Thursday, July 9, 2015

Impressionists in Utica


At the time it was emerging, Impressionism was laughed at by the art critics of the late 19th century. It was no compliment to call a painter an "impressionist." In fact, in 1874, labeling an artist as such meant the painter had no skill and lacked the common sense to finish a painting before selling it. Well, considering the enduring legacies of Claude Monet, Mary Cassatt, Berthe Marisot, Camille Pissarro and Alfred Sisley, it appears the artists got the last laugh.

A tidy exhibit currently at Utica's Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute offers an overview of the Impressionist movement with 60 artworks, mostly paintings. Titled Monet to Matisse: The Age of French Impressionism, the display brings the observer closer to the at-the-time revolutionary style--at its zenith from 1874 to 1929--while teasing you as well. Despite its name, there are but one Matisse and two Monets. And don't expect any expansive paintings of Monet's gardens at Giverny or still lifes or nudes from Matisse; the only large work here, at nearly 7 feet tall by 9.4 feet wide, is The Joyous Festival, an oil on canvas by French painter Gaston La Touche. And the Monets are downright gloomy. Still, Monet to Matisse is not to be missed.

"Peasant Girl Among Tulips," 1890, oil on canvas by Berthe Merisot.
Rooted in rebellion, Impressionism formally launched in 1874, when Monet, Edgar Degas, Pissarro, Paul Cezanne, Auguste Renoir, Sisley and Morisot joined 23 other artists in a group show outside the recognized art exhibits called the Salon de Paris. The Impressionists exhibited together eight times between 1874 and 1886, each time likely ticking off the Salon, who could do nothing to stop them.

As a rule, Impressionists discovered art-worthy subjects in everyday, middle class people; they found poetry in everyday life. The interplay of light marks the common denominator in what defines Impressionism, and the landscapes featured in Monet to Matisse display that to great effect--incredible skies of blues, grays and whites are blanketed by cloud formations, for instance. To appreciate the entire canvas, start at the top of these paintings before moving down to then look at the entire scene.

The exhibit occupies five galleries on the second floor, and children's activities can be fun and educational for adults as well. Posters in an adjacent hallway explain who the artists were and why their work was important. Two iPad-like tablets contain greater details of the life and work of Camille Pissarro and, in a separate room, Marc Chagall. Both artists' work is displayed here as well, with Chagall's famous painted goat especially delightful.

"The Joyous Festival," ca. 1906, oil on canvas by Gaston La Touche.
You'll get a slight glimpse at the genius of Degas, through his "Dancer Adjusting Her Shoe" charcoal and pastel on paper, as well as that of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec with "Dancer Seated on a Pink Divan," an oil on canvas.

Adjacent to some paintings, a separate information sheet explains the clothing styles represented on the canvas, many showing ordinary people. Some subjects were more famous, as in "Portrait of Eugenia Huici Arguedas de Errázuriz," 1890, a pastel on canvas by Jacques-Emile Blanche overlooking a smaller gallery. The subject of this large, vertical painting was a Paris fashion icon in her day, and the dress she wears here shows why. It's a shimmering silver-blue tea gown standing out from the grays and greens of the background.

This exhibit shows why the Impressionists were so important to the transition between the 19th and 20th centuries, both in culture and in art, and may leave you wondering why they were ever ridiculed in the first place.

Monet to Matisse continues through Nov. 29. Admission is $10; $5 for students; free for children under 12. You'll find Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute at 310 Genesee St., Utica. For more information, call (315) 797-0000 or visit mwpai.org.


Monday, June 29, 2015

Follow the Yellow Brick Road

First things first: I want to congratulate the female winner of the June 27 Yellow Brick Road 8K in Chittenango. I don't know if it was an oversight, but when awards time came, the race director mentioned male overall winner Andrew Foxenberg, but not Hillary Stratton. I sure hope it was an oversight. So, kudos to her!

This is yogic squat.
This is my Garmin.
And I'm pleased with my race time. Last year I ran this race in 47:35; this year, 45:56. To actually have run faster at a year older makes me happy. Even better, I ran the hills: no stopping and walking.

In addition, I tried something new during my warmup--knowing that tight hips contribute
to my odd stride and inefficient running form, I sat in a yogic squat for a few minutes to open those hips up. I think it worked, and I will continue to do this before every race. And race conditions were just about ideal--60 degrees, cloud cover, no wind and minimal humidity. I felt comfortable the entire time. 


That aside, a few observations about this race:
This is the Cowardly Lion.
  • An 8K is a rarity in this 5K-dominated world. For those who don't have a calculator, that equals 4.97 miles. My Garmin registered 5.04 miles, possibly because I didn't cut the tangents tight enough.
  • I enjoy how this race mixes up terrains. It starts our flat before heading west on the Old Erie Canal trail for 1 mile. Then it's back to the roads and some challenging hills.
  • This race features one of the best finishes I've experienced--a fast downhill before enough of a flat to pick up steam as you cross the finish line.
  • Considering that it isn't chip timed (no complaints; it's a small enough crowd that results still come pretty quickly, and no chip means a more affordable race fee of $20.)
  • They offer some out-of-the ordinary door prizes, with winners selected during the race. When you get back, you see if you've won. Last year, I won a miniature tool kit.
  • Thank you for the whole banana, not one cut in two. And for the yogurt. And for the water and Gatorade. They also served pizza, but my stomach could never, uh, stomach pizza after a race.

Now, about that awards ceremony. Most races announce the top three winners, male and female, before heading into age group winners. Those overall winners are then removed from their respective age group, so that everyone bumps up a place. I know I can be a purist, but it was odd not knowing who actually scored the top three finishes for both genders.

I had planned on racing Tinman on June 27, a 70.3 triathlon in Tupper Lake with, I just realized, another The Wizard of Oz reference. Since I was laid off May 8 I couldn't justify the expense of driving to and staying two nights in the Adirondacks. A shout-out to that race director for allowing me to defer my race registration until 2016. That's a rarity these days, and I greatly appreciate it.

I was happy to have this run to sort of substitute for that tri. It's a quirky, hidden gem featuring a costumed cowardly lion to further the Yellow Brick Road theme. 

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

A New Way to Explore Downtown


Downtown Syracuse is the heart of the city, the cultural hub of Onondaga County, and a place where those who work actually spend little time exploring.

The group waits for the historical tour to begin.
A new joint initiative involving the Downtown Committee of Syracuse, SUNY Oswego Metro Center, Cornell Cooperative Extension, the American Heart Association, Metro Fitness, the YMCA of Greater Syracuse and Fleet Feet Sports aims to get folks out and about, exploring different facets of downtown during a 45-minute stroll.

It's called Wednesday Walk, and the group meets at Clinton Square at noon. Participants will be asked to sign a waiver, not only for liability purposes but also granting any of the sponsoring groups the right to use their photo in supporting literature.

The June 10 walk was a Historical Tour, and it highlighted the impressive structures scattered throughout downtown. Walk leader Bethany Holbrook, an Economic Development and Marketing Specialist at the Downtown Committee, brought up interesting historical factoids along the way.

For instance, did you know the Syracuse Savings Bank building, 1 Clinton Square, was at one time the tallest in the city? And it had the city's first elevator for which you could pay 10 cents per ride? Then there's the Courier Building, across Montgomery Street from City Hall. While most of the structure has been renovated into luxury apartments, a balcony remains on the eastern side (it is pictured below, with flowers on it). It was from this balcony that Daniel Webster gave his famous “Syracuse Speech” on May 26, 1851. Webster warned local abolitionists that aiding and abetting fugitive slaves would be considered treasonous, an interesting tactic considering Syracuse was known as a hotbed of abolition. Remember when the restaurant space inside this building was called "Daniel Webster's?" Yeah, me neither.

The impetus for Wednesday Walk came from the various sponsors listed above. "We have pockets of wellness initiatives combined with the revitalization of downtown," said Holbrook. "We want to show people that downtown is a great place, it's safe. We want to expose it to employees who are here during the week to work; we'll take them places perhaps they didn't know existed."

The Downtown Committee of Syracuse has published a booklet, "Historic Downtown Walking Tour," providing a more comprehensive tour of the city center. This was the source of the abbreviated Historical  Tour of June 10. The glossy piece features photos of each site, as well as writeup explaining why each is included in the book in the first place. A map will guide you, or help you break the walk into smaller segments. You can find the same information online at http://syracusetour.herokuapp.com/.

In addition to learning something new and different about downtown Syracuse, the series also offers prizes as incentives for participating. The Stinky Sneaker Award goes to the participant who attends the most walks. The prize is a free pair of sneakers and a fitting from Fleet Feet. Soles of Downtown will go to the downtown company with the most employee participation. The winner receives a catered lunch for the Wednesday Walk participants.

Wednesday Walk sessions continue until October.

Mark Your Calendar
Participants in Wednesday Walk will want to wear comfortable shoes, apply sunscreen and wear a hat since at noon the sun beats down. The walk will be canceled only in the event of extreme weather--a rain shower means you should bring your umbrella; a downpour means no walk that day. This is the lineup for the remainder of the series:

June 24: Downtown Parks
July 8: Murals
July 22: Downtown Parks
July 29: Downtown Parks (this walk will be geared toward more elderly participants, so it will feature a leisurely pace)
Aug. 5: Murals
Aug. 19: Parking Garages
Sept. 2: Meeting Spaces
Sept. 16: Architecture Tour
Sept. 30: Meeting Spaces
Oct. 14: Parking Garages


Thursday, June 4, 2015

I Can Work it Out

Since my first job at age 14, washing dishes at the Charlebois in Vernon for $15 cold hard cash, I have rarely stopped. Back then $15 bought a Beatles album and enough to pay the bus fare to and from Utica where the record store was.

I tried to be a stay-at-home mother after the birth of my first child; after 8 months I was freelance writing, and after 14 months back in the workplace full-time. And that child is just as hard-working as her mother, so no damage done. Of course, it helps if you have quality child care you can trust, which I did. For those of you who have eaten at the Lady Bug Lunch Box food truck parked at State and Fayette, the proprietor, Pam Dwyer, watched both my children in her Eastwood home. Pammy was the best; she still is!

After the publisher at my long-term job (at which I had won awards for myself and the staff, but never mind that) didn't like my style and terminated my employment, I fortunately landed at a new place less than two weeks later. This time around, with a layoff from that job as of May 8, it hasn't been so easy. In a mere two years, the job market has changed, and not for the better, in my view.

As soon as I was told about the layoff (I had several days' warning), I began the search. I've gotten a few bites and two interviews, but both jobs were not quite right, and I wasn't quite right for the two jobs. Every day I make a list of things to do. Item #1 is "apply to 2-3 jobs." And, even if it was a part-time bank teller job that wouldn't be my first choice, I still apply. Like interviewing, the art of writing cover letters is just that, an art, and I continue to perfect both.

I have registered at indeed.com, elance.com, powertofly.com, upwork.com, jobsforjournalists.com, etc., etc. You get the idea. While the job of looking for a job can be a job some days, the Internet has simplified the task. Specialized searches entered at websites deliver new jobs to my email account every day; they greet me in the morning, and I look through every one of the listings.

Creativity is a plus, too. One job I am looking at would like someone with development experience. I always thought that to mean straight fund-raising, but an acquaintance just this morning explained that it could also be the actual development of a project or an idea. "Think of ideas you developed at The New Times that you could use as examples," she said. A-ha! I have a few of those.

Then there is the skill of "working your contacts." It's on my list to write down who I know and where they work and then setting up a meeting with them. Committing my skill set to paper is a big part of this, if only to gain confidence that you actually are quite capable.

Equally important is to really think about what you do on a daily basis, how you spend your free time. My passion is racing--running and triathlons. I would race every weekend if my body could handle it and I had the financial means. I would enjoy coaching other women toward their triathlon goals. I have a friend who works hard promoting the fitness lifestyle--she holds boot camps at a local park, welcomes others on training runs, has an impressive website--but those don't make her money.

What can I do with what works for me? How can I make that information relevant to others? And, most importantly, how can I make money doing those things?

And perhaps the toughest job is to remember that, while losing two jobs in three years is a huge blow to my confidence, I still must to project confidence in interviews. That's a job in itself!

Now, money has never meant that much to me--witness working for 13 years at a small alternatively newsweekly. But not having money is another story entirely. The goal is to make enough to pay the bills, give yourself or your family a bonus now and then, not worry about finances and save some every week.

After working for so long at a job I loved, but at which I was shamefully underpaid, it's difficult for me to quantify how much is my time worth, what is my value. I know how much it isn't worth--I saw a freelance job recently that pays $6 an hour. Less than minimum wage. Now that's shameful.

I also keep in mind what Michelle Obama and Sheryl Sandberg write and speak about. Mrs. Obama once told the supervisor at a job she was considering that she needed flexibility to take care of a sick child, to attend school functions, to have a life. It is so difficult for women to speak up and advocate for what they need to be both a stellar employee and a well-rounded human being. But she, and Sandberg, urge us to try.

Meanwhile, I will collect unemployment, make dinner again, hang the clothes on the line, take the dog for a walk and swim at noon, things I didn't have time for before. Most importantly, I will have the time to search for the job for me--the one I would like to retire from, the one I will consider my professional crowning achievement.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Flower Power

We spent an enjoyable five hours in Rochester on April 26, leaving home at 5 a.m. to prepare for a 7:30 race start. I was there to run the Flower City Half Marathon, the first time I've done this race, but not the first time racing in Rochester, and hubby was there, as always, to provide support and take photos. Athletes numbering nearly 2,300 enjoyed nearly perfect running conditions (I would have liked about 5 more degrees), but for spectators it seemed a bit chilly.

Still, crowd support was impressive, with only miles 10-12, along the Genesee Riverway Trail, a little sparse. After running riverside, we emerged onto the Ford Street Bridge after we passed a small group of string musicians (larger than a quartet but smaller than a symphony orchestra) playing "Eleanor Rigby." From there it was a straight shot to the finish line, and I was able to pick up speed and finish strong, stronger than I have in many previous races.


That's one groovy medal.
Traffic control was outstanding, with friendly and cheerful police officers urging us on. The whole vibe just felt good.

My goal for the race was 2:14, modest to be sure but also realistic considering a month before I had run a terrible Syracuse Half Marathon and a week before this half a disappointing 10K. I lined up behind the 2:15 pace group but, surprising myself, quickly passed the pacers and settled in for the long haul. I was upset with myself when that group caught me with less than a mile to go. But I thought to myself, "Aw, hell no!" and left them in the dust.

Around mile 3 (I think), we entered a historic district featuring Susan B. Anthony's home. The supporters there, dressed in Anthony-era clothing, held signs saying "Votes for Runners." Similar fun and distracting support continued throughout.

The first half of the race followed flat city streets, taking us through downtown Rochester and then neighborhoods with lovely homes. Then, looming ahead, was the first tough hill of the course. I reminded myself how my girl, Deena Kastor, approaches changes in elevation: It gives the muscles something different to work with, so no worries. Still, the hills seemed relentless as we entered Highland Park and then Mount Hope Cemetery. Unlike in the Springtime 10K, I kept going. I refused to stop. I will conquer these hills. My reward for doing so was the flat that made up the remainder of the race.

Over and over again I spied a little boy dressed in a Spiderman suit, handing out high-fives (he and his dad must have been supporting mom/wife). We saw signs of support aplenty, among my favorites "You Look Skinny!" and "This is a lot of work for a free banana."

My overall goal this season is to work on the mental aspects of racing--when I feel like slowing to a walk, talk myself out of it; if a foot starts to twinge, give it a half-mile or so and then check in with it; remind myself that I have raced this distance before, whatever distance it is; and, above all, run the mile you are in. That last really helped me on Sunday.

After a helpful runner told me "That was the worst hill," upon conquering the first one, another runner said, "But it wasn't the only hill." There are more hills to come? Worry about them when you get there, not when they're still two miles away. And once the hills had been vanquished, a helpful spectator said, "That's it for the hills." No more hills? "Nope!" And I reached mile 9, knowing I had gotten through the worst of it. Only 4.1 miles to go. . .