Why follow a compass that's lost? The Lost Compass is for people who can't stop travelling, who always seek out the next destination. It's for those who'd rather take a backroad than the Interstate; who wonder what happens when you get off the beaten path and look up an odd nook or cranny. It's about finding the little gems, wherever they may be hidden. It is for those who embrace travel as an experience - not stopping just at a tourist trap, but finding a local cafe, bookstore, or dive bar to stop and talk to the people who make up the town. What happens when the compass' needle spins off you the beaten path? Keep reading to find out.

23 January 2012

Daytrippin' Raleigh - Rembrandt and Craic make for a good Saturday

This past Saturday was a dreary, gray mess of a January day.  I'd texted a friend to see if she wanted to go up to Raleigh and hit the Rembrandt in America exhibit at the North Carolina Museum of Art and maybe hit TraLi Irish Pub afterwards so I could use the Groupon that expires in a couple days.  This was the last weekend to see it and I hadn't yet been there.  The blog demands it!  Right?  :)  She texted me after we both spent lazy mornings sleeping in, and we agreed to meet around noon.  Oh, and was it okay if she brought her hubby, who is my coworker and good friend, as well?  Yay!  A gang!  So I piled into their Jeep and up we went to Raleigh.

The Museum is not hard to find, clearly marked off Wade Avenue and Blue Ridge Rd.  Unfortunately, between the weather and the fact that the exhibit was closing on Sunday, the place was PACKED!  I'm pretty sure half of Raleigh decided to go to the museum.  Luckily, they were well-prepared for the crowds and it was never completely infuriating, even in the absolutely packed Rembrandt exhibit.

The upper level was devoted to a series of self and family portraits by a well-known North Carolina artist, Beverly McIver.  I'd never seen her work and found it interesting.  Some of the most striking pieces to me were the ones in which her face and her mother's face were superimposed to create one image.  As a strong-willed daughter of an even stronger-willed mother, those portraits spoke to me the most deeply.  I also found her use of color very interesting.  I'm definitely not a fan of most modern or post-modern art and revel in the beauty of Boticelli, the realism of Holbein, and even the gloomy play of light in Rembrandt more than ANY Jackson Pollock I've seen.  So to me it was disconcerting to see these portraits painted with broad strokes of reds, yellows, and greys as well as the browns I would expect.  Yet, I was able to see more movement and vitality thanks to these bright colors and broad strokes than I would have if it'd been painted in a more realistic way.

Once we'd wandered the upstairs to our hearts' content, we headed downstairs to see the Rembrandt exhibit.  We decided to forgo the audio tours, which was another half-hour long line.  I wished I had known about the web-based free audio tour - I would have pulled it up on my Droid!  Unfortunately, I didn't figure out that was an option until 2/3 of the way through the show... at which point, it was futile to start the tour again.  If you've ever been in a packed art museum, whether the Louvre, Uffizi, National Portrait Gallery, or any other of the great museums, you'll know how this felt.  It was packed!  Luckily there was a little movement and I was able to dart between people listening to their audio and just parked in front of different pictures.  This definitely was not the day to try to linger, drift between paintings to see the differences, or just sit and study one portrait for any particular length of time.  I've also seen a few Rembrandts before at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, including my favorite, The Denial of St. Peter.  ( The link is in Dutch!  I used Chrome and got a decent translation in English.)  Until I saw that portrait, I had never thought about Jesus witnessing Peter's last denial of Him, yet in this portrait you can see Jesus being led away in chains while Peter denies knowing Him.  It's so difficult to see Jesus, because the painting is so dark, yet He is there just past Peter's right shoulder, looking on with heartbreak and resignation in His eyes.

This collection focused on Rembrandt's collection in America - with donations and loans by both museums and private collectors.  The Gallery Guide is here, so you can see everything I saw.  It was an interesting balance between the art itself and it's provenance.  They would spend half a plaque talking about the painting, who is posing or which historical figure it represents, and the other half talking about either if Rembrandt painted it and how it came to the USA.  From his start in Leiden, Rembrandt was a teacher and workshop leader as much as he was an individual artist.  Therefore, many of his works were more collaborations that solely his.  The best way I can explain it is this:  in some high-end hair salons, where the hairdresser is regionally or nationally known, the hairdresser is not going to take care of you from beginning to end.  Instead, their assistants will wash your hair, give you the initial haircut, etc. while the artist (hairdresser) will take over for your color, highlights, or finishing cut.  So, in many of his works, Rembrandt might have done just the face... or just the face and hands, while leaving the dress, background, and less important details to his students.  It was very intriguing to me how few paintings are accredited solely to Rembrandt himself.  I personally didn't find how the paintings came to the US to be all that interesting, but my friend did - he couldn't imagine owning something so precious.  It baffled all of us that we were able to stand 2-3 feet from something 400+ years old, with the inherent trust of the museum's management that we wouldn't touch, wouldn't take pictures, and wouldn't harm the painting in any way.  If there's any place that's going to restore your faith in humanity (short of leaving your car unlocked in a mall parking lot with your laptop in the backseat... which I did last week), it's an art museum showing a special knockout collection. Tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of people filed past those paintings in the last few weeks... with no damage to any of them.  It's as if everyone understands inherently that they are too precious to damage, their very openness dissuading any thought of malice or vandalism.  And Thank God for it!  So much of what makes Rembrandt such a remarkable painter is the way his faces are able to pop off a drab, boring background.  For this reason, I absolutely adore his final self-portrait., dated 1659.  Everything else intentionally fades away and you're left staring into the soulful eyes of genius.

Once I finished with the exhibit, I wandered through another exhibit on self-expression as I waited for my friends to catch up with me.  Because Rembrandt is so famous for being a portrait artist, and some of his best paintings are his own self-portraits, they'd combined this exhibit with a college selection of 75-80 self-portraits by different artists in college.  On one wall, I saw everything from realistic paintings that looked like a window to the other person, every sort of modern and post-modern interpretation of a soul rather than a face, and everything in between.  Question... can photography be considered cheating when compared with painting?

After Rembrandt, we were all tired, hungry, and in need of a recharging.  So instead of checking out the rest of the museum (have to save SOMETHING for the next time!), we bailed and headed for a late lunch at Tra Li.  I have a very bad Groupon addiction/habit of buying lunch or dinner at different places that look delicious (and have a good rating on Yelp).  Tra Li is one of those coupons that expired on Sunday, so my friends were kind enough to let me suggest it for lunch.  Then the manager was kind enough to honor it, even though it was 4pm by the time we got there and lunch ended around 3pm.  I love it when management is kind.  TraLi is an Irish pub in a really cool little shopping center off Brier Creek Parkway that I'd never seen before.  In any good Irish place, the craic should be up there with good quality liquor and excellent stick-to-your-ribs food in order to truly succeed.  In TraLi, and especially amongst my group, the craic was flying high.  Our waiter was great, the drinks were quality and strong,  and the food was phenomenal.  I will be back.  We started with an Irish coffee (Jameson and coffee) for my friend, a Nutty Irishman (Frangelico and Bailey's with coffee) for me, and a shot of $25 Middleton Very Rare whisky for my friend's husband.  Since he knows I'm a whisky nut as well, he was kind enough to let me have a sip.  While it's not my absolute favorite (Knappogue from Ireland earns that honor), it's definitely on my top 5, although I'd probably just bite the bullet and get a bottle before I paid $25 for a single shot!  Then we started our meal with some smoked salmon, served with homemade soda bread (YUM).  The salmon was fresh and flavorful, the soda bread was deliciously heavy and crumbly, the mustard was strong and brown.  Overall a great start to the meal.  Then our meals were served - a chicken boxty for my friend, shepherd's pie for her husband, and a chicken pot pie for me.  My bowl was absolutely massive!  I'd been warned that it would be PLENTY for one person, and our waiter was correct.  I found the pot pie to be delectable.  Usually, when I order a pot pie, the filling comes out so hot you can't eat it for the first fifteen minutes while it cools.  This came out at the perfect temperature - I could start devouring immediately upon breaking into the crust.  Everyone remarked on how wonderful their meals were.  My friend and I saved room for dessert and ordered the Bread and Butter Chocolate Pudding.  It's essentially two slices of decadent bread pudding (think the best French toast you've ever eaten, then make it more creamy and custardy) served with chocolate sauce and whiskey cream. Oh my word...  I fell off the diet with this meal, but it was worth every inch of the fall.

Really, after a meal like that, what's there to do but go home, right?  Wrong, not with these friends.  What's a trip to Raleigh without going to a mall??  Especially if that mall is Crabtree Valley! (For those who don't know, this is Raleigh's higher end mall... and a pleasure to spend a rainy afternoon.)  Since the rain was more mist and drizzle than downpour, we chose to park on the upper level, rather than fight it out in the parking deck.  We wandered around for a good hour or two, my friends were tempted by a $5,000 bed, and I stocked up on some essential oil for my burner and a salt lamp.  It was basically a great excuse to keep moving after that heavy, delicious meal.  Once they broke away from the Sleep Number store, we headed back to the car, then made our way home.

I've never not had a good time in Raleigh...  and today was no exception.  (How's that for a TRIPLE negative, English teachers of the world???  :-D)  Whether I go up there spur of the moment to check out a movie at the IMAX in Apex, plan a day with friends, or just explore on my own, Raleigh is full of interesting places, phenomenal dining, and enough local businesses to entertain anyone bored with the chain-store life.

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