Monthly Archives: January 2012

Surf over to Holl’s New Museum in France


Upon hearing there’s a new Museum of Ocean and Surf, the non-surfer’s mind doesn’t likely go straight to Biarritz, France. There is a lot of surfing, though, along the southeast coast of the Bay of Biscay. In fact, Biarritz is said to be the center of surfing in France and one of Europe’s best surfing towns.

The town has a long history appreciation of its oceanic surroundings— from its centuries of whaling to 19th century claims that the waters held medicinal values. For almost twenty years the city has held a premier surf festival that brings world-renown surfers, and surfers represent a significant percentage of the town’s annual tourist numbers.

All photos from Holl's firm

The museum, a collaboration between US–based Steven Holl Architects and the Brazilian architectural designer Solange Fabião, isn’t so much about catching the perfect tube or riding goofy foot. While its attention to the surfing community may indeed bring surfer tourists to its doors, the museum is an educational tool about the ocean’s health. It’s a place where anyone can “learn about the problems of the health of the ocean,” Holl says, “and their role upon our leisure, science, and ecology.”

“In this incredible cupped form, one side moves you toward the ocean horizon, and the other side cups the space up in the distance,” he says.

The museum, known locally as Cité de l’Océan et du Surf, opened this summer. It began as an international competition in 2005. It has an interior of 3,800 square meters and exterior study and interactive spaces that expand to more than 15,500 square meters. Some two thirds of the building resides below ground.


The primary outdoor space is concave, designed to represent the ocean as a whole, under the sky. It’s flanked by two massive waves. Lengthwise, it tapers toward the Bay is Biscay. Inside the museum, the ceiling bears a convex shape. The interiors are meant to symbolize an “under the sea” concept. Walls are shaped irregularly. They appear like frozen waves. The composition of curvilinear shapes and smooth, gentle lines grants an organic effect. It yields a definite crystallized metaphor for the planet’s most abundant element.

Some spaces seem like the very tubes surfers catch and are brilliantly illuminated with aquamarine hues; others resemble massive walls of waves. Surfaces of dynamic curves are illuminated with lights in ocean waters hues, in contrast with other lighting techniques that mimic what we might see when, say, scuba diving. The lighting is designed to spill into other areas, too, creating a natural flow just as the light below the ocean surface might. Two glass boxes that house various components of the museum resemble the two large boulders in the ocean, visible just past the beach in the distance.


The building appears translucent from the outside, thanks due to its high glass content. This is no accident. Like the interior architecture elements that echo the museum’s surroundings, so does the building’s materials. White Okalux insulating glass conjures images of sea foam on a good surf day. The textured white concrete of the building’s exterior seems like a soft shell; it’s an aggregate made from locally sourced materials. Materials of the plaza are a progressive variation of Portuguese cobblestones paving with grass and natural, local vegetation.

Like the ocean, the museum allows for activities at various levels. People can gather outdoors, within the museum, and upon the roof. The museum contains a store, auditorium, restaurant, offices, exhibition spaces, and several areas indoors and out for planned or spontaneous events and activities. For instance, there’s a skate park on the plaza level. The architects claim this symbolizes the link between the surfing and skateboarding communities.

The LEAF-awarded Museum of Ocean and Surf tapers as the campus nears the ocean. Its narrow scope may help it blend into the site, as the architects’ press materials claim, but the overall location does evoke further questions: How well can a museum fit in the middle of a neighborhood of large residential plots? How vastly does the museum differ from the Museum of the Sea, already a Biarritz institution? As for museums dedicated fully to surfing, look to South Africa, California, or Australia.


(Contact me to see my original publication of this story in Perspective magazine.)


Must Inspiration Spark Your Writing?


In one of her Yoga Journal columns, meditation facilitator Sally Kempton discussed the pleasure of creativity. Some of that column seemed written especially for us writers, and so I wanted to share it.


“The pleasure of true creativity comes from the fact that it connects you directly to the Self, to the innate creativity of the universal consciousness itself. God is an artist, says one of the sages of Kashmir Shaivism, and when were are at our most creative, we are the most in touch with the Divine,” Kempton wrote in her column (March 2011 issue).


This is the world we climb into when we’re writing, yes? This is that silence that cloaks us, closes us off to the world when we do…sit…and write. When we get this deep into our Selves, we live within that spark that could be called inspiration. We are the vehicle through which the creativity flows at that moment. We don’t have to feel inspiration coming; it always lies within us. Though, sure, sometimes it buries itself in like a flea. That’s why we practice meditation and yoga, or go to the jazz club or art museum. That’s why we seek it out in another writer’s work, or perhaps that’s why we toke up and wait for the resulting hazy mind to drown out whatever we’re seeing too much of and not enough around.


“What does it take to experience the pleasure of being inspired? First, you have to be willing and able to surrender to it,” Kempton writes.

What does that mean to you? Many writers don’t know to surrender, especially American writers. Instead we push and push, try to force the inspiration out of its hiding place, try to force that silent part of the outline to start spewing genius verbosity like Dennis Miller. For me lately, my surrender has come not from completing another essay but by a rainstorm of ideas, lines, ideas, structural concepts, and metaphors that one particular essay wants me to express. She’s not ready to be written. Nor am I ready to sit with her yet. She’s gonna take a while, and I want to devote my energy to her, let her come out in toto, not haphazardly. But I let her forethoughts arise, express them in a folder of notes made just for her, and allow myself to be in tune with those bubbles that only her message sings. The other pieces I’m writing, such as this blog post, have been waiting, and they’re not as demanding. I don’t want to abort the inspirations that rose them from the void.


This reminds me of something else from Kempton’s column: “You need to have the skill and patience to translate the inspirationn into action.”


Where do you fall on the continuum of materializing your inspirations? Do you abandon ideas that don’t immediately come to fruition? Is it a matter of self-doubt that prevents you from sitting still with the piece and gently coaxing her out of her burrowed hole? Should we put a timeline on an idea?


In order to stave those aspects of writer’s block that have periodically plagued me over the past year, I hope to keep Kempton’s words in mind. For writing to grow, to mature, certainly we need to be inspired, definitely we need to be patient, and of course we need to recognize that it is the Divine channeling itself through us.


Sex in the Peruvian Sala: A Day at Lima’s Museo Larco


Reading and hearing about Museo Larco in Lima, Peru, caused high expectations, but actually experiencing it surpassed those expectations. Consider the museum basically divided between the cultural galleries, composed of gold and other metals, textiles, and ceramics; and the erotic gallery, a large space of two parallel rooms.  These two major spaces are as definitively separated as the prophylactics and the baby food sections at Target.

Museo Larco’s Lush Landscapes

That simile was deliberate. After spending a couple hours just within the cultures gallery of the museum’s main building, my 75-year-old Peruvian friend and I continued to the sexo sala, or erotic hall. We left the main building, walked down a ramp, across a wonderfully landscaped lawn, and to the other, smaller, one-story section.

What surprised me, though, was the reactions of Americans to the Sex Sala. It seemed as if a busload of small-town Midwesterners or Southern Christian fundamentalists– maybe they were missionaries!– had just been dropped before the space. Visually I could ignore them but the continual snickers and giggles pervaded my auditory sense. It was as if a pre-pubescent chess group had been given a glimpse of the high school girls locker room.



The museum space isn’t an exhibition of kinkiness. It’s an artful encapsulation of a culture’s view of the natural act. In that sense it’s not dissimilar to India’s Kama Sutra or African fertility vessels. The collection is beautiful, tender at times, romantic at others, even moral at others (such as the section of ceramics symbolizing the shame of catching STDs). Participants depicted in these sex pieces are enjoying themselves.


In this space are a large number of phallic and vaginal and mammary representations, to be sure. And yes, many of them seem to intentionally elicit playfulness, giggles. They may not be intended for children (and I don’t just mean minors), but they do allow us to see the humor that often accompanies loving sex. They illustrate the gender roles assumed by Peruvian culture through the ages. There are, in addition to illustrations of fellatio and fornication, mutual masturbation, animal sex scenes, and birthing scenes.


What’s more, the ceramic pieces are pragmatic, meaning, they usually were used for transporting/consuming fluids.


“Those sexual encounters between humans (as opposed to the gallery’s other depictions of sex betwixt humans and gods) which lead to procreation are associated with scenes representing the restoration of order or the commencement of the agricultural year,” according to the museum’s official book.


“This is the moment in which the fertilization, planting and first watering of the earth form the earthly manifestation of the sacred union between the god Ai Apaec and woman, thereby giving life to all human beings and other species, both animal and vegetable. This, in the world of the living, is reflected in sexual activity between men and women… In this world…animals also mate and reproduce, inserting themselves into the cycle of life.”



The gallery is impressively curated, its contents even more impressively preserved. The museum shop, something this writer can rarely pass up, carries a selection of copies of various pieces within the collection, something this writer did not pass by. Whilst decorating my living quarters in Lima it provoked no jokes or immature laughter. It is a curious thought, though, to ponder the reactions that arise once I move back to the States and decorate my house with it.


My Cup Runneth Over


The museum opened in 1926 by Raphael Larco Hoyle, a 26-year-old Limeño who actually did the fieldwork to obtain the works contained in his museum. Most of the pieces in the collection are from the Moche and Chimú cultures. It is from these pre-Columbian cultures you can glean a definitive adoration of Peru’s history, an admiration of its rich culture beyond the food, the clothing, and their sense of hurry (or lack thereof). It was Larco, after all, according to the museum’s book, who defined the period during which these cultures developed and thrived. He spent the rest of his life writing theories about these cultures and Peru’s pre-Hispanic chronology in his books Épocas Peruanas and Perú.