Monday, October 8, 2012

Destination Pittsburgh

I've had a hankering to write about my recent road trip eastward, but wanted to give it a few days to settle in (and also for my road weariness to go wear itself somewhere else). For a week and a half at the end of September and into the beginning of this month, I drove my getting-on-100k-miles Hyundai out east on a whirlwind drive from Wisconsin to Pennsylvania, down to Virginia, and back up through West Virginia, Ohio and home again. It was a lot lot lot of driving.

I've had just about a week to let it all filter through. Out of any place we (my sister Ali and I) went -- and we're talking Chesapeake Bay, Jamestown and Williamsburg, the Blue Ridge Parkway, Charlottesville (VA), and so on, it turns out that Pittsburgh and its environs take the cake.

When I decided to go to Pittsburgh, I had one destination in mind: The Andy Warhol Museum. I consider myself a pretty big fan. Not as maniacal as some I've met, but in the art history world, it's practically a sin to not at least respect the man. So I decided to book a hotel downtown within walking distance from the museum, and that was about all I knew about Pittsburgh until I got there.

And whoa.

From Grandview, down the street from the Duquesne Incline on Mt Washington

One, it's beautiful. It was rainy a little bit of the time we were there, but we didn't let that stop us. The Duquesne Incline, a historic so-called "funicular" (I love that!) or inclined rail, that goes up and down Mt. Washington, offers a brilliant panoramic view of the city and the surrounds. We went up at dusk and saw the city lights starting to twinkle.

Get me in a picture! 

The Monongahela and Allegheny Rivers meet to form the Ohio River around the business district, giving downtown a triangular shape that kind of makes navigation interesting (compounded by the whole numbered street-numbered avenue thing, but we figured it out). I loved the numerous bridges over the rivers, various murals on old brick buildings, the occasional art installation in a vacant store front or corner public space, and the reproduction wooden ships, the Nina and Pinta docked right outside the Del Monte Center.

Pittsburgh is chock full of museums. There are four Carnegie museums (one of which is the one devoted to Andy Warhol), the Fort Pitt Museum, and the Frick Art & Historical Center -- a big one for art buffs, and alas, I did not get there. And of course, plenty of great older churches and funky shops.

One such shop that I just have to highlight is the wonderful and dream-like Jerry's Records on Murray Ave in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood, just east of Carnegie Mellon University. 

Via Jerry's -- You get the idea.

Walking into Jerry's is at first like walking into someone's attic. You're greeted by mountainous crates and stashes of unpriced vinyl records that make you wonder, for a moment, if you've walked in the wrong way and perhaps accidentally stepped into the back room. But to the left you enter the largest room of the store, which contains literally floor-to-ceiling rock/pop on vinyl. 45s in boxes stacked on ceiling-high shelving units, 12" singles in boxes and crates on the floor, overstock in overhead units, and so on. Other genres take you on a maze-like tour through the upstairs of this one-of-a-kind place -- vocalists and gospel give way to a room of jazz, which thankfully has a turntable with headphones hooked up so you can test everything.

I plugged the meter for an hour, and stayed longer than that -- until Jerry's closed that night. At least I didn't get a parking ticket, and left with a couple jazz records -- an Erroll Garner and Andre Previn UK import. I didn't see a single thing over eight bucks. Can't beat it.

And as for the Andy Warhol Museum -- I'm just going to hazard a guess that 20 bucks entry fee is a little steep for the average curious museum-goer. I think so, anyway. I really love Warhol, and would have paid an entry fee just to use the old-fashioned photo booth in the basement, but I still cringed a little bit when Ali and I forked over $40. But we had fun laying on the floor in the silver cloud room and meandering through rooms full of nothing but gold Elvises and skulls. The skull gallery was by far my favorite.

The Andy Warhol Bridge and the business district further yonder.

So, where the Warhol Museum is concerned -- if you like his stuff, and you want to invest some time to really absorb it, then you should absolutely go. It's superb. On the other hand, if you have a passing fancy for it, but would rather go get Starbucks, then... well. I admit I probably shouldn't tell you, in good faith, as an aspiring art historian, that going to get Starbucks will make you feel marginally less overcharged. Marginally.

Our afternoon foray to Fallingwater soon to come. ;)

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