Honoring Arts Luminaries and the Best Damn Movie Theater in the Valley

Non-fiction writer Tracy Kidder was one of the honorees at last night's WFCR gala at the Log Cabin.

Non-fiction writer Tracy Kidder was one of the honorees at last night’s WFCR gala at the Log Cabin.

Last night I joined a crowd of about 700 at the Log Cabin in Holyoke where four luminaries and a few institutions were recognized in the 2016 NEPR Arts and Humanities Awards. The sun came out on the terrace as the many guests mingled, and as usual, I found plenty of chums to catch up with, including John Ebbets, of the Fine Arts Center, and Marc Berman who is a board member and radio guru I always enjoy talking with.

Nick Spitzer, host of American Routes on NPR and former Louisiana state folklorist.

Nick Spitzer, host of American Routes on NPR and former Louisiana state folklorist.

A highlight was a short interview with Nick Spitzer, the host of American Routes, a wonderful radio program aired on Sundays on WFCR that’s all about roots music, New Orleans and other great genres.  Spitzer was quick to point out that his show is about the people playing the music, not just their most recent release. Like any good interviewer, Spitzer gets right to the heart of his guests, sussing out what they think is important and those little details that everyone wants to know.

Author Tracy Kidder read from his latest book, another non-fiction story set this time in Silicon Valley.  As a Pulitzer Prize winner, Kidder is used to being honored, but as Susan Kaplan made clear, he remains ‘one of us,’ a Valley guy through and through, who wrote a book, Home Town, with lots of local insights and quotes from the real people who live there. I’m sure Kidder like everyone in the room is a regular NEPR listener, that’s what we do around here.

Poet Maria Luisa Arroyo charmed the audience by creating some on-the-spot poetry using submitted snippets from the audience about how they got their names.

Poet Maria Luisa Arroyo charmed the audience by creating some on-the-spot poetry using submitted snippets from the audience about how they got their names.

Springfield was well represented with the presence of poet Maria Luisa Arroyo, who charmed not only from the stage but also as she made her way around to different tables giving warm hellos to friends and colleagues. She said that she had learned Greek and Latin in Springfield’s public schools, and she continues to bring life to her community with poetry readings, and her open sessions at the Springfield Library– opportunities for people to come share five minutes’ worth of their writing with the audience.

Another honored institution that I personally think has totally changed Amherst’s art scene for the better was Amherst Cinema, and we heard from executive director Carol Johnson. She shared some stats–1000 underprivileged children get a chance to learn about making movies with their education programs, all with scholarships, and last year this wonderful art movie house showed 240 films in 20 different languages!  Talk about an arts-game-changer!

CATA brings the arts to more than 600 disabled people in Berkshire County.

Margaret Keller of CATA: They bring the arts to more than 600 disabled people in Berkshire County.

From Great Barrington, Community Access to the Arts was honored for their art workshops that have provided arts education and activities to more than 600 disabled people in Berkshire County.  The director brought one of her students, Scott Thomas, up on stage, and he did a comedy routine with a Charlie McCarthy like dummy, a parrot in a sock.  It took a lot of nerve for that young man to do his routine in the bright lights and his applause was well recieved, and heartfelt.

It was a wonderful evening for honorees and attendees alike!

WFCR Honors Arts Luminaries This Week

Nick Spitzer, host of American Routes, on WFCR and many other stations, will be honored at the Log Cabin on Tuesday night.

Nick Spitzer, host of American Routes, on WFCR and many other stations, will be honored at the Log Cabin on Tuesday night.

Every May, WFCR has held a gala event that honors members of the community in the Pioneer Valley who stand out for how they’ve helped foster the arts. The list of the 2016 recipients is impressive–Tracy Kidder, Maria Luisa Arroyo, Community Access to the Arts, and my all-time favorite movie theater, the Amherst Cinema.  And another luminary who is not from the Valley but who definitely has an impressive record of supporting and promoting roots music, Nick Spitzer, host of American Routes the radio show heard on WFCR.

Kidder is known to many here in the Valley for the book he wrote about building a house in Amherst, Home Town, that not only provided interesting details about how a home is built, but lots of backroom anecdotes and a look at his adopted home town of Northampton.  He’s taken on many more important topics, such as the life of a physician in Haiti and he’s just released a new book with fellow Valley writer Richard Todd about writing non-fiction. No pair are more equipped to write on this topic.

Nick Spitzer has a long and impressive resume not only as the show host but as a professor of anthropology and American Studies at Tulane. He’s not a Valley guy, but his voice is familiar to many of us who tune into this meticulously researched program that covers so many roots musicians every week.

Maria Luisa Arroyo is a Puerto Rican poet and teacher who has written in anthologies and journals about childhood abuse and domestic violence. She is the inaugural Poet Laureate of Springfield, Mass and she’s organized community based poetry workshops and readings since 2004.

The Amherst Cinema–anyone who has been there can attest–is the gem of Amherst and envy of Northampton, now that it’s the only art cinema on either side of the Connecticut River. With impressive community outreach programming, an eclectic and never-boring slate of compelling foreign and domestic lesser-known movies, Amherst Cinema is a joy for anyone who loves film. And with its comfortable seating, convenient parking and great snack bar including wine and beer, if you haven’t ever seen a movie there, you’re missing out!

The last honoree is the Community Access to the Arts, a Great Barrington-based group that provides experiences for disabled people in visual and performing arts all over the region.  Get tickets here or contact Vanessa Cerillo at vcerillo@nepr.net or call 413-735-6605.

Time Bends While I Travel

Losinj Croatia

Losinj Croatia

It’s always a bit hard adjusting to the regular life after a week away.  One thing that’s always consistent about frequent travel is that it feels like I’ve been gone longer than I really have.

In just one week, what really is new at home? Not that much. I always expect to go to the post office and find a cascade, a huge overflowing mailbox. But then I get there and it’s pffftt… not much at all.   I ask people what’s new and they scratch their heads. Nothing, really. It’s been a normal week, the same-old, same-old.

But for me, I’ve just experienced a whole new place. I met all of these new people, and saw another country’s shoreline, and attractions, and spent time in places that were totally new to me. So I’m looking at my photos, and re-reading posts that I wrote when I was staying in that big hotel in Losinj Croatia and I think, wow, I was there for a long time.

But it was only a week.  It’s a nice phenomenon, that going someplace new and different, time slows down a bit.  Inevitably after the first full day, I think, “I’ve only been here for 24 hours but it feels like so much longer.”

Apoxyomenos Stands in a New Museum in Mali Losinj

Apoxyomenos is the star of a new museum in Mali Losinj, Croatia.

Apoxyomenos is the star of a new museum in Mali Losinj, Croatia.

Apoxyomenos is waiting for you at the top of a new four-story museum in Mali Losinj Croatia.  The former Kvarner Palace, once home to one of the town’s rich sea captains, is now a beautiful new museum showcasing one of the greatest treasures ever recovered from the sea.

The town is abuzz about this new museum in Mali Losinj that opened in May 2016. The opening was an exciting moment for all of the town’s 8000 residents and included the president of Croatia Kolina Grabar Kitarović speaking about the significance for future tourism and for the collective pride of the locals.

Donning Booties

You have to put on white fabric booties to enter the museum.  It is a series of rooms one on top of the other and each visit is a journey up the stairs and back in time. The setting, a former mansion, harkens back to the glory days in the early 1800s when captains sailed the world and made this one of the richest parts of Croatia.

Today the museum has been artfully and creatively turned into a home for the big man. Who is he?

He was an athlete and the sculpture depicts his sturdy and muscular frame standing, cleaning himself with a tool known as a strigil. In ancient times people believed that the oil, sweat and sand from perspiring athletes could provide them with good luck and other benefits so it was carefully preserved in jars—gross, huh?

The bronze statue was carved in the  second century BC.  Apoxyomenos was being transported on a small ship and during a storm it fell overboard to be lost in the deep Croatian seas.

In 1999, it was discovered by a Belgian tourist with nefarious intentions, crusted with barnacles and in terrible shape in seven pieces on the seabed. A long labor of intense restoration, first creating an internal metal frame and today, all but the eyes and one of the left fingers remains beautifully intact with the vigorousness and detail that is striking more than 2000 years later.

But we don’t get to see the sculpture right away…oh no, there’s a build up and the build up explains the restoration, his world tour, and some samples of the flood of worldwide press Apoxyomenos received over the past few years.  There is a video, and a place to glimpse the sculpture in holes cut in the stairwells. The waiting makes it all the more tempting!

How Apoxyomenos was restored how it was re-created and how the barnacles and sea life were removed down to the millimeter is explained in detail. This beautiful sculpture has seen the world. It’s been exhibited at the Getty Museum, in London, and other world capitals. But now it’s home in Mali Losinj. It was quite generous to lend him out to those far flung museums, but he’s here now and not leaving!

You climb up the stairs and there’s a hole and in the hole just part of his body is revealed. It’s a tease because when you get there you’re not allowed to take pictures.

What a clever and fantastic move. It makes getting up there, past the video room with looping footage of the X-rays, transport and preservation techniques even more of a thrill.

Interactive computer models show the various ways Apoxyomenos was fixed and preserved and about the Greek athletic culture that fostered this rippling muscles and body.

And then it’s time for the final unveiling– after all he’s still regally nude like all Greek athletes used to be.

Steps wind up a circular stairway to a small room with pillowy white fabric on all sides. There is nothing to distract from the statue. Here, on his on his plinth, decorated with Greek script he stands, hands in front of genitalia but missing his strigil but nothing else.

It’s certainly worth a trip to Mali Losinj where there are already so many other compelling reasons to visit. The museum admission price is 75 kuna which is about $10. You can also see Aproxyomenos for free on Tuesdays between 10 AM and 1 PM.

On the Island of Ilovik, a Seafood Feast Worthy of Poseidon

Ilovik has 400 houses but most of them are only used during the summer. A fantastic destination for boaters in Croatia.

Ilovik has 400 houses but most of them are only used during the summer. A fantastic destination for boaters in Croatia.

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A seafood antipasto at Dalmatinka restaurant in Ilovik, Croatia.

A seafood antipasto at Dalmatinka restaurant in Ilovik, Croatia.

Croatia is famous for sailing. With more than 2000 islands off its coast, this is a place that is full of yachts and sailboats with a thousand years of nautical heritage. Today we climbed aboard a 42′ sailboat owned by the Jadranka Corp, owners of the Hotel Bellevue, and explored coves and the coast in Cikat Bay to the small island of Ilovik.

With less than 80 residents, Ilovik is a small island of just six square miles, and most of the nearly 400 houses are only occupied during the summer.  We walked through the mostly deserted town, where boats were being painted and sanded down in preparation for the sailing season ahead. I can imagine what this small island becomes when hoards of visitors descend on it, and thought about crowds sitting in the benches outside the gelato shop which now were empty.

We had another first-class lunch ahead of us at the wonderful Dalmatinka restaurant, where we learned that they actually own their own fishing boat and catch what’s on the menu. It was a feast worthy of Poseidon, starting with the pictured seafood antipasto, with a tuna spread and anchovies that everyone devoured on their home-baked bread.  A giant turbot was brought out with the chef igniting it with a flourish before removing the meat from the bones and presenting it baked with potatoes and peppers.

With a risotto as a second course, the feast was a perfect slice of what makes Croatia such a memorable destination. Now if I can only fit into these pants, I’ll make it to a late dinner at a small local restaurant!

The Katarina took us to the island of Ilovik for a seafood feast.

The Katarina took us to the island of Ilovik for a seafood feast.

Croatia, Where Have You Been All My Life?

The bike and walking path along Cikat Bay, Mali Losinj, Croatia.

The bike and walking path along Cikat Bay, Mali Losinj, Croatia.

This might be the nicest bike path I've ever ridden!

This might be the nicest bike path I’ve ever ridden!

Campsites are available right on the water by the path. Sweet!

Campsites are available right on the water by the path. Sweet!

Croatia where you been all my life?

For a moment there, I almost didn’t take this weeklong trip to Croatia to visit these six hotels who invited me so generously.

Yes I have work to do. Yes both money and time away can be tight. But when it really comes down to it we only live as they say –one go round–and for somebody who’s traveled to 40+ countries I must put Croatia and the island of Losinj very high on the top of my list.

Why? Because it’s one of those countries the combines so many things: the ocean everywhere, the best olive oil I’ve ever tasted, excellent inexpensive  wine, super friendly people, friendly currency vs the dollar, inexpensive lodgings, reasonable transportation, safety–all these things make Croatia my next vacation destination. I want to rent one of these campers right next to the water and chill for a week with Mary.

It’s true that I often hesitate when I’m invited to a new trip back to back from another journey. I had just returned from Las Vegas and before that from three cities in California and I was travel weary.
But after I flew and it is a long way–and got on the private plane that took me to the Losinj hotels it’s been smooth sailing.
For example I’m speaking to you right now from the sidewalk that goes right along the ocean on the  bay with pine trees above me and everywhere I look a mountain,  a boat and rocks that look like they were formed billion years ago.
As I passed people on the sidewalk they’re friendly and wave, no hassle about riding my bike and hell, I don’t even have a helmet on! Yep, I’ve left cold New England and I’ve left the United States I’m in a country that values freedom and boy does it feel good!