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Saturday, October 31, 2009

A Boy Named Martial: The Getty Villa, Part I

One of the most moving and impressive pieces of art in Los Angeles is a nineteen hundred year old marble bust of a young boy named Martial, located at the Getty Villa.
The Getty Villa is the original campus of the J. Paul Getty Museum. The museum now consists of two campuses: the Getty Villa and the much larger Getty Center a few miles away. More on that later. The Villa's collection focuses exclusively on Greek and Roman antiquities. It's an amazing place and definitely worth a visit.

What I found so compelling about the bust of Martial wasn't just how incredibly life-like and detailed the artwork is, or the fact that this piece is almost two thousand years old, but the actual young boy behind it all.

In Rome, as today, only the very wealthy could commission artwork of themselves or their family. In contrast, this little boy, who we know as Martial, was a slave. The tombstone, paid for by his owners, tells us that he died when he was 2 years, 10 months and 8 days old.

As a father of two children, I was emotionally moved thinking of this beautiful little boy dying at such a young age. I realize that historically, death among children has been common and tragically that's true today among children in the Third World. Yet putting a name with a face, as it were, and knowing the exact age when this child died, makes it so much more real.

As a Christian, I'm reminded how un-natural death is.

I wonder about Martial's family: were they polytheists - as were most Romans - or were they followers of the one true God? Did they have a hope in eternity? Of life beyond the grave? Of the resurrection of the death?

The bust of Martial is a reminder to me that the Christianity of the 1st and 2nd centuries wasn't simply an ethical code or a way to pass an hour on a Sunday morning. It was - and is - based on the historical fact of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Christians of Martial's day were so convinced of this fact that they were willing to lay down their very lives for it.

I wonder if Martial's family had this same hope - or knew anyone who did.

Next to the bust of Martial, is another bust of a young boy from North Africa. We know much less about him (no inscription). My question here is how was the artist able to sculpt the marble of the boy's hair so intricately and realistically? Amazing.

Also interesting is that while Martial, who was European, was a slave, this young boy from North Africa was free. Unlike the New World, slavery in the Roman Empire wasn't based on race.

There's lots and lots to see in the Getty Villa, including these busts of wealthy or influential Romans (aka dead white males). These were the men who called the shots 2000 years ago (kind of like J. Paul Getty) ... but I was strangely moved by a little boy not yet three years old.

More on the Getty Villa in the next post.

© 2009

Gardens & Columns: The Getty Villa, Part II

What's unique about the Getty Villa is that the buildings that house the artwork are part of the museum experience as well. This is the Inner Courtyard (or Peristyle) and the first view when you enter the museum.

The Getty Villa opened in 1974 as the original Getty Museum. When the larger Getty Center opened in 1997, the Villa was remodeled and reopened in 2006 with a focus exclusively on Greek and Roman Antiquities.

The Getty Villa is a a re-creation of the Villa of Papri at Herculaneum (near Pompeii) which was buried under tons of ash at the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79.

The details of the buildings, fountains, and gardens are amazing.

The East Fountain.

The Outer Peristyle, looking north toward the main building.

Looking toward the Pacific Ocean (unfortunately barely visible in this photo) and the Villa de Leon. The Villa de Leon sits just above the Pacific Coast Highway, and is often misidentified as the Getty Villa.

Another view of the Outer Peristyle, this time looking south towards the ocean.

The small lily pond.

A final look across Inner Courtyard, looking back towards the entrance.

© 2009


Mosaics: The Getty Villa, Part III

One of my personal favorites at the Getty Villa is the tile mosaics. I honestly forgot to write down (or photograph) the information of where these are from, or how old they are. Based on everything else in the museum, my guess would be that they're at least eighteen hundred years old.

I find the ability to make such lifelike images from pieces of colored tiles amazing.

While I'm impressed with marble statutes, the color mosaics remind me that the men and women of ancient Rome were real people, with real lives, real problems. This was the world in which the Christian church grew and developed.

Who were these men and women? What were their lives like? What were there religious beliefs like? Did Christianity have an influence in their city or village, among anyone they knew, or in their own lives?

More on the gardens and the museum itself in the next post.

© 2009

Great for Kids: The Getty Villa, Part IV

The Getty Villa is a great place for kids.

We've been there several times as a family, and - trust me - if you have kids you'll want to spring for the $5 headsets. Worth every penny.

"Meet Herakles, the Super Hero of Ancient Greece" begins the narration especially designed for kids. Throughout the museum, our kids would tune into the specially designed kids' track on the headphones and listen along. In all honesty, I found the adult track of the same things a little dry and ended up listening to the kids version as well.

By the way, the entire museum was designed around this statue of Herakles (whom we know as Hercules).

The headsets made even little displays like this pottery behind glass interesting.

After lunch we turned in the headsets and headed over the "family room" - another real hit with our kids.

My son working on a Greek urn. Too bad the Greeks didn't have erasable markers. It would have made life so much easier.

My daughter working on a Greek urn as well. Hands on is always great with kids.

We were there on a Thursday. Weekends can be a bit more crowded.

Afterwards we explored the gardens. More on that in a bit.

© 2009


Getting There: The Getty Villa, Part V

Getty to the Getty Villa is easy, but there are a few things you need to know.

First: admission is free. That's right. Free - every day the museum is open.

Second, you need to make a parking reservation ahead of time.

This can be done on-line or over the phone (310) 440-7300.

But you can't just show up and expect to get in. And, yes, they really do check (above).

Third, while admission is free - parking isn't. It now costs $15 per vehicle to park.

And, no, you can't park in the neighborhood and walk in. The only walk-ins allowed are people coming in by public bus or taxi. And, yes, they really check. Traveling with kids, we just made parking reservations and paid the $15.

Walking toward the entrance. Fourth, be sure and pick up a map, and schedule of the free tours, and - if you have kids - the guides for children.

Here's the main entrance to the museum.

I stopped and took a photo of the incredible marble tile work just before walking in at the entrance. Wow.

This is your first view as you enter. Fifth, I highly recommend the headsets rentals (esp if you have kids kids) which are found to the left.

As an aside, the Getty Villa refers to itself as being in Malibu, but it's actually located within the in the City of Los Angeles (in Pacific Palisades). In fact, the Malibu city border begins a mile west of the Villa.

Sixth, and finally, don't forget a camera.

Whether you live here in Los Angeles, or are an out of town guest, it's definitely worth a visit.

© 2009

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Drive Safely

A few months ago my wife and I were driving north on Fairfax (next to the Peterson Automotive Museum) and noticed that the guy in the lane next to us was driving around in a car without doors.

Hmm, is this even legal?

This is at the corner of Wilshire Blvd and Fairfax, with the old May Company department store in view, heading north.

Both these pictures were taken through the front windsheld of my car.

Decided it best not to pull right up to the guy to try and get a better shot.

Welcome to L.A.

Drive safely


Saturday, October 17, 2009

Bruin Theater, Westwood Village

The Bruin Theater, Westwood Village, Wednesday Night Oct 14, 2009.
According to The Mann Bruin opened in 1936 with 670 seats. Small, but elegant, this theater is often seen in the backdrop of movie premieres taking place across the street at the Mann Village Theater.
Its wrap-around marquee can be seen from all four streets which intesect at the theater.
Mann has announced in August 2009, that the company will no longer operate the Bruin Theatre as of March 2010. The Bruin Theatre may then go dark, awaiting another use.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Pico and Sepulveda: an Intersection, a Song, or a Couple of People?

A trip to the local lumber yard normally would not warrent a blog entry, except that Anawalt Lumber is located at the corner of Pico and Sepulveda.

Pico Blvd travels east - west from downtown Los Angeles to the Pacific Ocean 16 miles away.

Sepulveda Blvd travels north - south from the edge of the San Fernando Valley to Long Beach. At over 42 miles, it's the longest street in Los Angeles.

Looking northwest: as you can see, there is absolutely nothing unusual to see at the intersection of Pico and Sepulveda.

However, this being Los Angeles, the 1947 song "Pico and Sepulveda" by bandleader Freddy Martin took an obscure interection ... and turned it into an obscure song. That is until Dr. Demento (a locally based DJ featuring off beat, odd, and humerous songs) made it a regular staple of his nationally syndicated show.

Pico and Sepulvdea (the song, not the intersection) actually has a catchy little tune. It was featured a a 90 second clip from the 1980 film "Forbidden Zone" (1980).

A search on YouTube yielded another - actually more entertaining - version of the song. My kids like this rendition of of "Pico and Sepulveda" even more:

The song celebrates various place names in Los Angeles - many of which are mispronounced by visitors or new comers.

Pico (the person, not the street) was none other than Pio Pico (1801-1894), the last Mexican governor of California. Here's a little info for all you California history buffs:

Sepulveda (again, the person, not the street) was Francisco Sepulveda (1775 - 1853) a member of the influential Sepulveda family.

At one time Francisco Sepulvdea owned a 50 square mile cattle ranch in what is now Brentwood, Pacific Palisades, Santa Monica, and West Los Angeles. More info about the Sepulveda family can be found here:

Back at Pico and Sepulveda, this time looking west on Pico towards the San Diego Frwy.

The individuals may be interesting, the song may have a catchy tune, but unless you're in need of some lumber or something across the street at the mini-mall, Pico and Sepulveda is not a destination.

In another L.A. moment, I noticed a double decked tour bus at the intersection. The add for the HBO ad "Bored to Death" seemed to take on a double meaning.

No doubt those out of town guests are asking themselves: "why are we here?"

Hopefully, on their way to the beach.


Saturday, October 3, 2009

Seeing Stars Above Hollywood: An Hour at the Griffith Observatory

A few weeks ago I had a chance to make a brief visit to the Griffith Observatory, located in Griffith Park in the Hollywood Hills.

The Observatory originally opened in 1935 and recently underwent a massive restoration project.

It's back to it's former glory and well worth a visit. Plus, admission and parking are both free. Nice.

Outside of the Observatory is a large statue featuring Newton, Copernicus, Galileo and other astronomers.

Inside you'll find a Foucault Pendulum. It's movement is based on the earth's rotation.

There's also some incredible murals, including this ceiling fresco in the central rotunda.

There are numerous displays on the solar system, the Milky Way galaxy, and the universe.

"The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands" wrote the Psalmist.

As a Christian, I'm reminded how the night sky and the universe itself points to a Creator.

One hundred years ago, the majority of astronomers believed the universe to be eternal. The Big Band theory, now the accepted understanding of the origin of the universe, shattered that long held belief in an eternal universe, and sounds strangely like Genesis 1:1: "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth."

Over the years, I've appreciated hearing from and interacting with university level scientists who've found that the scientific evidence actually points to a Creator.

While the Griffith Observatory doesn't formallly make mention of the existence of "The Beginner" - that is, the One who began it all - it does acknowlege "The Beginning" - what is known as the Big Bang.

In terms of the history of science, this is both a relatively new, yet very ancient, understanding of the origin of the universe.

More displays, this section on the sun and stars.

I understand the Observatory is at lot more crowded in the evenings, especially on weekends. The last time I was up here at night was for "Laserium" (anyone remember that?) in the mid-1970's.

Still more displays downstairs. This focuses on our solar system. There's a lot more to see, including an excellent planetium show which my wife and kids and I saw last year.

Outside, much of the building is accessable. The Observatory sits on a hillside on the eastern edge of the Santa Monica Mountains, and is visible for miles away.

There are also some incredible views of the city, which alone make it worth a visit.
This is looking past Hollywood towards downtown Los Angeles - about eight miles away.

A group of German tourists enjoying a view of the Hollywood sign on nearby Mt. Lee.

Years ago I actually hiked up to the Hollywood sign, something I would not recommend today. Subject for another blog entry.

A final thought from one of the statuary astronomers standing at the entrance to the Griffith Observatory:

"No sciences are better attested to than the science of the Bible ... This most beautiful system of the sun, planets, and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being.... This Being governs all things, not as the soul of the world, but as Lord over all; and on account of his dominion he is wont to be called Lord God." Sir Isaac Newton; Principles.

More information on the Griffith Observatory can be found at: