Monday, February 21, 2011

Safari #24: New Year's Lion Dances in Chinatown

According to our calendar, we're nearly three months into 2011.  However, if you're looking at the Chinese calendar, the new year began on February 3rd.  In Chinese communities around the world, celebrations have been taking place in the form of festivals and parades.  One such celebration happens every year right in Boston's very own Chinatown.

Firecrackers, banging gongs, and excited crowds drew me to Chinatown to watch the new year's lion dances.  These traditional dances are performed to bring good luck and fortune to local businesses and to showcase the martial arts skills of the lion dancers.  Kung Fu practitioners from local martial arts schools compete in the hopes of receiving a prize from each business.

Vegetables and fruit are left dangling from outside the doors of each business, enticing the lions to visit.   Two dancers perform the dance, with one controlling the head and the other controlling the tail.  Three musicians playing cymbals, drums, and a gong and accompany the lion.  To top it off, a little Buddha escorts the lion as it visits each business throwing firecrackers and causing mischief.

If you're interested in visiting Chinatown for next year's lion dances, here are some tips:
  • Drink Tea and Eat Dim Sum.  Since you're in the heart of Chinatown, visit a local restaurant to partake in Yum Cha, which is the tradition of drinking tea and eating small plates of rich foods like pork dumplings, noodles, or chicken feet (if you please).
  • Take Your Time.  The dances last all day (typically 10am to 5pm) with different martial arts troupes making their way through the neighborhood.
  • Bring Earplugs.  If you're sensitive to loud noises, you may find the firecrackers to be a little intense.
  • Check out Banksy's GraffitiUpdate - it's no longer there.  As is the nature of graffiti art, it was painted over.  Yes, the one and only put one of his stenciled images on a wall in Chinatown.  The graffiti is located on Essex St between Washington St. and Harrison Ave.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Safari #23: The MFA's New Wing - in Context

Context is everything - the time, the place, and the setting working together to bring you a well-rounded understanding of an object or event.  I recently visited the new Art of the Americas wing at the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) alongside a docent from Context Travel, a company that specializes in unique tours which do exactly that.

I had the pleasure of taking a stroll through the new wing with Tricia Hastings, an engaging and knowledgeable docent who made the experience of visiting the new wing take on a different dimension. In the three hours I spent with Tricia, I learned more about the museum than all of my individual visits combined.

As a non-Massachusetts native, Tricia's tour of the John Singleton Copley gallery was incredibly informative for me.  While Copley was initially known for his idealized portrait paintings of wealthy Bostonians, his political tendencies came to light in his famous portrait of Paul Revere who appears to foreshadow the coming revolution.  Placed near the portrait is Revere's Sons of Liberty Bowl, which was brought to the MFA thanks to contributions from local school children in 1949.  As a courtesy to young viewers, the bowl has been placed on display at the eye level of a child - a nice touch.

If you're looking for a more than meets the eye view of local art and other Boston sights, be sure to visit Context's website for more information.  With spring just around the corner and potential guests heading to town for a visit, there's no better time than the present to plan your outings now.

Other Thoughts:

  • Don't miss the Behind the Scenes Galleries.  These special galleries are located on each floor in the rear of the new wing and offer a more detailed installation based upon a theme from one of the larger viewing rooms. 
  • Note the furniture arrangement in the new displays.  To allow viewers to come into closer contact with objects, museum designers created displays that would mimic the interiors of the day including, furniture, textiles, and lighting.   
  • Learn more about the MFA's benefactors.  With updated displays and informational kiosks, it's easier than ever to learn more about how the museum acquired its famous pieces and the individuals who selflessly donated them.
*If you have time, visit the 3rd floor of the new wing and view the modern art.  In the photography room, you'll have the opportunity to view my favorite piece - Edward Weston's Pepper no. 30