The Roads of North America, Part One

Charles was Driving Ms. Astrid, the Navigator

By: - Aug 28, 2010

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Finally, the day had arrived and the car was loaded and as usually, also packed with things we never used. But one never knows, what will become handy during a long month’s trip !  The companion photo slide show makes visual may reports of my daily diary. While Charles was working at the computer, I made my entries. As the navigator, there were maps and AAA Tour Books on my lap, I read out loud, or decided what roads and routes to take next. We also discussed choices of current day hotels, based on price lists for any location, if it was not raining  sheets of water. Then, we just stopped at the first motel in sight.

May 7, Friday ~ We started out in Lee, on the Massachusetts Turnpike, Route 90 West, continued on Rt. 90 in New York State to exit 25 A, Rt. 88 W to Binghamton, New York. Accidentally passed Elmira and exited at 54, Elmira Heights. We found only a Motel 6 – friendly and scary: “To our Guest; use the Dead Lock when you are in your room.”

Curley’s Chicken provided the perfect down home atmosphere: Rotisserie chicken and, every other item was deep friend. Many guests and wait staff were equally rotund ! Curley’s was packed; Formosa, a restaurant across the street, was almost empty. Down home, as I said.

May 8, Saturday ~  Leaving Motel 6 – breakfast at Mac Donald  next door, where else. Route 17/86 W, direction to Lake Erie, across New York State; crossed into Pennsylvania for a few miles near the lake, on Rt. 90 PA to Rt. 90, now in Ohio, along (not close) Lake Erie to Mentor, Ohio, just 20 miles outside of Cleveland. (From Route 90, exit 193 to Route 306 to reach Comfort Inn & Suites, on Reynolds Road, # 306.) – We stayed for two nights.

May 9, Sunday ~ The Cleveland Art Museum was Sunday’s destination, Rt. 90/2 to exit Martin Luther King (M.L.K.) The museum is located on University Circle, along with several other cultural institutions and a botanical garden and park.

The Museum’s new wings are still under construction. We saw a special exhibition of Native American Art, with exquisite works of tribes from Alaska to Mexico: Garments, weavings, pottery, adornments, masks, and more. Also, an extensive photography show by Edward S. Curtis and Zig Jackson, a contemporary photographer.  The museum holds works of European and American Art, Asian and African Art. The new museum will be fully opened end of 2011.

May 10, Monday ~ Back to Cleveland Rt. 90/2 – exit 9th Street to the Rock and Roll – Hall of Fame + Museum. We viewed the history of Rock 'n Roll – music- memorabilia – documents, in a pyramid like building, directly on Lake Erie; a fantastic setting. (The lake’s water is very gray!)

For about 20 minutes we watched a 3D film of U2 = U2 in 3D! Bono is the lead singer, a man I respect greatly for his humanitarian and political work. We watched a concert that was held in Argentina, A large Julian Opie: Bono walking – was installed alongside the band on huge projection screens ! Rock ‘n Roll !

After leaving the museum, we drove on Route 90 to 71 South – past Columbus, Ohio, to 40 miles outside of Cincinnati, Ohio. We spent the night at Baymont Inn in Jeffersonville, Ohio South and ate across the street at Werner’s Smoke House. Hm, Hm, Good!

May 11, Tuesday ~ Breakfast at Baymont Inn, then on to Cincinnati, Eden Park and the Cincinnati Art Museum. All museums in Ohio are free ! The museum is more than 100 years old and holds works from every area and century: Egyptians to Contemporary Art. I enjoyed mostly two floors with Modern and Contemporary Art. A great ‘Pike’ (N.J.P.) console, approximately 10 videos were actually running. From the third floor one could look way down to the first floor.

The museum is laid out in an old fashion style. I actually enjoyed the look. But, as Charles suggested, it lacks focus. -  We drove past (Rt. 71) Louisville, Kentucky, to Rt. 65, Elisabeth Town.

May 12, Wednesday ~ Rt. 65 S to Western Kentucky Parkway – four hours through green and hilly country side; and a short drive along Rt. 24 and 603 along a dam and power plant: The land between two lakes – Lake Powell and the lake that turns into the Tennessee River. Then along the Purchase Parkway – to Route 51 S – to Millington, Tennessee, 10 miles outside of Memphis.

We stayed at a Days Inn. Along the way we saw still flooded low planes. The receptionist at the Inn told us that her car had been five feet under water and six feet of water in her house. Her two small jumped to higher ground inside her home and survived. Three levees broke and wide areas were flooded, but Nashville had worse damage. Many, many thousands of people have been displaced in the entire region.

May, 13, Thursday ~ 51 S would have taken us directly to ‘Graceland,’ the Elvis Presley Enterprises, Inc., but we got lost a couple of times. Two policemen pointed us pack on 240 S (a ring around Memphis) and 55, one exit to E.P Blvd! One side of the Presley Enterprises is totally commercialized, but the mansion and grounds were more impressive than I had expected. The house is not very big, with lots of ‘play room’ though. It’s not as tacky as we were told. The costumes and gold and platinum records were amazing! Worth seeing ! House, office, racquet court, work-out building, horses outside on a 13 acres property. Quite beautiful, considering! This year would’ve been Presley’s 75th birthday. (The Presley Enterprises will only allow publication of their own photographs.)

From Graceland to Rt. 40 W to Little Rock, Arkansas.  Exit at Rt. 30 W, 140 A = Comfort Inn at Clinton Library. We are seeing the library! It was the most comfortable hotel so far. Charles watched the Celtics beat the Cleveland Cavaliers (LeBron James) four to two games in the final round of the Eastern Conference. Charles loved watching it on a big screen TV in the suite! I cleared 100 e-mails! We are going to visit the William J. Clinton, Presidential Center tomorrow.

May 14 Friday ~ Today or tomorrow, who cares!  We visited the Clinton Library, which is situated on the Arkansas River. A ’Doublewide’ as they say in Little Rock! A long sleek steel and glass building, where the eight Clinton years are presented in concise and vivid stream of words, documents, photos and ticker-tape! Of course also lots of videos. The Cabinet Room reproduction on one side, and the Oval Office at the other end were on the second floor. On the location, in a transformed railroad station, approximately 59 students from around the world are working toward a Master’s Degree in Public Service from the University of Arkansas. This may be the only program of its kind in the US or even the world. Very impressive !

Then, back to Rt. 30 W, direction to Houston, Texas. 100 miiles on 30 W in Arkansas and 50 miles in Texas. We turned off to Rt. 271 S. We intended to turn onto 259, but ended up on 69 South and stayed in Tyler, Texas, driving through a rain storm and lightening.

May 15, Saturday ~ From Rt. 69 to 59 to Houston, two hours and lunch, and drove directly to the Menil Collection. I had been in Houston twenty years ago and remembered the African Art collection among jungle plants and there it was again ! Exquisite! We also saw works of modern and contemporary art: Max Ernst, Yves Klein, surrealists; the usual:  Picasso, Warhol, etc. A temporary exhibition by M. Cattallan, an artist with a sense of humor, who also created a political/social/cultural fire storm and back lash for the museum !  He had installed a series of beautiful white Carrera marble sculptures on the floor. One could make out the shapes of bodies, which were covered by white sheets of marble. Cattallan’s works were also distributed throughout the permanent galleries, such as a woman (sculpture)  packed as ‘fragile’ in a crate, in the Egyptian galleries.

We saw the Rothko Chapel nearby, with huge gray and black paintings in the round chapel. It  is a place for contemplation and serenity. The Byzantine Chapel presenting stolen frescoes from Cyprus, was erected with the permission of the Republic and Church of Cyprus. Cyprus retains the ownership of the works. What a beautiful small chapel in glass that houses 13th Century frescoes. There were also Cy Twombly and Dan Flavin installations at two other locations.

We were staying at the Greenway Inn in Houston ($50!) and ate exquisitely well at the Acapulco Restaurant next door. I had perfectly grilled tilapia fish and Charles ordered a chicken dish. (I talkes with Olivia and girls for 18 minutes.)

May 16, Sunday ~ The MFA Houston (Museum of Fine Arts) is comprised of two buildings, with holdings from antiquity to today: Egypt, Roman Empire, African gold as well as Asian spiritual and exquisite adornments and jewelry.  There were special exhibitions of China, Korea, Sufi/Mystical Islamic Art and the Indonesian Islands.

We saw a contemporary art exhibition, a retrospective of Alice Neal. The James Turrell tunnel was great ! Nam June Paik’s work, created for the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games, and other contemporary Korean artists were exhibited among century old works. The MFAH is a fantastic museum. A dancer/performer, who studied the Whirling Dervishes for years, ‘whirrled’ for 25 minutes; we stayed for 10. In the audience were Bill Arning, now the director of the Contemporary Art Museum nearby and Carol Ann Meehan, who had been a curator at the ICA (Institute of Contemporary Art) in Boston. She now holds a curatorial position at the Arts Alliance in Houston –  what a lively Arts Town !

May 17, Monday ~ After the museum visits in Houston, we hit the road again. We found our way to Route 10 W and drove to Seguin (pr:sa-geen), 30 miles outside of San Antonio. We stayed at a Comfort Inn, where I managed to answer and delete 100 e-mails. Facebook is very active, I now have almost 800 friends.

From Seguin to San Antonio, Route 10 W, Exit to the Alamo and downtown. Of course, we saw the Alamo ! It’s a very small fort. I compared it to Salses Fort in southern France, which was extensive and 500 soldiers and horses were stationed there. 188 officers and soldiers defended the Alamo against Mexican troops. More than 5000 men died there. The Fort’s grounds have been turned into a garden. The main building contains some artifacts, but the sense of a fort is lost.

For lunch we walked to the nearby River Walk. The San Antonio River used to flood large areas and caused much damage. A series of locks and dams were built and the river now flows quietly through the city. For 2.5 miles along the river banks and below the streets of San Antonio is a lush and beautiful environment: Shops, restaurants and clubs, trees, big plants and flowers. Tables to dine outside line the sides of the river. Tourist boats float by, and I also photographed a river cleaning boat.

After lunch, we made it out of the city easily! We drove back to Rt. 10 W to Seguin, where we stayed over in a Travelodge. It’s a nice little town with a large town square, a grassy area complete with a band stand. Tomorrow, we will continue on our way and pilgrimage to Marfa, Texas, where Donald Judd started the Chinati Foundation. One can only visit from Wednesday to Sunday.

May 18, Tuesday ~ On Rt. 10 W lunch at Ft. Stockton exit, John Chihuahua’s Mexican Restaurant, very colorful and good food. At Bakersfield we saw a sea of wind mills, almost white, so that they would be unobtrusive in the enormous landscape. After the Mexican Gulf rig explosion, we will see more alternative energy solutions, we summized. The wind farm on the horizon was quite beautiful! From Ft. Stockton, 67S to 90W past Alpine to Marfa! We stayed at the Thunderbird Hotel for two nights, a modern hotel. The landmark is Hotel Paisano.

May 19, Wednesday ~ 10 am tour at the Chinati Foundation (10-12 and 2:3:30). Two large buildings were filled with Donald Judd’s steel sculptures, in any possible configuration. He was a minimalist, was he?  The installation was aesthetically beautiful; 100 (more or less) of the same, tall steel cubes, housed in two former military buildings. There are  similar concrete sculptures spread out in the landscape. The Foundation’s  event space had Donald Judd chairs and tables, all in right angles, tall chairs and tables. He invented a great and simple revolving door system.

The afternoon session was again led by Megan, a lovely young intern, there for three months. Six buildings housed Dan Flavin fluorescent tubes in green, orange, yellow and blue, in several color compositions.. There were exhibitions of other minimalists, like David Rabinowitch, John Chamberlain, Claas Oldenburg and Robert Irwin.

From 4 – 5:30 pm we had a tour at the Donald Judd Foundation, which was started after he died at 65. We saw his extensive library and many works from the earliest to the final pieces. In the beginning he constructed his own work, later it was fabricated by two brothers in Long Island: Wall cubes, steel and plastic; a long line of tin boxes, moving with weather conditions; floor pieces in his preferred orange-red tone. We saw the secret rooms: Collections of Indian artifacts, such as blankets, bowls, baskets, jewelry, belts, apparently worth millions of dollars! The Foundation is poor. What’s the solution? We peeked into his private home, two stories high. A big kitchen stocked with southwestern wares, a dining room, some children’s artifacts and toys.

May 20, Thursday ~ Breakfast at Carmen’s, the good food restaurant. I spoke with a family of twelve, who were in Marfa for a wedding. The groom had proposed in Marfa, so two families came together at a B & B for a wedding weekend. One of the sons, a film maker, will get in touch for BFA ( Tomorrow, to the Carlsbad Caverns.

May 21, Friday ~ From Marfa 285 North to Pecos, Texas to New Mexico and at Artesia, 82 W to Carlsbad: The Stevens Inn, a Best Western Hotel gave us a suite for $ 70, because the internet connection did not work. A fabulous gesture ! The caverns were on 285 S, then on 62 for approximately ten miles. A magnificent experience! We had a one minute elevator ride down 750 feet and a good hour to tour only one space, ‘The Big Room’ – a cavern with 1000 surprises, limestone as stelectites and stelecmites in most amazing formations. The room is vastly high and in areas also a second tier below. (Please view the slide show about the Carlsbad Caverns and read other articles about our tour on

When we left the caverns, we were on our way to visit with Astara and Stuart Matthews in Silver City, New Mexico: Back on 285 N to Artesia, to 82 W Alamogordo, where we stayed at a Comfort Inn.

Please note: The diary and a slide show of the entire tour can be seen during an exhibition at the Eclipse Mill Gallery, North Adams, MA, 243 Union Street (Rt. 2). ILLUSTRIOUS, a group show exploring the theme of narrative art and publication, will have an opening celebration on Friday, September 3, from 6 - 8 pm. All are welcome ! The exhibition will be open on Saturday /Sunday's from 12 noon to 5 pm and closes on October 3, 2010.