One of the most popular attractions in Sydney, Australia, is not in most of the travel literature. The Magician’s Cabaret is at 91 Riley Street in Darlinghurst. The Magician’s Cabaret has performances only on Friday and Saturday nights. The Saturday night show, La Fortuna, is in its 5th year and contains dinner, showgirls, magic tricks, and lots of razzmatazz. Book a long time ahead. If you can get in like Ruth and I did, Magician James Karp gives Saturday afternoon tours of the cabaret during which he talks about the most common magic tricks. It’s lots of fun and attracts many young couples and multi-generational families. Our group of 20 included 7 children. Book by phone or, even better, on-line at themagicianscabaret.com; and don’t show up until the tour’s scheduled time, 1:30 pm.
After Karp gave his career history and talked about the upcoming show, he took his tour guests backstage, engaged a child to act as his assistant, and began talking about magic. My favorite of his performance-centered quips was, “Magic happens when you feel, not when you think.” He talked about the time he regretfully wore a pirate shirt to perform in instead of traditional magician’s attire, often addressed the importance of his assistant, and said that he succeeds when the ears in his audience lie to their owners’ brains. He told us that a good magician keeps that audience in front and below him. He said the most dangerous magic trick is “the bullet catch”. This was no surprise, but a lot of what he did say was. For example, he showed us a photo of Jerry Lewis and told us that this famous comedian wrote a book about magic during his long lifetime.
When Karp told us that he had learned magic in the traditional way, I was reminded of one of my favorite high school teachers who was also a professional magician. When we were very, very good, he’d perform some card tricks, so he had no trouble getting and keeping our attention during classes. One of my main regrets of this trip is that we ran out of time and had to decline Karp’s invitation to attend an evening show.
Alexander Calder was a contemporary of Olive Pink, the one-of-a-kind woman whom I wrote about yesterday. The love of her life was an all-Australian botanic garden in the middle of The Outback. The love of his life was mobiles. Or maybe it was his circus. He was an engineer who created art objects that moved. They were called mobiles, a word he invented. Parents frequently hang mobiles in their baby’s room to stimulate an understanding of space with sometimes moving, colorful objects.
I had only seen Alexander Calder’s moving mobiles in films until Ruth & I saw an exhibit of his sculptures at the Whitney Museum in New York last year called “Hypermobility”. At noon, someone activated a few of them with a stick and they danced around as if motorized. They were not. Calder carefully crafted them in such a way that they seemed to move on their own. Early in life Calder decided to become a mechanical engineer, studied at Stevens Institute of Technology, and earned an engineering degree. Later he applied what he learned to small and large sculptures. Many years ago I repeatedly saw a film of him in which he, like the perfect grandfather, manipulated wire circus performers he had created to entertain guests in his house in France. The Whitney had it on display in its old museum. Calder died in 1976. Olive Pink died in 1975.
There are frequent exhibits of Alexander Calder’s works. Earlier this year Ruth and I went to the Phoenix Art Museum because it had an exhibit called “Alexander Calder: An Outburst of Color”. I found it oddly displayed in a conference room that was occupied when we arrived. We couldn’t see it. When we were ready to leave, we circled back to the room. The people had left and it was empty, but there was still a guard at the door. I asked her if we could see the Calders. She checked with someone and let us in. They were typical of his work, in other words delightfully childlike.
On the way out I spoke to the lady in the gift shop. I asked her where the Calder show, which was about to end, would go next. “Back into storage,” she told me. As it turned out, all of the framed Calders on display were owned by…the Phoenix Art Museum. She told me that they almost always had some of their impressive collection of Calders on view. That explained why they were hung on walls in a conference-meeting room.
Has anyone else besides me seen and been delighted by Cirque Calder?
I’ve never been in a botanic garden like this one. The Olive Pink Botanic Garden in Alice Springs, Australia, is across the Todd River from downtown. The Todd is odd too. Its flow is usually described as intermittent. I’ve never seen water in it. It flooded Alice Springs in 2015. This happened in December. There hadn’t been water in the Todd since the previous January. If it does have water in it, that water eventually flows into the Simpson Desert and disappears. The Olive Pink Botanic Garden opened to the public in 1985. It’s unusual because it doesn’t contain roses, tulips, etc. it contains only Australian natives, and, while there, you’re more likely to be surrounded by flies than typical botanic beauty. If you see an animal, it will more than likely be a Black-footed Rock Wallaby or a poisonous reptile.
Olive Pink Botanic Garden has 600 Central Australian plant species, 33 of which are threatened. It is now said to be “a globally unique treasure” but in its Guide Book. I never made it up to the top of Annie Myers Hill for its fine view of Alice Springs but, swatting flies the entire time, I took The Wattle Walk. The wattle is a native Australian tree that has many species but doesn’t have leaves. Most wattles are short-lived. They thrive in difficult places like Central Australia and many species bear yellow flowers in late spring and winter. I saw none in bloom. In fact, I didn’t see a single bloom in this entire botanic garden. This would probably please Olive Pink.
Olive Pink is most often described now as unforgettable, indomitable, colorful, or threatening. She lived in her garden in a small tin hut and, probably, had no fly swatter. She only hired Aboriginals like Johnny Jampijinpa to create and then tend her garden. She fought for Aboriginal rights in a time when this was controversial. Often in trouble with the law, she once was fined for contempt of court, refused to pay, and asked to go to jail instead. She studied anthropology, turned what was known as the Australian Arid Regions Native Flora Reserve into this garden, and promoted the cultivation of only native plants. She was far more likely to prefer one with thorns instead of flowers, and she focused on those that could either be eaten or turned into medicine. She lived to be 91.
Like Alice Springs itself, the Olive Pink Botanic Garden is a tough but interesting place to be.
If you visit Sydney, Australia, and go to the Art Gallery of New South Wales you will most likely see paintings like this Ouse river scene by John Glover. Glover was born in England but died in Tasmania. This museum also has many fine Aboriginal paintings. We went there with a dear friend from Canberra named Lynette to see a temporary exhibit from France. Called “The Lady and the Unicorn, it was truly excellent.
I have not been a big fan of tapestries. Most of them in museums are old and faded. This series was old but not faded because these tapestries have been restored several times, most recently in 2013. The colors, especially the reds, are quite vivid. The unknown artist used around 30 different colors and shades. Who designed these tapestries is just one of the mysteries surrounding these works of art created about the time the Middle Ages ended and the Renaissance began. What is known is that they were designed in Paris around 1500 AD when tapestry making was at its peak. The woman’s nickname is “The Mona Lisa of the Middle Ages”.
The well-dressed lady in the 6 tapestries poses with a lion and a unicorn in each panel. They are surrounded by plants, flowers, other animals, etc. Everything is symbolic but the overall meaning is one of the mysteries. Many experts say that they celebrate the 5 senses. In one of the tapestries the lady is playing a positive organ. In another she takes a treat from a bowl to feed a pet parrot. The problem with this theory is that there are six tapestries in this series. The 6th sense, therefore, is called “My sole desire”. Another theory is that they celebrate the stages of female development because the subject ages.
What is known for sure is that that these tapestries show the coat of arms of the Le Viste family, and that they hung in a castle, Chateau de Boussac, in central France in their early years. They disappeared for a long time and were rediscovered in the middle of the 19th century. After they were sold to France in 1882, they were moved to the Musée de Cluny in Paris, their current home. It is also known that the Art Gallery of New South Wales and the Australian Government were thrilled to exhibit them temporarily to boost this State’s economy. This did happen. We were part of a large crowd the day we saw them.
However, these tapestries return to France after June 24, 2018. You will more than likely not get to see them in Sydney. When I see something temporary, I don’t usually write about it unless it is traveling further. However these tapestries are so sensational that I asked the staff of the museum what will happen after they return and was assured that they will be on permanent display almost immediately at the Musée de Cluny. The reason why its staff let them travel to Australia for this one-shot exhibit is because they are updating the museum while they are away. So go see them…in Paris.
The longest stretch of Old Route 66 in America is from just west of Ash Fork to Toprock, Arizona. The revival of interest in this historic highway began in 1987 when people in the town of Seligman, Arizona, which had once been on Old Route 66, formed the Historic Route 66 Association of Arizona. A gift shop selling nostalgic items quickly followed.
Today every state along old Route 66 has something for tourists to see. All but Kansas, which had the shortest stretch, has a museum about the old route. Oklahoma has 2. Lots of international visitors kept all of them busy. Many are from Germany. Lately, Brazilians have been coming. When Ruth and I visited the Old Route 66 Museum in California earlier this year, it was full of kids on holiday from Japan. The California route 66 Museum is in the old town part of Victorville.
Route 66 reached its apex in 1937, the year it was completed. Until the new Interstate System put it out of business, Old Route 66 in California was a 286-mile-long stretch of highway. Victorville was one of this state’s towns that was directly on it. Its museum is cluttered with nostalgic items, like a 1950s Seeburg Jukebox. The staff is dedicated to this enterprise and quite friendly. Over time it has more than quadrupled in size and entertained visitors from 75 foreign countries, so far. Some of them have donated their country’s currency, and the staff has turned even these notes into a display. Many foreign visitors rent cars or motorcycles and travel as much of the route as they can. The Victorville museum opens at 10 am except on Sunday when it opens at 11. It’s closed on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Roy Rogers and Dale Evans were from Victorville. The local museum dedicated to these old Western stars closed in 2003. Some of the nostalgic items from it are in this Route 66 museum. If you knew who Roy Rogers was, you might also remember Sammy Davis, Jr. He lost his left eye in a horrific accident near the intersection of Cajon Boulevard, which was on Old Route 66 and Kendall Drive. His face hit the steering wheel and the eye ended up on the bullet-shaped cone in the center of it.
My favorite Route 66 museum is in Cliinton, Oklahoma. The one in Victorville, which is free, is middling+. It’s greatest asset is the way the staff gets strangers talking to one another. The spring issue of American Road magazine has a lot about old Route 66, especially focusing on the neon signs along it that once entertained travelers.