Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Charlotte Postscript:
 Here is my sewing studio with the new IKEA wall units and cutting table fully assembled within 24 hours of our return home to Savannah. 

Actually, Dick assembled the two wall units the night we got home, after doing all the driving, because I didn't feel safe driving the car in its fully loaded state.  Isn't he wonderful!
One final thought:  Walking around center city Charlotte, any building older than thirty years or short enough to see the roof without tilting back your head stands out as really unusual.  It is an urban renewal and re-imagining effort of gargantuan proportions.  We can scarcely fathom how many hundreds (thousands?) of acres of historic neighborhoods were bulldozed to make way for the city's cosmopolitan corporate magnet reincarnation. 

We wonder what treasures are buried beneath those big glass towers, and are thankful for the preservationists that saved, and resuscitated, Savannah's charming urban core. We wouldn't have it any other way. 

Charmed by Charlotte
July 6, 2012
To get our Starbucks fix this morning we stand in a very long line of well dressed banker types, all busily interacting with their cell phones while waiting to caffeinate themselves. We take our lattes and pastries to Thomas Polk Park, where we sit at a table on the tree-shaded plaza, a peacefully plashing waterfall behind us and the bustle of morning rush hour at the park’s periphery. 

The park’s namesake, Thomas Polk, was one of the key authors of the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence, the first Declaration of Independence from England issued by any citizens in the colonies, predating our national Declaration of Independence by over a year.  The courthouse where it was signed is long gone—now a plaque marks its approximate location on Independence Square, an expansive brick plaza that lies below our hotel room.  Today vendors are setting up a large open air produce market on the square, and a flower vendor is arranging his wares beneath a canopy across the street as we finish our coffee.
(Taking pictures reflected in windows is fun.)

The Bechtler Museum of Modern Art is just a few blocks away.  But, we can’t resist stopping along the way at what looks like the city’s newest cultural offering, the Wells Fargo History Museum.   The exterior still has blue tape and plastic around the edges, but a sign in the window proclaims it open, and we peek in.  Expecting crass commercialism, we are surprised that it is actually a very interesting museum with cool well-designed exhibits, interactive experiences, and artifacts that celebrate gold, currency, banking, and the great job Wells Fargo has done throughout history in using advanced methods to foil robbers and make banking safe and convenient. (Okay, so that last part was pretty commercial.)

We both have the same favorite exhibit—a case with simulated chunks of copper, silver, lead and gold mounted on rods that you can lift to compare the relative weights of each  To our surprise, gold is extraordinarily heavy—we learn that a solid piece of gold the size of a gallon milk jug would weigh 194 pounds!

It’s free, it’s fun, and there are no limits to photography inside—we give it two thumbs up, and are on our way to the main event, the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art.

The museum is not just named for the Bechtler family—its collection is their collection, beginning with Andy Warhol’s individual portraits of multiple generations of family members prominently displayed in the soaring four story rotunda.  Reciprocal visitation privileges with Savannah’s Telfair Museum bring our total admission charge to $6, and acoustiguides are free with admission. 

The Museum’s architecture presents a bold and engaging artistic statement inside and out.  (Yesterday's post has our shot of the entrance to the museum with the firebird standing sentry, but we have no more pictures--they don't allow phots in the galleries.)  We love the way the museum design complements the artwork it showcases.  Unexpected features make us look at spaces more mindfully—the stairwell made with industrial materials redefines its space as art, huge glass sections in walls facing the rotunda frame views of art in galleries afar and invite us to savor interesting perspectives of deceptively simple architectural features below.  Giacometti, Miro, Picasso, Calder, Ernst--the greats of modern art are well represented, and we linger longer than we thought we would (and not just because the Director’s accoustiguide commentary is entirely too long-winded).

After a couple hours of aesthetic bliss, we are ready for lunch at Halcyon, located  next door in the Mint Museum (which we will have to come back to visit another day).  Halcyon is passionately committed to locavore dining with a contemporary flair.  Google the menu for artistic inspiration—I wish I could figure out how to copy the peach, watermelon and corn gazpacho I had for lunch.

After lunch we retrieve our car and drive to IKEA, where we spend more than three hours, and emerge with more furniture and accessories than I can imagine will ever fit in our car, but Dick is confident in his packing ability, and he is, amazingly, right.  This is what he stuffed into the car (unassembled):  a six foot wall storage unit, a five foot wall storage unit, a six foot kitchen island (which will be the base of my sewing studio cutting table), nine storage baskets, a bunch of glassware and a huge stainless steel bowl.  Add to all that our suitcases, tote bags, and camera equipment, and here is how the car looked when we left the hotel the next day to drive home:

 But before we leave, we have one more fine dining experience--at Carpe Diem, a perennial Charlotte People’s Choice award winner owned by two sisters since 1989, famous for its gourmet take on fried chicken (best we have ever tasted) and other creative contemporary Southern cuisine.  Carpe Diem—Seize the Day—we most certainly did.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Reviving our Travel Tradition
July 5, 2012 
We are delighted to be on the road again for purely recreational travel (as opposed to our our last few travels which could be more appropriately identified as travails—consequently unblogged.)

Nearly a year ago we were the winning bidders at a silent auction for a two-night get-away at the Omni Hotel in Charlotte, North Carolina, and we found the soon-to-expire gift certificate as we were packing for our move a couple months ago.  Best of all, as part of the package our friend Roger at Senior Citizens Inc. was our personal concierge, providing lots of suggestions for great places to dine and things to see in Charlotte.  We know we are going to have a great time there.

But, as always, we manage to find a few interesting sights to divert us on the way.

The first is Jody Pendarvis’  UFO Welcome Center in Bowman, NC.   The bottom 46-foot diameter saucer  is tethered to the ground, but the smaller saucer on top is loosely attached so that visiting aliens can tow Jody in it when they depart. We are not at all sure the upper saucer is airworthy, and the lower one is clearly disintegrating . No question, however, Jody is already in outer space.  (Having thoroughly researched the UFO Welcome Center, we ogle, photo, and leave quickly, certain that we do not want to experience a close encounter with Jody.)  

In Ridgeway, NC we stop at the world’s smallest police station, active from 1940 to 1990. Next to it is the twice as large “new” police station, needed due to excessive donut consumption. Previously, it was the town’s fire station, housing one truck.

In the outskirts of Charlotte we stop at this Metamorphosis sculpture, made of layers of stainless steel designed to rotate independently of each other forming an endless variety of faces. Although it isn’t working when we see it, several people who work in the building behind the sculpture see us studying it and testify that they have seen it moving a few times. Perhaps it is only put in motion for visiting dignitaries.
When we arrive at the Omni, we are treated like visiting dignitaries—we have a luxurious junior suite on a flat iron corner of the building with 300 degree views of uptown Charlotte. 

The city beckons. We wander the neighborhood, an urban wonderland of pocket parks and landscaped plazas with fountains and public artwork, tucked between modern sky scrapers. 

If Jody Pendarvis ever visits Charlotte, he will find a kindred spirit here—the Firebird in front of the Bechtel Museum of Modern Art conjures thoughts of a friendly flying alien.    

We are never out of sight of security guards or police officers. Why all this security? We learn that Charlotte is the second largest financial center in the country, only surpassed by New York. Who knew?

We end our first day in Charlotte with dinner at Blue, voted both best uptown restaurant and best place to hear jazz in recent Charlotte Magazine poll.  It is just a five minute walk from our hotel, and both dinner and jazz are divine.

We fall asleep to the muffled sounds of a band playing at a rooftop gathering of young professionals across the street.  We have been here less than half a day, and already we are enchanted by Charlotte.