Tag Archive | The Huntington

Early Spring Break

It’s not my spring break yet, but my mother was in town recently, so we went on some excursions. We heard the UCLA Early Music Ensemble’s winter concert, Bach? What Bach?: A Program of Early Music from Germany. They sang two selections from Carmina Burana, and one of them, “Bacche, bene,” was very familiar. I knew I’d heard the melody before, and I was pretty sure it had been in a Tri Yann song, but I didn’t know how I was going to figure out which one. Of course it was going to bother me until I figured it out. But it turns out Googling “Tri Yann Carmina Burana” gets you what you want! The song is “Brian Boru” from the album Portraits.

We went to the Huntington, as per tradition, and saw lots of camellias, as well as a heron, some hawks, some woodpeckers in palm trees, and other birds.

My pavilion

Heron in the Japanese Garden

Later in the week, we stopped by the ocean on the Pacific Coast Highway and watched the waves. At our first stop, I saw what I think was a seal in the water! I may have been mistaken, but I’d rather think it was actually a seal. At our second stop, we saw lots of sandpipers.

Octavia Butler at the Huntington

At the beginning of August, I went to the WriteGirl workshop at the Huntington. WriteGirl is an organization that runs creative writing workshops for teenage girls in Los Angeles (that’s really just a fraction of what they do–you should check them out!), and I’ve been a volunteer with them for almost a year now, though I’ve only been able to serve as a mentor at a few of their monthly workshops.

The summer workshop at the Huntington featured a private tour of the current exhibit on Octavia Butler, the celebrated black science fiction author. The promised tour was part of the reason I really wanted to make this workshop. A WriteGirl staff member gave me a ride, and we arrived bright and early to help set up. Upon our arrival, I realized that the Huntington is closed to the public on Tuesdays, meaning that we had special access to the library and gardens and that the only other people there were staff and researchers using the library.

I wound up with two mentees for the day, both rising high school seniors, and our group was the first to visit the exhibit Octavia E. Butler: Telling My Stories. We were welcomed by the exhibit’s curator, Natalie Russell, who told us how she’d spent a little over three years sifting through and cataloging all of Butler’s papers when they came to the Huntington after her untimely death. She’d selected about a hundred items for the exhibit.

The only novel of Octavia Butler’s I’ve read is Parable of the Sower, on the recommendation of my friend Leland. I bought it at graduation from the Swarthmore bookstore and read it shortly after. One of the many fascinating items on display was Butler’s typewritten outline for Parable of the Sower, with additional handwritten notes and highlighting in pastel colors. Some of the notes that caught my eye were: “ADD more racism”; “Add more Hispanics. …More Hispanic surnames on people…who seem ordinary blacks, or ordinary whites.”; “More casual, horrible death”; “GOD IS HER OPPONENT, AND/OR HER PARTNER” (Parable of the Sower is in part about the protagonist’s elaboration of a religion founded on the notion that God is change).

There was another item in the exhibit that featured Butler’s brief reflection on how science fiction treats religion. She said there was a prevailing attitude among science fiction writers of “Oh, we all know this is BS,” but she pointed out that no human society lives without religion (I think she acknowledged that some had tried, but she stood by this statement). This made me think about Becky Chambers’s The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet and its companion, A Closed and Common Orbit, two science fiction novels I recently read. I enjoyed them (I loved Angry Planet), but I remember being struck by how despite all the exploration of different sentient species and cultures in the galaxy, there was almost no mention of religion. Shouldn’t many of these cultures have religions?

Another item was what I think was a self-interview with Butler, perhaps a stock of answers to questions she might get in interviews. The first question was something like, “Who are you?” and about halfway through her answer there was: “I am also comfortably asocial–a hermit in the middle of Los Angeles.”

Yet another item was her answer to “Why do I write about mixed-race couples?” She said it was for the same reason she wrote about egalitarian societies (in terms of gender, I believe).

One of the drafts on display was of the short story “Speech Sounds,” which won the Hugo Award. I was curious about the title, since it sounded very linguisticky/phonetics-y. It’s about an outbreak of a mysterious illness (hmm, sound familiar?) that strikes Los Angeles, depriving people of the ability to use language. The page of the draft that was exhibited was from a scene on a bus, and the curator’s notes said that Butler would have been familiar with buses because she didn’t drive! It reminded me of the bus stories at BUSted!.

The exhibit also had the manuscript of a short story called “Flash-Silver Star” that Butler wrote at age 11 in cursive on lined paper. It was about horses. It reminded me so much of how I wrote my stories around that age!

Among the most striking parts of the exhibit were the motivational notes that Butler wrote to herself, long before she came successful. There were different variations on these, but they included affirmations about her writing life: “I am a Bestselling Writer. I write Bestselling Books And Excellent Short Stories. Both Books and Short Stories Win prizes and awards. Everyday in Every way I am researching and writing My Awardwinning Best selling Books and Short Stories” as well as what she intended to do with her earnings as an author: buy her own home in a good neighborhood, obtain the best healthcare for herself and her mother, fund the educations and aspirations of young black people. It was inspiring. I have to admit I’m skeptical about this kind of motivational technique even though I’ve heard it touted before. I’m sure it can’t hurt, and it can probably actually help.

After we’d seen the exhibit, which you can probably tell I loved, my group had lunch and did some brainstorming of speculative fiction story ideas. The workshop wrapped up with some of the girls reading pieces they’d written that day. Afterwards, I got to catch up briefly with two mentees I’d worked with at previous WriteGirl workshops, which was lovely.

The staff member I’d gotten a ride with was running a focus group for some of the girls after the workshop, so that meant I had almost two hours to wander the gardens by myself. On a day the Huntington was closed to the public. I cannot overstate how excited I was by this prospect.

I made my way to the Chinese garden, which I’ve visited multiple times. On those occasions, the garden was always teeming with people, but this time it was beautifully empty. For most of the hour and a half I spent there, I felt like I had the whole garden entirely to myself. It was very hot that day, around 95°F, so I sat in the 愛蓮榭, my eponymous pavilion, writing in my journal and listening to the koi splash around the lotuses.

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愛蓮榭, amid the lotuses

When the sun was somewhat lower in the sky, I left the pavilion and wandered along the blissfully empty paths. It was glorious having the Chinese garden all to myself. So, thank you to WriteGirl for an amazing day at the Huntington.

Chasing Wildflowers

It’s that time of year again: spring break (ish–it’s actually still finals week), the annual pilgrimage to the Huntington, and, like last year, more wildflower hunting because superbloom.

At the Huntington, we visited the Library Exhibition Hall (I’m pretty sure some of the books and documents had been switched out since the last time I was there, though the stars of the show–and some of my favorites, like the John Dowland songbook–remained) as well as the Beautiful Science exhibit, which I hadn’t seen before and which featured more wonderful old books. We also hit the clivia show and the Chinese and Japanese gardens, as per usual.

Poppy

Anemone

The Chinese garden has a new pavilion, the 愛蓮榭 (Ài Lián Xiè–Love for the Lotus Pavilion)! I was delighted because the Chinese name I’ve had since the beginning of college is 愛蓮. It’s my pavilion! The explanatory panel in the garden mentioned Zhou Dunyi’s 11th century essay 愛蓮說 (Ài Lián Shuō–On the Love of the Lotus), which I learned about for the first time only last year, thanks to department Chinese lunch.

On Monday, my parents, Adeline, and I drove to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park to witness the superbloom. We were not the only ones, but the crowds weren’t unmanageable. The park, at least the part we visited, is in a valley surrounded by mountains. After stopping at the visitors center, where I discovered thanks to some photos in the gift shop just how adorable bighorn sheep lambs are, we drove to two other destinations to see wildflowers. The first was Desert Gardens, where we’d hoped to find Parish’s poppies, but instead we saw lots of ocotillos, a lot of hawksweed, chollas, blossoming prickly pear, and a couple of desert lilies. Next we went to the sunflower fields along Henderson Canyon Road. Finally, we returned to the visitors center to poke around among the labeled specimens.

Indigo bush

A vetch of some sort

Desert lily

Phacelia with cactus

Some cactus flower

Some other cactus flower

The Clivia Show at the Huntington

This spring break, my family managed to replicate almost exactly this day from last year’s spring break, from Newport Seafood lobster to the Library Exhibition Hall, the Chinese and Japanese gardens, and the North American Clivia Society’s show at the Huntington.

Clivias are native to South Africa and resemble amaryllises. Their flowers range in color from red to orange to yellow to green. Here are some of my favorite specimens from the show:

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Look at that longitudinal variegation!

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Seed pods!

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The Huntington Library and Gardens

Spring break is glorious. My family came to LA to visit me, and this past weekend, we went to The Huntington, a sort of museum/botanic garden in San Marino that comprises a research library, art galleries, and extensive gardens. The place is vast, and I feel as though we only scratched the surface of everything there is to explore there. We first visited the Library Exhibition Hall and then wandered through the Chinese Garden and a bit of the Japanese Garden.

The Huntington Library has huge collections, including many rare books, and a selection of the most dazzling specimens are on display in the Exhibition Hall. The prospect of seeing these treasures was, for me, the biggest draw of The Huntington, and I was not disappointed. The first glass case I approached upon entering the dim hall contained the Ellesmere manuscript of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, believed to have been produced around 1410, and that’s when I knew this visit was going to be amazing. Illuminated manuscripts make me really excited.

The Exhibition Hall contains twelve mini-exhibits, each of which is organized around one stand-out item. For instance, the contextualizing documents for the Ellesmere Chaucer included an exquisite book of hours and a legal document recording a transaction by a London widow named Emma. The next exhibit featured an original edition (I believe) of Milton’s Paradise Lost, as well as a variety of documents related to the English Civil War (there were lots of cool seals attached to these). Did you know Milton held the position of Secretary for Foreign Tongues? What a fantastic title.

The trove of books, manuscripts, documents, and letters in this one room was almost too much to take in, and I couldn’t possibly list every extraordinary thing I saw. There was the Gutenberg Bible, the Declaration of Independence (which, I noticed, had a note scrawled in the margin, perpendicular to the original text, saying that this copy had been found among so-and-so’s possessions and could it be kept in the family, please), the Shakespeare First Folio, the letter Susan B. Anthony wrote to Elizabeth Cady Stanton right after the former voted illegally in the 1872 presidential election, the documents related to Chinese immigration to the United States in the early 20th century… But I think my favorite piece was the copy of the First Book of Songs of John Dowland, an English Renaissance composer who wrote music for voice and for lute. This book was opened to a page that showed the bass, alto, and tenor parts to a song all oriented in different directions so that musicians could crowd around the book and each read their own part.

After leaving the library, we stopped by the North American Clivia Society’s show, which featured prize-winning clivias whose flowers ranged in color from green to pale yellow to peach to deep red.

Clivia

We then strolled through 園 (Liú Fāng Yuán), the Garden of Flowing Fragrance, which is The Huntington’s Chinese Garden. It is not yet complete, but already it’s very large, with a pond, several bridges, multiple pavilions… There were pink blossoms on still leafless branches, water lilies in the pond, wisteria heavy with purple flowers, and even a tree peony in full bloom!

Chinese Garden

These carved panels depicting traditional Chinese instruments are inside 清越臺 (Qīng​ Yuè Tái), the Clear and Transcendent Pavilion. This is a pipa (left) and an erhu (right):

Pipa Erhu

And this is a qin (left) and some sort of flute (right):

Qin and flute

The tree peony! In March! No wonder I never know what time of year it is in Southern California.

Tree peony

Finally, we took a quick look at the Japanese Garden, which was equally lovely. Here is a glimpse of it:

Japanese Garden

So that was my first visit to The Huntington. Many gardens remain to be explored, and I didn’t even start on the art collections, but really, I would go back just to pore over Middle English manuscripts and Renaissance music scores!