July 25, 2012

Vienna beckons through Klimt exhibit

Posted in Art, Between Us column, Travel at 9:27 pm by dinaheng

The work of Gustav Klimt, one of Austria’s greatest painters, led the way into Modernism at the turn of the 20th century, making Vienna one of its birthplaces.

A beautiful exhibition of his work, “Gustav Klimt:The Magic of Line,” is on display at The Getty Center in Los Angeles through September 23. This retrospective, dedicated to the drawings of the painter best known for his work “The Kiss,” was organized by the Albertina Museum in Vienna, in celebration of the 150th anniversary of Klimt’s birth.

“For Klimt, art is turning inward and exploring different psychological states,” says Lee Hendricks, senior curator of drawings at The Getty Center, who helped put the exhibition together. “He, along with some other artists who were dissatisfied with the conservative Viennese art scene, introduced avant garde art to Vienna in the Secessionist movement. He became one of the greatest graphic artists that ever lived.”

The exhibit features wonderfully detailed life drawings that were the beginnings of his other work. For a ceiling fresco in Vienna’s Burgtheater, for example, he painted “Shakespeare’s Theater,” a depiction of the crypt scene from “Romeo & Juliet” at the Globe Theater.

“He went out on the street and pulled these people over to dress them in costumes from ‘Romeo & Juliet,’ “ explains Hendricks. “He dressed his brother as the dead Romeo.
from nude models that are sensuous and often frankly erotic.”

In the later years, his life drawings featured nude figures that were sensuous and often frankly erotic.

“Floating nude women became a theme for the rest of his career,” Hendricks says. “It meant Man is not empowered to take control of his life, and the only way to cope is to give up and float through life. His work says humankind is part of a continuum, with no control over his fate.”

Ironically, Klimt’s paintings are often seen as being symbolic of the spirit of optimism that marked the beginning of the Modernist era.

This year, Vienna is marking the 150th anniversary of the celebrated artist’s birthday with a series of events, featuring about 800 of his works around the city at museums including the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Leopold Museum, the MAK, the Austrian Folklore Museum and others.

“Klimt had a long life and never married,” says Norbert Kettner, managing director of the Vienna Tourist Board. “Vienna, at the turn of the century, was the fifth largest city in the world. The times of the empires were over, and Vienna became the birthplace of the arts, sciences and culture. Today, we are a middle-size city that combines northern European efficiency and southern European lifestyle.”

He notes that Viennese cuisine is the only one in the world named after a city, which is not surprising since vineyards in the capital city of Austria have a long history, not to mention the city’s prolific coffee houses.

If Klimt’s work isn’t enough to entice visitors, Vienna also has a long tradition in music — think Johann Strauss I, Franz Schubert, or the Vienna Boys Choir.

“We like to combine the finer things in life — going to the theater and enjoying fine foods afterwards,” says Astrid Pockfuss, media relations manager for the Vienna Tourist Board. “Fifty percent of the city is green space. You can take the train to the wineries, and at night, you can go to a black tie ball.”

Vienna is perhaps the last great bastion of the 19th century ball, holding more than 200 significant balls each year, some with as many as nine live orchestras. For as little as 50 euros, Pockfuss notes, you can buy a ticket to a ball and wander from one hall to another to enjoy the music and cultural atmosphere.

You never know who you might meet. You might even find your own inspiration for “The Kiss.”

For more information about Austria’s capital city, check out www.vienna.info/en.

July 18, 2012

Film shares ‘How to Fall in Love’

Posted in Between Us column, Entertainment, Relationships, Television, Women at 11:00 pm by dinaheng

We may not all follow the rules of dating, but finding true love is the treasure we all long to find.

In “How to Fall in Love,” a Hallmark Channel Original Movie premiering Saturday, July 21 at 9 p.m. Eastern, a shy accountant named Harold (played by Eric Mabius) hires Annie (Brooke D’Orsay), a popular girl he knew in high school, to be his dating coach in order to woo a woman who’s caught his eye.

By a twist of fate, Annie is the high school crush who rejected Harold as a teenager, making her the perfect woman to lift his self-esteem. The successful businessman, in turn, encourages Annie to pursue her dream career as an event planner. In the process, the two discover they have more in common than just a shared passion for classic love songs.

“Everybody can relate to this story,” says Tim Johnson, executive producer of the film. “I think the vast number of romantic comedies are about characters in the most frustrating period of life, when all your friends have found their life partners, and you’re asking, ‘Where’s mine?’ At the same time, it’s the most exciting time of your life because you don’t know in which direction your life is going to go.”

Johnson says the character Harold is a closet photographer who chooses the respectable trade of accounting, and has not bloomed into his full potential.

“Harold is more cautious than most, and it’s that shyness that people relate to,” Johnson says. “What girl in high school, or later in life, is going to pick out the shy guy in the room, unless it’s Fate? As a society, we’re taught to choose the most charismatic person. But Annie gets to see how strong and sensitive Harold is. We’re all looking for that connection — the presence of empathy for one another — in a partner.”

While the target audience for the film is 25 to 54-year-old women, the producer says everyone likes good fairy tales, even men.

“I’m 47, and I still enjoy these movies,” Johnson says. “I didn’t get married until I was 39, and most of my friends were divorced. I met my wife at a laundromat, and finally figured things out. I don’t think there are soul mates. It’s okay to have preferences like wanting someone who’s athletic and fun, but beyond that, it’s developing empathy for one another that leads to love.”

Johnson, formerly the head of West Coast programming for the PAX Network, launched several successful series for PAX, including “Doc” and “Sue Thomas: F.B.Eye.”

“A young writer named Bart Fisher had sent me a script a couple of years ago for feedback, and when he sent me ‘How to Fall in Love,’ I thought it was a great concept,” Johnson says. “Hallmark decided to do it, and chose us to produce it.”

Fisher is currently manager for program development and scheduling at the Hallmark Channel.

Prior to the movie’s premiere, dating coaches Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider, authors of “The Rules” books will host a live one-hour Q&A on Saturday, July 21 at 8 p.m. Eastern on Hallmark Channel’s Facebook Fan Page (www.Facebook.com/hallmarkchannel), answering questions on everything from how to get a man to propose to ideas on where to meet people. Signed copies of their book, “All The Rules,” will be given away.

“I hope that people are not only entertained by the movie, but that they learn something from it,” Johnson says. “If you’re looking for love, it’s important to be aware of the people around you, relationships you already have with other people, and the opportunities we all have to help others meet and establish a connection.

“The people we’re supposed to be with might not be the ones our brains or society tells us we should be with. Listen to your heart. That’s where the truth is found.”

For an evening of romance, laughter, and some wise tips on dating, don’t miss “How to Fall in Love.”

July 13, 2012

Do-it-yourself lessons abound

Posted in Between Us column, Women at 12:27 am by dinaheng

My parents’ house is 40 years old now. Whenever I visit, the rooms are usually filled with the sound of grandchildren, shrieking and laughing. Over the last decade, the kids have drawn on the walls with crayon and dinged the plaster by slamming various doors.

In preparation for a house-full of guests the week of July 4th, my sister Linda and I decided to paint one of the guest rooms, the hallway, and one of the bathrooms.  Since neither of us had ever painted a house before, we consulted friends for advice and read a couple of “how to” guides on the Internet.

Everybody made it sound so easy.

As Linda ran to Home Depot to pick up a can of paint for the bathroom, I started to scrub the walls. It’s funny how kids’ artwork can become a part of the house, to the point where you don’t even notice it anymore.

Here was a scribbled spiral from Emily, an ocean wave of blue crayon from Mitchel. On one switch plate was a sticker of “Old Turtle” (my favorite picture book, by Douglas Wood) that Nicholas and I stuck in the bathroom.

When Linda returned, the two of us tackled the trim in the bathroom, painting the cabinet that runs the length of the room, the frames around the doors and window, and finally, the door separating the vanity and double sink from the toilet and tub. After four hours, we were too tired to eat a late dinner, and just went to bed.

The next morning, we got up to examine our handiwork. Linda hated the “Pineapple Sorbet” we’d used, saying its yellow tint made the white walls look dingy in the light of day. Lesson number one — don’t paint the room without comparing color swatches in different lights first.

So the two of us headed back to Home Depot to look at color swatches. With the help of my friend Virginia, an architect who advised us over the phone, we chose a brighter color trim and a contrasting white for the walls. Back to the bathroom.

Suddenly realizing we’d never get the hallway and guest room painted on our own in time for the arrival of the other house guests, we needed to find a handyman to help finish the job… the next day.  Lesson number two — don’t count on the Internet to make important connections.

None of the handyman sites we tried on the Internet answered our phone calls, so we searched the old fashioned way. As we sat in a diner for lunch, I asked the waitress if she knew of any handymen who could spackle and paint walls. She said yes, her  boyfriend Alex worked on the side as a painter.

As luck would have it, Alex was available the next day. When he arrived, we told him that we’d take care of the bathroom if he could concentrate on the guest room and hallway. We figured we’d get it all done in four hours. Lesson number three — let the painter give you an estimate before you get started.

As Linda and I repainted the bathroom trim in “Swiss Coffee (a much better choice), Alex spackled cracks and holes in the walls… and taught us the proper brush strokes to use. By the time three hours had passed, it was clear that “we” were never going to get it all done in time.

Alex agreed to stay longer, and we agreed to get out of his way. After nearly eight hours, he left… exhausted. After paying more than anticipated, Linda and I were… exhausted.

The week of July 4th came and went quickly. The grandkids all came to the house, oblivious to “our” paint job. The rooms were filled with the chaos of little ones, and the walls were all fresh and bright.

The night before I left to return to Los Angeles, my sister said to me, “Next time you come out, let’s paint a wall in the dining room. Just one wall. We can do that ourselves.”

Uh-huh.

July 6, 2012

Summertime reads to savor…

Posted in Between Us column, Books at 12:11 am by dinaheng

Okay, I confess…  you’ll never find me on the beach reading a book. But when it comes to other summertime vacation spots, you’ll never find me there without one.

Right now, guilty pleasure has been found in savoring some terrific reads to escape the heat while visiting with family in humid Houston.

First up is “Beautiful Sacrifice” by Elizabeth Lowell ($25.99, William Morrow), a romantic suspense novel that plays into the arrival of December 21 this year, when the Maya’s “Long Count” calendar resets, ending an era of more than five millennia. While some like to call it “the end of days,” Lowell has used the upcoming event to spin a tale about Mayan artifacts that may have the power to remake the world.

The heroine of this adventure, Dr. Lina Taylor of Houston’s Museum of the Maya, joins forces with former Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent Hunter Johnson to investigate how ritual killings may be connected to some missing Mayan artifacts. (No, there is no Museum of the Maya in Houston, but if you go to the Houston Museum of Natural Science, you will find an exhibit on the apocalypse of the Maya and how their prophecies may play into our world of 2012.)

If science-based thrillers appeal to you, you’ll love “Bloodline” by James Rollins ($27.99, William Morrow), the newest in his Sigma Force series, which follows the adventures of an elite and covert arm of the Department of Defense’s DARPA unit. (Yes, there really is a military Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, charged with “creating and preventing strategic surprise.”)

In this latest novel, Sigma’s Commander Gray Pierce takes on a covert rescue mission to save the pregnant daughter of the U.S. President, tangling with a secret cabal that we’d better hope doesn’t really exist. The genetic mystery that unfolds in this tale makes you wonder how humanity will create the next step in evolution, and whether we can remain truly human in the process.

For me, the best novels mix mystery, adventure and romance in stories that reflect on life, while allowing me to escape to another world.

The long-awaited sequel to Kristin Cashore’s “Graceling” does just that. Cashore’s new novel, “Bitterblue” ($19.99, Dial Books), takes readers back to the realm of the Gracelings, where people with special gifts are challenged to find their place in the world.

In the land of sociopathic King Leck, Princess Bitterblue must unravel the mystery of what’s real and what’s not real in the aftermath of her father’s death as she works to bring peace to a kingdom that has lived under the illusions of Leck’s tyrannical rule.
Like all18-year-olds, the princess must find a balance between listening to her trusted advisers, Katsa and Po, and striking out on her own to discover her people… and love.

Speaking of sequels in magical worlds, Erica O’Rourke closes her “TORN” trilogy with “BOUND” (($9.95, KTeen), which reveals the choices Mo Fitzgerald makes in fighting the Chicago mob and evil doers in the world of the Arcs. Will she choose a life in the human realm with Colin, or step into a magical future with Luc?

Two other young adult novels make the outstanding list this summer:

“Storm” by Brigid Kemmerer ($9.95, KTeen) starts a new series about teens with powers based on the Earth’s elements of wind, fire, water and air. What sets this book apart from others is the realistic portrayal of the emotions and behavior of teenage boys.  Teenage girls who want to know why guys behave the way they do could gain some interesting insights while enjoying the action and romance in these pages.

“For Darkness Shows the Stars” by Diana Peterfreund ($17.99, Balzer+Bray) is a futuristic take on Jane Austen’s “Persuasion,” exploring a post-apocalyptic world where technology has been outlawed. As 18-year-old Eliot North works save her family’s farm, she must also confront her feelings for a childhood sweetheart, a former servant named Kai, who returns to the estate with secrets that could endanger both of them.

If you have middle school readers in the house, here are two titles that should entertain and capture their imaginations:

“The Grave Robber’s Apprentice” by Allan Stratton ($16.99, HARPER) is a fairy tale with a contemporary twist, following the adventures of Hans, who goes from robbing graves to helping  Angela, a young countess fleeing an evil archduke.
“Storybound” by Marissa Burt ($16.99, HARPER) is a fantasy that drives home the importance of stories in our lives — those we read, and those we must create for ourselves. In the land of Story, kids go to school to learn how to be characters in stories that will one day be written just for them. Young readers will get caught up in the adventure with 12-year-old Una, who learns… well, you’ll have to read it to find out.

And for the little ones, look out for “An Awesome Book!” by Dallas Clayton ($16.99, HARPER), an illustrated picture book that encourages children to close their eyes, and dream that perfect dream. The book is marketed for ages 5 to 8, but this is one that should be on everyone’s book shelf.

Happy reading!