The Huntington

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I had visited Southern California once as a teenager and a few times in my early 20’s but it really wasn’t a place that called me. It is too populated and large and the glamour of Hollywood really wasn’t my thing. But now that Alexandra lives in Santa Monica, trips to California will be a regular part of my life. When I mentioned I was on my way to LA, everyone asked if I was going to Disney or Universal, I’m saving those places to enjoy when I have grandchildren but that is many years from now, I’d say around 2032. So in the meantime, I went searching for a place to feed my soul now. I’m happy to say I found a little piece of heaven on earth in the middle of the enormous urban sprawl.

Huntington Gardens and Library combines all my favorite things in one spectacularly magical place: extensive gardens, huge library, art galleries and a beautiful mansion. Really, everything in one amazing package. It was a clear, cool day in March and my precious girl was with me, the day was going to be perfect.

We started along the path and meandered by the buildings to the Shakespeare garden that was in full bloom with purple and white delphiniums. The tall flowers had every conceivable version of purple, lavender and white with a touch of blue. Alexandra’s favorite part was a vast lawn with tall classical statues lining the edges with a final view of the stunning mountains.

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Next to the delphiniums was the rose garden in full bloom, with its intoxicating smell. The large beds featuring hundreds of different breeds of roses with their fun names and unique colors, every color of the rainbow was there and some colors I didn’t know existed.

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We passed through the arches of climbing roses into the next level of heaven, the Japanese garden. The path wound past the Spirit House with a big bell and down into a small koi pond with a classic Japanese curved bridge. We walked up to the walled garden containing dozens of bonsai, miniature trees I had no idea could be miniaturized. The path lead to the Chinese garden with pagodas surrounding a peaceful lake.

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Our hearts and minds were full but it was lunch time and we wanted to see the library rested and fueled up. The library has a large room filled with rare manuscripts, from a Gutenberg Bible and Chaucer to Thoreau and Twain. It is so exciting to see the writing of people who changed the world with their words, ideas and stories.

The large mansion has an extensive European art collection. The most famous paintings are Gainsborough’s Blue Boy and Lawrence’s Pinkie. These large paintings are on either end of a gallery of other large portraits, each one a masterpiece. On to the next building with the American art. I loved the Mary Cassatt of the mother and rosy-cheeked daughter cuddling on the bed, and the Hopper of the sailboat peacefully sailing along the shore.

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Alexandra and I had the time and energy for one more garden, so off to the desert garden, a world we had never entered before. We didn’t know if we were on another planet or had entered a Dr. Seuss book. The plants had unique shapes, colors and patterns, none of the leafy, flowery abundance of our world but a strange beauty of odd confined shapes and prickles. A few acres of this alien world satisfied our curiosity and we headed to the ice cream shop to share a gelato

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I plan on many more visits to the Huntington Gardens, each trip will have new things to see and memories to enjoy, but most of all, I will be with my precious girl soaking up the beauty of our amazing world full of flowers, trees, art and words.

http://www.huntington.org

The Magic Flute

 

It was time for a change. For many years my holiday celebrations always included Nutcracker and A Christmas Carol. I’ve seen them both many times. When I hear the Nutcracker music I can practically dance the choreography. I can now quote whole passages from A Christmas Carol. So instead of The Nutcracker I spent a delightful afternoon watching a very fanciful version of Mozart’s The Magic Flute thanks to the Metropolitan Opera in HD broadcast. Next week I’m going to see The Sound of Music performed by a touring Broadway company. Neither of these productions you would call Christmasy but I like them and they are joyful and fun.

I’ve loved opera for many years now and I go to the Metropolitan Opera HD live broadcasts regularly. http://www.metopera.org/Season/In-Cinemas/ It is kind of a hobby that doesn’t take up room in my house. I also get to see operas that aren’t possible for our local opera to stage. Opera takes all of the arts and combines them into one amazing expression of the human condition. The talent and dedication it takes to stage an opera combine with the genius of the composer, making it a brilliant presentation of our highest potential. OK, I know in grand opera the heroine must die in the end. That is the rule but fortunately there are happy of operas like The Magic Flute. No Kleenex needed for the final scene.

The music of The Magic Flute is spectacular, the sets and staging in the Met’s current production are phantasmagorical. There are some of the most famous arias in all of opera. But here is what makes it so fun for us pilgrims: it is an Egyptian initiation opera, I bet you didn’t see that coming. I was so shocked the first time I found out many years ago. Mozart was a Freemason and he put many of the ideals and symbolism of Masonry into his work.

First there is the clash between light and dark, the Queen of the Night and the High Priest Sarastro represent this polarity. It is hard for the hero and heroine, Tamino and Pamina to even find out who is telling the truth. Ultimately they end up in the Temple of the High Priest where he prays to Isis and Osiris to protect them on their journey through fire (courage) and water (endurance) initiations to make them worthy of love. Three spirits guide them on this journey advising them to be patient and courageous in the quest for truth and love. The magic flute that Tamino is gifted by Sarastro helps guide him and keeps him in harmony with his quest. In the end truth and love prevail and the Queen of the Night is conquered.

The delightful bird catcher Papagano is Tamino’s sidekick through the story and represents our more sensual nature. Papagano is not so interested in Truth and Virtue, in fact he has a bit of trouble with embellishing his story. He is preoccupied with food and finding a cute lady bird catcher. Sarastro gifts him magic bells to help harmonize him with his more earthly destiny. Papagano finds his ideal partner in Papagana and they plan their life together which includes lots of little chicks.

Truth, love, virtue and perseverance are all essential tools our magical characters need for their journey, the same essential tools for our initiation to a life dedicated to our sacred path. The magic flute and bells reminds us that we need to harmonize yourself with these ideals and that will keep us on the path that is taking us to our more enlightened selves.

 

 

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Lincoln Memorial

This last week I was back in Washington DC.  Alexandra wanted to go to a graduate school seminar so she talked me into a road trip to one of our favorite cities.   It is an easy and beautiful drive up Interstate 81 and we stayed with my cousin in her townhouse which has a view of the Capitol.   Since we were just in DC last summer (you can read about our visit here) we didn’t have a big agenda, just a chance to relax and revisit our favorite sites.

The Washington Monument is repaired and open again after suffering earthquake damage so we started our tour there. As we stood next to this grand momument, encircled with flags we could see the World War II memorial , the reflecting pool and then finally the Lincoln Memorial.  So our next stop was to rent bicycles and have a leisurely ride down to visit Lincoln.  He was a great spiritual master; some even say an avatar, who came to make changes in our world when humanity desperately needed to change.  With few words but great presence he got the job done and his country moved toward having greater equality for everyone.   It has taken awhile, we aren’t totally there but Lincoln definitely began to right a great wrong.

I’ve been to DC many times but have never been to the Jefferson Memorial so that was the next stop.     Last year I visited Thomas Jefferson’s library in the Library of Congress and have been to his home, Monticello, many times.   My first mystical experience was standing on his land and ever since I’ve had a special admiration for this great man.    Like Lincoln he was a great spiritual master.   He changed the world with the Declaration on Independence which he wrote in one night at age 33 a sure sign it was divine inspiration.

I happily turned in my bike, I’m a walker not a biker, and we headed to The National Gallery of Art which is right next to the Natural History Museum.   Alexandra loves Thomas Cole’s The Voyage of Life, four large paintings depicting a man in a boat with an angel facing life’s lessons.    I love everything  there and it brings back happy memories of many visits when I was a child.   My father is an amateur painter so all vacations revolved around visiting art museums. Currently there is a special exhibit of paintings by Andrew Wyeth, one of America’s greatest artists.  His prints hung in the living room of my childhood home and I’m particularly drawn to his stark and yet detailed style.   It was a poignant moment for me because the first room was paintings of the Olson Farm.   Here I was in a room surrounded by the words “Olson Farm” when all summer my life has been taken up by the fate of my family’s farm, the Olson Farm in Minnesota, handed down in my family for the last 117 years.

The rest of my time I spent wandering the galleries seeing the paintings I know and love so well until I found myself in the central dome with Mercury also known as the great Egyptian god Thoth (read my post on Thoth here).   Standing on a giant green marble fountain, shaped like a chalice, Mercury is holding a caduceus in one hand and pointing to heaven with the other. I asked Mercury for help and to protect the land that Carl Olson and six generations have loved so much.

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The next road over from where I live is called Light Pink, such a strange name but is my everyday connection to the National Gallery of Art.   On Light Pink Road was the quarry where the pink marble that   built the National Gallery of Art was cut.  The crystalline stone from my little part of the world is now a magnificent home for great art presided over by our very own Mercury.