Elisa decided that our Mother’s Day gift to her mother would be to take her on a day trip to the Berkshires, a part of Massachusetts that my mother-in-law, who was visiting from her home in Italy, had never visited. So after a date was settled on (Sunday, June 27), we got to work looking for some fun things to do that she would enjoy.
The wonderful thing about visiting the Berkshires is that you could spend a week there and not see everything. But that also means that if you only have a day trip in front of you, there is a wealth of attractions from which to choose. We’d heard some good buzz about the exhibit Picasso Looks at Degas, currently on display in Williamstown at The Clark. The exhibit is an examination of the influence of Edgar Degas on the later, groundbreaking work of Pablo Picasso. After casting about for an additional activity to round out the day, we ultimately decided to also visit Tanglewood in Lenox, to see one of the four performances that comprise their String Quartet Marathon.
The Mohawk Trail
We were originally hoping to be on the road by about 7:30 in the morning, but we finally pulled out of the driveway about an hour late, which is actually pretty early for us. By 9:30 am we were on The Mohawk Trail (alternatively known as Route 2), heading west towards Williamstown.
Route 2 is a beautiful drive any month of the year and June is no exception. In October, during foliage season, it may well be the most popular foliage drive in Massachusetts, and Elisa and I have driven it many times.
We soon came to one of my favorite steel bridges, the French King Bridge, which carries Route 2 traffic over the Connecticut River. The bridge was originally constructed in 1932 and was completely renovated by the state in 1992. While the bridge is attractive from the roadbed, to truly grasp its beauty it must be viewed from below, accessible via trail from the western side of the bridge, or from boat via the Connecticut River. It’s worth the extra effort.
Beyond Greenfield Route 2 eventually begins to rise out of the valley as it ascends into the Berkshires. There are a few of those tacky moccasin and trinket tourist shops in various states of disrepair, a couple of which have towers you can climb to see the view to the north. The decaying ruins of a poorly executed tee-pees can be found next to one of these shops, despite the uncomfortable reality that the traditional territory of the plains Indians are some 2000 miles to the west. Soon we descended into Williamstown and arrived at The Clark. Parking was a challenge; there were far more people at the museum than we had seen in the past. It turns out that June 27 was Family Day at the museum and admission was free—a nice bonus for us, because we had no idea.
Picasso Looks at Degas
I’m no art critic, and I won’t even pretend to understand much of what passes for modern art. But put me in a museum gallery stuffed full of the works of Pissaro, Monet, Van Gogh, Degas and the other impressionists (Gauguin, not so much), and I’m as happy as a clam. That said, I was very much pleased with the Picasso/Degas exhibit. It gave me a new appreciation of Degas (particularly of his sculpture), and the careful scholarship that contributed to the birth of this show helped me also to better understand some of the many influences that shaped Picasso’s career.
This exhibit is generous to both artists, with a substantial number of major works present. There are works representing most if not all phases of each artists’ careers, and the curator’s choices of placement do a great job of driving home the exhibit’s theme, although there’s a time or two where a particular Picasso or two did not seem as influenced by Degas as the exhibit would have me believe. But then again, like I said, I’m no art critic. Bottom line, if you have a chance to see this exhibit at the Clark, don’t pass it up.
Next up was session two of Sunday’s String Quartet Marathon, taking place in Lenox at Tanglewood, some 40 minutes south of Williamstown via Route 7. On the way down we stopped at a nice rest area for a picnic, and we arrived at Tanglewood about a half hour prior to the concert. After a bit of confusion–the tickets said the concert was at Seiji Ozawa Hall, which was incorrect–we eventually found our way to the right place and settled in for performances from three different string quartets that were composed of Tanglewood Music Center Fellows. All twelve of the string quartets that played over the course of the two-day marathon were named after trees. First up for the Sunday afternoon session was the Cedar Quartet, followed by the Spruce Quartet and lastly the Ash Quartet. All three played some pieces by Franz Joseph Haydn as well as pieces by other composers. For me, the second quartet, Spruce, was the most enjoyable, primarily due to the strong playing of cellist Nataliya Pshenychna and of violinist Vieen Leung, both of them excellent musicians. It was a warm day for a concert, and the thunderstorms that rolled through the area brought some welcome relief. After the concert concluded we drove east to Groton, Massachusetts to enjoy dinner at The Gibbet Hill Grill, one of our favorite restaurants.