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Susan Stamberg

It's one of the ultimate images of summer: a woman in a short, pink slip sits on a bed, her knees pulled up to her chest, gazing out a window. Her hair is tucked back into a bun. Her bare arms rest lightly on her bare legs.

Edward Hopper painted her in 1952 for a work called Morning Sun. The picture has been widely reproduced for decades. But on a recent visit to its home at the Columbus Museum of Art in Columbus, Ohio, it was nowhere to be found.

Columbus, Ind., looks like any other small town, with its small shops and restaurants. But what sets this town apart is its architecture.

The Modernist buildings — mostly geometric and made of glass and steel — are not immediately visible, interspersed as they are with old, 19th-century, gingerbread-like structures; but more than 60 public buildings in Columbus have been built by a veritable who's who of modern masters — I.M. Pei, Eero and Eliel Saarinen, Cesar Pelli, Richard Meier, Harry Weese, Robert Venturi and James Polshek, to name a few.

This week, the world's largest democracy experienced the world's largest power outage. Nearly 700 million — that's more than half a billion — Indians were said to have been without power Tuesday. No air conditioning. No traffic lights. No metro system.

Most of the power is back now, but the outage had resonance for me from the long-ago years when I lived in New Delhi and experienced power failures almost as regularly as I did steaming cups of dark, sweet Indian tea.

This is a story about amazing beauty, imagination and magical effects — and it begins, ironically enough, at a one-time leprosarium, or hospital for lepers, in Beauvais, France, a small town outside Paris.

Lepers were sequestered in Beauvais in the 12th century. That history is now noted in an outdoor art installation made up of slim metal rods that curve up into the shape of a bowl. Each rod is tipped with a red, marble-sized glass ball.

Before Christiane Amanpour, before Ann Garrels, before Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, there was Martha Gellhorn, one of the first great female war correspondents.

From the Spanish Civil War through Vietnam, she covered every major conflict of the day. But Gellhorn's reputation as a journalist was sometimes overshadowed by her marriage to one of the great American writers, Ernest Hemingway.

Many art lovers feel completely in the moment when they stroll through the galleries of a museum. That feeling was particularly true on a recent morning at the Kreeger Museum in Washington, D.C. The Kreeger runs a special program for people with Alzheimer's — seniors, their caregivers and middle school students are paired together to enjoy the art and one another's company.

The African-American experience is reflected, right now, on the walls of the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C. Exuberant dancing in Chicago. Laundry on a line in the nation's capital. A girl smiling out from her father's warm jacket — all captured in photographs, paintings and sculptures from the 1920s through the 1990s.

In the late 1960s, while America was in turmoil over the Vietnam War and the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy, a painter in Santa Monica, Calif., was creating a series of tranquil, glowing canvases that made his reputation and transfixed art lovers. Those works — the Ocean Park series — are now on view at the Orange County Museum of Art, about an hour's drive from the place where they were painted.

Before they made it to the Oscars, the nominated films — not to mention all the films that didn't make the cut — were viewed by some 6,000 members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Many of those movies were shown in small, private, rented screening rooms all over Hollywood.

The studios have their own screening rooms, of course, but often directors want a more private place to screen works in progress — with no studio suits in sight.

In 1947, Vogue magazine sent Rosamond Bernier to Paris to cover European cultural life as it recovered after World War II. She met everyone who was anybody — Pablo Picasso befriended her, Henri Matisse gave her fashion tips, Alice B. Toklas baked for her. Bernier's memoir Some of My Lives is a lively compendium of this movable feast of art and genius — and of the author's own considerable charm.

Aside from watching all of the new shows on TV, many people in the New Year will hit the gym, and we're doing our part to help. For the next couple of weeks, we're asking athletes, actors and others what music gets them moving.

"Physical" has been a gym-goer's favorite for decades, but Olivia Newton-John says it didn't start out that way.

Every four years in January, Washington, D.C., plays host to the country's biggest "prom." Inaugural balls bring out happy winners, administration bigwigs and a gown — on the first lady — that will become a part of history.

An exhibition at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History displays some of those gowns. NPR Special Correspondent Susan Stamberg took her dance card to the show.

Intrigue! Riches! Sex! Some violence! Not the latest movie plot, but a story that lurks in the background of some 100-year-old photographs of The Empress Dowager — once the most powerful woman in Asia. The mostly black-and-white photos languished for decades in the archives of the Freer Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. Now, they are on display and give a glimpse of Old China at a time when today's China is the picture of modern power.

This winter, our independent booksellers have selected books that range in subject from toasters to typeface, odd bookmarks to old Volkswagens, department stores to pasta design. Whether you need a picture book for a toddler, kid lit for a young reader, or quirky nonfiction for the grown-up set, these booksellers have just the thing on their shelves.

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