Friday, May 27, 2011

Lady Gaga Live

Shopping bag souvenir from the concert

Having teenagers at home would eventually lead you to to entangle some of your music tastes with theirs. Although I hardly imbue myself with my teenager's iPod  selections, when it comes to Lady Gaga, we both share a desire to watch her perform live at least once. In addition, I was impressed upon learning that she had achieved early acceptance into the New York University's Tisch School of the Arts program at a tender age of 17.

Her concerts have always sold out in minutes. If one is lucky to get a ticket, the seat may end up in the nose bleed section. This create a quandary of whether to watch a miniaturized version of her from the upper most section of the venue or just save the money and stay at home.

That was the decision I have to make last February when Lady Gaga was performing at New York Madison Square Garden (MSG). It was the winter school break hence for my teenager to attend the concert and then staying up beyond the regular bedtime was not an issue. The dilemma was that Lady Gaga concert has been sold out and the only available option was to get the tickets at the secondary markets.

I was referred by a friend to a secondary market vendor. I visited the vendor website and noticed that there were quite a number of seats still available for the Tuesday night concert. Some of the prices have been jacked up dramatically to as much as 3 to 4 times the original prices. An hour later, I noticed that the some of the prices begin to drop. As I continued monitoring throughout the afternoon, I jotted down several possibilities that were within my budget. At about 3 hours before the concert, I managed to score a pair of tickets with decent view. Since it was drawing so close to the concert start time, the prices were close to the original prices even with the commission fees added.

The fun part of the concert was witnessing all the enthusiastic fans dressed like Lady Gaga. You have The Little Monsters, younger kids dressed in costumes. Then you also encountered males dressed like her.

The concert started late at around 9:30 pm. Lady Gaga interacted actively with the sold out stadium crowd estimated at 20,000. She claimed she did not lip synch unlike others who did (I wonder who she was referring to). The show was energetic with a myraid of dancing numbers and outrageous costumes and dazzling stage backdrops. She acknowledged her humble roots by relating how she used to sit in the nose bleed sections watching other performers played at MSG and she was grateful that she was now the performer on stage.

The HBO crew was there filming the concert for a special (which was shown a couple of weeks ago). Lady Gaga sang her signature tunes including Telephone, Alejandro and Bad Romance. She also debuted her latest single "Born This Way"  from her new album to the thunderous cheers of the crowd. She later acknowleged several celebrities in the audience including Liza Minnelli and Marisa Tomei.

The audience certainly had a blast. While exiting the stadium, we took the stairs instead of the escalators to the street level. On the way down, our fellow concert goers started singing Bad Romance gleefully in unison. We later checked out the souvenir stands. The T-shirts were expensive at around $40 each. My teenager ended up buying one with her own money. We have just witnessed the meteoric rise of a star.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Van Gogh And Starry Night

I probably first learnt of the Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh in my younger days from Don McLean's song, Vincent. In it, he sang of Van Gogh being misunderstood and how he suffered for his sanity. To me, that song has some of the most beautiful and moving lyrics written.

The Starry Night at the New York Museum of Modern Art

I visited the New York Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) recently specifically to view Van Gogh's The Starry Night masterpiece referenced in the song. MOMA offers free admission after 4 pm on Friday nights but it is extremely crowded and difficult to view all the exhibits properly. Hence I attended during the week and I was not disappointed. Of all the paintings exhibited, The Starry Night seemed to be the most popular with the most crowd. It hung there unobstructed by bullet proof glass (unlike the Mona Lisa). It was a good size crowd but one could still stand close to the masterpiece and snap a couple of good shots with the camera flash lights turned off.

In the painting, one experienced the dichotomy of the burst of energy between the heavenly skies and the sleepy hamlet below. The starry skies and the cypress tree dominated the hamlet and church landscape perhaps indicating men were unmatched by the supremacy of Mother Nature. The most entrancing aspect of the painting was the fiery balls of energy emanating from the eleven stellar bodies.  Why eleven stars ? Some experts speculated that Van Gogh was perhaps referencing the eleven stars mentioned in the story of Joseph in the Old Testament. Van Gogh was once a missionary.

This oil painting was completed in 1889. In 1941, MOMA acquired this painting through the bequest of an American philanthropist. I did not realize till this visit that Van Gogh took his own life at such a relatively young age of 37. I've also learnt that he painted The Starry Night after he was committed to the asylum and have to depend on his memories to paint the swirling night sky and blazing stars. It was also noted poignantly that Van Gogh had sold only one painting during his life time.

This oil painting is undoubtedly priceless and it is not for sale. Estimates of its worth are probably over $100 million in today's market. The most expensive painting ever sold was an abstract piece painted by the American artist Jackson Pollock. The transaction took place a few years ago at the reported sum of $140 million.

After this viewing, I am inspired to visit the another Van Gogh's masterpiece, Irises, at the  J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles one day.

Source: J. Paul Getty Museum

Monday, May 23, 2011

Anti-Virus Protection Program

It still amazes me that there are now robust personal computer programs given away for free. I remember back in the early days when the personal computers were proliferating in the corporate world and slowly gaining ground in the US households, one had to spend top dollars to buy a word processing, spreadsheet or a database program. Nowadays, you can obtain some of these programs for free.

Thanks to the open source movement, altruistic software programmers have collaborated to build robust application programs. Across the globe, they access programming codes to fix outstanding problems and incorporate new features and release them to the public at no cost. Hence the average computer user could access free valuable tools to enhance their personal computing experiences.

With so much ease of use on the computers, notebooks and tablets, we are in the danger zone of unintentionally introducing spams and virus programs onto our computers. I remembered once clicking on an innocuous posting on my Facebook wall page. I did not know that the post was a spam until I discussed with a friend. Luckily, I happened to use a free anti-virus program and hence was able to detect the virus programs and trojan horses lurking in my system. These malicious programs were quickly removed.

I am speaking of  the AVG, one of the top free antivirus progam. AVG offers a free basic edition that can remove virus programs from your computer. AVG claims that over 110 million people have used their software. You can read more about this anti-virus tool here:

Undoubtedly,  I was apprehensive when I first used this program. Over time, when I scanned my computer using AVG, I found that it often catches rogue virus that might not be detected by other programs. AVG also provides an option to update the software often so that it can detect the latest computer virus and trojan horses when scanning your computer.

Hence this is an alternative to remove the malicious programs from your computer without initially spending a load of money.  Of course, if you feel inclined, you could upgrade AVG to the premium edition with additional costs. But first, take care of the basic cleanup to kick off those destructive viruses/trojan horses to the curb !

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Dale Chihuly, glass sculptor

My first impressions of the Seattle-based glass sculptor Dale Chihuly were from a visit to the Bellagio hotel in Las Vegas. I was awestruck by the sheer beauty of the hand-blown glass blossoms clustered onto the ceiling of the grand hotel lobby. There were more than 1,000 pieces of these delicate flowers forming waves after waves of majestic chandeliers.

When he showcased his sculpture exhibition in New York a few years later, I was eager to catch more of his creations. I was not disappointed. I came away inspired and dazzled by the palette of colors and complex designs reflected in the glass sculptures.

The exhibition was held at the New York Botanical Park in the borough of Bronx. It featured both interior and exterior glass installations. At the entrance to the historic Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, the visitor was greeted by his 20 foot Rose Tower sculpture. It reminded me of a tall pink lollipop.

My favorite pieces were those from the Tropical Pool theme. With the iconic white Victorian conservatory forming the backdrop, the delicate bluish-hued glass sculptures resembled herons and finely tipped onions gliding through the pool filled with water lilies and gold fishes.

There was also another exterior exhibition themed "Hardy Pool".  It showcased a boat filled with "hardy" food such as glass sculptured pumpkins, melons and gourds. They were really realistic looking.

Other pieces resembled weeds of different colors while others were smaller "plants" that have been integrated seamlessly into the surrounding flora and landscape.

One of the biggest sculpture pieces was The Sun positioned outdoor. It was a giant ball of yellow spiral entanglement which befit the title by its golden yellow color.

All the glass sculptures harmonized so brilliantly with nature that one wished that they were permanent accents of the landscape. They have also withstood the weather elements so hardily.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Airline Lost Luggage

We normally do not make leisure travel plans during the winter. The one and only time we did, Mother Nature decided to deliver alternative plans for us.

It was the winter of 2003. A snowstorm had developed in the west which shifted its way towards the east coast. Snow had fell steadily during the Sunday evening of Feb 15th, the day before President's Day holiday. It snowed throughout the night and the next day. White out conditions persisted throughout the day and the metro area airports were closed. By the time the snow ended on Monday night, New York City has been blanketed under 19 inches of snow. Other major cities on the East coast like Washington D.C and Baltimore have been similarly paralyzed by the blizzard.

We were scheduled to leave for Bahamas on Monday, Feb 16th. Hotel and meal plans have already been purchased from the Atlantis resort, Bahamas. We have finally surrendered to the lures of the incessant tv commercials featuring the sun and fun at the resort, its water slides splashing down the sides of the Maya temple and the call of the sharks lurking in their Mayan pools. We were so ready to escape the New York winter and to have fun in the sun!

When Monday Feb 16th arrived, we could only stayed at home and watched the news sullenly, hoping naively that the weather could clear up soon and that the airports were be opened shortly to allow us to leave on Tuesday for the island however long it would take to clear the delay. Instead, the airport would not be opened again till Wednesday. Hence it was closed for 3 days. Major delays were inevitable.

Upon arrival at the airport on that Wednesday morning, the ticket agent assigned us to fly standby. The agent tagged our luggages, explaining rhat the luggages would only be loaded onto the plane if we had confirmed seats. We went to the gate area, hoping for the best. Alas, there were only room for 2 passengers to fly standby. Somehow, the stress of not able to fly and thinking of the lost vacation and monetary values got to me. I was almost in tears, drowning in disappointment. My young daughter was equally crestfallen having built up so much expectations to visit the aquarium at the Atlantis resort.

More disappointment was in the bag. We went to the ticket counter to get full refund for our airline tickets. This was resolved immediately. However, we could only retrieve one of our luggages. The other one has been probably loaded onto the flight to Bahamas. The agent in charge of the luggages was peeved, telling us that it was a breach of security since the luggage was placed onto the plane unaccompanied by its owner. There was nothing else we could do. We got the luggage lost claim form and left for home.

After a few days when the airline has confirmed that the luggage was indeed lost, we filed a claim for the loss. Since it was an international flight, the reimbursement was really minimal - a mere $200 or so at that time. Had it been a domestic flight, the reimbursement would have been a larger amount. We rather have our luggage back. The luggage contained mainly garments but some items have sentimental values. My daughter till this day, still remembered that she has lost her favorite blanket and pair of dress shoes. After this snafu, she would never let us place her security blanket in the checked in luggage when we travel. It was always placed in the carry on baggage. This practice continue until she outgrew it.

I had called the hotel to explain our situation and inquired about the possibility of credit due to the NYC airport closings. The hotel indicated that they would look into it but they were not very responsive. Fortunately, our monetary loss was limited when I called the credit card company to discuss the situation. The company was very helpful and immediately offered to credit the expenses to my account while they investigated the disputed charges. It was eventually resolved favorably.

We were lucky that this adventure has limited our loss to just a luggage. I once saw a show on tv that featured a store that sell the contents of lost luggages from the airlines. I always wonder whether our personal effects were in that store or perhaps sitting somewhere else in the warm Bahamas sun. Till this day, we have yet to venture to Atlantis which has since expanded considerably. Perhaps one day we will, hopefully with our luggages intact. For now, we would just continue watching its commericals luring us again with that steep Mayan tower water slide.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Monet's gardens

Monet's house

Monet's garden in Giverny, France is a sweet respite from the hustle and bustle of Paris. About an hour's drive from Paris, this historical landscape features the artist's pink house and his beloved gardens from which he drew his inspirations for the Impressionist art movement.

After Monet's death, his family maintained the property but the house and gardens were eventually neglected and fell into disarray. When his son, Michel Monet passed away, the property was left to the Académie des Beaux Arts. Restoration of the property took place gradually. Additional fundings secured from American philanthropists helped to complete the restoration of the house, its contents and the gardens. The garden was first opened to the public in 1980. Today, it reigns as one of the most popular tourist sites in France. An average of 500,000 visitors venture to these gardens annually.

A visit to the Monet's garden was one of my top agenda items while in France. The entrance ticket features pictures of different areas of the garden. Everywhere you look, you see a harmony of splendid colors ranging from the pink house with its green shutters to the multitudes of flowers blooming in the gardens. Depending on the seasons, different varieties of flowers were cultivated providing different shades of hues.

Inside the pink house, one could view Monet's arts, his Japanese prints, his sunflower color kitchen and other personal artifacts. No photographs are permitted inside the house.

One could then visit the famous lily pond and the iconic Japanese green wooden bridge that spans over the water lily pond.  Walking through the gardens, one could reflect on the tranquility of the surroundings, take in the fragrance of the blooming flowers and be transfixed by the sheer beauty of Monet's garden design. There are the water lilies, weeping willows, tall cluster of bamboo trees and lavender wisteria forming a canopy over the bridge. If one stay long enough, one could witness the ever changing glimmers of sunlight  on the water and water lilies that had fired the imagination of the master artist.

The gardens with a pathway leading to  Monet's house.

Monet's water lilies

Beautiful lavender wisteria growing over Monet's Japanese bridge.

The property also has an on site gift shop. Popular items for sale include magnets, calendars, tote bags and replicas of his paintings.

Although one could view Monet's paintings in many museums around the world, knowing the source and inspiration for these beautiful water lilies paintings help us appreciate the journey the master artist has traveled to see, feel and transpose those visions onto the canvas. In Paris, one could view Monet's paintings in museums such as Musee Marmatton, Musee d'Orsay and the Musee L'Orangerie.

Monet's water lilies in Musee d'Orsay, Paris

Of these, my favorite is the Musee de l'Orangerie, a comparatively small intimate museum. It houses two elliptical shaped rooms with full sized wall panels of Monet's water lilies. Overhead, there is a skylight casting natural light on these paintings. The paintings are simply magnificent !


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