Mmmmm, charts, fresh from the oven. Smells good, don’t they?

May 24th, 2018

 

This entire series is interesting:

Internet musings.

May 15th, 2018

1. I was on Amazon buying something unnecessary and this ad popped up because Amazon clearly knows its target audience:

I was faced with a quandary. If I was going to watch this game (I wasn’t), who would I root for? Normally I root for the animal, but these are both animals. What’s a girl to do? I decided I would root for the Seahawks because they have a bird of prey name and I love owls (it’s a stretch but let’s work with it) AND even though I adore female cardinals (their drab coloring compliments the redness in their beak) I’ve noticed cardinals are very mean to the other birds at bird feeders and I don’t want to be complicit in that. So I would support the Seahawks. SPORTS FAN!

 

2. Everyone know what a black metal band is? Wikipedia says:

Black metal is an extreme subgenre of heavy metal music. Common traits include fast tempos, a shrieking vocal style, heavily distorted guitars played with tremolo picking, raw (lo-fi) recording, unconventional song structures, and an emphasis on atmosphere. Artists often appear in corpse paint and adopt pseudonyms.

You can go on YouTube, there’s a ton of videos there. A thing that is extremely common amongst black metal bands are illegible spiky tumbleweed-resembling logos.

There are great memes out there that illustrate my point:

So, with all this in mind, Snorth’s husband Speeb sent me this on Facebook:

And I tried to figure out the names. I really, really tried. I felt like I was at an eye exam. Here is my response:

 

3. Look at this sea cucumber video! It’s like a little pulsating sphincter and then BOOM! Arms outta nowhere. I love it.

https://gif87a-com.tumblr.com/post/167984024750/this-sea-cucumber-waking-up-to-eat

 

4. Jackson Hole, Wyoming. A place… with people, I guess. I don’t know anything about it. What I do know is there was a camera – you know what? I’m not going to explain. The pictures explain themselves.

 

5. I could watch this gif all day. What awesome costumes. I am so impressed.

 

6. So Maxine Waters is a congresswoman from California and she is relatively famous for the phrase “reclaiming my time.” Refer to this video for clarification:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0EvuBakBj3I

And God bless the internet, because now there’s this and I watch it at least once every couple of days.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a4u3nt-TFXM

 

Addendum: “99 Red Balloons” played on red balloons.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aZND9dApFKU

Vienna and Krakow, Part 11 and done.

May 11th, 2018

Salt mine! But first, other stuff.

I was told the typical food of Krakow is the deep-fried crispy pork knuckle, so I went to a typical restaurant that had tablecloths with those awesome Polish flower patterns, they look like this:

Where I ordered the pork knuckle. I have limited knowledge of the porcine foods being brought up without them in my home so I was not prepared for the massive meat knob that was placed before me.

Seriously, it was huge. I started delving in and it was nice. It tasted exactly like a turkey leg from the RennFaire. And it’s really not as much meat as you’d think, there’s a giant bone going through the middle. The knuckle came with mustard and horseradish. Lemme tell you something: Eastern Europe loves its horseradish and I am 100% here for it. Horseradish is a wildly underappreciated foodstuff and we need to incorporate it into more of our daily meals because hell yeah. So good. The Moomins got another authentic Polish dish which was duck with apples. She loved it.

But the true star of the meal was the personal pan pizza-sized breadloaf filled with mushroom soup. Yes. Oh yes.

The other restaurant we went to, and I recommend this heartily, is Grandma Raspberry. That’s the name of the restaurant. Raspberries are a big deal in Poland, kind of like blueberries in Maine. The top floor of the restaurant is fine but we were seated in the basement which… okay. I’ve never personally been to a bar / brothel in the Wild West during the gold rush so I can’t say if this is what it was like but I can say that this is what I imagine it was like. Sort of. The basement was decorated with swagged fabric and flowery couches and lamps that I can only describe as slutty (“Gentlemen, why don’t you rest your weary feet here for a moment and have a refreshin’ glass of fizzy water while I go get the girls?”). There was a man in the corner playing jingly-jangly music on a pianer. The waitstaff was all underage pretty blonde girls with roses in their hair (“We got a lovely new crop of ladies on the train last week, they’re as fresh as a new penny and rarin’ to please”). I think in an attempt to “Grandma” it up there were vitrines filled with antique dolls but it only contributed to the prostitute-y vibe.

Make an effort to check it out if you go to Krakow. The food was really good too. Here’s the menu: http://kuchniaubabcimaliny.pl/files/menu/krakow-ul-slawkowska-17_12-11-2013.pdf

Okay, salt mine. Remember the whale bones which were mistaken for dragon bones earlier? That means there used to be a sea there. The sea dried up, the salt was left behind. For millenia bubbly salt water came up to the surface and people gathered that but around 1300 the water dried up so people started digging for the salt crystals. The salt is vaguely green due to a small amount of other minerals mixed in with the salt, same as how Himalayan salt is pink. In a couple of spots the salt is reddish due to minute amounts of iron. But it’s all mostly greenish.

It starts with you waiting in a room that looks like it’s from a train station. The salt mine has been a tourist attraction for hundreds of years apparently. It’s still in use and extremely large. We were in there for about two hours walking through both big and small chambers and we only saw about 6% of the mine, so there’s a ton more that’s actually being mined presently.

 

Important to know: if you suffer from claustrophobia don’t visit this mine. In order to keep oxygen flowing there are all kinds of scary metal doors and the doors behind you have to slam closed in order for the doors in front of you to open so sometimes you are trapped in small shafts with many people for a several seconds at a time.

You then walk down waaaaay too many steps. I wouldn’t have had a problem with it except they were kind of spiral steps so you get dizzy and lose your sense of up or down about halfway through. It is not awesome.

Because salt is plastic and has some flex to it the miners cut down the entire forest surrounding the mine to prop up the inside. A great deal of it is painted white because you need fewer lights to illuminate a white space. It makes everything easier to see and when it’s 1753 and you’re under the earth dealing with oil lamps that is definitely a plus.

 

Until fairly recently the miners used their own back-breaking labor to chop the salt out of the walls. Now they use machines and dynamite but in the parts we were in you could clearly see the pick marks from the pick axes.

And in some places moisture got in and made what is called “salt cauliflowers.”

The early employees there were apparently treated really well. They were paid decently and they only worked eight hour shifts. The only problem is they had to walk up and down all those gazillion stairs. Some of the workers had artistic skills and that’s where the coolness of this place kicks in. Being super-devout Catholics they carved a chapel. The floor, the walls, the chandeliers – all carved out of salt and all by mine workers. It’s very impressive.

 

There are other chapels throughout the mine but they have non-salt elements. WHICH IS CHEATING.

There are pools of saltwater and no surprise here, they are very salty. In the 1800s there used to be rowboats you could rent and paddle around down there but a boat tipped over and three people drowned so no more rowboats.

In addition to the chapels and pools there are niches with sculptures, both religious and non-religious. There’s King Casimir the Great who, it is said, “inherited a Poland of wood and died in a Poland of stone,” implying that he built up Poland and brought it into the modern era (as modern as it gets in 1350).

They have gnomes that come to life at night and help the miners (TRUTH. FACTS. POLAND.)

There’s Princess Kinga and the story of the mine. Taken from Wikipedia:

There is a legend about Princess Kinga, associated with the Wieliczka mine. The Hungarian princess was about to be married to Boles?aw V the Chaste, the Prince of Kraków. As part of her dowry, she asked her father, Béla IV of Hungary, for a lump of salt, since salt was prizeworthy in Poland. Her father King Béla took her to a salt mine in Máramaros. She threw her engagement ring from Boles?aw in one of the shafts before leaving for Poland. On arriving in Kraków, she asked the miners to dig a deep pit until they come upon a rock. The people found a lump of salt in there and when they split it in two, discovered the princess’s ring. Kinga had thus become the patron saint of salt miners in and around the Polish capital.

There are a couple of people I do not recognize:

And Pope John Paul II who I very much recognize:

As we headed out we walked through the giant room where wedding receptions are held. It is pretty common for people to get married in the salt chapel.

In a children’s play area there are anthropomorphic salt crystals harvesting… themselves, I guess.

And if you’re wondering did I lick a random probably unclean wall? I most certainly did. It tasted pleasantly salty.

Okay! That was my trip to Eastern Europe (you should go) in winter (but not in winter). Now back to art and internet posts.

Vienna and Krakow, Part 10.

May 6th, 2018

Okay, we covered the depressing. Back to the positive things humanity has contributed to history.

But first! A doorframe. I saw a Baroque doorframe with angry… weasels? Lizards? Dog griffons? I couldn’t tell. Thankfully, the club made their logo a line drawing of the guardian beasties so that mystery was solved right quick. Thank you, Klub Pod Jaszczurant.

This was our heated towel rack. I developed a deep and powerful relationship with this towel rack. I would come back from sightseeing frosty with crisp extremities and drape myself on this towel rack. I think the towel rack and I are married in some villages, so intimate was our contact.

In one of the churches I visited I saw a ceiling motif of the ten commandments. Now I’ve always seen them split even in two, five on one side and five on the other. Here it was the first three on one side and seven on the other, which I found odd. I asked my dad why they did that and he said the first three commandments deal with your relationship with God, where the remaining seven deal with your relationship with your fellow man. Ergo, the uneven split. Knowledge!

So if you remember I mentioned that when a building needed repair in Krakow they repaired it in whatever style was popular at the time of the repair, not the style that was popular at the time of the building’s creation. This worked out well for me because one whole church interior was fixed and painted in the Art Nouveau style which is my favorite artistic movement.

The windows were stained glass in the Art Nouveau style but they weren’t very good so I didn’t hurt myself trying to take pictures of them. The church was very dark and the windows were very bright and my camera was like, “What… precisely… are we going for here” so I didn’t fuss with the windows.

Before WWII Krakow had a ton of Jews. Now it’s got about 200 permanent resident Jews but approximately 700,000 Jews visit Krakow every year so the former Jewish district has been turned into a sort of cultural center with restaurants and museums relating to the community that used to live there.

Most of the buildings are around a small town square. This was the oldest remaining building from 1300-something.

Here’s the school off to the side. I like brickwork and am a sucker for a good brick building. Mock me if you must, I will find solace in my bricks.

Here’s a bit of Roman wall. The Jews were sent outside the city limits at one time and it’s cool to see where the city limits used to be.

This was the butchers market. In the center of this octagonal building is where the actual kosher killing happened and then the stalls where you would buy the meat. Now there’s a vintage and second-hand market there on certain days in the stalls.

The Old Synagogue (so named because it’s from the Renaissance) is now a museum. It has a really lovely clean interior with several original elements remaining.

The main thing I took away from visiting this museum (which I recommend, it’s small but excellent) is that Jews loooooove lions on their religious objects and, bless their hearts, they cannot make a decent lion for all the money in the world. There was these ones:

And this:

And these cheerful failures:

And my personal favorites from the 1700s that I call “If I’m going to get lions wrong I’m going to get them epically wrong.”

Brief moment of grimness (listen, it’s Europe, it’s Jews, things are going to get crappy, it’s unavoidable). We walked through the former ghetto. This was the SS office in the center of the square.

After the ghetto was liquidated and everyone in it was sent to concentration camps, the Nazis threw all the furniture in their apartments out of the windows and the square filled up with furniture. So as a memorial the square is filled with bronze chairs. Some believe it represents all the furniture that was thrown out. Some say they are waiting for their owners to come back (spoiler alert: it never happens). It’s a very impactful memorial.

We also went to the Remu Synagogue. From Wikipedia:

The Remah Synagogue, is named after Rabbi Moses Isserles c.1525–1572, known by the Hebrew acronym ReMA (pronounced ReMU) who’s famed for writing a collection of commentaries and additions that complement Rabbi Yosef Karo’s Shulchan Aruch, with Ashkenazi traditions and customs.

I was interested in going there because I heard a story (remember, we’re in Krakow where there are no myths and fables, only TRUTHS and FACTS) that Rabbi Moses Isserles wrote a book that was very important and then he buried it in the backyard where a tree grew out of the book. Then when Rabbi Isserles died he was buried under that tree as well. When people tried to dig him up to move his body to a better cemetery the tree smacked the crap out them with its branches (“No move body! I smack!”) and when bombs were dropping the tree bent over and protected the body from damage. I love that this rabbi is protected by something that is half Whomping Willow from Harry Potter and half Groot from Guardians of the Galaxy. I wanted to see the tree and wandering around an old cemetery is always on my list.

 

Headstones had lion fails as well. This one looked like Courage the Cowardly Dog screaming.

Someone had taken the broken headstones and embedded them on the back wall.

The interior of the actual synagogue was very small and cute.

And it took me a while to figure out why there was a lobster on the ceiling because, hello? Sooooo not kosher? But apparently there were the signs of the zodiac around the perimeter of the room (which still makes very little sense because isn’t that Greek mythology, whatever).

Next entry: The Salt Mine! With the Salt Church! And that’s the end of the trip.

Vienna and Krakow, Part 9.

April 20th, 2018

Alright, let’s do this. Better we just get it over with. Head’s up: It’s going to get pretty dark so if you’re not into that maybe skip this one.

Auschwitz is the German name for the Polish town of Oswiecim. Here is some info from the Wikipedia page:

Auschwitz I was first constructed to hold Polish political prisoners, who began to arrive in May 1940. The first extermination of prisoners took place in September 1941. Auschwitz II–Birkenau went on to become a major site of the Nazis’ Final Solution to the Jewish Question during the Holocaust. From early 1942 until late 1944, transport trains delivered Jews to the camp’s gas chambers from all over German-occupied Europe, where they were killed en masse with the cyanide-based poison Zyklon B, originally developed to be used as a pesticide. An estimated 1.3 million people were sent to the camp, of whom at least 1.1 million died. Around 90 percent of those were Jews; approximately one in six Jews killed in the Holocaust died at the camp. Others deported to Auschwitz included 150,000 Poles, 23,000 Romani and Sinti, 15,000 Soviet prisoners of war, 400 Jehovah’s Witnesses, and tens of thousands of others of diverse nationalities, including an unknown number of homosexuals. Many of those not killed in the gas chambers died of starvation, forced labor, infectious diseases, individual executions, and medical experiments.

Just to give you an idea of how many people were killed, there was one point in the war where 5,000 people arrived at Auschwitz every day for years. When the Soviets came in there was a total of 7,000 people there, many of whom died after being liberated. The purging was extremely thorough.

We arrived at the main camp called Auschwitz (the secondary camp is either called Auschwitz II or Birkenau). I think it used to be a Boy Scout summer camp with rows of brick buildings. I saw the sign and I thought I was going to freak out but I didn’t. Surprisingly to me, I thought I was going to freak out at several moments and I didn’t. I was just sad.

 

All these buildings are now displays of exhibitions. Each building has a theme. We only walked through about two of them. They had piles of the things left behind, like 800,000 shoes, or eyeglasses.

Or the opened cans of Zyklon B.

Or human hair. Everyone arriving got shaved and the hair was woven into blankets and socks for the German submarine crews. When Auschwitz was opened there was approximately 7.7 tons of hair.

I decided a while back that even though I really did not want to go to Auschwitz I would because sometimes you need to suck it up and see history but I had one condition: No Mengele. I cannot deal with the idea of medical experiments. As soon as we walked past Mengele’s building I was getting ready to bolt out of earshot but luckily the guide basically said, “This was the building where Mengele worked,” and that was it. You could go in if you wanted to and see the exhibit but I decided I’d like to not have nightmares for forever so I took a hard pass on that.

We walked past the firing squad area. There were all kinds of bouquets and memorials all over different part of the property. It was kind of heartwarming to see, these acknowledgements of the loss and sacrifice.

We also stood where the band played every day to set a marching rhythm for the prisoners coming home from the fields. I found that particularly macabre, being a prisoner, having to play upbeat music while people are struggling and carrying their dead friends (your whole bunk was penalized if everyone wasn’t there for roll call, meaning you had to hold up the dead on your shoulders until everyone’s name was called).

I was surprised to see the lack of gas chambers and crematoriums, but that was to come in Birkenau. We took the short drive over to the second camp where I got to walk through the Gate of Death.

That’s where the train cars would come in filled with people. Between the tracks they were separated into two groups – ones that were fit to do forced labor and not fit. Interestingly, the opening scene from the first X-Men movie does an excellent job of showing what that was probably like. 95% were found not fit and sent to the gas chambers immediately. (The fit ones would be worked to death, a process taking on average about three months, after which they would succumb to starvation, alimentary dystrophy, gangrene, necrosis, internal hemorrhaging, and typhoid fever.) Zyklon B would come out of the shower heads instead of water which took approximately 20 minutes to kill everyone. Zyklon B contains potassium cyanide which prevents cellular respiration. After everyone was dead they were brought to the crematorium which ran 24/7. They still could not burn the bodies fast enough so some prisoners’ jobs were to grind up the unburnt remains like teeth and bones of strangers as well as potentially their friends and relatives. The ash was then thrown into the fields or dumped into the lakes in the area.

Before the end of the war the Germans didn’t want the world to know what they did so they destroyed most of the gas chambers and crematoriums before they abandoned Birkenau. There are remnants left.

To represent the destroyed gas chambers, a memorial was built in the location of one with phrases written in every language of people who were sent there to die.

If you’re in the area I recommend you take some time and visit. It’s definitely depressing but I think it’s worth the opportunity and Auschwitz is far more sanitized than other camps I have visited (like Mauthausen, which is in far better condition and where I found myself standing in the gas chamber itself.)

Next entry: Back to churches and art and probably churches.

Vienna and Krakow, Part 8.

April 15th, 2018

Hey everyone! I apologize, I was doing great there and then I got caught in a vortex of work where I had to, and I am not kidding about this, learn a massive amount of the animation program After Effects in a week. Yeah. That happened. I mean, it’s still happening but if I have to look at another keyframe tonight I will punch an innocent so I’m going to talk about Krakow. Krakow! Home of depressing Jewish history! Let’s get into it. Oskar Schindler from the movie Schindler’s List, remember how he was a good guy? Spielberg lied to us. Here’s the truth: Oskar Schindler was a Nazi which we knew. BUT his factory was a German camp. The workers did 12 hour shifts every day, 7 days a week. In the morning they were given black coffee and a piece of bread, lunch was soup with sausage and dinner was black coffee and with a piece of bread. They lived in barracks behind the factory so Schindler wouldn’t have them getting sick or wasting time walking from a nearby camp every day. It was like this for YEARS. And after the war Oskar fled to Argentina with all the other Nazis. He never did the famous scene where if he sold his watch he could save one more or any of that. He wasn’t a hero, he was just pragmatic. Sick or dead workers can’t work. You may address me as Jessica The Truth-Spewer And Dream-Killer if you’d like from this point on. I’ll understand.

The Schindler factory has been turned into a museum and the major exhibit, which is a collection of the buildup to the war and then the occupation in Poland, is creepily excellent. The reason I say “creepily” is because you walk through it and sound in piped to set the scene which makes it very personal. The Moomins and I felt much more of an impact when we were there than when we were at Auschwitz where everything was scrubbed down and sanitized. I was quite a bit shook up but I took some pictures when I remembered to use my camera.

Oddly worded sign in the entrance of the museum.

I looked up what “cold steel” is and it is, in the Wiki’s words, “an American manufacturer and seller of knives, swords and other edged weapons and tools based in Ventura, California. Special Projects is a division of Cold Steel Inc. that produces a line of tools and weapons such as Spetsnaz-type shovels, sjamboks, and spears. Additionally a line of tomahawks, axes, and hammers is marketed under the name of The American Tomahawk Company.” So I’m guessing they’re saying no weapons of any kind.

The Germans required detailed reports on how everyone was doing in the ghettos so someone made this handy-dandy chart of how many of each age group of people. Aside from the grim subject material, I very much liked the design style.

Ugh, this tiled floor. Tough to walk on. I felt like it was leeching bad vibes into the soles of my feet. It didn’t help this music was playing simultaneously. The whole mood was ominous to the nth degree.

Other elements from the exhibit.

This one made me grin. There’s a British comedy skit referencing this particular uniform that I immediately thought of.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hn1VxaMEjRU

That’s enough staring into the horror of mankind for today. Since the Schindler factory was in the industrial part of town the factory across the street had been turned into a glass-blowing and ceramic space. Please note that the logo was a dragon blowing glass. Never forget the dragon is real! NEVER FORGET.

And because the industrial part of town has many artist’s studios it was not surprising to see the knitted trees.

Aside from the major cathedral in Wawel Castle there are approximately eight thousand other churches in Krakow. I only visited a handful but they were pretty great. My favorite was St. Mary’s Church in the Old Square.

Here’s some knowledge on it:

Built in the 14th century, its foundations date back to the early 13th century and serve as one of the best examples of Polish Gothic architecture. Standing 80 m (262 ft) tall, it is particularly famous for its wooden altarpiece carved by Veit Stoss (Wit Stwosz).

On every hour, a trumpet signal—called the Hejna? mariacki—is played from the top of the taller of Saint Mary’s two towers. The plaintive tune breaks off in mid-stream, to commemorate the famous 13th century trumpeter, who was shot in the throat while sounding the alarm before the Mongol attack on the city. The noon-time hejna? is heard across Poland and abroad broadcast live by the Polish national Radio 1 Station.

I heard and saw the trumpeter when I was there. He was perched near a window in one of towers and when he finished he waved his very shiny trumpet out the window and we all waved back and cheered. It was a very jocular medieval moment. You’ll also note the two towers don’t match. Why? I’ve decided it’s because under no circumstances should there be any symmetry in any Polish architecture ever. Please refer to the Wawel Cathedral for additional proof.

The exterior is lovely, but the inside was redone in the 1800s and completely polychromed and it is IMPRESSIVE. My breath was tooken away.

The only painted portion that bothered me was at the base of the curved arches when they turned into the pillars. That red part looked unfinished and a bit sloppy, like they could have done more with that. I normally wouldn’t be bothered by that but it really stood against all the excellent and detailed artwork all over the everything else.

A cool bit I noticed in several Polish churches was putting an arch at the of… the aspe? The front where the priest conducts services from. I forgot what it’s called. That place. Anyway, before that tube starts they put an arch or a bar with the crucifix on it as like a kind of gate. It’s notable to me because it’s unusual, I don’t see it in other countries’ architectures. I thought is was an interesting touch. It’s like it’s saying, “This church may be dedicated to this saint or that saint, but Jesus comes first. Don’t forget.” Here it is in St. Mary’s Church.

And here it is in another church.

Moomins got very excited about a set of extremely large medieval doors and insisted on me taking a picture of her with them. So please enjoy this photo of The Moomins with a set of extremely large medieval doors.

And I was slightly less excited but still somewhat excited about this icon because it’s the first time I’ve seen an icon done in what I consider the Russian style, with the metal plate over the body. It reminded me how close I was to where my ancestors are from (Latvia, Lithuania, Ukraine). It’s the closest I’ve ever been.

Coming in the next entry: I’m undecided. Should I cover Auschwitz and get it over with like pulling off a bandaid or should I show some of the nicer things and then finish up on that awful note? I guess we’ll find out.

Vienna and Krakow, Part 7.

April 3rd, 2018

You ready for more Krakow? Cuz you’re about to get it.

Krakow is located in a really interesting place. It was once a saltwater sea there. That’s why there’s a huge salt mine nearby, it’s the dried remains of the sea. In addition there were people there 120,000 years ago, and rhinos, and mammoths. We’ll get to that in a minute. Here’s an Wikipedia article on Stone Age Poland:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stone-Age_Poland

Back to architecture in Krakow: in the center of the Old Square is the Cloth Hall which was a massive market for centuries. Now the stalls are filled with vendors selling crafts and tourist items and the second floor is a museum of paintings.

 

There are seals and crests painted all over the walls for different areas of Poland. This one was my favorite: a sword with two fish gritting their teeth.

Education for everybody is a relatively new development in Western history so I imagine the reason there are sculptures over the doors of some of the older houses was a sign of who lived there to the illiterate. I saw a ton of them. I got pictures of a rhino and a lobster.

An aspect I adore in the architecture I saw was how when chunks of major buildings needed repair or burnt down no one made any attempt to match the style of the original, they used whatever style was popular that day. That’s how you end up with facilities that l0ok like they were hot-glued together from other mismatched bits. Let’s look at Wawel Castle. It’s kind of noticeable from the outside but wait, it is all made clear when we approach the Cathedral inside.

Just so you know, this is where the dragon lives. And in case you forget, you are reminded everywhere you go within the castle walls. Here’s the 100% true story of the not-made-up Wawel dragon (name: Smok Wawelski).

The Wawel Dragon tale takes place in Kraków during the reign of King Krakus, the city’s legendary founder. Each day the evil dragon would beat a path of destruction across the countryside, killing the civilians, pillaging their homes, and devouring their livestock. In many versions of the story, the dragon especially enjoyed eating young maidens. Great warriors from near and far fought for the prize and failed. The cobbler’s apprentice (named Skuba) accepted the challenge. He stuffed a lamb with sulphur and set it outside the dragon’s cave. The dragon ate it and became so thirsty, it turned to the Vistula River and drank until it burst. The cobbler married the King’s daughter as promised, and founded the city of Kraków.

So dragon drank river and exploded. Fast forward to when they’re digging up the ground to make the castle and the diggers find a bunch of bones. They didn’t research what they are because OF COURSE they’re the dragon bones, right? I mean, duh. Turns out one is a mammoth bone, one is a blue whale rib (remember, there was a saltwater sea there millions of years ago) and one was a rhino skull. The bones are now hanging outside the church’s front door.

Here’s a map of the castle within the walls. Note the icon in the upper right corner. We’ll get back to that.

Like most castles within walls, it’s like a small city in there. There’s residences for the important people and the cathedral and the parliament maybe and I imagine the equivalent of a 7-11, all manner of buildings.

But the best part is the cathedral. I don’t know if you’re ready for the hodge-podge of periods. I certainly wasn’t.

ALL THE STYLES. ALL OF THEM. I loved it. I totally get if other people are bothered by it, but not me. I am firmly on Team Random Edifice. And I especially appreciated all the dragon elements that are incorporated into the structure itself. Like the gutters.

Bonus: The ones in the middle looked like skeksis (skeksii? skeksesses?).

There’s this carving near the door of a dragon.

Now, do you remember my sexy dead guys from Vienna? The skeletons propped up on their side? I saw that carved into the crypts in this church. I guess that’s an acceptable dead person pose in Eastern Europe. *The More You Know* ====?

And unsurprisingly I was delighted by the art nouveau gates outside the church with the chestnut motif. Big fan.

So, the actual dragon. Now, we all know he’s dead because he exploded but his cavern is still there and you can walk through it. At the end is a sculptural representation of Smok that supposedly shoots fire. I say supposedly because it was closed until spring. I couldn’t walk through the cavern and I only saw the sculpture from the top of the hill.

But I got to see a great view of the river and all the duckies and swannies swimming in the non-frozen part.

Unrelated to anything else: The ladies’ bathroom had a sign for breastfeeding but to me it looked like Dracula swishing his cape over his shoulder.

Here, I photoshopped it to make it clearer what I’m seeing.

Next entry: Schindler Factory.

Vienna and Krakow, Part 6.

April 2nd, 2018

Hey hey! Did everyone have a nice Judeo-Christian-Spring-awakening holiday weekend? I hosted Passover in my home for fourteen people so that was a thing I pulled off by the skin on my teeth.

So Krakow! A very very old city in Poland! But first, let’s look at some random stuff that does not neatly fit anywhere else.

Graffiti from both Vienna and Krakow that I liked.

A piece of ancient oldness chillin’ in the Vienna train station because they have so much art they can just put that stuff any old place:

The Rathaus in Vienna at night. The Rathaus (pronounced how you would think, Rat House) is the main government building of the town, where you would go to get a permit or pay your taxes, that kind of thing. It is from the late 1800s but it is faithfully designed in Gothic style. The Viennese Rathaus has a giant public park in front of it and during the Frozen Months it is a ice skating rink with colored lights in the trees and pop music. It was so lovely that The Moomins and I stood there in the epically cold weather and simply enjoyed the people skating to Katy Perry.

Now on to Krakow. Krakow is going to be a bit darker than Vienna because instead of museums The Moomins and I went to several places of Jewish interest and that means Auschwitz, Schindler’s factory, etc. Therefore, less upbeat. You have been warned.

Krakow is OLD. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say:

Kraków, also Cracow or Krakow is the second largest and one of the oldest cities in Poland. The city has grown from a Stone Age settlement to Poland’s second most important city. It began as a hamlet on Wawel Hill and was already being reported as a busy trading center of Slavonic Europe in 965. Kraków has traditionally been one of the leading centers of Polish academic, cultural, and artistic life and is one of Poland’s most important economic hubs. It was the capital of the Crown of the Kingdom of Poland from 1038 to 1569; the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth from 1569 to 1596, the Free City of Kraków from 1815 to 1846; the Grand Duchy of Cracow from 1846 to 1918; and Kraków Voivodeship from the 14th century to 1998. It has been the capital of Lesser Poland Voivodeship since 1999.

A Voivodeship is like a state with a Governor called a Voivode. They only exist in Central and Eastern Europe. My point is Krakow is super-old. When we arrived early in the morning we went to our hotel. While we were waiting for our room the front desk asked us if we wanted to have breakfast in their medieval wine cellar and we were like, “Hell yes, I want to eat eggs and toast in a medieval wine cellar, thank you.” I spoke to the front desk afterwards and they said don’t get too excited, every building in the city center has a vintage basement. There’s a whole city under the city, they ain’t special. Lotta old all over.

Another thing I learned from the front desk staff is that they don’t have myths and legends, they have truths and realities. I’ll explain. As we were checking in, the front desk girl pulled out the map of the city and started circling things. “Here is where the hotel is, and here is the city center, and over here is Wawel Castle, and if you’d like to meet our dragon he lives here, and here is…”

Notice she didn’t say, “If you’ve heard our story about the dragon, blah blah blah.” No. The dragon is real, he lives here and you can visit him. They also strongly believe in gnomes who we will meet when we go to the salt mines. My favorite conversation of this style is when we took a walking tour of Kazimierz. Our guide named Jack said, “Have you met our dragon?” and I said I had not yet but was planning to. Jack said matter-of-factly, “You should come back on the first of June. Our dragon sends out invitations to all the rest of the world’s dragons and they come here and there’s a parade of dragons.” I don’t know about you but you bet your sweet butt I’m going to the dragon parade at some point, are you kidding me? That sounds amazing.

Due to being around for millennia, Krakow has awesome architecture.

I took way too many pictures of that church at the end. I loved the step style that is reminiscent of Dutch step buildings, but it doesn’t only go across and down, it dips back down before it goes up which makes it spikier. I attached a picture of a Dutch-style building in New York so you can understand what I’m saying.

The city, even though it is ancient, is very much alive and adapting. I took this photo to show Krakow keeping it modern. The building to the right was torn down, and the wurst over the door on the right has been removed and now it’s a ramen place. In the place of the torn down building is a tex-mex food truck. Very current with the times.

Next entry: more Krakow including its ancient fossils.

Addendum: Look at these pictures of the Dragon Parade! That looks super-fun. I am on board with that.

Vienna and Krakow, Part 5.

March 25th, 2018

Okay, last entry on Vienna. Get ready for some art.

First, more food. This is apple strudel. Sitting in a warm bath of vanilla sauce. With swirls of whipped cream on either end. *sniff* I miss this so much.

The Moomins and I walked past a print shop where we saw real rebellious students working on real rebellious posters and banners. Hand-painting them! I was so impressed.

Some Renaissance smooshed into the Baroque. This is called the Schweizertor (“Swiss door”) and it’s on one of the many MANY buildings in Vienna that belonged to the monarchy.

And off to the right is a panel from the same period with some mighty fine gryphons. A+ on those gryphons.

The rest of the building has your standard Baroque extra drama with a side of expressive. I especially likes this guy wrestling what I assume is the Cerberus, the three-headed dog that guards the gates of Hades, but they look like weird tigers.

Speaking of the monarchy, the primary reigning family of Austria was the Habsburgs and as with most royal families there was cousins marrying and all that. I could not stop thinking about Paul Reubens on 30Rock when he played His Royal Highness the Duke of Terechia, the Earl of the Duchy of Westphalia, Prince Gerhardt Messaschmidt Rammstein van Hoppe.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_XkzeDecjkg

Great character. SOOOOPER inbred.

I wanted to go to the Museum of Applied Arts because that’s the area I’m most interested in. I like the useful arts best. The coolest exhibit they have was the first built-in kitchen. Before this concept you bought a stove and a cabinet for dishes and none of that was provided in the home already. I guess it never occurred to me that there someone had to think of it. Here’s the Wikipedia description:

The Frankfurt kitchen was a milestone in domestic architecture, considered the forerunner of modern fitted kitchens, for it realized for the first time a kitchen built after a unified concept, designed to enable efficient work and to be built at low cost. It was designed in 1926 by Austrian architect Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky for architect Ernst May’s social housing project New Frankfurt in Frankfurt, Germany. Some 10,000 units were built in the late 1920s in Frankfurt.

And here are some chairs displayed in one of the hallways. No relation to anything. Just liked them. Who doesn’t like wood carving and little antlers?

The last museum I went to was the Albertina. It was a residence for one of the members of the royal family, a Duke or an Earl, there were so many, it’s hard to keep track.

They have state rooms on display and they were those rooms you always see in movies where you go through door after door after door and they’re all in rows, around the same size with no furniture. People would ship their bureaus and armoires of clothes so there were no closets. And clearly they used chamber pots so there were no bathrooms. Just salon after salon. By the way, that’s why it often sucks to live in a pre-war apartment in New York City – no closets. Closets are a recently new invention.

The only stationary piece of furniture were mammoth ceramic heating units in the center of the room. The cold there is real, people.

I thought the chandeliers were pretty great. They were not just slapped together like crappy hotel ballroom ones, they were clearly crafted with love and care. It makes a difference and I appreciated it.

So as I pottered from room to room looking at the art on the walls and the rooms themselves I got another artistic surprise. In one of the room was… Albrecht Dürer’s Grouchy Bunny! I didn’t know this was the museum he lived in! Hi Lil Bun-Buns! You look so mad and I love you!

Mr. Grumples was behind glass (hence the reflections you see there) so I could get right up to him, like inches from him. That rabbit is fantastic. He looks like he was painted yesterday. Now, the reason I said I didn’t know this was the museum he lived in is because there are representations of The Hare all over the city, so I knew he was SOMEWHERE in Vienna. There’s a great pink version outside the Opera House.

And a green version on top of a snack stand:

So I knew this was The Hare’s city but there’s like 200 museums so whatever. The great thing was next to The Hare was two other small paintings by Dürer and one was a wing. Guys, this wing was amazing. Every tuft on the feathers, every color shift, everything was rendered perfectly. I did my best to take photos of it but keep in mind this painting is quite small so the detail is pretty flawless. As Kendrick Lamar says, “Sit down. Be humble.” I did. I was.

The gift shop had mini versions of The Hare for sale but they were pricey so I took a pass. I would have wanted to get them in every color plus silver plus gold anyway and it would have drifted into $1,000 at that point so I opted for none.

I’d like you to know that in looking for additional information on The Hare I found this nightmare fuel in Nuremburg. What the fresh hell is this? Ugh.

I think that’s everything on my five days in Vienna. If it appears that I only looked at churches and museums and ate cake and drank hot beverages, then I have portrayed my experience correctly. Much to my chagrin I didn’t get a chance to see my girl the Venus of Willendorf. I studied her for art school and I’ve always wanted to see her. Maybe next time.

Next entry: Krakow.

Vienna and Krakow, Part 4.

March 22nd, 2018

Before we get into The Museums of Vienna IV: Holy Crap That’s A Lot Of Art, there’s some unrelated elements we should cover.

When The Moomins and I waited for our daily tram to town (they still have trams in Vienna!) our stop was in front of a rather plain building with one architectural detail: A weird-looking lioness under the lower-right-hand window. The Moomins and I decided that we would rent that apartment for the sole reason of dressing up the lion for major holidays. Easter? Lion gets a basket of colorful eggs and bunny ears. Christmas? Ugly sweater and blinky lights. Halloween? Ghost costume with cut-out eyes and bag full of candy, and so on and so forth.

I went to an international market and saw a fruit that looked a bunch like the dragon eggs from Game of Thrones so I bought one and ate it. It’s called a snakefruit and inside it looks like if a clump of lychees were mashed into the shape of a head of garlic and it tasted like an apple. Definitely one of the more odd fruits I’ve tried. Big identity issues.

Did you know they used the guillotine a lot more recently than you would think? I attributed it to the French Revolution and then I thought it fell out of favor for, like, a firing squad. I was incorrect.

Vienna is known as the city of Mozart. He was a big damn deal there and there are references to him everywhere. In front of one tiny theater there is a sculpture of Papagano, the bird guy in The Magic Flute.

And in one of the many churches in Vienna one of them had a memorial on the wall that Moomins translated. Mozart wrote a requiem which he never heard played because he died. The plaque on the wall said this was the church Mozart’s requiem was played immediately after his untimely demise.

If you haven’t heard Lacrimosa from the Requiem recently you should because it is so beautifully depressing. “Exquisite gloominess” is a good description. It’s been used in a ton of movies / TV shows / dog food commercials / etc.

Fun bonus: the same church had some leftover Middle Ages art on the wall that they thoughtfully preserved.

So on to the museum du jour, the Kunsthistorisches (“Museum of Fine Arts”). It has a really good collection of Bruegels including “The Tower of Babel” as well as a megaton of other awesome art. Interestingly enough, my favorite part was the building itself. So many grotesques on the ceiling! I’m surprised I didn’t walk into a column I was staring up so much.

People were taking wedding photos in there because of The Photogenic.

The coolest thing was related to a massive wall of scaffolding. Gustav Klimt, before he was the painter we know and love with the gold and the textures, did your standard normal-type portraiture and he was damn good at it. Like, astonishingly good. I saw this charcoal drawing and was blown away. Klimt’s choices of how much to include and leave out gives it a misty tone but nothing is missing. In person it is so evocative.

So there was this scaffolding:

Because when Klimt was still working for The Man instead of doing his own thing he painted these awesome oil paintings in the corners of the walls where no one can appreciate them. And they are so great. They represent the collection of art you can see in the museum and his photorealism is impeccable.

Because it’s dark up there and I was balancing on one foot to try and photo these it’s tough to see how good they are but I’ll attempt to describe. For example, in the picture below I couldn’t tell if the ceramic flowers behind the guy’s head were painted or real ceramics and I was less than six feet from it. I had to bob my head back and forth like an owl to see if they were 3D.

The Egyptian tableau, you felt like you could reach out and touch it.

There was a bust crammed in a corner that Klimt painted. I could have sworn it was real. I’m telling you, my jaw was on the floor. The man had SKILLZZZ.

A little more about the cafe culture. After lovin’ on the art The Moomins and I headed off to the nicest coffee house we attended during our visit, Cafe Central. There are several high-end coffee houses in Vienna but this is the only one we went to. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about it:

The café was opened in 1876, and in the late 19th century it became a key meeting place of the Viennese intellectual scene. Key regulars included: Peter Altenberg, Theodor Herzl, Alfred Adler, Egon Friedell, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Anton Kuh, Adolf Loos, Leo Perutz, Alfred Polgar, Adolf Hitler, and Leon Trotsky. In January 1913 alone, Josip Broz Tito, Sigmund Freud, Joseph Stalin, Hitler, and Trotsky (the latter two being regulars) were patrons of the establishment.

Hitler AND Trotsky were regulars? Fancy!

Moomins and I decided to make a day of it and I ordered a salad. What arrived was not what I expected. It was a small plate with some delicate lettuce and a bit of tomato on top and under that the dish was separated into four sections: pickled cucumbers, pickled potatoes, pickled carrots and something else I forgot (that was pickled). It was absolutely delicious but salad is different there. Just a heads up on that.

Moomins got the daily special which was chicken with mushrooms and peppers served with semolina dumplings. If anyone knows the recipe for Viennese semolina dumplings please send it to me today. No, get in a time machine and send it to me yesterday. It was so scrumptious and when I go on the web to look for the recipe I get some crappy soupy matzah ball type thing. Unacceptable.

For dessert we got the small sampler of pastries and a pear and poppy seed crumble. The sampler was a good choice because we got a wee taste of several different flavors like lemon curd and hazelnut.

And I learned an important life lesson: I do not like poppy seeds. I’m fine with them sprinkled on a bagel but when they’re wet and slathered en masse on a baked good they taste like the smell of shower mold. Not a fan. Moomins got to eat 90% of this.

Next entry: The end of the Art of Vienna and on to the Art of Krakow.