Defending Your Culture + the Clark Art Institute

While entering the woods behind the Clark Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts, an interesting thing happened.

Ondra and I have talked a lot about cultural differences since we’ve been in the States – he finally visiting my *motherland* after I’ve spent three years in his, but this conversation had a slightly uncomfortable feel.

So American,” I heard Ondra say with a laugh in his voice.

What now?, I thought in my head also laughingly, having heard him start sentences with this phrase a lot in the past two weeks.

“Look. There’s forest everywhere around that no one has touched. And then running right through it, a gravel-paved path. It doesn’t exactly have the same feel.”

The path led to an annex exhibit building of the museum. Strangely, I found myself getting defensive. It wasn’t the first time, but the previous times that feeling had been minor twinges of annoyance at having to explain things that are second nature to me. I was surprised even at myself. “It’s not for hikers, you know. It’s for museum-goers.”

“Still,” Ondra replied.


I hadn’t realized how effortlessly I’d straddled two cultures up to this point. And I know it’s not fair to Ondra since he has to explain things to me all the time (and does it without sighing, like I do).

I’ve spent so much time in the last few years marveling at seemingly simple things while Ondra (and often, his family) have no idea what I find so fascinating. Now, I’m getting to experience what that’s like from the other side.


I’m preparing a larger post about Ondra’s many interesting observations about what he’s seen in the US that’s coming soon, but I wanted to also mention a great point he made today when we were taking a walk on the lawn at Tanglewood, a well-loved classical music venue in Lenox, Massachusetts, which is one of my parents’ favorite places in the Berkshires and maybe the world. We were there to see a tribute to Jules Eskin, a cellist and 53-year veteran of Boston Symphony Orchestra.

Ondra has mentioned many times how greeeeeeen the lawns are in the suburbs. And why is that? Because we hire gardeners to take care of them for us. (Regardless of being lazy or not having enough time in the day, we need to make a good impression on our neighbors. It would be scandalous if we didn’t.) Because we waste water by having the sprinkler on rain or shine. Because we put chemicals on it to get that artificially green glow (and sometimes then we’re not even allowed to walk on it).

But today, as we took our shoes in hand and walked barefoot on the lawn at sunset, waiting for the concert to start and looking at the mountains in the distance, he said,

“I don’t understand the American mindset. You have such nice fluffy green lawns everywhere but you don’t walk on them; you walk on the paths around them.”

Amen, Ondra. And isn’t that sad? I’m now going to make it my personal mission to trample perfect and imperfectly green lawns anywhere I encounter them. The grass deserves it, and so do my feet.



We’re on Day 3 of our 5-day trip to the Berkshires, a mountain range in Western Massachusetts (we have to show Ondra that there is nature within a couple hour drive from NYC).

Today we visited the Sterling &Francine Clark Institute– all art in this post courtesy of it! The Clarks were an art-collecting couple that lived in the early 20th century, and the museum includes a wide range American and European paintings and sculptures (almost wrote paintures there). There is special focus in the collection on the Impressionists, particularly Renoir. It’s a beautiful place to check out iconic, mainly 19th-century art and walk around the sunny grounds.


There was also a special exhibit on Picasso’s early lithographs and late myth paintings. As it turns out, a lot of talented artists are misogynists. Apparently, he had two wives, six mistresses (four kids by three women), and hundreds of lovers in his life. And he had two requirements: that his women should be submissive and shorter than him (he was 5’4″).

“The Italian Woman” after Victor Orsel’s. It’s funny how you can Google “Italian woman” without thinking and get a lot of other results. 🙂

For me, this work is incredible. It was done from an old found lithograph of the original Italian painting, but Picasso went over it with bold lines that modernize it, at the same time surrounding the serene-looking woman with a satyr and a man playing castanets, scribbled in as if they were her demons. It’s such a different interpretation from the classical oil painting version.

“There are two types of women: goddesses and doormats.” He was said to have only been left by one woman- Francoise Gilot, mother of his latter two kids, including jewelry designer Paloma Picasso.

“Paloma with her Doll”

Guess they both broke his stereotyping.

It’s hard to reconcile such unbelievable work with his personality; but then again, art means something different to each person and its interpretation doesn’t have to be owned by his tumultuousness (except Guernica).


This painting by John Sargent Singer was voted the museum visitors’ favorite!


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