On The Arts: World Travelers Can Find Culture in their Own Back Yard

On The Arts: World Travelers Can Find Culture in their Own Back Yard

Sunday, September 17, 2000

By Rebecca Redshaw

How many of us remember sharpening a new No. 2 pencil, placing the yellow lined tablet in the center of the desk and staring at the first assignment of the fall neatly scripted across the blackboard?

“Write an essay about what you did on your summer vacation.”

Maybe it’s different for students now, but my family usually spent a week or two in some exotic location, like Lake Erie, and the rest of my days were occupied by going to the local swimming pool.

With the usual twist of irony, now that I’m actually taking interesting vacations, no one is asking me to write about them. People don’t even want to see pictures.

Hiking along foot paths for hours each day in the Yorkshire Dales of England, climbing over ancient stone walls and coming face to face with more kinds of sheep than I even knew existed may not be everyone’s ideal holiday, but it certainly worked for me this summer. There’s definitely a cleansing of the soul, or dumping of unwanted data from the brain, that happens in the country air. That’s made possible by removing all outside stimuli of my city life, even for a brief period of time.

But traveling thousands of miles and spending almost as many dollars as miles traveled just to gaze into Lamb Chop’s eyes is difficult to justify, particularly when the path to this pastoral utopia routes through one of the world’s most fascinating cities.

London. Trying to experience all London has to offer in three days is like trying to sample all 33 flavors at Baskin-Robbins in one visit. Technically possible, but ultimately unsatisfying.

In 72 hours, excluding a four-hour nap midday attributed to jet lag, I visited two museums, one scenic attraction, attended two musical performances, ate at one chic restaurant, drank at two local pubs and viewed a plethora of significant historic monuments all older individually than the oldest national treasure the United States has to offer, whatever it may be.

Midway through Sunday afternoon while strolling the spacious Tate Modern Museum, I wandered through the Andy Warhol exhibit. As if trapped in a cartoon frame with the obligatory light bulb appearing in a bubble over my head, it occurred to me that I had traveled across the Atlantic and to this museum when all the while Pittsburgh’s most notable artist had his work on display practically in my back yard. The last time I was in that building on the North Side, I was purchasing music from a Volkwein’s clerk!

With the glibness of an artful — and well-meaning — procrastinator, I had failed to explore the treasures of my home city for years, always mindful that I could “go there” any weekend. Staring at Andy’s image of Liz, I made a plan to be implemented upon my return.

The flight home was uneventful and long, allowing me ample to time to plot my cultural Pittsburgh weekend.

A visit to the Warhol would equate quite nicely with my tour of the Salvador Dali Museum that recently opened not far from The Eye, London’s massive answer to Pittsburgh’s incline. Both The Eye and the incline offer panoramic views of city architecture, but The Eye was broken when I was there. The incline was far more accommodating, and the line was not nearly as long.

The recent touring company of “Annie Get Your Gun” at Heinz Hall was a respectable musical evening, particularly with half-price tickets available, but it will be a long time coming before Pittsburgh sees any musical remotely close to the London production of “Mama Mia.” But then again, the tix for that Saturday matinee, far from 10th row center, came to $85 each. It’s a tradeoff I can live with.

It seems summer in the cities (at least London and Pittsburgh) is no place for classical musicians. My options to attend “serious” music concerts for both cultural weekends, near and far, were nonexistent.

This is not a tale of two cities. That would be like comparing orange marmalade with apple butter. The point is, there are wonderful places to explore and visit less than an hour from home that cost nothing or close to it. A stroll through local cemeteries sound creepy? Hardly. Who knew that Native Americans were buried in Downtown Pittsburgh? Carnegie Museum’s display of a camel being attacked by a tiger fascinated my father in the 1920s and fascinated his great-grandsons, Carter and David, this past weekend.

A thoughtful perusal through the Post-Gazette’s Weekend Magazine with a highlighter in hand likely will turn up any number of activities to explore when company comes to town. But don’t wait. Treat yourself as well as you do your visiting relatives and vacation without having to pay for a Saturday stay-over.

Next on my list? Paris, possibly Auckland, or Athens. Until those dreams become possible, The Mattress Factory rates a visit, and then possibly Old Economy. I understand even Presque Isle on Lake Erie is a lovely place to explore, speaking of summer vacations.