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Paris, London or Amsterdam? Chasing culture around the globe or in our backyard!

Neither Paris, London or Amsterdam, instead the incredible Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena that is for our family the most intriguing friendly personal, and one of the most pleasant museums on the West coast.

Not many people know about it, for whatever reason! Yet, what a treat, what an excitement, what a selection, what a fine & truly personal experience the museum offers. From the wonderful staff, attractive collection, beautiful sculpture garden to an unusual European like coffee shop with any wine, snaps, beer, tea, coffee you can ask for, it is all just perfect. And our day at this museum turned truly as a perfect day!

Norton Simon (1907 - 1993), an industrialist, bought Pasadena Museum of Art in 1978 to house his vast collection counting up to 12,000 pieces. The Museum was in financial difficulties and Simon was ready to turn it over. And he did as he had plenty of experience to do just that.

A dropout of UC Berkley after first six weeks of his prelaw studies, Norton Simon established a metal sheet distributing company when 19! He succeeded and invested into an orange juice plant company in financial straights, turned it over, named it Val Vita, sold to Hunt's Foods with condition to control it. In the 1940's he changed the company's name to Hunt Food and here is the beginning of the fame Hunt's ketchup!! Simon' s used aggressive marketing strategy reflecting in a full page ads in Life and Vogue magazines with Hunt's ketchup, an advertisement unheard of after WWII. But it did the trick. Hunt's ketchup became a household's name and Simon enjoyed the title of one of the richest men alive. He continued investing into companies as Max Factor, Avis, Canada Dry, etc, helping them strive. And the story of his relationship with art starts right then in 1954 when he bought his first art piece, but it was not till the sixties when he went in full stride and his collection was growing by days. His idea was a "museum without walls", sending his art into the museums around the world, but with the establishment of the Norton Simon Museum in 1978, it all changed and his collection found home.

I admire his taste, his diligence to educate himself, his charisma that made him and excellent boss, someone who was interested in everyone's opinion about the exhibits, from curators to typist to the cook of the museum...

And here we are on this rainy Thanksgiving Friday on our repeated visit to this gem of a museum. Everyone who works at the museum is always friendly, the tickets are free for children under 18 and for all students, the audio costs only $3, the coffee shop food and drinks cost just about the same as in a corner coffeeshop. It seems that the Museum strives to make the best experience for all of us who come to enjoy this special collection. And they succeeded with our family!!

But the most astonishing is, of course, the selection. There are about 900 pieces displayed at a time with special

exhibits. The museum flows perfectly, rebuilt by Frank Gehry in 1990's, you do not feel "trapped", on the contrary, it feels open and pleasant.

The collection is very much engaging, a perfect fit for a novice as well as for a connoisseur! You walk the history

path of art development from the 1300's to the modernity of our century. The art adventure starts with a proto-Renaissance and Renaissance (Botticelli, Raphael, Bouts, etc.) continues to Baroque (e.g. Rembrantd, Rubens, Hals, Steen, Claesz) to Realism (e.g. Corot, Coubert) to impressionism (e.g.Manet, Monet, Renoir, Pissaro) to Degas, to the post-impressionism (Cezanne, Van Gogh, Gauguine, Seurat) to the group Nabis (Bonnard, Denis, Vuillard, Serusier), to cubism (Picasso, Brague), to expressionism (e.g. Yavlensky), to icons as Modigliani, Lautrec, Giocometti, Rodin, to abstract expressionism....Wow and wow! And there is a whole section of Asian sculptures downstairs!

I love museums for two reasons; I learn much and I feel much when there. In Norton Simon you can learn about art in many ways, I chose walking the path of history from Renaissance to modernity, observing the stylized figures of proto-Renaissance gaining the beauty of reality in high Renaissance only to feel that the Baroque ones could be almost smelled and heard; modern time then overwhelms the figure by the intensive feelings expressed by the exaggerates colors, shapes, bold brush gestures, by cutting the objects in pieces or making them shimmer, abstracting them...just amazing to be able to see it in a couple of hours without exhaustion! Viva small yet powerful museums, with all respect to the big ones!

By leaving the museum, I feel as if I accomplished something grand myself, eager "to do something wonderful" as I may be under the spell of Muses. That is the beauty of art, it whispers to us gently to spread our wings and search for that very meaning of what we want to do. It prompt us to behave in the most positive and lovely way.

Sounds idealistic and romantic, but that is exactly how I feel and I guess, lucky me!!

What a perfect family artsy day spent in charming Pasadena complemented by a walk on elegant Colorado Boulevard full of cafes, ice cream parlors, wine bars, and great shops! Next time when you want to spend a nice day, visit Norton Simon Museum! You will love it!!

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