Category Archives: Attractions

Dr. Ruth Westheimer, Famous ‘Goddess of Good Sex,’ Talks Frankly About Surviving Holocaust at Gold Coast Arts Center Screening of ‘Ask Dr. Ruth’

Dr. Ruth Westheimer answers questions from the audience at a screening of the documentary about her life, “Ask Dr. Ruth,” at the Gold Coast Arts Center, Great Neck, Long Island © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Dr. Ruth Westheimer, the famous sex therapist, claims to have a rule against commenting on politics “someone who talks about sex as much as I do can’t tackle politics.” And yet, positions on sexual freedom, AIDs, abortion rights and reproductive freedom, and more recently, drawing upon painful memories as a Holocaust survivor, on the rise of anti-Semitism and how migrant children are being snatched from their families at the southern border.

She claims not to be a feminist, but when her granddaughter prods her on her views on abortion, on equal pay, on whether men and women should be equal in their relationship, and insists she is the text-book definition of a feminist, Dr. Ruth relents and says she is a feminist supporter, not a radical (she doesn’t hold with burning bras).

She also stood stalwartly for same-sex relationships and was an early advocate for research into prevention and cure of AIDs. She has consistently championed a philosophy of respect for individuals, that there is no such thing as “normal,” but that two consenting adults should do what brings both joy and satisfaction.

She claims to have a rule against commenting on politics “someone who talks about sex as much as I do can’t tackle politics.” And yet, positions on sexual freedom, AIDs, abortion and now, anti-Semitism, invariably bring her into that realm.

She has come to the Gold Coast Arts Center in Great Neck, Long Island, on May 8, for the screening of a documentary about her life, “Ask Dr. Ruth.” The connection to these issues is Michael Glickman, a former president of the Arts Center and  President & CEO,  the Museum of Jewish Heritage (New York’s Holocaust Museum), where Dr. Ruth is also a trustee, and presently has an important exhibit, “Auschwitz: Not long ago. Not far away” which opened May 8.

Michael Glickman, president and CEO of the Museum of Jewish Heritage, chats with Dr. Ruth Westheimer at the Great Neck screening of the documentary “Ask Dr. Ruth.” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The documentary of her life focuses considerable attention on the Holocaust and how it shaped her life – beginning as a 10 year old, packed up on a train with other Orthodox Jewish children to Switzerland, forced to leave her mother and grandmother at a train station in Frankfurt (her father had already been taken by Nazis to a labor camp). She never saw her family again, but describes how she felt in those years living at an orphanage.

Her son and daughter say how she never really discussed her experience in the Holocaust nor fully mourned the loss of her family, but we see – through old photos and animation and diary entries – what she experienced. And it was only relatively recently that she brought herself to Yad VaShem in Israel to search the database to find out what happened to her parents. In the movie, she realizes that something is wrong when letters stop coming from her parents, and after years go by, she accepts that she is an orphan. She learns that her father was murdered in 1942 in Auschwitz, and her mother was simply “disappeared.”

But what we see throughout is an unbelievably positive, optimistic personality who was able to get the other children on that train to sing away their fear.

Dr. Ruth, as she delights in being known (the first tv/radio host to be known just by the first name), is turning 91 years old now, and on her 90th birthday, she reflected how 80 years before, she was on that train bravely waving goodbye to her family (her parents gave her life twice – the second time when they sent her away); 70 years before, she nearly lost her legs when a bomb went off in Israel, where she was a sniper in the Haganah.

While in the orphanage in Switzerland, the girls were being trained to become housemaids and weren’t allowed to attend high school, but her father always prized education. Her first boyfriend would sneak into her room at night with his textbooks, and hide under her bed while she read that day’s lessons.

After the war, she emigrated to Israel (Palestine) with some friends, changing her name from Karola, which sounded too German, to her middle name, Ruth (and hoping that her family, if they were still alive, could find her).

She’s been married three times – the first time to a very good-looking Israeli soldier; who took her to Paris with him when he attended medical school, affording the opportunity for her to study psychology at the Sorbonne; they divorced when he decided not to become a doctor and to return to Israel and she stayed to finish her studies.

In 1956, with $1,500 in restitution from the West German government, she and her boyfriend sailed to New York, traveling fourth class on the Liberty but sneaking up to first class in order to be able to view the Statue of Liberty as the ship came into New York harbor. They married after she got pregnant, but the marriage didn’t last.

She was a single parent and a working mother when that was still a rarity and an oddity. “We were very poor. There were no other single mothers…“I was on the forefront.” (One of my favorite parts of the movie was the clip of her talking with Gloria Steinem.)

She worked for Planned Parenthood in Harlem, where she found herself participating in frank discussions about sex.  By 1967, she was project director. She worked towards her doctorate in family and sex counseling at Columbia University, working with Helen Singer Kaplan, a pioneer in the field of sex therapy.

On a ski trip in the Catskills, she met the love of her life, Fred Westheimer who was the head of the Jewish Ski Club, 35 years old, an engineer and never married. From the first time she saw him, she was determined they would marry. They were married for more than 40 years before he died, in 1997, after a heart attack.

Dr. Ruth displays the sense of humor and optimistic outlook that no doubt helped her get through the tragedies in her life © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Dr. Ruth, a 4 foot 7 inch tall woman famous for saying “Size doesn’t matter,” got her doctorate at the age of 42 and set up practice as a sex therapist.

A lecture she delivered in 1980 came to the attention of Betty Elam, community affairs manager of the New York radio station WYNY-FM, who offered Ruth $25 a week to make Sexually Speaking, a 15-minute show every Sunday that would air shortly after midnight. The show became a hit, expanding to two-hours, and by 1984 was nationally syndicated.

Her influence as the “Goddess of Good Sex,” as one called her, expanded with a syndicated newspaper column, television shows, appearances in movies and even commercials and a website.

She continues to live in the same Washington Heights apartment she has lived in for more than 54 years, saying that she feels comfortable among other immigrants.

The movie is expertly done – telling the story of a life that is even more dramatic and worthy of a movie than most people, who knew of Dr. Ruth only as someone breaking down barriers of frank talk about sex, realized. Who knew she was a sniper with the Haganah in the early days of Israel, who was caught in a bomb blast and almost lost her legs? Who knew she was married three times (the first two were legalized love affairs, she jokes, the third was the real thing). And who knew of the tragedy she suffered as a Holocaust survivor.

Dr. Ruth Westheimer at a screening of the documentary about her life, “Ask Dr. Ruth,” at the Gold Coast Arts Center, Great Neck, Long Island © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

She expresses her absolute surprise (and delight) in becoming a radio, then TV host (“I’m not tall, blonde, gorgeous”), but notes that being an older, mature woman (grandmotherly), she was able to get away with talking explicitly about sex, using such words as vagina, clitoris, masturbation. The fact that the Sexual Revolution (the Pill is 50 years old) was underway, with women beginning to demand their rights and identity, also was a factor. Still, as the film notes, there were censors standing by, protests, even a man who came up on stage where she was speaking to make a citizen’s arrest.

In the film, she revisits people from her childhood – her first boyfriend when she was 13 from the orphanage in Switzerland where she was sent by her mother to escape the Nazis (“My parents gave me life twice, the first time giving birth, the second time sending me away so I could live”); her childhood friend who lives in Israel; her earliest radio producers.

It shows her dogged determination to get an education – something her father, who owned a notions shop, valued so highly. She earned her Masters, then her PhD.

Media regulations at the time required radio stations to do community-oriented broadcasting and a producer appreciated how different Dr. Ruth would be, so put her show, pre-taped on a Thursday, on Sunday at midnight. Her show became more popular than most of the morning drive shows and they put her on live. She notes that she never previewed what questions the callers would be asking, so she could respond spontaneously (on the other hand, on TV, the people posing the questions were actors, though she still did not know what issues they would raise).

Dr. Ruth Westheimer at a screening of the documentary about her life, “Ask Dr. Ruth,” at the Gold Coast Arts Center, Great Neck, Long Island © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

When asked her greatest experience, she replies “My 4 grandchildren… You know, Hitler is dead and I and my grandchildren are alive.”

Asked about her reaction to the movie, she said she had trepidation about the device of using animation to show her early life, but the two Israelis who did the animation “did it brilliantly.”

She reflected on the scene they re-created at the railroad station in 1938, when she was 10 and being sent away by her mother and grandmother. “You know, there were all the other mothers and grandmothers – the fathers had been taken – but they did something brilliant [in suggesting there were only a few on the platform]: you could feel the loneliness of a mother and grandmother saying goodbye, not knowing what would happen, but sending their only child to safety. When I saw this – and I didn’t see it before it was done – I was very happy with the film.”

She jokes, “I promise good sex for anybody who gives this film an [Oscar] nomination.”

She acknowledges that she had not spoken much in the past about being a Holocaust survivor, but that the new exhibit at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, “Auschwitz: Not Long Ago, Not Far Away,” has brought that aspect of her life out. “My work has been about how to educate, to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

 “You have to go twice to the exhibit,” she says. “The first time you will be very upset. Go again to learn something about the history of Nazis coming to power.

“In the front [of the museum] is a cattle car –it is upsetting because I know parents, other grandparents- all of them went on a car like that – very upsetting – that makes me feel like I felt January 5 1939. On the other hand, you have to stand up to be counted, especially these days.

“As you have heard, I don’t do politics, but these days, I have to talk about anti-Semitism, to stand up and say all of us have to fight so this will not happen again.”

Also, “as you have seen in the film clearly, to stand up that abortion must remain legal and family planning needs funding.”

Though she does not “do politics,” she won an Oxford debate defending abortion and family planning. “I’m going again –I probably will be the oldest at age 91.” This time she will be debating pornography.

Dr. Ruth Westheimer at a screening of the documentary about her life, “Ask Dr. Ruth,” at the Gold Coast Arts Center, Great Neck, Long Island with Joseph Gil, GCAC VP Fundraising, Regina Gil, Founder & Executive Director, Michael Glickman, past president and President and CEO of the Museum of Jewish Heritage © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Asked about her opinion of dating apps like Tinder, Dr. Ruth says, “I did not plant that question – but this summer, I have a book coming which warns about apps. It’s not that you shouldn’t use, but you have to use your brains not to meet in a secluded place – to meet in hotel lobby, movie, some place safe.

“Another thing that worries me – in my new book, is that the art of conversation is being lost. Everyone is looking at their phone as if world will crumble if not constantly looking. It’s difficult to have conversation. But the best sexual relationship is also when you have a good relationship.”

In another book that Dr. Ruth is coming out with this year, “Crocodile You’re Beautiful,” she says, “I am telling a little ant to be happy to be an ant – because if you cooperate, you can build bridges.”

Asked if she has been back to Frankfurt, where she was born, she says she goes each year to the Frankfurt book fair, and “every year I am back with a new contract. I also taught a seminar at Heidelberg. I have no problems with people my age or younger – it’s older people I didn’t want to know – like Fiddler. On the other hand, the Adenauer from Germany was instrumental in getting money to Israel when it was just being born. And even today, I go to Israel every year and even today there are young Germans who go for the summer or year to volunteer in old age homes. I appreciate that.”

But, she adds, saying, “Thank you for question – I never came near to that railroad station –it’s too painful – so whenever I had to go some place, I went around not to go to railroad station where I saw my mother and grandmother for the last time.”

She says that for her Masters degree, she did a longitudinal study of 50 children “who came with me to orphanage in Switzerland. I found them all, I went to archives in Switzerland and was in touch with many. They all made it – none of them committed suicide, none became drug addicts or alcoholics. The reason is the early socialization –their  early years of childhood. I was 10 ½ – the youngest was 6  – so the early socialization, all had in loving home with parents. That helped them all to overcome becoming orphans. They should do more studies about early socialization, how important early childhood years are.”

She adds, “I do say I am not involved in politics, except these days I have changed my mind – I am very upset when I see children being separated.”

She closes by urging people to visit the “Auschwitz” exhibit at the Museum for Jewish Heritage. “it’s the most remarkable Holocaust exhibition in this country.”

The groundbreaking exhibition, on view through January 3, 2020, brings together more than 700 original objects and 400 photographs from over 20 institutions and museums around the world.  “Auschwitz. Not long ago. Not far away” is the most comprehensive exhibition dedicated to the history of Auschwitz – a complex of 48 concentration and extermination camps where 1 million Jews and tens of thousands of others were murdered – and its role in the Holocaust ever presented in North America, and an unparalleled opportunity to confront the singular face of human evil—one that arose not long ago and not far away. (Edmond J. Safra Plaza, 36 Battery Place, New York, NY 10280 https://mjhnyc.org/discover-the-exhibition/about-the-exhibition/)

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© 2019 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Global Scavenger Hunt: ‘World’s Greatest Travelers’ Winners Crowned in New York

The Three Graces, a Roman marble statue from 2nd C AD copying a Greek theme from the 2nd C BC, is repeated throughout Western civilization, on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Global Scavenger Hunt teams arrive in New York City for the last leg of the Global Scavenger Hunt that has taken us to 10 countries in 23 days. Bill Chalmers, the ringmaster and Chief Experience Officer of this around-the-world mystery tour, in which the challenges and scavenges are designed to get us out of our comfort zone and immerse us in a culture, fine-tune our skills as world travelers, and most significantly, “trust in the kindness of strangers.” Back in New York, he is delighted all 10 teams circumnavigated the world “in one piece” without dramatic incident, in this, the 15th annual Global Scavenger Hunt competition.

The leading teams vying for the title of “World’s Greatest Travelers” as we enter this final leg of the contest in 4th place, SLO Folks from California with 96 points (where the low-score wins); in 3rd, Order & Chaos, doctors from San Francisco with 81 points; in 2nd place, Lazy Monday, computer networking consultant and think tank professional from California with 46 points, and Lawyers Without Borders, from Houston, with 33 points, five-time winners who are competing in the Global Scavenger Hunt for the 12th time.

There is one more challenge in New York (an easy urban Par 1), and even though, based on points and placement, the winners of the 15th annual, 2019 edition of the Global Scavenger Hunt have been determined, still the teams go out and give it their all. Those in contention must complete at least one of the scavenges in New York, and complete their time sheet and hand in by the 4 pm deadline.

Examples of the scavenges: take in a Yankees game or a Broadway show; have one of each of following: a New York bagel, a New York hot dog, a New York deli sandwich, a slice of New York pizza, New York cheesecake, a New York egg cream, or an old-fashion Manhattan; -locate five pieces from five of the nations you just visited in the Met; visit Strawberry Fields, pay John Lennon tribute; do one scavenge in each of the five boroughs of New York City.

A native New Yorker, this is really my turf (though there is the oddest sensation of feeling like I am in a foreign place, reminding myself of what is familiar like language, money, streets, drink water, eat salad), and I delight in walking up Madison Avenue to 82nd Street to the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Fifth Avenue.

Hunting for an object from Morocco, in the Metropolitan Museum of Art © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I elect to take up the challenge of going to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to seek out objects from five of the countries we visited (Canada, Vietnam, Myanmar, Thailand, Abu Dhabi, Jordan, Greece, Morocco, Gibraltar, Portugal, Spain). Greece will be easy, of course, but Morocco and Jordan (Petra), Vietnam and Myanmar (Burma) are just a bit trickier. It is Chalmers’ way of making us experience things on a different level, and for me, it brings together so much of what we’ve seen, learned and experienced along the way.

An object from Thailand, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I first join a docent-led Highlights Tour, knowing from past experience that these always lead me to parts of the museum I am unfamiliar with, and enlighten about aspects of art and culture with the in-depth discussion of the pieces the docents select to discuss.

Not easy to find to complete the Global Scavenger Hunt: an object from Vietnam, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The docent, Alan, begins in the Greco-Roman exhibit with a stunning marble sculpture of the Three Graces, showing how this theme – essentially copied from the Greek bronzes (which no longer exist because the bronze was valuable and melted down for military use) – was repeated over the eons, into the Renaissance and even beyond.

The Magdala Stone, 1st Century, Migdal, Synagogue, on the Sea of Galilee. The stone, whose exact function is uncertain, dates to a time when the temple in Jerusalem still stood. One short side features a 7-branched menorah – the earliest such image known in a synagogue – flanked by amphorae and columns. The Migdal synagogue would have been in use during the lifetime of Jesus, whom the Gospels describe as preaching in synagogues throughout Galilee © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Obviously, finding an object from Greece is going to be easy, and I hope to find objects from Vietnam, Myanmar (Burma), and Thailand in the Asia wing where there is a massive collection of Buddhist art (it proves just a tad more difficult, but I succeed). Morocco and Jordan (Petra) proved trickier than I expected, but brought me to an astonishing exhibit, “The World Between Empires: Art and Identity in the Ancient Middle East,” with an extraordinary focus on the territories and trading networks of the Middle East that were contested between the Roman and Parthian Empires (ca. 100 BC and AD 250). “yet across the region life was not defined by these two superpowers alone. Local cultural and religious traditions flourished and sculptures, wall paintings, jewelry and other objects reveal how ancient identities were expressed through art.”

The Greek sun god Helios, from Petra, 1st C BC – 1st C AD, found at Qint al-Bint temple in Petra, visited on the Global Scavenger Hunt © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The exhibit features 190 works from museums in the Middle East, Europe and the United States in an exhibition that follows the great incense and silk routes that connected cities in southwestern Arabia, Nabataea, Judea, Syria and Mesopotamia, that made the region a center of global trade along with spreading ideas, spurring innovations (such as in water control), and spawning art and culture.

It was the most incredible feeling to come upon the objects from Petra, having visited the site (was it only 10 days ago?) and having a context for seeing these isolated objects on display.

The World between Empires

The landmark exhibition The World between Empires: Art and Identity in the Ancient Middle East, which is on view through June 23, 2019, focuses on the remarkable cultural, religious and commercial exchange that took place in cities including Petra, Baalbek, Palmyra and Hatra between 100 B.C. and A.D. 250. “During this transformative period, the Middle East was the center of global commerce and the meeting point of two powerful empires—Parthian Iran in the east and Rome in the west—that struggled for regional control.”

The exhibition focuses on the diverse and distinctive cities and people that flourished in this environment by featuring 190 outstanding examples of stone and bronze sculpture, wall paintings, jewelry, and other objects from museums in the United States, Europe, and the Middle East.

Wall Painting of Christ Healing the Paralytic/Wall Painting of Christ Walking on Water, ca 232, Dura-Europos, Christian building, considered the world’s oldest surviving church. The paintings include images of Jesus Christ performing miracles, and are the earliest securely dated representations of him © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Among the highlights is a Nabataean religious shrine, reconstructed from architectural elements in collections in the United States and Jordan; the unique Magdala Stone, discovered in a first-century synagogue at Migdal (ancient Magdala) and whose imagery refers to the Temple in Jerusalem; and wall paintings from a church in Dura-Europos that are the earliest securely dated images of Jesus. Sculptures from Baalbek illuminate religious traditions at one of the greatest sanctuaries in the ancient Middle East, and funerary portraits from Palmyra bring visitors face to face with ancient people. The exhibition also examines important contemporary issues—above all, the deliberate destruction and looting of sites including Palmyra, Dura-Europos, and Hatra.

Ossuaries, Israel, excavated at Azor, Chalcolithic period, early 4th millennium BC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“The compelling works of art in this exhibition offer a view into how people in the ancient Middle East sought to define themselves during a time of tremendous religious, creative, and political activity, revealing aspects of their lives and communities that resonate some two millennia later,” said Max Hollein, Director, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.  “Further, in focusing on an area of the world that has been deeply affected by recent conflicts and the destruction of sites, monuments, and objects, this show also engages with complex questions about the preservation of cultural heritage.”

Dead Sea Scroll Jar and Lid, ca 2nd Century BC, found in the Qumran caves, the documents now known as the Dead Sea Scrolls represent biblical texts and Jewish religious practices in the last centuries BC and first century AD. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The exhibition evokes a journey along ancient trade routes, beginning in the southwestern Arabian kingdoms that grew rich from the caravan trade in frankincense and myrrh harvested there and used throughout the ancient world. Camel caravans crossed the desert to the Nabataean kingdom, with its spectacular capital city of Petra, which I had just visited, walking through very much as the caravan travelers would have.

Statuette of nude goddess, 2nd C BC-2nd C AD, Ctesiphon © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

From here, goods traveled west to the Mediterranean and north and east through regions including Judaea and the Phoenician coast and across the Syrian desert, where the oasis city of Palmyra controlled trade routes that connected the Mediterranean world to Mesopotamia and Iran and ultimately China. In Mesopotamia, merchants transported cargoes down the Tigris and Euphrates rivers to the Persian Gulf, where they joined maritime trade routes to India. These connections transcended the borders of empires, forming networks that linked cities and individuals over vast distances.

3rd C biblical wall paintings discovered in the Dura-Europos synagogue were exceptional because they demonstrated that early Jewish art included figural scenes. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandne

Across the entire region, diverse local political and religious identities were expressed in art. Artifacts from Judaea give a powerful sense of ancient Jewish identity during a critical period of struggle with Roman rule. Architectural sculptures from the colossal sanctuary at Baalbek and statuettes of its deities reveal the intertwined nature of Roman and ancient Middle Eastern religious practices. Funerary portraits from Palmyra represent the elite of an important hub of global trade. Wall paintings and sculptures from Dura-Europos on the River Euphrates illustrate the striking religious diversity of a settlement at the imperial frontier. And in Mesopotamia, texts from the last Babylonian cuneiform libraries show how ancient temple institutions waned and finally disappeared during this transformative period.

In Athens and Petra, particularly, you appreciate this synergy between trade, migration, environmental sustainability and technology (in Petra, the ability to control water supply was key), economic prosperity and political power, and the rise of art, culture, and community.

Bearded God, ca 1st C, Dura-Europos © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It is rare (if ever ) for the Metropolitan Museum to venture into the political, but a key topic within the exhibition is the impact of recent armed conflicts in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen on archaeological sites, monuments, and museums, including deliberate destruction and looting. Some of the most iconic sites affected—Palmyra, Hatra, and Dura-Europos—are featured in the exhibition, which discusses this damage and raises questions regarding current and future responses to the destruction of heritage. Should the sites be restored or will they now only exist “on paper”? How much money and resources should go to restoring or excavation when villages and homes for people to live in also need to be rebuilt?

There is a fascinating, if frantic, presentation of three archaeologist/historians speaking about what the destruction by ISIS and Islamic fundamentalists of Palmyra, Eura-Europos and Hatra – what it means to destroy a people’s heritage, their cultural identity. “It may seem frivolous to focus on [archaeological sites] when people are enslaved, killed…but to wipe out, destroy culture is a way of destroying people.”

Happening upon this exhibit made the travel experiences we had to these extraordinary places all the more precious.

It is a humbling experience, to be sure, to go to the origins of the great civilizations, fast forward to today. How did they become great? How did they fall? Greatness is not inevitable or forever.  Empires rise and fall. Rulers use religion, art and monuments to establish their credibility and credentials to rule; successors blot out the culture and re-write history.

(“The World Between Empires” is featured on The Met website as well as on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter using the hashtag #WorldBetweenEmpires.)

I peek out from the American Café windows to Central Park and see sun and the early spring blossoms on the trees, and dash out to walk through my other favorite New York City place. There is nothing more beautiful than New York City in the spring – brides are out in force taking photos; there are musicians and entertainers. There is a festive atmosphere as I walk through the park toward the Palace Hotel in time for our 4:30 pm meeting.

Spring in Central Park, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

15th Annual Global Scavenger Hunt Winners Crowned

At the end of the New York City leg:

1st Lazy Monday, completed 10 scavenges earning 385 points

2nd SLO Folks with 6 scavenges, 250 pts

3rd Lawyers, with 150 pts

4th Order & Chaos

And now, drumroll please, Chalmers announces the winner of the 2019 Global Scavenger Hunt: “Only one team wins. The competition was fierce.”

3rd – Order & Chaos, Sal  Iaquinta & Vivian Reyes, doctors from San Francisco

2nd – Lazy Monday, Eric & Kathryn Verwillow, computer networking and think tank professional of Palo Alto, California (“I am in awe of how hard worked beginning to end – embraced the spirit,” Chalmers says.

1st Lawyers Without Borders, Rainey Booth and Zoe Littlepage of Houston, who have competed in the Global Scavenger Hunt 12 times, and won it for the 6th time. “You embody the spirit of the event, to go out of your comfort zone.” (You can follow Zoe’s blog of her experience to get a sense of how strenuous, outrageous, and determined the team was in accumulating their points: https://zoeandraineygreatescape.blogspot.com/2019/05/gsh-2019)

We celebrate at a final bon voyage dinner.

The Global Scavenger Hunt is the brainchild of Bill and Pamela Chalmers, who in addition to forging understanding and bonds among travelers and the people in the destinations visited, use the program to promote voluntourism (one of the scavenges is to volunteer at an orphanage or school during our stay in Yangon, Myanmar, and in the past travelers visited & helped out at: Tibetan refugee camps in Nepal, orphanages in Laos, hospitals in Cambodia, homeless schools in India, hospices in Manila, disabled facilities in Sri Lanka, Ethiopian schools, the slums of Nairobi) and raised money for the GreatEscape Foundation.

“The foundation is one of main reasons we do the event,” Chalmers says. The foundation has raised money to build 12 schools (1 each in Niger, Haiti, Ecuador, India & Ethiopia; 2 each in Sri Lanka & Sierra Leone, and 3 in Kenya), helped build the Tamensa Medical Clinic in Niger for migrating Tuareg nomads which serves as a midwives & nurse training center too. “We know that we saved lives and bettered the lives of hundreds. We have helped over 2400 families in more than 60 countries (mostly women entrepreneurs) with our interest and fee free micro-loans (96% of which have gone to women with a 99% repayment).”

 Through the event this and last year, the foundation will build 2 more co-ed elementary schools , in Ethiopia and Haiti.

TheGlobal Scavenger Hunt travel adventure competition is aimed at returning the romance of travel while testing the travel IQ of the most travel savvy of globetrotters. The travelers (who must apply and be accepted to compete) completed a series of highly participatory, authentic and challenging cultural site-doing scavenges in ten secret countries over a 23-day circumnavigation between April 12 and May 4, 2019 designed to bring people out of their comfort zone and trust strangers in strange lands.

 “The Global Scavenger Hunt covers a lot of extraordinary travel bases,” says Chalmers, who dubs his mystery tour, “A blind date with the world.”

For more information, contact GreatEscape Adventures at 310-281-7809, or visit GlobalScavengerHunt.com.

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© 2019 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Global Scavenger Hunt, Leg 2 Brings Somber Confrontation with Vietnam War History

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Our second day in Saigon, Vietnam. I am lucky enough to get on a Saigon Tours half-day trip to Cu Chi Tunnels, an immense network of connecting tunnels located in the Củ Chi District of Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), which the Viet Cong used to launch guerrilla warfare against the Americans during the Vietnam War.

(Saigon is the second leg of nine during a 23-day, around-the-world Global Scavenger Hunt, “A Blind Date with the World,” where we don’t know where we are going until we are given 4-hour notice. Under the Global Scavenger Hunt rules, you are not allowed to take a commercial tour, or hire a private guide, or even use a taxi for more than 2 scavenges at a time, since the object is to force you to interact with locals. I knew that even though the visit was one of the “Bonus” scavenges, I wouldn’t get points, also my teammate Margo, was doing her own thing in Saigon, visiting the Botanical Gardens.)

Much of the visit to Cu Chi Tunnels is interactive; a little girl gets to feel what it is like to hide underground (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The visit is profound, and though the script is written by the victors, is appropriate to represent the side that wanted to push out colonists (though in retrospect, I realized that there was no real mention of the fact that the South Vietnamese leadership didn’t want the Communist North Korean leadership to take over, either – nothing is simple, especially not in the world of geopolitics). You have to appreciate the commitment and courage and sacrifice of the Viet Cong in living the way they did – creating a virtually self-sufficient community under ground, planting boobie traps for the Americans, repurposing unexploded bombs into weapons and old tires into sandals, cooking only at night and channeling the smoke to come up in a different place (where it would look like morning steam, so not to give away the location of the tunnels). We get to climb into a tunnel, and go 20, 40, 60, 80 up to 160 meters, seeing just how tiny they were – you have to crouch all the way through and sometimes even crawl. There is also a shooting range where you can shoot an AK 47, M16 (extra charge), but the constant sound of gunfire gives you some sense of what they were living through. There was a hospital, a wardrobe sewing area, we watch a woman demonstrate making rice paper. At the end is a film that uses grainy black-and-white imagery with a narration that spoke of the commitment to save the Fatherland from US aggression.

A visit to Handicapped Handicrafts, a government-sponsored factory that employs people with disabilities (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

On the way back, the guide offered to make a detour to take us to a factory, created by the government to employ people who were handicapped because of coming upon unexploded ordinance, or who had birth defects as a result of the chemical weapons used against the Vietnamese. Originally the factory produced cigarettes, but today, they produce really beautiful handicrafts – mainly lacquered and inlaid items.

The trip provides an excellent opportunity to see other Vietnamese communities outside of the urban center.

After returning to Saigon, I go off to continue my theme – visiting the buildings that the French built, starting with the magnificent Post Office (where I wind up spending close to an hour choosing from a stunning array of post cards, buying stamps and writing the cards), then onto the Reunification Palace (which I thought was open until 5 but closed entrance at 4), then on to the War Remnants Museum, where I visited until it closed at 6 pm, because there was so much to see and take in.

The Pulitzer-prize winning photo, “Napalm Girl,” had great impact in ending support for the Vietnam War (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

You should begin on the third level, which provides the “historic truths” (actually the background) for the Vietnam War, which more or less accurately presents the facts. On this level is a most fascinating exhibit that presents the work of the multinational brigade of war correspondents and photographers, along with a display of the dozens who were killed in the war. The photos are presented in an extraordinary way: showing the photo, then providing notes about the background, the context, and the photographer. Here too, the language (which was probably produced by the news organizations that put on the exhibit), was accurate. Among them is the famous, Pulitzer-prize winning photo of “Napalm Girl” where, for the first time, I notice the American soldiers walking along and one who looks like he is casually lighting a cigarette as this young girl is coming down the road in terror. The photos then and now are chilling, but today, they properly evoke shame.









The impact of Agent Orange in graphic display at the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It only gets worse on the second level, where the atrocities committed during war are provided in the sense of artifacts, and details that could have, should have properly been used at war crimes trials. But none took place. Another exhibit documents the effects of Agent Orange.

The first floor, which should be visited last, addresses the Hanoi Hilton, the place where American prisoners of war, including Senator John McCain, were kept. Here,though, is where it can be said the propaganda offensive takes place – there are photos showing a female nurse bandaging an American’s head wounds, with the caption that noted she had put down her gun in order to care for him. This exhibit brings things up to date, with the visits of President Clinton in 1994 (in another section in noted that Clinton’s visit brought the end of economic sanctions, and with the country’s shift to market economy, produced revitalization, as measured by the boom in mopeds.

 But on the bottom floor, they show photos of Obama’s visit and most recently of Trump in Vietnam.

This floor also has an exhibit devoted to the peace movement in the US and around the world, with some famous incidents, such as the shooting of the Kent State four.

Outside are displays of captured American plane, tanks, and other items.

I looked around for an American who might have served in Vietnam to get an impression, but did not find anyone, and saw a few Vietnamese (most of the visitors were Americans or Europeans), but only one or two who might have been alive during that time and wondered what they thought. Clearly the conclusion of the displays was in favor of reconciliation when just as easily, and using a heavier-handed propagandist language, could have stoked hatred. The exhibit is careful not to paint all Americans and not even all American soldiers as monsters but one photo caption was particularly telling: it showed an American hauling off an ethnic minority and noted that “American troops sent to the battlefield by conscription knew nothing about Vietnam, thought the Cambodia people of ethnic minorities were living near Cambodia were collaborators for the enemy.” I left feeling that the experience was close to what you feel visiting a Holocaust Museum. And it is pain and remorse that is deserved.

A gallery of war correspondents and photographers who were killed covering the Vietnam War (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

First Look at The Shed, NYC’s Newest Iconic Cultural Center Bent on Using Art for Social Action, Public Good

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

 

The Shed is notable for a design based around flexibility; the new cultural arts center is adjacent to the Highline and The Nest and is the “beating heart” of the new Hudson Yards development on New York City’s West Side © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Imagine a structure 120 feet high that can fit 2000 people for a concert, but that can move, expand, shrink or be completely removed to expose an open-air plaza. An “anti-institution” cultural institution to provide a home and nurture the full spectrum of the arts, where emerging artists, local artists, and established artists have parity, and audiences represent the diversity and inclusivity of New York with low-priced ticket holders dispersed throughout the house.

This is The Shed, the newest cultural center to open in a city which prides culture above all, sure to be gain a place among the pantheon of iconic art institutions, along with its leading-edge approach to harnessing the arts as a force for social action and public good, its astonishing architecture, flexible, versatile and adaptable enough to enable artists of today and tomorrow and fulfill their vision to be a platform across multi-disciplines.

It’s “the Swiss army knife” of culture,” said Daniel L. Doctoroff, chair of the board, during a press preview prior to the April 5 grand opening, when the principals involved with the genesis of the project spoke of what The Shed, and its mission, meant to the city and society.

Indeed, they noted, in a city of 1200 cultural attractions, The Shed had to be different, beginning with its commitment to commissioning new works, creating a platform – the space and place – for artists across disciplines, engaging audiences across a spectrum of backgrounds and interests, but most significantly, creating a building, that like a “living organism” would keep morphing to accommodate artists’ visions today and decades from now, accommodating the unimaginable ways art and culture might change over time.

Six and a half years ago, after seeing a 60-second animation of what The Shed could be, purpose-built to house various forms of culture and building would move, John Tisch, vice chair of the new institution, told his wife, “The Shed is about future of NYC and we need to be involved.”

“6 ½ years later, here we are discovering the future of NYC and how we as citizens and creators of this institution will discuss culture and humanity, how we all need to be together in the 21st century in NYC.

 “There are many cultural institutions – many are about the past. The Shed is about the future.”

“The dictionary defines ‘shed’ as an opened-ended structure with tools,” said Doctoroff. “We designed The Shed as a platform, uniquely adaptable, to liberate artists to fulfill their dreams.”

More than a dozen years ago, Doctoroff said, The Shed “started as small square on map, a placeholder for To Be Determined cultural institution.

“Mayor Bloomberg said ‘Make it different from anything else in New York City.’ That’s not easy in a town of 1200 cultural institutions. It had to play a role in a new edge of New York City, keeping New York City as leading edge of the cultural world.”

The principals of The Shed, NYC’s newest iconic cultural institution housed in an architectural marvel: Hans Ulrich Obrist, David Rockwell, John Tisch, Dan Doctoroff, Liz Diller and Frank H McCourt, Jr. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Liz Diller of Diller Scofidio + Renfro, lead architect, and David Rockwell of Rockwell Group, collaborating architect, responded to the mandate for flexibility, a one-of-a-kind structure.

“Just as it was to be designed to be flexible, we wanted it to be of and for our time and inclusive of artists across all disciplines,” Doctoroff said. “We proposed commissions of emerging artists across all art forms – the mission drives our work.

“It is a remarkable public/private investment of $500 million to design and construct building and create original works of art.

“New York City continues to be perfect partner under Mayor DiBlasio. The city provided $75 million and the land.

“We are standing in The McCourt, a spectacular space that can do anything an artist can imagine. It was named for the Board member who gave $45 million.

“Griffin Theater was named for one of most generous philanthropists, Ken Griffin, who gave $25 million.

“Altice USA is the founding fiber network partner – so that The Shed is an accessible arts organization with global reach, the first cultural institution with connectivity partner.

“Above all, Mayor Bloomberg, who had vision to transform West Side and create cultural institution as beating heart. The Shed is housed the Bloomberg Building, named for Mayor Bloomberg.

“It’s been a 14-year journey – kind of crazy, new kind of cultural institution in a completely new building in new part of town, new board, new team, performing miracles every day, producing our own work.

“Great architecture demands great purpose,” Doctoroff said. 

Alex Poots, on stage in The McCourt: “The Shed is place for invention, curiosity where all artists and audiences can meet.”  © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Alex Poots, the Artistic Director and CEO, said, “I started to imagine the possibilities: a flexible building, built on city land. That was the draw to lure me from England –a  public purpose. It was a no brainer, building on what I had been doing for 15 years. [Poots is also involved with the Manchester Festival and with the Park Avenue Armory.]

“Parity among art forms; the ability to commission art – visual and performing arts. And it would not matter if the artist were emerging, established, or a community artist – we don’t need a false hierarchy.

“The Shed is place for invention, curiosity where all artists and audiences can meet.

Alongside all the venerable institutions of city, we hope The Shed can add something.

“It’s rare for a place to be open in the day as a museum, and in the evening a performance center.”

Alex Poots, Artistic Director and CEO of The Shed © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

First Commissions

Poots introduced the 2019 inaugural season’s first commissions (and the press were able to watch some rehearsals):

Soundtrack of America, a new live production celebrating the unrivaled impact of African American music on art and popular culture over the past 100 years, conceived by acclaimed filmmaker and artist Steve McQueenand developed with music visionaries and academic experts including Quincy Jones, Maureen Mahon, Dion ‘No I.D.’ Wilson, Tunji Balogun and Greg Philliganes, is a five-night concert series (April 5-14) celebrating the unrivaled impact of African American music on contemporary culture, with performances by emerging musicians.

The opening commissions at The Shed feature the world premiere of Reich Richter Pärt, an immersive live performance installation from iconic artists Steve Reich, Gerhard Richter, and Arvo Pärt, featuring new works by Richter and a new composition by Reich, performed with the Choir of Trinity Wall Street, here in rehearsal, that showcase The Shed’s support for mixing cultural disciplines © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Reich Richter Pärt, a live performance/exhibition pairing works by master painter Gerhard Richter with a new composition by Steve Reich and an extant composition by Arvo Pärt, performed by The Choir of Trinity Wall Street (April 6-June 2).

Norma Jeane Baker of Troy, a reinvention of Euripides’ Helen by poet Anne Carson, starring Ben Whishaw and the opera singer, Renée Fleming (April 6-May 19).

Björk’s Cornucopia, the multidisciplinary artist’s most elaborate staged concert to date, directed by Lucrecia Martel (May 6-June 1).

Chen Shi-Zheng discusses “Dragon Spring Phoenix Rise,” a futuristic kung fu musical conceived © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Dragon Spring Phoenix Rise. a futuristic kung fu musical conceived by Chen Shi-Zheng and Kung Fu Panda screenwriters Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger, with songs by Sia, choreography by Akram Khan, and production design and costumes by Tim Yip (June 22–July 27);

There are also, expansive exhibitions devoted to extant and newly commissioned work by trailblazing artists Trisha Donnelly and Agnes Denes; and an unprecedented opportunity for New York City-based emerging artists of all disciplines to develop and showcase their work throughout The Shed’s spaces via an Open Call commissioning program.

Beneath the stands and stage in The McCourt is the only permanent art installation, “In Front of Itself,” a large-scale, site-specific work by artist Lawrence Weiner embedded into the plaza. It serves as a walkable outdoor area when the movable shell is nested over the fixed building, or as the base of The McCourt when the shell is extended to the east. The 20,000-sq. ft. work features the phrase, “In front of itself” in 12-foot high letters fabricated with custom paving stones.  

These first commissions, Poots said, “shows the range of The Shed.” The flexibility of the building makes it possible to transform from one show to the next in just two days.

Dan Doctoroff, Alex Poots and Tamara McCaw discuss community outreach and the Open Call © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Art as Social Action

Tamara McCaw, Chief Program Civic Officer, is responsible for fulfilling the mission of The Shed to use art as social action.

“It is my responsibility to serve the community, particularly those under stress or have barriers [to artistic expression]. ]

McCaw oversees the Open Call program, an unprecedented opportunity for 52 New York City-based emerging artists and collectives to develop and showcase their work throughout The Shed’s primary spaces, free to the public (May 30-August 25) and continuing in 2020.

The 52 artists were selected from 930 applications in its first open call. Alex Poots said that The Shed will embark on its next round of emerging talent in 5-6 months.

The Shed has year round social justice residencies, serving 700 students a year

 “We are providing a platform for local and emerging artists – selected by diverse panel and Shed staff (2 are on the panel – to present in principal spaces, plaza, theater.” These performances and exhibits will be free to public.

“It is our civic responsibility to reflect, respond to the diverse communities of NYC – with affordable tickets ($10; free for 18 year olds and under and CUNY students), and reserve 10% of low-income seats that will be distributed throughout house (not the back or nosebleed section)

Addressing how The Shed intends to be responsive to diverse audiences, Doctoroff noted that the building is open – the restaurant, café and lobby. Anyone can come through without a ticket, and every gallery and theater can be separately ticketed. The goal is to make access to exhibits and performers and accessible as possible.

McCaw added, “People from public housing are already are coming because they are of process. We did outreach for open call. There are artists who live in public housing here. When you come with respect, people want to be involved.

“We are creating inventive new work, supporting creative expression, cultural equity and belief in power of art to effect social change.”

Ticket prices are intentionally low. Every gallery show – except Richter – is $10 ticket and free for those under 18. Open call programs are free (18 weeks of programming)

At the end of the first year, he expects that half  the entire audience will be admitted for $10 or free.

The Shed, a not-for-profit arts institution, expects to operate at a loss.

“That means we have to raise money,” Doctoroff said. “But we regard it as investing in society, not as a loss. The less box office, the more generous we are. There are high ticket prices for those who can afford it and low for those who can’t – low cost tickets are equally dispersed through theater, to promote equity.”

The Tisch Skylights © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

A good source of real money, though, could be in renting out space in The Lizzie and Jonathan Tisch Skylights and The Tisch Lab  on the top floor, Level 8, where there is a 1,700-square-foot creative lab for local artists, a 3,300-square-foot rehearsal space, and a 9,500-square-foot flexible, multipurpose space for events.

“The Top floor is engine for that flexible space – dinners, small performances – will be rented year round while operating as not-for-profit art center.”

Frank H. McCourt Jr. reflected, “There is something else here – civic imagination, ideas put into action to serve people – address societal issues, change lives, make a better nation, a better humankind.” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Frank H. McCourt Jr., Shed board member and entrepreneur, reflected, “There is something else here – civic imagination, ideas put into action to serve people – address societal issues, change lives, make a better nation, a better humankind.

“It is artistic creation but also social innovation. Human creativity for the greater good. My hope for The Shed is that it is home for both art and other intellectual activities. This place, including the institution created to animate it, is a bold, living example of civic action. An idea put into action for greater good.

“It’s not finished, just getting started. This week a milestone. In a world replete with cynicism, The Shed is the opposite.”

An Architectural Marvel

“We started the project 11 years ago – when it was a dotted line on a satellite photo and a question mark. It was the 2008 recession,” reflected Liz Diller, lead architect, who described what it was like to design a building around a mission.

“Arts in New York are siloed – dance, theater, music, visual. That’s not how artists think today, but how will artists think in one or two decades? We can’t know. We started a project without a client, an anti-institution institution, to serve artists of all kinds in a future we could not predict.

“How could architecture not get in the way of that? Art is in flux, so the building had to be able to change on demand, be flexible without defaulting.”

What she and collaborating architect David Rockwell devised is a fixed building with column-free exhibit and performance space, the Bloomberg Building.

Architectural discussion with David Rockwell, Dan Doctoroff and Liz Diller © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Shed’s Bloomberg Building—an innovative 200,000-square-foot structure designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro, Lead Architect, and Rockwell Group, Collaborating Architect—can physically transform to support artists’ most ambitious ideas. Its eight-level base building includes two levels of gallery space; the versatile Griffin Theater; and The Tisch Skylights, which comprise a rehearsal space, a creative lab for local artists, and a skylit event space.

The McCourt, an iconic space for large-scale performances, installations, and events, is formed when The Shed’s telescoping outer shell is deployed from over the base building and glides along rails onto the adjoining plaza. The McCourt can have theater seating for 1400, or open the glass wall to expose the balcony for 300 seated and have 2000 on the floor.

The Plaza: When the movable shell is nested over the base building, the 20,000-square-foot Plaza will be open public space that also can be used for outdoor programming; the eastern façade can serve as a backdrop for projection with lighting and sound support. The Plaza is equipped with a distributed power supply for outdoor functions. Oversize deliveries can be brought by truck up Hudson Yards Boulevard and loaded directly onto The Plaza and into the base building or the shell when deployed. Those doors can be opened while the audience is under cover, for an open-air effect.

“It is the architecture of infrastructure:  all muscle, no fat,” Diller said. “Alex, an inspirational alchemical force, challenged the building to be smarter, more flexible, agile. This is a perpetual work in progress – always getting smarter more agile.

It will respond to the challenge of artists and challenge the artists back.”

“New York is so defined by art and its artists. Art creates community, at its best, and empathy with audiences,” said Architect David Rockwell.

 “What we created is a Swiss Army knife of culture,” said Doctoroff. “A beautiful design with practicality to respond to the notion that we don’t know where art will go, or where artists will be in 200 years.”

Gerhard Richter’s work is on view in The Gallery, a massive column-free space © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Shed’s eight-level base building includes two expansive, column-free galleries totaling 25,000 square feet of museum-quality space; a 500-seat theater that can be subdivided into even more intimate spaces; event and rehearsal space; and a creative lab.

A movable outer shell can double the building’s footprint when deployed over the adjoining plaza to create a 17,000-square-foot light-, sound-, and temperature-controlled space, named The McCourt, for large-scale performances, installations, and events for audiences ranging from 1,250 seated to 3,000 standing (when combined with space in the two adjoining galleries of the base building). When space is not needed, the movable shell can nest over the base building, opening up the plaza for outdoor use and programming.

Diller explained how the movable shell travels on a double-wheel track based on gantry crane technology commonly found in shipping ports and railway systems. A rack-and-pinion drive moves the shell forward and back on four single-axle and two double axle bogie wheels that measure six feet in diameter; the deployment of the shell takes approximately five minutes.

The exposed steel diagrid frame of the movable shell is clad in translucent pillows of durable and lightweight Teflon-based polymer, called ethylene tetrafluoroethylene (ETFE). With the thermal properties of insulating glass at  1/100th of the weight, the translucent ETFE allows light to pass through and can withstand hurricane-force winds. Measuring almost 70 feet in length in some areas, The Shed’s ETFE panels are some of the largest ever produced.

“Systems were adapted from other things but it is novel in the way we put together,” Diller said, adding that the architecture is “based on industrial crane technology, brought to 21st century” with an emphasis on functionality. But there were no real models among arts institutions.

“It was a constant process of invention, reinvention,” said Doctoroff. “We have 14 blackout shades. We had to rethink the system of shades – particularly when Alex came and knew he wanted concerts. They needed to also provide sound protection. We went to the sailmakers who designed sails for America’s Cup boats to design shade system. Extra performance capability of holding back 108 decibels (loud). The thickness, density had to be able to roll up.”

Form and function: the back wall of McCourt can be removed to open up a balcony © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Asked why New York needed another cultural institution, Doctoroff retorted, “Why have we been so successful raising money? Because people sense New York does need this. The criteria was that this had to be different from anything else in New York. We went to talk to artists and leaders of cultural institutions around the world to ask what do they not have and need. There were similar themes –the internet era gives artists the capacity of collaborating across distances and disciplines, but also producing work that didn’t fit in traditional institutions. Out of that came idea of flexibility.

“This is different: our mission of inclusivity embedded in value system,” said Doctoroff, said in a small discussion group with journalists.

“We prove it every day. This is personal for me: 36 years ago I imagined a new West Side – saving the Highline [now one of the most popular attractions in NYC, with 8 million visits a year], the subway. I always believed having a cultural heart to the new West Side was critical and would need to change over time to keep New York leading edge in culture. I believe cultural institutions are critical to New York,” said Doctoroff, who is also chairman and CEO of Sidewalk Labs, an Alphabet company that looks at sustainable solutions to designing urban communities.

“The Shed will never be finished,” said Doctoroff. “The word ‘unfinished’ ends with ‘shed’. It will always be evolving because what we’ve done is created a platform for artists to use as their own. The building enables their vision – they will push, stretch us in ways we can’t imagine, they can’t imagine today. The Shed is an organism that keeps morphing.”

And that’s how Liz Diller expects not to go through post partum blues. “We will respond to the challenge of artists and challenge artists back.”

See also: The Shed, New York’s Newest Iconic Cultural Center, Opens April 5 with Commissioned New Works

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© 2019 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

A Night Visit to the Doge Palace IN Venice

Doge Palace, Venice (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

One of the most popular attractions in Venice and dominating the most popular square, San Marco, the Doge Palace is unbelievably crowded with tourists during the day who can stand on line for a long time and then struggle inside for views of the fantastic art. But on my recent trip, I discovered that the Doge Palace and three other museums stay open on Fridays and Saturdays until 11 pm (last entrance at 10 pm) and the ticket is valid at all four of the museums and valid for three months.  The experience of visiting the Doge Palace at night is incomparable.

I waltz in at 7:30 pm without waiting at all and find myself in these rooms – grand doesn’t begin to describe them – by myself or with at most a handful of other people. All of us are breathless. No one speaks. The silence is thrilling.

The art work – monumental pieces by titans of the Renaissance – fill the massive walls and the entire ceiling. One room is grander and bigger and more gilded than the next, and at this hour, at this moment, it feels like all of this is for me and me alone.

Doge Palace, Venice (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Besides the extraordinary magnificence of the artwork throughout the Doge Palace, I realize from the notes I read afterward that the palace harbors a fascinating history of government of this early republic, which for two centuries dominated trade between Europe and Asia. Venice’s powerful influence extended from the city at the western edge of the old Byzantine Empire, to the eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea.

I go through the rooms taking in the visual sights, overwhelmed, really by the art – the majestic paintings in gilded frames that completely cover the walls and ceiling, the architectural details. The rooms are fairly dark and I don’t take the time or struggle to read the notes that are provided. Later, when I review the notes provided, I better appreciate the historical significance, where the art and the architecture were representations of the structure of government and the rulers, comparable to the Capitol Building, Supreme Court and White House, combined, though hundreds of years older.

For two centuries, the Venetian Republic dominated trade between Europe and Asia, its influence extending from the city at the western edge of the Byzantine Empire to the eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea.

Doge Palace, Venice (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The palace dates back to before the 10th century but, after a fire, was rebuilt by Doge Sebastiano Ziani (1172-1178), a great reformer who also changed the layout of St. Mark’s Square. The palace had to be expanded several times “to accommodate political changes and the increase in number of people who had the right to participate in the legislative assembly meetings” (an intriguing phrase). The Chamber of the Great Council (just one room in this palace) accommodated 1,200 to 2,000 noblemen. The thought is mind-boggling.

After another huge fire in 1577 destroyed many of the masterpieces, reconstruction was undertaken immediately to restore it to its original appearance, which was completed by 1579-80.

Until then, the Doge’s Palace housed not only the Doge’s apartments, the seat of the government and the city’s courtrooms, but also a jail. It was only in the second half of the 16th century that Antonio da Ponte ordered the construction of new prisons, built by Antonio Contin around 1600, which were linked to the Doge’s Palace by the Bridge of Sighs, built in 1614. Relocating the prisons left the old space on the ground floor of the palace free, which led to the creation of the courtyard.

Looking through the Bridge of Sighs, Doge Palace, Venice (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The famous Bridge of Sighs dates from the Romantic period, its name supposedly referring to the sighs of prisoners who, passing from the courtroom to the cell in which they would serve their sentence, took a last look at freedom as they glimpsed the lagoon and San Giorgio through the filigree openings.

Crossing over the Bridge of Sighs is one of the most thrilling aspects of the visit, especially at night, with the golden lights reflected on blue-black water. You peer through the openings, just as these prisoners would have. It is somewhat surreal to look down at the bridge from which you saw the Bridge of Sighs hours before, and imagine what prisoners must have thought as they had their last glimpse of that glorious scene. And then going into the prison itself, surreal considering it was mere steps away from the grandeur of the palace.

Inspecting the prison cells, Doge Palace, Venice (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

But there is still so much more to see – it seems that the palace just goes on and on.

The Chamber of the Great Council, restructured in the 14th century, was decorated with a fresco by Guariento and later with works by the most famous artists of the period, including Gentile da Fabriano, Pisanello, Alvise Vivarini, Carpaccio, Bellini, Pordenone and Titian. At 53 meters long and 25 meters wide, this is not only the largest and most majestic chamber in the Doge’s Palace, but also one of the largest rooms in Europe.

The Great Council was the most important political body in the Republic. An ancient institution, the Council was made up of all the male members over 25 years old of patrician Venetian families, irrespective of their individual status, merits or wealth. “This was why, in spite of the restrictions in its powers that the Senate introduced over the centuries, the Great Council continued to be seen as bastion of republican equality. The Council had the right to call to account all the other authorities and bodies of the State when it seemed that their powers were getting excessive and needed to be trimmed. The 1,200 to 2,000 noblemen who sat in the Council always considered themselves guardians of the laws that were the basis of all the other authorities within the State.”

This room was also where the first steps in the election of a new Doge would take place. These voting procedures were extremely long and complex in order to frustrate any attempts of cheating. Every Sunday, when the bells of St. Mark’s rang, the Council members would gather in the hall with the Doge presiding at the center of the podium and his counselors occupying double rows of seats that ran the entire length of the room.

Doge Palace, Venice (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The walls are decorated with works by Paolo Caliari (known as Paolo Veronese), Jacopo and Domenico Tintoretto, and Palma il Giovane. depicting Venetian history, particularly the city’s relations with the papacy and the Holy Roman Empire; the ceiling is decorated with the Virtues and examples of Venetian heroism, with an allegorical glorification of the Republic in the center. Facing each other in groups of six, the 12 wall paintings depict acts of valor or scenes of war that had occurred during the city’s history. A frieze with portraits of the first 76 doges (the portraits of the others are in the Sala dello Scrutinio) runs just under the ceiling. Though commissioned from Jacopo Tintoretto, most of these paintings are the work of his son, Domenico. Each Doge holds a scroll bearing a reference to his most important achievements, while Doge Marin Faliero, who attempted a coup d’état in 1355, is represented simply by a black cloth – a traitor to the Republic, he was not only condemned to death but also to damnatio memoriae, the total eradication of his memory and name.

Along the wall behind the Doge’s throne is one of the longest canvas paintings in the world, the Paradiso, which Jacopo Tintoretto and workshop produced between 1588 and 1592 to replace the Guariento fresco that had been damaged in the fire.

The Council Chamber was where two separate and independent organs of power, the Savi and the Signoria, would meet. The Savi was divided into three sections concerned with foreign policy, mainland Italy and maritime issues. The Signoria was made up of the three Heads of the Councils of Forty and members of the Minor Council, composed of the Doge and six councilors, one for each district of the city of Venice. The Council was organized and coordinated the work of the Senate, reading dispatches from ambassadors and city governors, receiving foreign delegations and promoting other political and legislative activity.

The Sala dei Pregadi housed the Senate, one of the oldest public institutions in Venice.  Established in the 13th century, it evolved over time until by the 16th century it was the body mainly responsible for overseeing political and financial affairs in manufacturing, trade and foreign policy. In effect, it served as a sub-committee of the Great Council and its members were generally drawn from the wealthiest Venetian families.

Doge Palace, Venice (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Chamber of the Council of Ten is named for the council that was set up after a conspiracy in 1310, when Bajamonte Tiepolo and other noblemen tried to overthrow the government. “Initially meant as a provisional body to try those conspirators, the Council of Ten is one of many examples of Venetian institutions that were intended to be temporary but which became permanent.” Its authority covered all sectors of public life, a power that gave rise to its reputation as a ruthless, all-seeing tribunal at the service of the ruling oligarchy, a court whose sentences were handed down rapidly after secret hearings. The assembly was made up of ten members chosen from the Senate and elected by the Great Council. These ten sat with the Doge and his six counselors, which accounts for the 17 semicircular outlines that you can still see in the chamber.

The Compass Room was used for the administration of justice. It was named for the large wooden compass with a statue of Justice, that stands in one corner and hides the entrance to the rooms of the three Heads of the Council of Ten and the State Inquisitors. Those summoned by these powerful magistrates waited here to be called; the magnificent decor was intended to reinforce the solemnity of the Republic’s legal machinery.

So much of the exquisite decoration we see, which dates from the 16th century, was commissioned from Veronese. Completed in 1554, the works he produced are all intended to exalt the “good government” of the Venetian Republic; the central panel, with St. Mark descending to crown the three Theological Virtues, is a copy of the original, now in the Louvre.

The Chamber of Censors was an office which was established in 1517 to address “the cultural and political upheavals that are associated with Humanism.” The State Censors “were more like moral consultants than judges, with their main task being the repression of electoral fraud and the protection of the State’s public institutions.” The walls display Domenico Tintoretto’s portraits of these magistrates.

The Chamber of the State Advocacies: This State Advocacy department dates from the 12th century, when Venice was organized as a commune. The three members, the Avogadori, safeguarded the principle of legality, making sure that laws were applied correctly. Though they never enjoyed the status and power of the Doge and the Council of Ten, the Avogadori remained one of the most prestigious authorities in Venice right up to the fall of the Republic. They were also responsible for preserving the integrity of the city’s patrician class, verifying the legitimacy of marriages and births inscribed in the Golden Book.

The “Scrigno” Room. The Venetian nobility as a caste came into existence because of the “closure” of admissions to the Great Council in 1297; but it was only in the 16th century that formal restrictions that protected the status of that aristocracy were introduced: marriages between nobles and commoners were forbidden so greater controls were set up to check the validity of aristocratic titles. Golden and Silver books registered all those families that not only had the requisites of “civilization” and “honor”, but could also show that they were of ancient Venetian origin. The Golden and Silver Books were kept in a chest inside a cupboard that also contained all the documents proving the legitimacy of claims. The 18th century cupboard we see today extends around three sides of a wall niche; lacquered in white with gilded decorations.

The Armourny, Doge Palace, Venice (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Armoury houses an important historical collection of weapons and armaments. The core of the collection is 14th century, dating from the time when the Armoury was under the control of the Council of Ten and stocked with weapons that would be readily available for the Palace’s guards. The collection was partially dispersed after the fall of the Republic, but still contains some 2000 exhibits, including 15th and 16th century suits of armor, swords, halberds, quivers and crossbows. Many are inscribed or painted monogram CX – for “Council of Ten” – which also appears on the door jambs, evidence of the Council’s might. The Turkish implements – weapons, standards and ships’ lanterns – that are displayed were taken from the enemy during battle. The collection also displays 16th and 17th century firearms; implements of torture; a chastity belt; and a series of small but lethal weapons that were prohibited by law.

Doge Palace, Venice (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Doge’s Palace was the heart of the political life and public administration of the Venetian Republic, so after the fall of the Republic in 1797, its role inevitably changed. Venice first fell under French rule, then Austrian, and ultimately, in 1866, became part of a united Italy.

Up until the end of the 19th century, the Palazzo Ducale was occupied by various administrative offices and housed important cultural institutions such as the Biblioteca Marciana (from 1811 to 1904). But by then, the structure was showing signs of decay. The Italian government set aside sizeable sums for an extensive restoration. Public offices were relocated with the exception of the State Office for the Protection of Historical Monuments, which is still housed in the building (now called Superintendence of the Environmental and Architectural Heritage of Venice and its Lagoon). In 1923, the Italian state which owns the building, appointed the City Council to manage it as a public museum. In 1996, the Doge’s Palace became part of the Civic Museums of Venice network.

San Marco Square, Venice, at night (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com


ST. MARK’S SQUARE MUSEUMS TICKET A single ticket valid for the Doge’s Palace and the combined itinerary of Museo Correr, Museo Archeologico Nazionale and Monumental Rooms of the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana.  This ticket is valid for 3 months and grants one single admission to the Doge’s Palace and the combined itinerary. (20E for regular ticket; 13 E for children 6-14, students 15-25, seniors over 65 and holders of International Student Identity Card) (http://palazzoducale.visitmuve.it/en/the-museum/doges-palace/the-palace/)

MUSEUM PASS The Museum Pass the cumulative ticket for the permanent collection of the Musei Civici of Venice currently open and for those connected (Palazzo Fortuny and Clock Tower not included).  This ticket is valid for 6 months and grants one single admission to each museum. The Museum Pass grants entrance to: The St Mark’s Square museums
: – Doge’s Palace – combined itinerary of Museo Correr, Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Monumental Rooms of the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana, plus other civic museums of Venice: Ca’ Rezzonico – Museum of 18th-Century Venice; Museum of Palazzo Mocenigo; Carlo Goldoni’s House; Ca’ Pesaro, International Gallery of Modern Art + Oriental Art Museum; Glass Museum – Murano; Lace Museum – Burano; Natural History Museum. (24E or 18 E), www.visitmuve.it.

Venice (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I wander back through the narrow alleys of the old city, stopping to listen to a musician fill a plaza with his music, to the tram that takes me back to the Hotel Alexander in Mestre. Tomorrow, Eric and I will start our eight-day self-guided bike tour that will take us about 300 miles to Trieste, Slovenia and Croatia.

(We booked our 8-day self-guided “Venice-Trieste-Istria” bike tour through BikeTours.com, a broker which has an excellent catalog of well-priced guided and self-guided bike and bike/boat trips, mostly in Europe, and has very attentive counselors. Biketours.com, 1222 Tremont Street , Chattanooga, TN 37405,  423-756-8907, 877-462-2423, www.biketours.com,info@biketours.com).

See also: Following Whim and Whimsy in Venice

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© 2019 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Following Whim and Whimsy in Venice

Wandering through Venice’s neighborhoods © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

One of the smartest choices I make in preparation for a week-long self-guided bike tour from Venice to Trieste to Istria (Slovenia to Croatia) is to arrive a day earlier. This gives me the unsurpassed luxury of spending a day wandering around Venice without a plan or an objective, just to follow whim and whimsy and take in the incomparable essence of this enchanting city. I am transfixed by Venice – the colors, the constant motion, the angles, the architecture, how you never know what you will see around any corner, how getting lost leads to new discovery. I have that cherished time to really focus on details.

Eric, my son who will be biking with me, will be arriving the next day, and I have made my way from Marco Polo International Airport to the Hotel Alexander, on the mainland, in Mestre by public bus (following the directions provided by FunActive, the tour company). I drop my bags and have most of the day to explore on my own.

The hotel that has been selected on the FunActiv tour (self-guided means that they have booked the inns and laid out the route, provide the rental bikes and support, a ferry the luggage each day to the next inn) which I booked through Biketours.com, is well located, just a short walk to a tram that comes frequently (they tell me where to buy the ticket, at a convenience store) and whisks me in comfort to the magnificent old city in 15 minutes.

Before I left the hotel, I had spotted a flyer about a new Leonardo Da Vinci Museum and am delighted when, serendipitously, I find myself right in front of it, next door to Chiesa di San Rocco, a church where a concert is underway. I listen for awhile and then go into the Museum.

Trying out one of Leonardo DaVinci’s inventions at the new Leonardo DaVinci Museum in Venice © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

What distinguishes the Leonardo Da Vinci Museum is that it is designed as a laboratory for experimentation and curiosity – actually giving you insights into the mind of Leonardo da Vinci by bringing his manuscripts, schematics and drawings to reality. Engineers have recreated large-scale models of Da Vinci’s inventions from his own plans “created through the skillful craftsmanship typical of the Renaissance workshops” which you can touch and maneuver.  Essentially, you get to play with DaVinci’s inventions – delighting children of all ages. The museum also exhibits DaVinci’s anatomical studies. A special space is dedicated to his main pictorial works including the Mona Lisa and Annunciation, reproduced using high-resolution backlight technology.(Open daily, Scuola Grand di San Rocco, www.davincimuseum.it).

My motto, “Seize the day” (and waste no time) serves me well, because my first day is sunny, bringing out the colors of Venice – along with everyone else. Venice is unbelievably crowded with tourists– like Times Square but on a much, much bigger scale– and quite warm and humid. But I don’t mind and I find myself wandering down streets and alleys in neighborhoods (and they are really neighborhoods, where Venetians live) that are amazingly uncrowded and quiet.

Concert underway in a church provides respite for body and soul © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

I periodically take refuge in churches to get out of the heat and take a bit of a rest and often am pleasantly surprised to discover art and music.

One of the delights of Venice is that it is set up like a labyrinth of warrens, alleys, bridges over canals, so you are constantly surprised by the scenes that come into view as you walk about.

Venice (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The most popular is the famous view from the Rialto Bridge at the center of the city where you literally have to wait your turn to get a photo.

The narrow alleys all of a sudden open up into the famous square of San Marco and I come upon the Basilica of San Marco with its ornate decoration. There is so much to see and do here in the piazza, which remarkably has retained the same look as depicted in Renaissance paintings.

Rush hour for gondoliers © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

At San Marco, I stand on a bridge the gondoliers go under to get to the Bridge of Sighs – that famous place in the Doge Palace where prisoners would be taken to their cramped, damp cells, across this bridge with the last view of the open sky and their last breath of fresh air. It’s like rush hour of the gondolas. I admire the skill with which they deftly turn 90-degree corners and avoid hitting each other or smack into the pilings. The choreography of their floating dance is amazing – I notice the oar lock the gondoliers use, shaped in such a way that they get a different angle to control their stroke.

Bridge of Sighs, Doge Palace © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

What really strikes me is that despite the crowds, how clean Venice’s streets are (though there is graffiti, more a reflection of political climate) and how fresh. This wasn’t the case when I last visited, 10 years ago.

I linger in the Piazza San Marco for a time, and am sitting on marble benches under an archway at the Doge Palace when I hear thunder. Last time I was here, the city was flooded – platforms mysteriously would appear on the streets that you had to walk over to avoid wading in six inches of water – a worrisome warning that Venice may at some point become submerged altogether with rising sea level.


Venice’s famous Piazza San Marco © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

No one seems particularly bothered by the thunder, not even the street vendors. I take the tram back to the hotel, and just before I get there, the thunderstorm starts.

The next morning is raining, but no matter. I hop the tram again, a five-minute walk from the Hotel Alexander through the neighborhood for the ride into Venice, and this time, after crossing over the bridge that provides entrance to the Old City (and apparently closes at night to those who aren’t living or staying here) go left at the fork instead of right. I walk over a bridge and see a sign pointing to the Jewish Ghetto and follow it. I come upon a group of Israeli tourists huddled under a passageway leading into the Jewish quarter as their guide gives her talk. I walk ahead and find the synagogue, where Sabbath services are just finishing, guarded by city soldiers who don’t let me in.

The last time I was in Venice, I happened upon Chabad gathering for Shabbat dinner and was invited in. The Chabad are actively repopulating European cities that emptied their Jewish communities during the Holocaust.

Gondolier, Venice © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

I have a few hours before Eric arrives and we have our orientation with a FunActive guide for our bike tour. I make my way to San Marco again, before walking back to the depot to get the tram back to the hotel, in time for Eric and the guide to arrive.

We spend about an hour with Anthony, the FunActive guide, actually hurrying him along because we are so anxious to get back to Venice so Eric can have some time there. Anthony persists: going over the day-by-day maps, pointing out sights we might look out for, and alternative routes we can take, and then fits us to the bikes we will be taking.

Entrance to the synagogue. Venice’s Jewish Ghetto is being repopulated © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

By the time we get to Venice in the afternoon, the rain has cleared. We return together to the Jewish Ghetto and wander from there. I let Eric take the lead so he can have that same delight in discovering Venice for himself.

It is important to realize that Venice is a place where people live (signs ask visitors to respect the residents), and coming in this way, through the Jewish Ghetto, we find many streets – very quiet streets – that are simply neighborhoods off the beaten tourist track. Laundry stretched across the canal.

Dining at Al Portego © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Eric uses his tech prowess (and the AFAR app) to find a restaurant, which gives a purpose and focus to our wandering through the streets. We arrive at Al Portego just in time before all the tables would be reserved for dinner.

After dinner, we walk to San Marco, which is especially magical at night. I have saved visiting the Doge Palace for the evening (the Doge Palace and three other museums stay open on Fridays and Saturdays until 11 pm, last entrance at 10 pm) so that Eric could see it as well. But Eric is too exhausted after having traveled all day and heads back to the hotel.

Doge Palace at night © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

I waltz in at 7:30 pm without waiting at all – such a contrast to the daytime when the lines are long and hundreds of people, including massive tour groups, funnel in at once. The ticket, I learn, is valid at all four museums and good for three months. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to take advantage, but the ticket is well worth it.

Priceless, in fact.

I find myself in these rooms – grand doesn’t begin to describe it – by myself or with at most five other people. All of us are breathless. No one speaks. The silence is thrilling.

The art work – monumental pieces by titans of the Renaissance – fill the massive walls and the entire ceiling. One room is grander and bigger and more gilded than the next, and at this hour, at this moment, it feels like all of this is for me and me alone.

Next: A Night Visit to the Doge Palace

(We booked our 8-day self-guided “Venice-Trieste-Istria” self-guided bike tour through BikeTours.com, a broker which has an excellent catalog of well-priced guided and self-guided bike and bike/boat trips, mostly in Europe, and has very attentive counselors. Biketours.com, 1222 Tremont Street , Chattanooga, TN 37405,  423 756-8907, 877 462-2423, www.biketours.com, info@biketours.com ).

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© 2019 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Spy v Spy in New York City: New KGB Spy Museum is Window into How Spies Impact World Affairs

 

Sergey, a KGB Spy Museum guide, describes the conditions that political prisoners would have suffered in a society where opposition was suppressed by fear © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

If you really want to be freaked out by the KGB Spy Museum that opened just a few months ago in Manhattan, do what I did: come directly from Spyscape, where you learn about the whole business of being a spy, and be in the middle of reading a book like “The Plot to Destroy Democracy: How Putin and His Spies Are Undermining America and Dismantling the West,” by Malcolm Vance.

The KGB Museum would be scarier if it were not laid out somewhat like an antique shop (but aren’t all spy centers sequestered behind something innocuous like a tailor shop?). Row by row, there are some 3500 artifacts, all of them real, many on view publicly for the first time. They date from 1910 until 1991, the collapse of the Soviet Union when the KGB was replaced by the FSB. But these mundane objects – a lipstick, an umbrella, a pen – were lethal weapons; a tie pin and belt buckle were cameras; a heart reader could seek out a live person hiding even in a refrigerator. Another important tool? A thermometer to determine if a person were truly dead. And if a master key couldn’t unlock an apartment to install a bug? No matter, a transmitter could be aimed at the window from a huge distance to decipher the sound vibrations and eavesdrop anyway. There is even a letter remover which could take out a letter from its envelope, read its contents and replace it back in the envelope, without leaving a mark.

The Patient Chair, used for interrogation, one of some 3500 artifacts on view at the KGB Spy Museum © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

And then there is the “patient chair,” used in a psychiatric hospital, with scary restraints, that were used for interrogations under truth serum or other means.

It turns out that those fantastical gadgets from the James Bond movies, and even the Get Smart spy spoof, were actually based on the real thing. It seems that there is nothing too absurd in the spy world.

The KGB story is really scary though. KGB (КГБ in Cyrillic) stands for “Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti,” which can be translated as the Committee for State Security. The KGB was the main security agency for the Soviet Union, and during the Cold War the KGB was in direct competition with the CIA and other state security agencies around the world for cultural, economic, and military dominance.

Some 3,500 artifacts from the KGB, from 1910 to 1991, many seen publicly for the first time, are on view at the newly opened KGB Spy Museum in Manhattan © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

The KGB was born in the Russian Revolution – one of the artifacts is the carpet memorializing Lenin (not his real last name, it turns out) and the beginning of the Revolution in 1917 – and was initially designed to ferret out counter-revolutionaries, or enemies of the Communist state.

One of the world’s largest and most sophisticated intelligence operations, the KGB served a multifaceted role as both a spy agency outside of Soviet Union and a force of secret police within it.

You realize how pervasive and ruthless the KGB was (is), and sense the constant terror that the people must have lived under, as that term “enemies of the state” was broadened to mean any one who criticized or opposed the ruling party, the leadership or policies.

There are real doors from jail cells, and you look through at real video of real prisoners. Those who were placed in solitary were allowed nothing to wear but their underwear; they could sleep only four hours, when the bed would be closed up, and fed only bread and water for 5 to 15 days.

Sergey demonstrates robot hands used to handle dangerousmaterials in a lab © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

One of the world’s largest and most sophisticated intelligence operations, the KGB served a multifaceted role as both a spy agency outside of Soviet Union and a force of secret police within it.

Some of the best engineering and scientific minds were employed to devise gadgets and gizmos – miniaturizing cameras, maximizing surveillance and detection, inventing new ways of transmitting.

“Virtually undetectable, the agency used its state-of-the-art tools and ruthless methods to seamlessly monitor the citizens’ lives and keep them in constant fear of repercussions for any subversive behavior. The investment in the spy technology had a devastating toll on the country’s economy yet it was deemed the most effective and necessary way to keep the state isolated from the rest of the world and keep the Western world out.”

With spies operating in countries all over the world, the KGB had a vast influence on world affairs, which reached its peak during the Cold War. KGB Spy Museum presents a never-before-seen collection of items used in the missions of prominent KGB agents, illuminating the strategies and methods that underlay many of history’s top-secret espionage operations.

In addition to perusing artifacts and learning about the history of the notorious agency, you can read and listen to real stories from spies, witnesses and journalists as well as explore and interact with authentic objects, such as telephone switchboards (most of the operators who connected the calls and then listened in on conversations were KGB), encryption machines, an interrogation chair, designed to extract information from suspects and enemies.

he KGB managed to hide a listening device in this wooden replica of the Great Seal, which hung over the US Ambassador’s desk in Moscow for 7 years before being detected. It took another 1 ½ years to figure out how it worked. The inventor won a Stalin Prize. © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

One of the most interesting stories surrounds a wooden Great Seal in one of the cabinets, that was also one of the KGB’s greatest triumphs, that arose out of the famous summit in the Crimea of Stalin, Churchill and FDR. The head of the KGB, Lavrenty Beria, had a replica of the Great Seal made as a gift for Ambassador Averell Harriman, presented most charmingly by cherubic Young Pioneers (like boy scouts) as a “gesture of friendship.” But inside was an ingenious bug that used electromagnetic energy instead of an external power supply. It hung above the Ambassador’s desk in Moscow for seven years before it was exposed in 1952. “The Americans couldn’t figure out how it worked for a year and a half,” my guide, Sergey, says. (The original is in the NSA’s Cryptology Museum in Washington.)

The inventor of the Zlatoust/Receiver LOSS, Lev Sergeyevich Termen, was a physicist and a musician, who began his career by developing previously unseen electronic musical instruments. In 1947 he won the Stalin Prize for Inventions of Listening Devices.

One of the objects that is literally one-of-a-kind, is a record player made expressly for Stalin; there is also a safe, made by the Bernstein company in Berlin, that came from KGB HQ, still containing the currency that would have been enough to buy 30 cars. Both indications of the privilege along with the power amassed by the Communist leadership despite their calls for a equal society.

The one-of-a-kind record player made especially for Stalin © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Among the rarest objects, which are a point of pride, also seem mundane but were “mechanical masterpieces”:

Tool set КАРОЕД/KAROED (Bark beetle): This is a manual set of special drills and instruments for drilling very narrow holes less than 0.04 inches without any sound in the tree or plastic. Holes were needed to listen to secret conversations with a help of secret microphones. These sharp and pointed drills are specially machined from the very hard metal. The set includes drill extensions, which can be used to drill holes in 3.3 ft and even thicker walls or wooden floors. A special hand-held drill holder had a stopper to drill holes of a certain depth to protect the drill from coming out across the wall by making only a small, hardly visible hole. A special container collects shavings in order not to leave any suspicious marks.

Also very rare: KGB secret drill ИГЛА/IGLA (needle): “It is a unique mechanical masterpiece – the drill IGLA. This very complicated drill reflects the name ‘needle’, because it drills a very thin hole through the concrete. It drills with the help of air compressor with abrasive dust to avoid the sound and vibration. Even the drilling sound was designed by the constructors to simulate that era washing machine Малютка/Maliutka. The person at home thought that a neighbor was probably doing the laundry. The Igla drill had a hole through which the air pressure was inflated according to the manometer readings, and when the drill approached the outside of concrete wall, the air pressure dropped in the drill as the air went out and the drill automatically shut off. The hole was 0.04 inches in size. If the walls were painted or lined with ceramic tiles, the eye did not even see the hole or dust outside. With this drill, the abrasive powder and concrete dust were absorbed by air. Agents who were very patient, slow and responsible were chosen to drill such a hole. In order to drill a 4 inches concrete wall took about 4 hours, and with the preparation – the whole day. Agents, through drilled miniature holes, installed listening or photo devices. After the operation, they applied a hole with the cement mixture and no suspicious marks were left.”

Mundane objects like a belt buckle hid miniature cameras © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

There’s an old fashioned phone where you can “dial” a selection of officials. My guide, Sergey, dials Putin and hands me the phone so I can hear Putin talking (it’s like listening to the LBJ telephone tapes at the LBJ Presidential Museum in Austin). There are also actual phones on display from KGB offices that would have features to disguise the voice at the push of a button.

The two spy experiences – Spyscape and the KGB Museum – have completely different approaches and perspectives, but they complement each other so well, especially when visited one after the other.

Spyscape is modern, state of the art, interactive, pulse-pounding, engaging, immersive experience. KGB is old-school but so relevant today, with the Russian actively hacking elections and using social media to impact US and other elections, policy, and political discourse.

“The KGB Spy Museum aims to present espionage and intelligence operations in an educational and interesting way, emphasizing the importance of human intelligence and setting out a frame of reference for the public to appreciate the great extent to which spies have always influenced world events. The Museum has a policy of presenting the history of espionage without political bias, thus offering visitors a factual and balanced view of the subject. “

The Museum is open daily 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tickets are available online or in the museum. You need about 1 ½ hours to visit. Tickets are adults (18-64)/$25; Children 7-17, seniors, students, $20; a guided visit, minimum 3 people is $43.99.

KGB Museum, 245 W 14th Street, NY 10011, kgbespionagemuseum.org.

See also: Spy v Spy Has New Addresses in NYC: At Spyscape Find Your Place in World of Espionage

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© 2019 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Spy v Spy Has New Addresses in NYC: At Spyscape Find Your Place in World of Espionage

The most chilling part of Spyscape, New York’s new spy experience, is the up-to-the-minute, torn from the headlines stuff: Here, Anonymous, as seen from two sides © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Are you Bond or Bourne? Once you leave Spyscape, you will learn there are many more roles to play in the complex and ever more ubiquitous world of intelligence. After going through eight “tests” and many stations which do their best to insert you into the realm of espionage and profile you to figure out what job you are best suited to, I would make a sorry spy. I knew from the start I wasn’t either Bond or Bourne. But I found a new calling.

I was expecting a museum, even as museums have become more interactive and engaging and multimedia. But Spyscape, one of the newest attractions in New York City, is not a museum. It is an interactive experience more than anything else, designed to inform you, yes, about the world of espionage and surveillance which, it turns out, is ubiquitous today, but put you in the picture so that you see yourself in the complex enterprise that is intelligence.

Spyscape is modern, state of the art, interactive, pulse-pounding, engaging, immersive experience that lets you peek into the world of espionage, spycraft, intelligence and counterintelligence today from the inside.

You don’t just get taken on a journey through the history of espionage from World War II and on, but become immersed in up-to-the-minute, ripped from the headlines events. Edward Snowdon. Wikileaks. Stuxnet. Black hat hackers.  Anonymous. “You might be persuaded not to vote.”

Pandora has truly been let out of her box.

There is a feeling of intensity from the moment you arrive – intended to give you that sense of tension and excitement that must be omnipresent in espionage, and visitors will enjoy as much as the adrenaline rush of skiing down a double-black trail. But is there a place for me?

I am risk adverse. I’m not a gamer. I don’t do puzzles. I’m frightened of going into small dark rooms when I don’t know what is there. I frighten easily.

As you arrive, you are given a bracelet that identifies you at scanning machines that basically track your progress as you go about the exhibit – you complete a series of tasks and quizzes and at the end, are assessed as to what role you might play in the spy apparatus – it turns out there are many, many different functions.

Your entrée into the world of spycraft is the largest passenger elevator in New York City,  escorted by a very professional person with a clipboard – it turns out that the ride up is also a multi-media orientation (think “Mission Impossible”).

Your mission: What kind of spy will you be? Or put another way: Where do you fit in the pantheon that is the world of espionage.

The experience is constructed as if a job interview, to immerse you and personalize what would otherwise be technical machines and bios. But it turns out that not all spies work for governments – corporations engage in some of the same techniques, so do journalists, and so do hackers and criminals. And it turns out that the profile you wind up with at the end of all the tasks and quizzes is authentic and serious – not tongue-in-cheek or hokey. I can see some young people seeing new career paths in intelligence (most of the CIA are analysts, not cloak-and-dagger operatives) or even outside, since, as is noted, the skills of a spy are broadly applicable.

The layout (Spyscape takes up a massive amount of space) is purposefully cold, grey, institutional, with constant pulsing sounds – sometimes electronic music, sometimes sound effects, sometimes narration.

I am quite unprepared for the experience, expecting a more conventional exhibit, so am put off stride when all of a sudden confronted with quizzes and tasks. It would have been completely different if I were primed and in a game mode.

One of the tasks I find more engaging (once I got the hang of it), was in the room about coding/decoding, the German’s Enigma machine and the Bombe that British mathematician Alan Turing and colleagues at Benchley developed to break the Enigma code. Here the task is to organize a spy’s escape, but you only have 3 minutes before the Germans will cut off communication to her, and you have to convert a message to code and then decode the response. I do this for the “Limping Lady”, who turns out to be a real person (I later realize she is the spy Virginia Hall) and this was a real scenario.

See what it would be like to code a message on a repiclica of the German Enigma that so confounded the Allies in World War II © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

You get personal insights into Alan Turing, the mathematician who developed a program to break the German “Enigma” machine code. (A fascinating artifact is a copy of Turing’s notes, as a teenager, summarizing Einstein’s Theory of Relativity as a gift for his mother). There is also a brief bio of Joan Clark, one of the Enigma codebreakers who rose to become Deputy Head of the Hut eight. You get to type code on a replica Enigma machine.

After one “test”, in which I fail to figure out patterns, I am given these words of encouragement: “You didn’t do too well today, but you are obviously better in other things.”

Another that is sure to delight is a room of laser beams where the timed task is to shut off lights without piercing the beams – very Oceans 11. (This task gauges your agility.)

All through, the exhibits personalize the serious issue being raised – the history, technology, impact on society – with real people, real events and real artifacts. This is serious business after all with real life and death consequences. Double agents have been exposed and executed; moles have exposed agents who were executed. Wars declared or averted, extended or curtailed, won or lost.

As you weave through, taking your own quizzes and tasks, the exhibits tell stories about real spies, double agents, like Robert Hansen and how he was discovered. Hansen’s treachery led to the unmasking of three soviets who spied for the US, two of whom were executed. – how he was discovered and trapped. Would you have detected Hansen’s deceit?

I have all sorts of trepidation about going into a small dark room which turned out to be the test of how well I could detect Deception (I think I do well at that one, probably by accident).

“Gadgets of defiance” describes the devices that British and American operatives used to carry out perilous missions in Nazi-occupied Europe – forged documents to support their cover identifies; one-time encryption pads and miniature radios to communicate with handlers. They supplied downed Allied pilots with escape maps and compasses and targeted the enemy with weapons and explosives.

I learn about Virginia Hall, an American special operations officer who, as a girl, had dreamed of joining the US foreign service and became fluent in foreign languages, but after she lost part of her left leg in an accident, her dream was cut off as well. When Hitler invaded Paris in 1940, Hall was working for a French ambulance service. She made her way to Britain and joined British special operations. She worked as a journalist for the New York Post in occupied France, and the Germans nicknamed Artemis;the Gestapo  considered her “the most dangerous of all Allied spies”. Virginia Hall was the “Limping Lady” of the code scenario.

A spy plane camera from the Cuban Missile Crisis © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

I learn about Oleg Penkovsky, known as “HERO” who was a Soviet military intelligence (GRU) colonel who was responsible for informing the United Kingdom about Soviet installing missiles in Cuba. The information he provided helped Kennedy through the Cuban Missile Crisis because he realized that a naval blockade could force the Soviet Union to stand down. Penkovsky, the highest ranking Soviet official to provide intelligence for the UK up until that time, is credited with altering the course of the Cold War. He was executed six months after being arrested.

I learn about the British couple, Ruari and Janet Chisholm, who were his handlers in Moscow. Ruari was Moscow Station Chief for M16, the British secret intelligence service. Janet collected much of Pankovsky’s intelligence. During one “brush contact” he walked casually over to her in a park and offered her children a tin of Vitamin C pills. Janet quickly swapped the tin which contained military secrets for another identical one hidden in her baby stroller. The thought of exposing children like that was chilling. (There’s a photo of Janet with her children on a park bench.)

We meet the real life “Q” gadget wizard, Charles Fraser Smith, who was Ian Fleming’s inspiration for the character he used in James Bond. The new multi-sensory James Bond experience explores the creative process behind the 007 movies while revealing the secrets of James Bond’s iconic Aston Martin DB5. You get to peek at gadgets in Q’s lab, examine original concept art in Oscar®-winning Production Designer Sir Ken Adam’s studio and look behind the scenes of Skyfall’s explosive finale.

Surveillance. It’s all around you. © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

At another section, you go through a dark curtain and find yourself in this dark round room, illuminated only by giant screens,that give you some sense of the state of surveillance (it is all around). This area showcases whistleblower Edward Snowden who exposed the NSA’s surveillance programs and the reporters who have unmasked government secrets – Laura Poitras  and Glenn Greenwald, the journalists who exposed modern day slavery(old school pad and pen, videocamera and computer are the weapons of choice).

This is where you see the message blazing out of a giant screen: “You might be persuaded not to vote.” This is the brave new world of intelligence – not extracting secrets, but in distorting and implanting messages to shape, disrupt or derail society.

Anonymous, the new face of intelligence/counterintelligence; governments no longer have a monopoly..© Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

One of the last stations is actually the most chilling: Hacktivism discusses hacking, hackers – by anarchists, profiteers as well as nation states. Stuxnet, which was used to disrupt Iran’s nuclear program (a centrifuge is on view). After Iran realized what had been done, it called for the hackers to join in an army.

We learn that Stuxnet is now open source, sold on the blck market, and could be used by any number of actors to shut down electric grids, water systems or air traffic control or remotely give instructions to launch a nuclear attack. And no one knows who has it.

Whistleblower Edward Snowdown, at Spyscape © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

And now, I am really to go into my “debrief – encryption, deception, surveillance, special ops, brainpower (7/18), which comes up with my spy role: Agent Handler (I suspect they give that one to all those who don’t measure up as real spies).

But it isn’t done flippantly or tongue-in-cheek. The authentic personal spy profile is based on psychologists and a former Head of Training at British Intelligence, and sounds pretty authentic (as were the short tests for which I was totally unprepared):

“Your Spy Profile is your unique (and ever evolving) combination of attributes. When compared to others, it allows us to determine the Spy Role you are best suited to.”

My profile – “empathetic, inquisitive, composed” – turns out to be fairly accurate and also serious, developed with real psychologists.

At Spyscape’s Debriefing, you learn your role in espionage, based on the profile compiled. © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Later in the day, I am sent a comprehensive profile to my email and a Welcome letter. “Your Spy Skills can be valuable in everyday life. We’ve evaluated your Core Attributes and Spy Skills to determine your Spy Profile. Top psychologists and spymasters helped us build our Spy Profile system. We hope the self-knowledge in your Spy Profile will empower you, and inspire you to further develop your Spy Skills.”

The missive gives me more detail about my role as Agent Handler: A manager of agents who provide secret intelligence or operational support, and an insider view from General David Petreus.

In the real life example, I am given the bio of the agent handler for my new spy hero, Oleg Penkovsky (his code name was Hero) and the background that I found so compelling in the exhibit, about his handler, Ruari Chisholm, and an example of a typical operation, procuring cover material for an agent in the Iranian government who wants to provide info on Iran’s potential to develop nuclear weapons.

(This makes me think of important omissions in Spyscape: Valerie Plame, the CIA undercover agent who was infiltrating the Iran nuclear program until Plame’s identity as covert officer of the CIA working in counter proliferation was leaked to the press by members of George W Bush administration and subsequently made public  as retribution for her husband, Ambassador Joseph Wilson’s reveal about the false information that led to the US invasion of Iraq; she also had knowledge to disprove Bush’s contention that the aluminum tubes that Iraq had could be used as centrifuges for nuclear material. Also, how Andrew McCabe, the foremost counter-intelligence expert on Russia, was drummed out of the FBI by Trump to short-circuit the investigation into Russian collusion with the Trump campaign and the 2016 election).

Spyscape will excite and thrill as it informs and intrigues. It helps to be prepared in advance for what you will encounter – I think I would have done considerably better and had better attitude.

And like skiing, it is an experience that adults and older children will relish doing together.

There is a continuing relationship – they send you the profile, and follow up with articles, stories, spy challenges, sharing news about factual and fictional worlds of spying and hacking “and helping you develop your own spy skills. We will be adding content from top hackers and spies to spyscape.com/academy so check in regularly to see what’s new.”

I think I’m being groomed. I’m definitely intrigued.

From Spyscape, I walk down to the KGB Museum in Chelsea. It is an interesting Spy v Spy counterpoint that enhances the experience of each one separately.

Visiting:  SPYSCAPE is optimized for adults and teens, but children are welcome. Bringing pre-school-age kids is not recommended. You need about two hours. There is a pleasant café and the gift shop is loaded with spy-related merch.  Open Monday-Friday, 10 am-9 pm and Saturday-Sunday, 9am-9 pm, last entry at 7:30 pm. (Adult, $39; child 3-12 $32).

Spyscape, 928 8th Avenue (entrance on SE corner of 55th Street), 646-585-7012, spyscape.com

Next: Spy v Spy in New York City: New KGB Spy Museum is Window into How Spies Impact World Affairs

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© 2019 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

‘Hudson Rising’ Exhibit at New-York Historical Society Shows River Was Incubator for America’s Environmental Movement

“Hudson Rising” at the New-York Historical Society: Legendary folk singer Pete Seeger, with a model of the Clearwater, led a movement to reclaim the Hudson River from industrial destruction and overdevelopment © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

This spring, the New-York Historical Society presents Hudson Rising, a unique exhibition that explores 200 years of ecological change and environmental activism along “the most interesting river in America” through artifacts, media, and celebrated Hudson River School paintings.

On view March 1 – August 4, Hudson Rising reflects on how human activity has impacted the river and, in turn, how the river environment has shaped industrial development, commerce, tourism, and environmental awareness. The exhibition also explores how experts in various fields are currently creating ways to restore and re-engineer areas of the river in response to climate change.

Indeed, we tend to think of the environmental movement as originating with Yellowstone and the national parks, but it is fascinating to realize that the beginning of environmental activism – and the techniques – began here. Citizens rallied to oppose the construction of a Con Ed plant on Storm King Mountain; one of the new organizations, Scenic Hudson, sued; the case, in 1965 set a precedent beyond the Hudson, establishing that citizens have standing to sue on behalf of conservation, even when they do not have a direct economic interest,  that beauty and history also merit protection – the forerunner of the Environmental Protection Act. Later, a “viewshed,” modeled on the concept of a watershed, in connection with landscape painter Frederic Edwin Church’s Olana, also warranted preservation.

Curated by Marci Reaven, New-York Historical’s vice president of history exhibitions, “Hudson Rising” begins where environmental consciousness of the Hudson River began, with the landscape artist Thomas Cole © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Hudson River raised consciousness of the importance of environmental protection. the exhibit opens with paintings from Thomas Cole, the founder of the Hudson River School art movement (America’s first native-grown art movement), who worried even then about the encroachment of development. His paintings depict an idyllic landscape, but also the destruction of the forest to lumbering.

Much more than a body of water, the Hudson and its surroundings have been the home for humans and hundreds of species of fish, birds, and plants; offered an escape for city-dwellers; and witnessed battles over the uses of the river valley and its resources. For over 200 years, writers and artists have captured the river in paintings, drawings, literature, and photographs, and surveyors and scientists have mapped and measured its every parcel.

The Hudson has always encapsulated the tension between development and conservation. But it was more than about aesthetics, and the need for urbanites to be able to seek respite in the countryside: an early environmental scientist realized that logging in the Adirondacks, which was discovered to be the source of the Hudson, was jeopardizing the watershed supplying New York City.

Scientists at the same time discovered the critical link between forests and the health of rivers. They realized the Adirondack forest supported the Hudson River and aquatic animals. That begins the movement to save the Adirondacks, including the forests. Ultimately, it leads to New York State’s “Forever Wild” amendment to the state constitution, in 1894.

“This path-breaking exhibition explores ideas about the environment that developed in the context of the Hudson, examining how we became aware, as New Yorkers and as Americans, of the role that humans played in the river’s ecological degradation,” said Dr. Louise Mirrer, president and CEO of New-York Historical. “The exhibit also looks at the strategies we devised to address it. Spanning the entire industrial era, Hudson Rising presents a compelling account of how the Hudson has been an incubator for our ideas about the environment and our relationships to the natural world for two centuries-plus.”

Indeed, we learn that Theodore Roosevelt, before creating the first national park as president, innovated environmental protection as Governor of New York State, working with New Jersey, to protect the Palisades as a “park for the people” (hugely popular with immigrants who crammed into cities, the park had 2 million visitors in 1920, many who came by a free ferry); similarly Franklin Roosevelt, when he was New York State governor, created what would become the New Deal Civilian Conservation Corps when he was president.

Curated by Marci Reaven, New-York Historical’s vice president of history exhibitions, and Jeanne Haffner, associate curator, Hudson Rising begins with a prelude featuring artist Thomas Cole’s panoramic five-part Course of Empire series (1834-36), a treasure of New-York Historical’s collection that depicts the transformation of a pristine landscape into a thriving city, then its dramatic decline, and the fall of civilization.

Thomas Cole’s painting, Catskill Mountain House © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Cole railed against “human hubris” and the exploitation of nature. “The ranges of the ax are daily and increasing,” Cole said. “Nature has spread for us a rich and delightful banquet. Shall we turn from it?” he wrote in his “Essay on American Scenery” (1836). Cole’s poetic questioning of the social costs of what was seen in his time as progress, serves as a prelude to the exhibition narrative, which begins with the industrial age and continues into the present day. The Hudson River, we learn, was the incubator for the environmental movement.

The exhibition is organized chronologically and geographically into five sections that highlight significant places and events in the environmental history of the river: Journeys Upriver: The 1800s, The Adirondacks: 1870s-1890s, The Palisades: 1890s-1950s, The Hudson Highlands: 1960s-1980s, and A Rising Tide: Today.

The exhibit is designed to meander, like the river itself, and uses actual artifacts – there is even the smell of freshly cut wood from the Adirondacks – that bring you, as much as possible to the Hudson: bricks from Haberstraw; rocks from the Palisades; iron from Cold Spring Foundry across from West Point; wood from Catskills; hemlock (used for tanning), even a fish tank with striped bath (blue eels will be added later). “The layout is a metaphor for the river,” said Ken Nintzel, the designer.

A cherished tourist panorama of the Hudson River from 1847, that was so big, it was accordioned into a book © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

There are historical maps – one of the most impressive is a panorama map from 1847 that stretches the length of a wall, that tourists would use, “one of the great maps of American history”- photos, paintings, news clips that trace the battle to reclaim the Hudson from industrial pollution. A map from 1890s shows how the Hudson was “redesigned” to make it more navigable for shipping, changing the way the river ran, but in the process, did away with the shallows that hosted aquatic life and mitigated flooding. Another map documents how plentiful oysters used to be – New York city used to be the primary exporter of oysters and clams – until sewage in the Hudson killed off the oysters.

The painting by Thomas Cole of the Catskill Mountain House reminds that American tourism began here in the Hudson – today, you can hike up to where the hotel used to be and gaze out over the Hudson.

The exhibits surround you, and there are various interactive elements. 

“Hudson Rising” features a combination of paintings, artifacts, maps, photos, videos to tell the story of the development of the river and its preservation © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Journeys Upriver: The 1800s starts with a steamboat journey up the Hudson River from the New York City harbor to Albany, inspired by one of the great tourist guides of Hudson River history, the Panorama of the Hudson (1847). The detailed rendering of the river landscape led steamboat and armchair travelers from New York City to the last navigable point of the river near Troy, pointing out natural wonders, Hudson Valley industries, notable individuals, and Revolutionary War sites along the way. Also on view are paintings, industrial objects, and an important Army Corps of Engineers map that shows how the Corps engineered the river to be a more navigable and predictable shipping channel. Hudson River School art on display include Robert Havell Jr.’s View of Hudson River from near Sing Sing, New York (ca. 1850) and George Henry Boughton’s Hudson River Valley from Fort Putnam, West Point (1855), both depicting tourists enjoying the landscape.

The Adirondacks: 1870s-1890s examines the creation of Adirondack Park, established to save the source of the river and combat deforestation in order to protect the viability of the entire Hudson watershed. Advocates for the area included surveyor Verplanck Colvin, who mapped the area’s peaks and lakes as superintendent of the State Adirondack Survey and identified the source of the river at Lake Tear of the Clouds, and Seneca Ray Stoddard, a photographer whose images of deforestation made a case for forest conservation. On view in this section is one of Asher B. Durand’s majestic depictions of the Adirondack wilderness, Adirondack Mountains, New York (ca. 1870).

The Palisades: 1890s-1950s traces the protection of the forests and cliffs of the Palisades to maintain the health of the river and preserve a place for beauty and nature. In the late 1800s, the Palisades cliffs were being blasted to bits by road builders who prized their rock. Citizen activists, such as the New Jersey chapter of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs and the American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society, fought back and helped create Palisades Park in 1909. Residents of New York and New Jersey thronged to the park, arriving by foot, ferry, train, and car, with over two million people visiting in 1920 alone, most of them from Manhattan. The exhibition features a selection of tourist brochures from that era, including one with a trio of women posed on the cliff edge, above the river.

The Hudson Highlands: 1960s-1980s explores how activism along the river helped spark the modern American environmental movement. By the early 1960s, untreated sewage and industrial pollutants were poisoning the river. Increasing numbers of power plants were also rising along the Hudson, whose operations were killing millions of fish, and whose monumental structures were intruding upon the most treasured vistas. When Con Edison announced plans to build a plant on Storm King Mountain, citizen activists fought back and prevented its construction. By the 1980s, citizens could legally intervene to stop development that put treasured natural resources at risk. On view is an aquarium featuring striped bass and other fish native to the Hudson River, which now thrive due to activists’ efforts to save them.  Displays of artifacts, images, and media from the environmental campaigns of the era include a 1983 photograph featuring John Cronin, river patroller for the Hudson River Fisherman’s Association (now called Riverkeeper) on his first day on the job, confronting an Exxon tanker discharging polluted water into the river.

The final section, A Rising Tide: Today, discusses the process of reimagining and reclaiming the Hudson River in the 21st century, as experts in many fields explore ways to restore and re-engineer areas of the river in response to climate change. The exhibition showcases innovative projects addressing these concerns, such as a system of “living breakwaters,” reef-like structures designed to restore diverse aquatic habitats, lessen wave impacts, and restore the shoreline, implemented by the New York Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery and landscape architecture firm SCAPE.

“We hope Hudson Rising will inspire visitors to see the river differently, and how movements like environmental activism get born,” Dr. Mirrer said.

“It’s not a new story, but this is the first exhibit that presents such a comprehensive look at the Hudson River as an incubator of the environmental movement.”

Programming

As part of New-York Historical’s What the History programs, a suite of interactive talks, history classes, art-making workshops, and social evenings for a young professional audience illuminates the environmental history of New York, the lasting impact of the Hudson River School painters on the American imagination, and how contemporary design and ideas are engaging with the threats climate change pose to the city.

Visiting families can enjoy a special guide featuring suggested exhibition highlights to view as a family, discussion questions, and gallery-based activities. During the April School Vacation Week (April 19-28), Museum’s family programs explore environmental activism, including art making using recycled materials in Museum galleries. On the weekends (April 20-21 and April 27-28) visiting families can interact with Living Historians portraying famous and unsung activists of American history.

On April 16, architectural historian Barry Lewis discusses how the Victorians “greened” their homes and cities, bringing nature into city greenbelts and private home design. On May 22, Douglas Brinkley, New-York Historical’s presidential historian, explores how presidents like Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin Delano Roosevelt championed the protection of the nation’s natural treasures and established a sprawling network of state parks and scenic roadways, respectively. On June 9, author Leslie Day leads a tour along the Hudson River exploring its rich geological and human history and its diverse ecosystems.

Present Day Relevance

The exhibit is particularly timely: years of exploitation and pollution have resulted in the entire Hudson River, from the Battery to Hudson Falls, some 200 miles, designated a superfund site by EPA. Mandated clean-up by industrial polluters including General Electric, have significantly improved conditions. But the Trump Administration’s EPA is moving to issue a Certificate of Completion which would end GE’s responsibility for cleaning up the Superfund site, despite the state’s research that shows high levels of PCBs remaining in the river.

Governor Cuomo issued a statement ahead of Administrator Wheeler’s visit to New York:

“In New York, we are leading the fight to protect our environment with the most ambitious environmental agenda in the nation. Administrator Wheeler, while you are in New York, I urge you to visit the Hudson River, one of this country’s natural treasures that is also one of the most pressing Superfund sites in the country. New York has fought to restore this vital resource but the ball is now in the EPA’s court. The EPA can either do the right thing and continue to hold GE accountable for continued clean up, or they can side with big polluters and let GE off the hook for its responsibility to clean up PCBs in the river.

 “We refused to allow PCB contamination to continue to jeopardize the health and safety of our communities for generations to come. We hope and expect that the EPA will join us in ensuring the full completion of the cleanup.”

I suggested Wheeler visit “Hudson Rising”.

The New-York Historical Society, one of America’s preeminent cultural institutions, is dedicated to fostering research and presenting history and art exhibitions and public programs that reveal the dynamism of history and its influence on the world of today. Founded in 1804, New-York Historical’s mission is to explore the richly layered history of New York City and State and the country, and to serve as a national forum for the discussion of issues surrounding the making and meaning of history. New-York Historical is also home to the Patricia D. Klingenstein Library, one of the oldest, most distinguished libraries in the nation—and one of only 20 in the United States qualified to be a member of the Independent Research Libraries Association—which contains more than three million books, pamphlets, maps, newspapers, manuscripts, prints, photographs, and architectural drawings.

New-York Historical Society, 170 Central Park West (at 77th Street), www.nyhistory.org.

See for Yourself: Hike the Hudson River School Art Trail

Walk in the footsteps of the Hudson River School artists Thomas Cole, Frederic Church, Asher B. Durand, Jasper Cropsey, Sanford Gifford and other pioneering American landscape artists, literally walking into their paintings, and appreciating their work in an entirely new way.

New York State created the first “viewshed” – a protected view – at Frederic Church’s Olana, Hudson NY © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

See what inspired Thomas Cole, his art and his passion to save the Hudson Valley environment, when you visit his home and art studio. Visit Frederic Edwin Church’s magnificent Olana,  walk the gorgeous trails and see the very first protected “viewshed”  (Olana State Historic Site, 5720 State Route 9G, Hudson, NY 12534, 518-828-0135, olana.org.) Hike the trails that take you up to where the Catskill Mountain House would have stood, to Sunset Rock, to Kaaterskill Falls, North-South Lake, just as the Hudson River School painters did, often with markers that show the paintings that were created from that very same vantage point.

The view from Sunset Rock in the Catskill Preserve, one of the hikes on the Hudson River School Art Trail, the same view as Thomas Cole painted © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

“The Hudson River School painters believed art to be an agent of moral and spiritual transformation. In large-scale canvases of dramatic vistas with atmospheric lighting, they sought to capture a sense of the divine, envisioning the pristine American landscape as a new Garden of Eden. Their work created not only an American art genre but also a deeper appreciation for the nation’s natural wonders, laying the groundwork for the environmental conservation movement and National Park System.”

Most of the stops on the trail are within 15 miles of the Thomas Cole National Historic Site, in Catskill. (Thomas Cole National Historic Site, 218 Spring Street, Catskill, NY 12414, 518-943-7465, thomascole.org)

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© 2019 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Come Face to Face with T Rex, The Ultimate Predator, at the American Museum of Natural History

The new exhibit T. rex: The Ultimate Predator at American Museum of Natural History brings you face to face with the most fearsome dinosaur © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate,  goingplacesfarandnear.com

We have become well aware how terrifying Tyrannosaurus rex was, but who knew that T. rex hatchlings were fluffy and gangly, more like turkeys than the massive killing machines they grow to be? Or that the mega-predator had the rare ability to pulverize and digest bones and re-grow its teeth? Or that it grew at the rate of 140 lbs. a month, weighing 6 to 9 tons when fully grown and lived no more than 28 years? That it had excellent vision and sense of smell, but puny hands that probably were vestigial? T. rex: The Ultimate Predator, the first major exhibition of the American Museum of Natural History’s 150th anniversary celebration, brings us face to face with  the most iconic dinosaur in the world through life-sized models—including the most scientifically accurate representation of T. rex to date–fossils and casts, engaging interactives, and the Museum’s first multiplayer virtual reality experience.

T. rex: The Ultimate Predator opens Monday, March 11, 2019 and will be on view through August 9, 2020, when the exhibit will likely go on tour.

Founded in 1869, the Museum has a long and celebrated history of international exploration and research in paleontology dating back to the 1890s, with an outsized influence in a field that sits at the intersection of cutting-edge science and the popular imagination. The Museum has a particularly special relationship to T. rex: its famous paleontologist, Barnum Brown, was the first to discover T. rex – in 1902 in Montana – and the first T. rex on display anywhere was here at the museum. This makes the new blockbuster exhibit, T. rex: The Ultimate Predator, inspired by a legacy of scientific exploration and bringing the latest science to the public, a natural launching point for the museum’s 150th anniversary programming.

With more than 120 years of dinosaur research and discovery, the Museum continues to be a leader in this field. Its paleontology collection is one of the largest and most diverse in the world, with specimens that have led to amazing discoveries, including the identification of the first dinosaur eggs and early evidence of dinosaur feathers. A number of recent discoveries about the tyrannosaur group are highlighted in this exhibition.

“Dinosaurs, and Tyrannosaurus rex in particular, are such an important and iconic part of the Museum and have been throughout our history,” said Ellen V. Futter, President of the American Museum of Natural History. “So it seems fitting to launch the Museum’s 150th Anniversary celebrations with a major new exhibition on the ever-intriguing King of Dinosaurs.” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 

“Dinosaurs, and Tyrannosaurus rex in particular, are such an important and iconic part of the Museum and have been throughout our history,” said Ellen V. Futter, President of the American Museum of Natural History. “So it seems fitting to launch the Museum’s 150th Anniversary celebrations with a major new exhibition on the ever-intriguing King of Dinosaurs. This exciting and fascinating exhibition will do what the Museum has done throughout its history and continues to do today: share the latest scientific breakthroughs with the public, introduce visitors to the researchers on the cutting-edge of discovery, shed new light on the great story of life on Earth, and inspire wonder and curiosity in visitors of all ages.”

Indeed, while Barnum assembled the most complete collection of dinosaur fossils in the world for the museum, the museum has some 34 million specimens and artifacts – one of the most important collections of natural history anywhere. Its library and archives of research documents – like Barnum’s own field notes and letters which show how painstaking and difficult the expeditions were – are the most complete and extensive in the world.

”Dinosaur fossils, like other echoes of ancient life, are discoveries of the science of paleontology. But dinosaurs have a special status that transcends their importance to science—they fascinate and inspire the masses like few other animals—living or extinct—can,” said Michael Novacek, the Museum’s senior vice president and provost for science. “Chief among them is T. rex, perhaps the most famous and celebrated dinosaur that ever lived.”

Visitors to T. rex: The Ultimate Predator encounter a massive life-sized model of a T. rex with patches of feathersthe definitive representation of this prehistoric predator. The exhibition includes reconstructions of several T. rex hatchlings and a four-year-old juvenile T. rex; a “roar mixer” where visitors can imagine what T. rex may have sounded like by blending sounds from other animals; a shadow theater featuring a floor projection of an adult T. rex skeleton coming to life; and a life-sized animation of T. rex in a Cretaceous environment that responds to visitors’ movements. At a tabletop “Investigation Station,” visitors can explore a variety of fossil casts ranging from coprolite (fossilized feces) to a gigantic femur, with virtual tools including a CT scanner, measuring tape, and a microscope to learn more about what such specimens can reveal to scientists about the biology and behavior of T. rex.

T. rex: The Ultimate Predator is curated by Mark Norell, who joined the Museum in 1989. Norell, who is the Macaulay Curator in the Museum’s Division of Paleontology and its chair, has led and participated in a number of scientific investigations into the biology and evolutionary history of tyrannosaurs and other theropods—the group of dinosaurs most closely related to modern birds. His work includes the first discovery of a feathered tyrannosaur, Dilong paradoxus, in China in 2004. In addition to Dilong, many of the species studied by Norell and his colleagues and former students, and recent research findings, are featured in the new exhibition.

Scientists discuss the research that went into the new exhibit, T. rex: The Ultimate Predator: #1 Michael Novacek, Senior Vice President, Provost of Science and Curator, division of Paleontology; Mark Norell, chair and Macaulay Curator, Division of Paleontology and Curator of T.rex: The Ultimate Predator; Gregory Erickson, Paleobiologist, Florida State University and Jasmina Wiemann, Molecular Paleobiologist, Yale University. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

In the last 30 years, we’ve seen a huge increase in both the number of tyrannosaur fossil discoveries as well as the availability of technology that lets us explore complex questions about these charismatic animals,” Norell said. “I never would have imagined that one day we’d be able to look at the shape of T. rex’s brain, analyze the tiny daily growth lines on their massive teeth to determine how quickly they put on weight, or use advanced biomechanical modeling to figure out the force of its bite.”

Humble Origins

T. rex may have been a mega-predator, but it evolved from humble origins. The full tyrannosaur family includes more than two dozen different species and spans more than 100 million years of evolution, with T. rex appearing only at the very end of that period, between 66 and 68 million years ago. Most dinosaurs in the superfamily Tyrannosauroidea were not giants like T. rex, which, fully grown, weighed between 6 and 9 tons. Early species were small and fast, likely avoiding confrontations with larger dinosaurs.

T. rex The Ultimate Predator at American Museum of Natural History, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

In the exhibit, we come face to face with life-size models of a number of tyrannosaurs, including: Proceratosaurus bradleyi, the earliest known tyrannosaur that lived about 167 million years ago and was about the size of a wolf with a crest on its snout; Dilong paradoxus, which like many early tyrannosaurs, had arms that were relatively long and capable of seizing small prey, and was the first tyrannosaur found with fossilized feathers (discovered by exhibition curator Mark Norell and his colleagues in China); and Xiongguanlong baimoensis, a mid-sized tyrannosaur that, when it was discovered in 2009, offered a rare glimpse of a transitional species between the smaller early tyrannosaurs and the later giants.

The exhibit features interactive elements: visitors are tasked with placing various tyrannosaur family members in the correct time period on a magnetic wall and can experiment with a praxinoscope that animates the difference between walking and running—T. rex could only truly run when it was young. A hands-on interactive lets visitors attach the right size tail to a T. rex torso to create a balanced posture.

Getting Big

How did T. rex get so big when its ancestors were so small? And how did a young T. rex, the size of a turkey grow to the size of a truck? The simple answer: by growing very quickly. T. rex reached full size by its early 20s—about as fast as a human does—but it put on much more weight in that time, gaining up to 140 pounds (65 kg) per month. The exhibition shows T. rex in early developmental stages, showing how the dinosaur transformed from a vulnerable hatchling with a more than 60 percent chance of succumbing to predators, accidents, disease, and failure to find food in its first year of life, to a gargantuan predator at the top of the food chain. No T. rex has been found that has been identified as being older than 28 years.

“T. rex was the ‘James Dean’ of dinosaurs; he would have been very beat up,” said Gregory Erickson, paleobiologist from Florida State University.

Much of what we see in the exhibit is the result of a new approach to studying dinosaurs – integrating other scientific disciplines, such as molecular biology and chemistry, and comparative techniques to contemporary animals such as crocodiles and birds, as well as new technologies like 3D scanning.

The latest understanding also presents T. rex’s “arms” as even tinier than before, suggesting that they had no function and were vestigial in the course of evolution. Also, the “hands” have two fingers instead of three.

So far, though, the scientists have been unable to determine a dinosaur’s sex from the skeleton. “It would be nice to know the sex ratio to understand population biology, how bodies changed over their lifespan,” Erickson said. “You have to appreciate just how rare these specimens are – just 1,000 dinosaurs have been named.”

Erickson explains that though scientists know what strata to search, it has to be relatively close to the surface for paleontologists to safely extract the bones without damaging them; also, many of the sites where dinosaurs might be found are in very remote, difficult places. And it may well be true that there were relatively few of the largest dinosaurs, because of the supply of resources available.

The exhibits display T. rex at various stages of its development.

T. rex The Ultimate Predator at American Museum of Natural History, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We see a life-size model of a four-year-old T. rex, which although not yet the “king” it would become in adulthood, would have weighed about five times more than a four-year-old boy and was as large as any other predatory dinosaur in its habitat. Fully covered in feathers for warmth and camouflage, this juvenile T. rex had relatively long arms (unlike its adult counterparts), a slim body, and bladelike teeth that could cut through flesh but were not yet capable of crushing bone.

We encounter a real fossil of a T. rex toe bone and a touchable cast of a T. rex thigh bone to gain a sense of scale for the fully grown giant, which stood about 12 to 13 feet high at the hip and was about 40 to 43 feet long. Fossil casts from a close relative to T. rex, Tarbosaurus bataar, illustrate that T. rex wasn’t the only tyrannosaur that looked and behaved dramatically differently throughout its life. A cast of the youngest and most complete juvenile tyrannosaur fossil found to date, a two-year-old Tarbosaurus, has a delicate skull with thin bladelike teeth it likely used to catch small vertebrates and insects, while the cast of the huge adult Tarbosaurus skull indicates that when fully grown, it used its heavy, bone-crushing teeth and jaws to eat large animals.

Biggest, Baddest Tyrannosaur

All tyrannosaurs were built to kill, but the biggest and baddest of them all was T. rex. With its huge size, sharp claws, and teeth that could bite through bone, it dominated the competition. New research shows that a T. rex could bite with about 7,800 pounds of force—equivalent to the weight of three cars – compared to 3,700 pounds of force of a modern crocodile.

We see a fossil of one of these huge, banana-shaped teeth, which relied on deep roots to withstand the immense forces during a bite, as well as a cast of a fossilized T. rex lower jaw demonstrating the constant replacement cycle of its fearsome teeth. A full-scale reproduction of the T. rex fossil skeleton on display in the Museum’s Hall of Saurischian Dinosaurs—in a different pose—is the subject of the exhibition’s “shadow theater,” in which the skeleton’s 40-foot shadow (somewhat jarringly) “comes to life” and demonstrate to visitors how the animal moved and interacted with prey and its own kind.

T. rex The Ultimate Predator at American Museum of Natural History, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Scientists long suspected T. rex could bite through bone, thanks to fossils of its powerful skull and teeth. But now there’s proof in fossilized feces, or coprolites, which contain many tiny chunks of bones eroded by stomach acid. High-tech imaging tools like CT scanners, X-ray fluorescence, and microprobe analysis reveal that T. rex was one of the rare species on Earth that could pulverize and digest solid bone. In fact, some T. rex coprolites are 30-50 percent crushed bone. The exhibition features a cast of one of these telltale coprolites as well as a cast of a tail bone from a duck-bill dinosaur with an embedded T. rex tooth surrounded by new bone growth, indicating that T. rex was not just a scavenger but also attacked live prey.

We learn about the fierceness of two other top predators in the tyrannosaur subfamily, which lived side by side in Asia about 70 million years ago: Alioramus and Tarbosaurus. Bulky Tarbosaurus and nimble Alioramus likely specialized in different prey, much like lions and leopards do today.

Keen Senses of Sight, Smell

We know T. rex from fossils—but what was it like in the flesh? The exhibition’s massive life-size adult T. rex model is based on the most up-to-date findings and represents the most scientifically accurate representation of this pop culture icon to date. New research on this powerful hunter’s senses show that keen vision, smell, and hearing made it very hard for this predator’s prey to avoid detection.

T. rex The Ultimate Predator at American Museum of Natural History, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Brain casts indicate that T. rex had excellent vision. Its eyes, the size of oranges—some of the largest eyes of any land animal—faced forward like a hawk and were set wider apart than most other dinosaurs, giving it superior depth perception.

How can you tell the shape of an extinct animal’s brain? Soft tissues such as brains rarely fossilize. But fossilized skulls often contain a space where the brain used to be, revealing its precise shape. Scientists use these fossilized brain cases to make a model, or endocast, of the missing brain. They also use CT scanning to make a 3D printout of the brain. The exhibition includes a fossilized partial brain case of a T. rex as well as the endocast scientists created from it for study.

By comparing the areas of the brain that are responsible for scent, vision, and hearing in tyrannosaurs’ closest living relatives, birds and crocodilians, researchers have determined that the T. rex brain had similar regions. For instance, T. rex had an unusually large olfactory region for a dinosaur, indicating it had a very good sense of smell. Also like their alligator and crocodile cousins, tyrannosaurs would likely have had highly sensitive faces. Visitors can inspect the series of tiny holes on a fossilized skull of Daspletosaurus torosus, a tyrannosaur that lived between 77 and 74 million years ago. The holes are nearly identical in number and location to those on an alligator, which have jaws so sensitive to touch that they can gently pick up an egg or tiny hatchling without harming it. Fossils of T. rex show similar rough, pitted surfaces, suggesting it also had similar sense organs.

Technology has allowed scientists to uncover a great deal about the inner workings of these gigantic predators, but a number of mysteries remain. For one, what did a T. rex sound like? No one knows. But a logical place to start is to study their closest living relatives. In the exhibition, a “roar mixer” enables visitors to combine the calls of birds and crocodilians with the sounds of contemporary large animals such as elephants, whales, and bison to create a customized roar that accompanies an animated T. rex

T. rex The Ultimate Predator at American Museum of Natural History, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

And what about its outward appearance? Feathers are very delicate and are rarely preserved, and they haven’t been found yet on T. rex. But many other dinosaur fossils, including those from other tyrannosaurs and their relatives, preserved feathers, suggesting that T. rex had at least some feathers. Many scientists think that T. rex hatchlings were probably covered in fuzz like a duckling—but adults were mostly covered in scales, likely with patches of display feathers concentrated on attention-getting areas such as the head and tail. Nobody knows what color T. rex was, and it is often depicted as drab, like a crocodile. But reptiles come in every color of the rainbow, so T. rex could have been brightly colored. Exhibition visitors get to choose from a wide palette of colors, stripes, and spots to imagine what T. rex may have looked like in an engaging interactive experience

Despite the high level of scientific research that has gone into T. rex: The Ultimate Predator, the notes that accompany the displays are designed to be accessible especially for young people who will be enthralled.

At the end of the exhibition, there is a 32-foot long animated projection of a T. rex and its offspring in a Cretaceous-age setting. The huge dinosaur seems to react to visitors, leaving you wondering, “Did that T. rex see me?”

T. rex The Ultimate Predator at American Museum of Natural History, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Engaging with T. rex in Virtual Reality

The Museum’s science visualization group renders the latest scientific discoveries in paleontology and other fields through the visualization of big data. Using digital technologies, scientists today observe, measure, and reproduce hidden dimensions of the natural world. From the edges of the observable universe to the evolution of life on Earth, researchers are developing a radically new understanding of nature that the Museum strives to communicate to visitors in highly authentic, intuitive, and novel ways. One of these is virtual reality: an experiential tool that uses objects, models, photos, video footage, and other types of physical evidence of life history to engage and excite visitors.

As part of T. rex: The Ultimate Predator, the Museum will present T. rex: Skeleton Crew, its first interactive, multi-player virtual reality experience, created in collaboration with HTC VIVE. The five-minute experience will be offered to visitors ages 12 and up within the exhibition.

“Virtual reality is a magical realm in which our perceptions of time and space are suspended,” said Vivian Trakinski, the Museum’s director of science visualization. “In virtual reality, nothing is too small, too big, too fast, too slow, too distant, or too long ago to be appreciated. We hope this technology will let our visitors experience the most fantastic and inaccessible realms of nature.”

“Through VR, visitors can engage with the subject of the exhibition in an exciting, in-depth way that enriches their knowledge and leaves a lasting memory for years to come,” said Victoria Chang, director of HTC VIVE Arts. “This remarkably engaging VR project harnesses the power of premium VR, bringing visitors closer to the anatomy, scale, and majesty of T. rex like never before.”

The facilitated experience “transports” as many as three players at a time to a space similar to the Museum’s Hall of Saurischian Dinosaurs, where they team up to build a T. rex skeleton bone by bone. Once all of the bones are in place, the players watch as the T. rex comes to life in marshland that is now Montana, its home 66 million years ago.

A home version of T. rex: Skeleton Crew will launch on VIVEPORT, HTC VIVE’s global platform and app store, for VIVE owners in summer 2019.

Visitors need to purchase a timed ticket to see the exhibit. You can book online, https://ticketing.amnh.org/#/tickets.

150 Years of Scientific Inquiry

Be amazed – this cast of Titanosaurus skeleton (the actual bones would be way to heavy to display) – is 150 feet long, extending out of the Orientation Room. Makes you think: how did dinosaurs of such size reproduce?How many of them could have lived at any one time, given the amount of resources they would need? © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The American Museum of Natural History, founded in 1869, is one of the world’s preeminent scientific, educational, and cultural institutions. The Museum encompasses 45 permanent exhibition halls, including those in the Rose Center for Earth and Space and the Hayden Planetarium, as well as galleries for temporary exhibitions. It is home to the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial, New York State’s official memorial to its 33rd governor and the nation’s 26th president, and a tribute to Roosevelt’s enduring legacy of conservation.

A rare tour of the AMNH’s proboscidean laboratory, where scientists research mammals including mammoths and mastodons that would have lived 1-2 million years ago. The Museum’s five active research divisions and three cross-disciplinary centers support approximately 200 scientists and sponsor about 100 expeditions a year © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Museum’s five active research divisions and three cross-disciplinary centers support approximately 200 scientists, whose work draws on a world-class permanent collection of more than 34 million specimens and artifacts, as well as on specialized collections for frozen tissue and genomic and astrophysical data and on one of the largest natural history libraries in the world. The museum is the launchpad for some 100 expeditions a year. Through its Richard Gilder Graduate School, it is the only American museum authorized to grant the Ph.D. degree and also to grant the Master of Arts in Teaching degree.

Visits to the museum have grown to 5 million, and the Museum’s exhibitions and Space Shows are seen by millions more in venues on six continents. The Museum’s website, mobile apps, and massive open online courses (MOOCs) extend its scientific research and collections, exhibitions, and educational programs to additional audiences around the globe.


Fantastic prehistoric creatures roamed New York City! On a shelf in the Proboscidean lab, mastodon jaw bone uncovered from Inwood! In March 1925, the AMNH was notified that mastodon remains were exposed during a construction excavation. They were buried in a peat bog, 21 ft. below the sidewalk level at NW corner of Seaman Ave., and Dyckman St. Several of the teeth were stolen while on display at the construction site, but two molars were recovered after a plea for their return. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Open daily from 10 am – 5:45 pm except on Thanksgiving and Christmas.

American Museum of Natural History, Central Park West at 79th Street, New York, NY 10024-5192, 212-769-5100, amnh.org.

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