stood up, sat down, and waited for our actual diplomas to arrive in the mail. Those earning a master’s degree heard their names read. Only the smaller host receiving doctoral degrees had the personal hooding experience.

Overall, I find the local tradition preferable. The individual speakers usually know something about the education each college offers. The awarding of degrees is as personal as possible. The venues are often more to human scale.

However, the observed emotions are universal.

Farewell and sincere best wishes to all, as you venture into what comes next.

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Soup Season Is Still with Us in Central PA

It is May Day 2014. Here, at 1,200’ above mean sea level, in central Pennsylvania, we can expect an occasional frost for two more weeks. However, we are as likely to have all the screens and one a/c in the windows and doors by now: April 15 is our standard “turn off the furnace for the season” date.

Nevertheless, this spring, it has been in the 30s (F) at night routinely. Occasionally below O (C). No warm days (at least 70 F, for us hardy types) in the forecast for another week. Which has one benefit: it is still from-scratch soup weather. Moreover – from the freezer – locally grown root veggies and corn kernels, to help flavor and add nutrition to a beef/bean/barley/veggie soup.

Several hours of home-filling, savory aromas, moderately raising the temperature and humidity, as well. More than enough for three dinners for two, with the addition of fresh bakery bread.

Life is good.

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