A Quiet Abiding: Jacobus Vrel’s Interior with a Sick Woman by a Fireplace

This world is driving us all crazy, it is polarized, violent, in a rush, inconsiderate, uneducated, younameit. But there are a few solutions, a few ways out. One is art. We need more art in our lives. Art makes us slow down, it makes us stop, stop and look, stop and listen, stop and touch, stop and smell, stop and taste.

Last Saturday, although I was just coming out of a massive cold, I went to see A Quiet Abiding: Jacobus Vrel’s Interior with a Sick Woman by a Fireplace from the n at my oasis of culture and art: the Norton Museum of Art.

I arrived at the same time as the Chinese Dragon show was about to start in the garden to celebrate the Lunar New Year, but I went straight upstairs to see this painting, which will be on show at the Norton for two years.

Little is known about Vrel other than he barely preceded Vermeer, in fact the painting has an air of Vermeer, but apparently it is the other way around Vermeer has an air of Vrel.

The painting is beautiful, simple, quiet, and alluring. You want to make some tea for the sick old lady, some chicken soup. There is a weak fire in the fireplace, and that flickering flame, a handful of tiny brushstrokes, makes the painting, brings it all together, it is amazing!! A little like the flowers in infanta Margarita Teresa de Austria’s dress in Velazquez’s Meninas.

If you are around Palm Beach up until December 15 2024, do not miss this painting. You are welcome.

Breakfast in West Palm Beach: Hive Bakery and Café

Those of you who follow this blog at all might know that it started as a way to chronicle my Harley-Davidson (RIP) ride from Boston to Austin, Texas and back looking for a PhD program in Spanish Literature in 2011. After the trip I just kept writing and writing. I write about anything that interests me in any way: Academics and education, literature, The Camino de Santiago, culture, cities, food, cigars, travel and adventure, etc. Today is restaurant review day:

I recently had the opportunity to have breakfast with a dear friend in West Palm Beach at Hive Bakery and Café.

The restaurant is on iconic Route 1 (South Dixie Highway) across the street from the Norton Museum (which I have written about a lot, click here). The whole block is owned and run by the same folks. They have a home decoration store and business, and a clothing store.

Hive sits on a nice corner and has the obligatory artsy design (with a beehive pattern, get it?). Inside it is warm, well lit, and airy, very pleasant, with all the de rigueur décor. Your eyes immediately catch the counter full of delicious looking pastries. This being 2022, and West Palm Beach, the food was healthy but delicious, you will not find greasy diner breakfast fare here. The coffee was top notch, well made with quality coffee. My pain au chocolat looked very elegant, crunchy on the outside, but it missed the buttery softness inside. The service was attentive and professional. It was a perfect experience.

So, what is wrong with this place? Nothing. And that is the problem: it has no character, no personality, no charm, it is all Instagram perfect, there is nothing exceptional, it is sterile. Critically, it has no narrative, or the narrative is boring. Everything was good but not remarkable. If I never go back, I will not miss it, I will not miss the food, the people, nothing. It seems to me that nowadays everything is designed to perfection, consultants develop the perfect menu, accountants establish the perfect everything to maximize revenues, everything is so impeccable that it is boring.

When I get the chance to go out, I will always choose a place that has something, usually a combination of extraordinary (not expensive) food, character, personality, history, sense of humor, great staff, or an indescribable factor that makes you want to come back again and again. Hive is not that place.

Hispanic Heritage celebration at the Norton

The Norton Museum in West Palm Beach is such an oasis of culture for me that I have already written about it five times in this blog. Well, here is the sixth:

Understanding the importance of Hispanic Heritage and Hispanic Heritage month, the Norton organized an open house “Nuestra Cultura” day in celebration. I took advantage of the opportunity and took some students from my classes. We had a blast!

We skipped the piñata making table, the Latin dance lessons, and the food stalls. We checked out the mercado set up in the garden, and what we really dug our teeth into was the actual museum. Although the collection is small, it contains top notch art. We walked around discussing different pieces and paintings.

We had a wonderful time, and I enjoyed (finally) being able to share the Norton with my students!

West Palm Beach, a celebration

Within the suburban wasteland that is South Florida, Palm Beach stands out as a beacon of civilization. Developed in the early 20th century by rich northerners who were scaping the cold and snow, it soon became the place for really rich folks to build winter homes (think Post cereal heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post’s Mar-a-Lago). If you were not rich enough to own a home you could always spend a few days at the iconic Breakers hotel. Nowadays, the Palm Beaches boast the Norton Museum which I have talked about already, and great dining venues.

I recently had the chance to explore Palm Beach at night. A colleague’s birthday was all it took to get three guys to go explore, improvise, and enjoy some drinks and a great dinner. Sure, there was some shop talk and some philosophy talk (they are both professors of philosophy, I am just an amateur) but mostly we just chatted and shared and enjoyed breaking bread together.

Pre-dinner drinks were had at the great rooftop Spruzzo bar atop the Ben hotel. The views were amazing, the drinks chilly, and the vibe great!

From there we walked around Clematis Street checking out the fun atmosphere, before settling down for dinner at Elisabetta’s Ristorante for a great Italian meal.

Overall, a fun time was had by all. I must say I was impressed by the cosmopolitan and sophisticated feel of West Palm Beach, I’ll be back.

Norton Museum of Art

The other day I finally had a chance to visit the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach. I was thinking I was going to visit a small museum with a couple of obligatory Impressionists, a couple of Cubist pieces, maybe a few pieces from between the wars, plus some modern random stuff. Well, as usual, I was wrong!

To begin with, the museum is quite large – much larger than say, the Baker Museum in Naples. It consists of a three-floor modern building (designed by Foster) attached to the Art Deco original, plus a sweet garden with a nice modern sculpture collection.

After the necessary Covid protocols: temperature and hand sanitizing, I paid the steep $18 fee (plus $5 for parking). My museum viewing strategy, started years ago (possibly induced by the Guggenheim in NYC) is to take the elevator to the top floor and then work my way down. What was my surprise when I landed on the third floor and I saw a couple of massive 17th and 18th C. portraits! (The first painting you come to is an early 20th C. Orientalist, but probably because it was the only one of the genre there and they did not know where to put it). The third floor has a surprising collection of 16th to 18th C. paintings including Rubens and Tiepolo, and some sculptures, including a gorgeous Spanish wood carved Virgin Mary.

The second floor is mostly Chinese art where I am quite lost. There are Shang, Ming, Jin, and Qing Dynasty pieces which are all gorgeous.

The ground floor is where the majority of the collection is. And what a great collection it is! (for a smaller, private museum in Florida). Sure, you have your unavoidable Cézanne, Miró, Picasso (sculpture and painting!) and Monet, but also rarer Gaugin, Brancusi, Gris and so forth. The American art collection is solid:  A couple of Georgia O´Keeffes, Norman Rockwell, an early Jackson Pollock, Calder, less known but highly influential Milton Avery, even a Man Ray chess set! The old and new buildings are seamlessly connected, so you do not really know what part of the building you are in, unless, like me, you stumble into the old patio, which is a beauty.

A big part of the ground floor is dedicated to Contemporary art and the usually massive installations they require (maybe to compensate for technique? – no, to be fair, I must confess my old fashioned taste and lack of knowledge on the Contemporary art front.)

The garden and sculpture collection are also delightful. Who knew that Keith Haring did sculpture? well at least one, it is here!

There is the de rigueur over-priced cafeteria, but it is spacious and modern, and the food is good. You can sit indoor (as soon as Covid allows) or outside.

So all-in-all a highly recommended visit if you happen to be an art lover in South East Florida.