Its 5:30am when I wake up. Its dark outside, and raining, and cold. I decide to not take an umbrella - I didn't really know where it is. I eat a big breakfast: cereal, banana, skyr, some Earl Gray, and some Lysi - special Icelandic fish-oil ("It's good for the brain, and the darkness", my grandma used to say.) I left the house, took my bike, and biked into the rainy dark, there was a trip coming up. Scheduled departure at 6:45am sharp.
I won't sacrifice safety for a schedule, I tell ya. I'm sorry, but I won't, said the busdriver of our bus - the only completely blue and white Grayhound bus covered with the Nittany Lion logo. There was no doubt where we were from. We were the Penn State Fulbrighters, and we were heading West. State College is situated in the approximate dead center of Pennsylvania, and the bigger cities all seem to perfectly lie on the perimiter of a 3-hour-car-ride-away radius circle around State College. We were heading to one of those cities, Pittsburgh. It was raining, but we made good headway nontheless.
I set next to a friend from India, the Eastern part, Kolkata. "We really love our fish, people even dry it and eat it like that - but dried fish smells alot!" - didn't sounds so far from Icelandic practices! In front of us was Myanmar, to our back was Turkey, to our side was Mexico, and Russia, behind them sat Pakistan, and then Colombia. There were more too: Latvia, Uruguay, Chile, Argentina, Thailand - and on and on and on. We were the internationals going to the seat of the Allegheny-Ohio-Monongahela river crossing, the city of the 400+ bridges. Unlike New York, the definitive World-City, we were heading for the quintessential American city, the City of Steel, the largest city of Appalachia, and the accesspoint to the West.
First stop: The Cathedral of Learning, it was built by immigrants in this typical American city, to show that every nationality was welcome to study there at the highest level of learning. The Cathedral has a number of classrooms, each bearing a name of a specific nationality: The Swedish Room, the Greek, the Chineese, the Swiss, the Indian, the Japaneese, the Turkish, and on and on. All of them were furnished with things that characterize the respective country somehow: Japanese scriptures about shining princesses, the red-like-the-flag seat cushions in the Swiss room, and on it went. Moreover, if celebrated, the rooms were decorated according to the season with typical national ornaments for the Holidays. These are classrooms that one can go and study in, study for finals, study for that essay that you need to work on for next Wednesday (or just sleep like some did!). We fit right in.
We went to the Andy Warhol museum. No pictures allowed, so just a few descriptions. The entrance is covered in shiny metallic color - the color of silver and aluminum, the color of the future according to Mr. Andy. Andy wasn't a man that went with the flow. He defined his own: Pop Art. You must have seen some of his art, it is popular - pop stands for popular! Then why not make portraits of movie stars and other artists, people who are themselves popular? Marilyn Monroes. Elvis Prestley's. Purple cows. And Maos. Why is the same portrait of Mao everywhere, in every house? Why not change it up a bit? Mao with red eyes. Mao with a green face. Mao on blue background. Pink Mao. Mao and the colors of the rainbow. 50 shades of Mao.
Mr. Andy was running a business, a corporation, an art generating machine. There really was no line between fine art and commercial art. But he wanted art to be affordable to all, not only for the elite. He found out crazy ways to make art quicker, and faster, but still somehow unique. He made wallpaper-art to make bigger large-scale art affordable for the masses. Another way was to make masks from photographs and use them as stencils to make a multiple portraits at once, all somehow slightly different, with different background colors, with different colored faces. Another way was to make ink stencils and then use them to trace an image with thick ink and blot another sheet of paper with it, to transfer the original image to another page but it was a bit different. The ink didn't transfer always the same way. Repeat, again, and again, and again. He needed help sometimes, and brought his friends with him on Watercolor nights, for fine wineing and dineing, and artmaking. It was fast, it was unique. It worked; people loved it. This was Andy's factory of Art.
We ended the day by going to the Duquesne Incline, where you can really see the crossing of the three rivers. Pittsburgh is really something else, it has got all the things of a big city without being one. You don't have the crazy traffic, but you have you have the longest continuous street of bars in the continental and non-continental United States, you have a cool incline, is not so far from State College, and it's the access-point to "the great state of Ohio". I'll be visiting again.
Guðmundur Kári Stefánsson| 500px | vimeo | facebook |
email: gws5257 [at] psu.edu
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