Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Manchester Diary, Day 2: A city built to last

It was a long work day today; so interesting to meet many bright minds and learn about cutting-edge research, but at 6:30 pm, I was mentally beat. My body, on the other hand, was restless, and I was raring to explore the city. Fortunately, Manchester is very compact and easy to navigate on foot.  So, I walked, walked and walked some more, making my Fitbit a very happy accessory. 

I headed south of the conference center first and explored the Castlefield Urban Heritage Park.  As soon as I saw the Roman fort, I knew this area was aptly named. Actually, the fort itself was named “Mancunium”, the birthplace of “Manchester”.  Castlefield is a very quaint, but distinctive area – consisting of a hodgepodge of Roman ruins, waterways, old houses, new pubs, gardens, and bridges, bridges, bridges!...all in a fairly tiny land area.
In the first garden, I passed youngsters and families having picnics enjoying the (unusual?) sunny day.  Walking past the fort, I was greeted by the Bridgewater canal (overkill name?) and a family of bridges made of wood, concrete and metal, intermingling, shuttling pedestrian on first tier, cars on 2nd, and the Manchester tram on 3rd. And under them, the boats passed quietly. After crossing the nth bridge, a contrasting scene greeted me – lots of movements – the people on the greens lounging, cafes are filled with excited chats, kids are feeding the pigeons and ducks, kayakers are gingerly getting on the inflatable kayaks (yikes!), and a lone fisherman was ignoring all of it. I sat on the bench and watched for a bit, taking it all in. I realized how very few places in the US do I see such interesting scene. Central Park in NY is the only one that comes to mind right now. And Castlefield is Central Park’s pinky in size.
This wasn't what Newton meant. Nevertheless...

"We build too many walls, and not enough bridges." - Isaac Newton

After I looped back to my towering hotel, I headed north to the historic center, the Civic quarter, admiring the unique buildings of the Central Library, the Town Hall, and St. Peter’s Square. Like in Lisbon, I observed the seeming struggle of Manchester to hold on to its historic past but also usher the new and modern. I’m glad that a lot of the structures are preserved or restored, but I fear that if they keep building tall buildings like the shiny-as-a-penny Hilton, these will diminish the city’s charm. 
Midland Hotel - would have been the wiser choice
My beacon - and I don't say that lovingly.
I can't remember where I read this, so I'm sure I'm going to butcher the thought, but here goes - I read somewhere that when we build something we ought to build with the goal of it lasting forever, and make something that our children's grandchildren would be proud of.  I guess that's the difference between the glass and steel buildings we've built in modern times, and the pyramids and forts that were built stone by stone by wrinkled hands and bent backs. The latter have lasted for so long and will outlive us still. 

Battle of old vs. new

Town Hall

I went past Chinatown and onto Picadilly Gardens.  Within these (maybe) 10 blocks, the scenery rapidly changed from historic to Asian to a big and loud gathering plaza, and a left turn brought me to the shopping district – at some point my Fitbit buzzed in delight, and I still continued on. Most stores were closed or closing as dusk was descending, and the Pubs were starting to liven up.  I ended my trek at the grand Manchester Cathedral, sadly closed at that hour too, and for fear of blisters, I conceded to taking a taxi back to my hotel.
Manchester Cathedral

 Other notable sightings:
Hey now. I'm offended.
Waiting for Superman
Would you go down the rabbit hole in these?

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Manchester Diary, Day 1: No peer pressure!

“Because that’s what Hermione does,” said Ron, shrugging. “When in doubt, go to the library.”
J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Summer is prime conference season. Up until June, I was penciled in for 3 conflicting conferences scheduled for the end of summer – should I go to Korea, Spain or India? Then got a curve ball and found out in mid-July that I had to go to Manchester, UK instead.  Cool. At least, I didn’t have to worry about the language! So, four days after coming back from a conference in Philly, I find myself back on the plane Europe-bound. 

Would you have chosen the library too?
When thinking of must-see in Manchester, one would likely think “Manchester United” – naturally. Sad to break my football-loving friends’ hearts, but that was not exactly top priority for me - naturally.  My plane arrived on time; I zipped through customs to my hotel early and a few hours before the conference was scheduled to start. I honestly had little time to prepare for this trip, let alone borrow or buy a travel book, so thank G-d for Google pointing me to my must-see in Manchester!  My destination - The late-Victorian, gothic building on Deansgate in Manchester, England: The John Rylands Library.

The John Rylands Library is not your ordinary library. Not only does it have an impressive book collection, but its gothic architecture is nothing I’ve ever seen in a library. If you’re a Harry Potter fan, this could very well be part of Hogwarts. And it certainly wouldn't have been far-fetched if a choir of seruphim started singing in that room!

Borrowed online since my pictures inside didn't come out well

Now, don’t judge as I’m admitting to full-on nerd here – I confess that what brought my feet to this library is one of the featured themes - science. The library is celebrating the 250th anniversary John Dalton’s birth by displaying Dalton’s personal letters. If you’re a chemist, you’d know how big this is. Yes, it is the Dalton who pioneered the theory of atomic weights, the Dalton of Dalton’s law of partial pressure (the pressure exerted by each gas in a mixture is independent of the pressure exerted by the other gases, and the total pressure is the sum of the pressures of each gas.)
PTotal = P1 + P2 + P3...
Dalton's handwriting was impeccable!  My nerdy heart just fainted a little. Unfortunately, taking photos of the letters were not allowed. You can imagine how fragile these are. Some of the manuscripts were charred by fire at the Literature & Philosophy Society that housed them, apparently during an air raid in 1940. Still, I’m hoping I can request the images from the library, so stay tuned! 

Perhaps less known, but just as key to Chemistry is Sir Humphry Davy, who discovered Chlorine and Iodine. The library gallery/museum also featured some of his notebooks. He’s Dalton contemporary, but got overshadowed, maybe? What I found amusing that I didn’t know before is that Davy is also a poet. He wrote poems alongside his scientific data!

Such a small gallery, but so much wealth! There were two other exhibits I enjoyed. First, as part of the 400 year death anniversary of the bard, the library featured the collection of Shakespeare’s tragedies, his first folio containing all his plays which was printed 7 years after he died and was put together by 2 of his friends.  They also had the Sonnets 1899 reproduction.
“To the onlie begetter of these ensuing sonnets. Mr. W. H. all happinesse and that eternitie promised by our ever-living poet wisheth the well-wishing adventures in setting forth.”

I honestly did not quite follow that and had to write it down to decipher later. Maybe ask hubby to help.  

Lastly, I saw the exhibit featuring History of the Bible, which showcased small pieces of papyrus containing text from the old and new testaments.  It’s meant to make us think of where it’s been produced and how was it come to us now? Parts were from Deuteronomy from the earliest fragments of Greek translation of the Hebrew bible used by Egyptian Jews.  Other fragments were from the gospel of John. There was also a manuscript of the Amidah for the festival of Rosh Hoshanah written on rice paper that was supposedly used by Chinese Jews in Hunan. Wow. Didn’t I say this library is a gem! And this was all just on one floor. 

Found Balzac's burial in Paris, and now his life's work.

The 3rd level of the library was even more impressive.  It’s a functional reading room with cases upon cases of priceless copies of books you won't easily find elsewhere.  This is bookworm heaven.  And there were folks who were studying there!  HOW?? This place is so amazing, I’m not even sure I would have been able to focus.

It struck me how in visiting this new place (Manchester), I found an old gold mine in the Rylands library. Juxtaposed, whenever you go to a library, it's bound to bring you to a new world. Huh.   

Alas, it was time for me to leave this intellectual sanctuary and head to work – tired, but inspired.

I ended the day following the theme. Found a fitting restaurant in The Alchemist. 

Period table of cocktails

Monday, August 15, 2016

Mama MIA, Maya!

This week was a 5-day date week between me and my little monkey. Hubby and big sister flew to NY for a few days, and I got to hang out with my little one. As much as I miss one when one of the kids are away, it's always a treat to spend one-on-one time with each kid. And that's also why we do these trips - alternating.

My date was very easy to please.  During the week, we spent time biking around the neighborhood, having a movie night, getting up late, and going out on a fancy dinner date (toasting with chocolate milk!) one night.

But the highlight was the weekend.  The weather was gorgeous so we hiked and hit the beach and built sand castle, knocked it down, and built another. We picnicked on trail mix and apples, and went back in time for a play date with her bestie at the splash park just because we couldn't get enough water fun. Did I mention that we turn to fish during the summer?

 After an exhausting Saturday working on our tan lines, we decided on a serene Sunday. It was the surprise one for me. On my best friend's suggestion, I decided to check out the Minneapolis Institute of Art or MIA, for short. There are tons of pay parking lots, but if you're lucky like me, you'll just nab a spot across the street.  I'm not really a big art lover, and I don't think I have the sophistication to truly appreciate it at the level that some of my friends do... However, this was just an enjoyable trip to the art museum, seeing paintings and sculptures with my 3-year old's eyes.  She was very patient, and feasted on the artworks, commenting "They're so beautiful! Everything is beautiful!!" It was such a delight looking at our colorful arts, pretty flowers, paintings of sisters. Forget the Olympics commentaries! There are far too exciting arts to comment on here - we commented on missing limbs, goodness - missing heads! a big dog sculpture, chair made of horns, and snickered at exposed tushies.  See? No pretenses here. My 3 year-old was the best companion.  

Truth be told, I also realized how much more of a sculpture person I am than paintings-admirer. In spite of being an art novice, I've been fortunate to have visited a few reknowned art museums - the National Portrait Gallery, the Guggenheim, the Louvre, and Musee d'Orsay, thanks to my husband who has the better understanding and appreciation for them.  And in all these visits, I've gravitated to the delicate sculptures.  The veiled lady by Raffaelo Monti at the MIA, for instance - I couldn't take my eyes off of it. I want to try to decipher what she's feeling; why was she veiled? But Maya had other things to check out, so I followed her lead. 

As far as painting goes, I do feel that I just don't have the mind to decode abstract paintings... unless my children drew them. And as beautiful as Monet's works are to most, I just find them - meh. (Ooops!) And don't ask me about Degas or Cezanne. However, I did find that romanticism and realism are the paintings that I'm attracted to the most. Quite opposite on the art spectrum, I know.  I also know that I'm simply not impressed with impressionism. But one painting I have never even heard of until my best friend mentioned his work was Corot. I was really taken by his art, The Reader.  There's a solemn expression on her face as she reads so intently while she walks.

Nina Katchadourian

 The MIA also had an exhibit called Beyond the Selfie: Portraits in the 21st Century. I found it refreshing, and slightly cheeky. It did feature the gone-viral "Lavatory Self Portraits" of  Nina Katchadourian.

Now I'm really going to show my art naivete here. I had no idea Pablo Picasso also did sculptures!! I was so surprised to see his whimsical bronze sculpture Baboon and Young.
It reminded me of Madonna and son, although unexpectedly whimsical, and from Pablo Picasso! We just had to do our own version of baboon and young. Ha!

After our eyes have fully feasted on colors, camels, and Cassatt, we decided to do the museum's scavenger hunt "Art-lympics" where the kids had to search for paintings related to sports in the Olympics. It was a cinch for little Maya. She got a medal for her achievement, but I think we both came out as big winners today!  

I leave you with some more notable 3-dimensional arts that caught our eyes:

"OOOH, That's SHINY!!!"
"Whuuut? Where's his legs, mommy?"
"Maya, if you squint, that chair is smiling at you!"
That's all folks!