Archive for March, 2010

Budapest and Prague – Part 2.

Wednesday, March 31st, 2010

Continuing with Budapest. It is located in Hungary, which is unique because the Hungarian language is unrelated to any other language on Earth. You know how French and Spanish and Italian all grew out of Latin, and all the Norse languages and English all grew out of a Germanic tongue? Hungarian is aaaaaall alone. This drove my mom crazy. She speaks four languages fluently and five not fluently, and she couldn’t pull from any of them to figure out what anyone was saying. Here’s an example. Except for the bottom word, which is clearly a modification of the word “sandwiches”, all the other words are totally indecipherable.

This building is kind of special because apparently Hungary has a ceramics factory that was very big during the turn of the century. Szolnay made the ceramic tiles for the roofs mentioned previously. They were also known for having a particular iridescent glaze they called Eosin. And this building is the only example I saw with Eosin on it.

It also had completely deranged-looking fish holding up the balconies.

Two totally unrelated-to-anything-else things I saw in or near the Danube River: One, a bus that also goes in the water, which was just disconcerting-looking. I kept wanting to call for help, “There’s a bus in the river! Save the women and children!”  Two, a cute bit of graffiti on a pylon near the water.

We saw one of the finest sights Budapest has to offer, and it was Jewish, which is unusual. Judaism is not known for having rockin’ awesome art or architecture. But the Budapest Synagogue is pretty terrific. It’s an excellent example of Moorish architecture.

One of the three days I was in Budapest, we went off on a little jaunt to the neighboring villages. One of the villages we visited was a castle on a hill. It was charming and there was a beautiful view and all that, but the two things that really caught my fancy were the collection of medieval weapons:

And the delightful taxidermy collection of local fauna. As a child, I read a lot of Asterix and Obelix, which is a French comic series taking place in Roman-era Gaul, and the characters eat a great deal of wild boar. So I felt obligated to take this picture.

And because I love owls so very much, I took a picture of these little fellas.

There were people in there dusting up. I assumed it must be the Annual Clean the Dead Things Day at the castle.

After the castle, we toddled off to an adorable picturesque village. It was seriously photogenic.

The village housed several marzipan stores, and my mother and I stopped at one for cake and Viennese coffee. I wanted to buy some marzipan creatures for my friends back home, and they had charming bunnies and kitties and hippos, but if you bought the white elephant, you could sign the giant white fiberglass elephant near the door. That sealed the deal for me. I bought several little white elephants and they handed me a Sharpie. So if you go to some cute little village outside of Budapest and they have a marzipan store with a large fiberglass elephant near the door, look for my signature on the rump.

On our last day in Budapest, my mother and I decided to try the spa. Budapest is known for having thermal springs, so there are several spas in the city. I went to the one near the zoo. The Budapest Zoo is a marvelous semi-Art Nouveau zoo inside a park that totally reminded me of the Central Park Zoo. This is the entrance.

And this is one of the panels of the fence. I think that’s supposed to be a stag.

Across the street is the spa. It is Baroque and yellow and ornate and I just loved it.

There is a enormous central court with three large pools filled with warm chlorinated water, like a public pool, but so much more cool. There were fountains and jets that shot up from underneath and from the side – it was swell, I tell you.

But clearly these were regular chlorinated pools. I walked into one of the giant yellow buildings and caught a whiff of egg and burnt ash and I knew I was in the presence of the healing waters I sought out. Here is a list of the healthful mineral properties, in case you are interested.

And the thermal baths were positively Roman-looking. People were soaking, people were doing Sudoku puzzles, people were holding business meetings in the pools. It was amazing. I had never experienced a culture like this before. I have been meaning to go to the Russian baths in Brighton Beach, and I imagine they must be something like this.

Okay, I think that covers all of Budapest. Tomorrow we delve into Prague.

Budapest and Prague – Part 1.

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010

I went to Budapest for three days and Prague for six days, and it was the one of the best vacations ever. I’m going to cover a great deal of what I saw there, and I want to warn you ahead of time, it’s going to be very architecture-heavy, so if you’re not a huge architecture fan, perhaps this would be an excellent week to go do something else, you know, take care of some last minute taxes, or refinish your boat, something like that. With that said, on with the recap!

Budapest, the capital of Hungary, is actually two cities, Buda and Pest, that are separated by the Danube River. It is a very photogenic city and wasn’t really messed up by copious amounts of crappity Communist apartment complexes and the like. Here’s a nice shot from the top of a hill. See that building on the left? We’re going to get more into detail of that one later.

This is a picture from a similar spot. What’s cool about this shot is that in the foreground, you can see the unique ceramic tile roofs one finds in Budapest. In the background you can see the Parliament building, which was built in the high-gothic style exactly like the Parliament building in London. Although Gothic was from the 12th century to the 16th century, both Parliaments were built in the 1800s. The way you can tell the difference is London has Big Ben, and the Budapest Parliament has a large central dome. You can see a bit of it there.

I loved the look of Budapest. There were a lot of Baroque* houses that were slightly worse-for-wear, it made it look like a fairy book to me, or maybe something out of Harry Potter.

Here’s a combination of baroque and tile roof. The thing in the foreground is a pillar in the center of a small square done in classic baroque style. I can always tell baroque because there’s a whole lotta clouds and cherubs and more clouds and then some gold and silver if possible and maybe an church organ stuffed in there. “Restraint” is not really a baroque thing. Also, you can clearly see the neato tile roof on the church in the background.

After WWII, Budapest went into a flurry of repairs to get the buildings back into some kind of shape. They did leave one building in terrible condition as a reminder of the way the city looked after being bombed and shot at. You can really appreciate how mangled it looks. Also take into consideration there was another floor above the ones you see that was completely demolished in an air attack.

One of the things I love about Europe is that it’s like perpetual RenFaire there, all the time. It was more obvious in Prague, but Budapest had it going on as well. One of my favorite moments of the trip was seeing:
– a man with male patterned baldness and dreadlocks simultaneously
– in medieval garb
– reading the paper
– with a hawk and an eagle sitting next to him.
It was such a weird grouping of things, I had to take a picture. One cannot make these things up.

So, the building I mentioned earlier. My favorite period of design has to be Art Nouveau (also known as Jugendstil, Secession or Liberty), which was a very short international style from 1890 to 1905. The reason I like it so much is because it incorporated a great deal of the patterns and formations one finds in nature and, if done well, has a tension to it like a rubber band or a whip. It is often done in a way I am not terribly fond of, with lots of morose-looking women in togas draped over things like ragdoll cats. But when it’s done in a simple, clean non-excessive manner, it can’t be beat. And the exterior of this building in Budapest, the Four Seasons hotel, is one of the finest examples of this I’ve ever seen. The combination of the matte stone and the occasional touches of gold is perfect.

One of the nice things that Budapest is doing to make themselves more cosmopolitan is to light up their city á la Paris from dusk until midnight. I took this picture right next to a large monument called Liberty.

This is the Liberty monument. I can’t tell you much about it because the entire time the guide was talking, I was freaking out with delight because BATS! There were bats all around! Eating moths! Wheee! So I’m sure this is a very important site with a great deal of significance, but I can’t tell you anything about it. Bats!

I took a night boat ride down the Danube and saw some lovely lit-up sites. I took a sweet picture of the famous Chain Bridge from the shore – look at the cute couple on the park bench.

There’s my Four Seasons hotel at night. Sigh.

And here’s the Parliament. You can truly appreciate the dome the way it has been illuminated.

This is a Greek Orthodox church. You see how it only has one tower? The other one was destroyed by a bombing in the war. The church didn’t have money to repair it, and by the time the money had been raised, everyone was used to only having one tower. So that’s how the church remains.

This is the Freedom Bridge. It’s a nice contrast to the equally lovely Chain Bridge.

Lest you think that Budapest is only old buildings, there is quite a bit of good modern architecture. Here’s an example.

Tomorrow, more of Budapest and maybe we get started on Prague.

*”And if it’s not Baroque, don’t fix it! A ha ha, ha ha!” I quoted this, oh, about a million times on this trip.

Chaaaaaaarts!

Tuesday, March 16th, 2010

I just saw some killer charts on and around the internet, let’s take a look.

This is a rather ingenious chart of the body’s systems shown like London’s subway map. The only problem I have with it is that I immediately assumed the urinary part would be yellow, yes? That seems intuitive. And yet, it is not.

Here is something that extremely funny to me, and maybe after I explain it, it will be funny to you as well. We recently did a big ole presentation for a potential client, and the fancy-schmancy award-winning graphic designer guy designed the posters, which looked like this:

(I pixelated some stuff because I don’t know if it’s proprietary or not.)

I thought is was a lovely design, very creative and fresh. Then, I saw this:

And I laughed and laughed and laughed, because apparently everyone is designing their charts like this, I just didn’t know. Not creative, not fresh, standard. Ha ha ha! I’m still the only one finding this funny, huh? Oh well.

Countdown to Prague – five days and counting.

Monday, March 15th, 2010

On Friday, I leave for nine days to go to Prague and Budapest, and as is my way, I will not be checking my emails or Facebook or anything of that ilk. But when I get back, I will have so many pictures of spectacularness! It will be fabulous! You should probably brace yourself now.

I’ve been watching movies.

Sunday, March 14th, 2010

I haven’t been watching movies because of the Oscars, mind you. Last year’s Oscar-nominee-watching binge taught me never to do that again. I think one of the requirements to be nominated for Best Picture is to be so depressing you want to kill myself when it’s over (The Reader, anyone? Can I sprinkle some Slumdog Millionaire on that for you?). So this year, I decided I would only watch movies I wanted to. In the process I did end up seeing some Best Picture contenders (Avatar, Up), but only because I was interested in what the film had to say. I’ve just recently seen a whole bunch of films – Braveheart (yeah, I know, I don’t know why I didn’t get around to it before), District 9 and The Hurt Locker. I’m now watching Inglorious Basterds because Christoph Waltz is so dreamy. I love a multilingual man in uniform, even if that uniform is a baddie uniform, with lightning bolts and swastikas and skulls on them. I’m not picky.

Braveheart
1. A few things: I could not get past the fluffy mullets with the wee braidlets in them. I don’t care how much of a barbarian you are, if you look like a combination of a shaggy dog and an eight-year-old girl, you can talk about battle and freedom and fling all the large rocks you want, I’m not going to take you seriously.
2. How did I not notice how freakin’ attractive Mel Gibson was? Aye and begorrah, those blue eyes. I could almost overlook the Where The Wild Things Are hair. Almost.
3. I loved when the Irish and Scottish met up on the battlefield. That’s probably my favorite moment in the film.
4. Did everyone not love The Man Who Could Not Be Killed? He was the older fellah, Hamish’s father? At one point there was an arrow in his chestal regions, where I believe many people keep their vital organs, which would cause those people to die, but not him, this Scottish Rasputin. He then had his hand chopped off with an axe, but that didn’t slow him down. Finally, after a battle sequence where I think he was whacked in the midsection with a sword, finally, later that night, he died. He totally reminded me of Monty Python’s Black Knight (“‘Tis but a scratch!” “A scratch? Your arm’s off!” “No, it isn’t!” “Well, what’s that then?” “I’ve had worse.”) By the way, you lose a lot of coolness points in life for yelling out Monty Python lines throughout the whole of Braveheart, like I did. (“There’s some lovely mud over ‘ere!”) Especially during the scenes with the English king and his femme homosexual son. I basically quoted this whole scene.
5. Remember that glorious night a few years ago, when Mel had a few too many and got a DUI? When he called the lady cop something resembling “Honey Mammaries,” and he said the Jews caused all the wars in the world? I made Cricket laugh when the movie was over and I yelled at the screen, “Hey, Mel, see this war between Scotland and England? In 1200 A.D.? How’d we cause this one, Mel? HUH? Tell me, I’d love to hear that.”
Final feelings: Braveheart was a sword-clanging disemboweling good time. I don’t think it’s my favorite movie of all time by any means, but it was certainly worth seeing. Too many battle sequences for my taste.

District 9
South Africa gettin’ all apartheid on aliens. I am not kidding. That’s the plot. I am 100% biased in favor of this film, simply because I love love LOVE the accents. My large portion of my family lives in South Africa and my parents lived in Johannesburg for a year and a half, so I have a close attachment to the culture and the people. So as soon as this film started, I was a happy camper. It did fill the criteria for Best Picture because it had a very sad ending. And I find any film that has copious amounts of trash and no plants makes me sad (I had a real problem with WALL-E). Final feelings: loved the accents, didn’t like the trash, mega-sad ending.

The Hurt Locker
DUSTIEST MOVIE EVER. Remember how I was a-bitchin’ and a-moaning about all the bright colors in Avatar? I take that back. Waaaay back. I wanted to start introductions between this film and color (“Hi. Hurt Locker? Meet my friends, Red, Blue and Green. Why don’t you all take off your shoes and get comfortable, hmmmm?”) Also, ain’t no dames in this picture neither. I don’t know if I would make it Best Picture myself, but it was definitely tension-filled. These army guys are in Iraq defusing bombs, so there’s a ton of shots where someone slooooooowly reaches for a wire, and geeeeeeently moves a triggery bit, and there you are chewing your hands off at the wrists. Oh, and here’s a gigantor spoiler, so don’t read this if you plan to see the film:

:::SPOILER::: There were three actors in this film that I was really psyched to see: Guy Pierce (“Priscilla, Qwayne of the Desitt!”), the guy who played the bloodless serial killer on the first season of Dexter, and Ralph Fiennes. RALPH, people. And guess what? They all die really quickly in their various scenes. They barely get five lines out before – poof! – they go from a solid to a fine mist due to an IED going off right next to them, or a sniper picks them off. Why do you get awesome actors in your film and then give then nothing fun to do, and also kill them? It makes no sense to me. :::SPOILER:::

When I’m done with Inglorious Basterds, I will let you know how I feel about it.

Addendum: I’m done with it. Was there a point to that film? Aside from Christoph Waltz (dreamy), it was kind of… pointless. I don’t think I like Quentin Tarantino’s writing style very much. I didn’t much care for Pulp Fiction, and from what I know about Reservoir Dogs, I wouldn’t like that much either.

(Insert Darth Vader breathing sounds)

Tuesday, March 9th, 2010

So I had my apnea sleep study done at the local hospital, and that was… a thing I did. It was pretty awful, frankly – not painful or anything, but extemely not-comfortable. I arrived and the nice nurse lady told me to change into my jammies and then escorted me to a sleeping room. Then the nice lady had me run wires down my pants and wrapped two very tight elastic bands around me, one around my bosomy region and one around my waist. After that there was the attaching of the fifteen or so metal receiver things that looked like snaps to my head, neck and shoulders. I would like to inform you that they use a combination of 3M tape (more on that later) and some kind of grout for humans. Human caulk. Vaseline plays a role in there too, I’m not sure what. After I was all wired up, the nice lady plugged me into a box and attached that box to a machine in the bedside table. Oooh, let’s not forget the snore monitor that when in my nose and behind my ears and the finger cuff with the insanely short cord. You ready for the money shot? Here it is.

sleep-apnea

When I was fully attached to the bedside table by no less than three cables, the nice lady told me I couldn’t cover myself with any sheets or anything, and I had to lay on my back all night. In complete darkness and silence. I normally sleep with the TV or radio on, so this is not a nice happy soothing scenario for me. After what seemed like eons, I decided TO HECK with the rules, I’m rolling over (I normally sleep on my stomach). Just for your future information, rolling over with what feels like a bomb strapped to your body is more difficult than you would think. It is a slow, tedious process that ends with you saying to yourself, “Well, okay, that’s not much better.” I imagine I looked like a lethargic kraken. Everything is pointy and tangledy and your hair gets slowly knotted up in your breathing apparatus. After I had completed this Herculean task, I realized I had to use the bathroom. And that I was tethered to the bedside table. So I had to be unhooked by the nice lady and rehooked upon my return. And then the silence and the darkness and the lying-on-the-back continued. That was pretty much the whole night. I did eventually fall asleep, what I call “the sleep of the extremely tired person who has no other options”. At 5:45 a.m., the nice lady came in and removed the all the plugs and tubes and TAPE. The tape caused me to appreciate that we evolved from apes because along with the tape came off all those fine little hairs one has one’s body, similar to a gorilla. Also, did I mention what else the tape took off? A nice layer of skin. I layer of skin I was clearly still using. Hell of a way to wake up after a fitful night of rest at 6:00 in the morning. I wandered off into the burgeoning dawn like a zombie, my face a mix of wrinkles from the tubes and sticky from the glue, my hair clumped with spackle and Vaseline. My test results will be back in two weeks. We’ll see what the nice nurse lady has to say.

Addendum on March 16th: I officially have sleep apnea. Not life-threatening, but not good either. I am going to be fitted for a CPAP machine, and possibly later in my life I will have the inside of my nose surgically widened (it is crookedy and the passages are small). But first, CPAP machine.

Polymer Convention in Baltimore – Part 2.

Wednesday, March 3rd, 2010

I didn’t really see the possibilities in polymer clay before because most of the work out there is, for lack of a better work, clunky. There was nothing delicate, nothing precise and defined. And then I found Jeffrey Lloyd Dever. JLD is a renowned polymer artist. He’s in galleries. He’s in museums. He is my polymer hero.

150142-060906_big ajm_wp_Dever-1024x768 dever-pin-19 untitled2

I mean, look at this sculptural teapot, for crying out loud. How awesome is this thing?

NestledRepose2_L

It is also over $4,000. I don’t often use emoticons, but I will make an exception here. :(

One of the reasons I went to this convention was to study at the feet of the master. I consider myself able to speak fairly coherently, but when I met Jeffrey Lloyd Dever, I turned into a total three-year-old. (“HELLO. I CAME TO THIS CONVENTION BECAUSE I LOVE YOU.”) However, he seemed to be okay with that, and he gracefully dealt with my tendency to stare unblinkingly at him whenever he was around.* But the best thing was that JLD had a few pieces for sale. Granted, they were pricey, but not atrociously so. And… I bought one. I totally did! It’s a little piece. It’s supposed to be worn as a pin, but I intend to get a small shadowbox and hang it on the wall. I loves it so very much. It’s like owning an original da Vinci for me. Here’s a crappity picture I took of it.

pin

*What? He might do something creative and genius and I would miss it. Must… maintain… constant… eye contact…

Polymer convention in Baltimore – Part 1.

Wednesday, March 3rd, 2010

I bet you thought I was dead, didn’t you? Well, I wasn’t! I was at a convention in Baltimore, my very first convention about anything. It was for polymer clay. As you may or may not know, I have taken an interest in polymer clay lately because I see buckets of potential in it. I wrote a whole entry on it previously. The convention was lovely, I must say. Everyone was really nice and informative and I learned all kinds of new techniques and what the material is capable of, etc.. I took a whole mess of notes. Unfortunately from a picture-taking angle, we didn’t actually make anything. We just learned about making things. So almost all of my classes looked like this:

meeting

And we were not allowed to take pictures in the gallery or exhibition hall, so I have no cool pictures of the convention to share with you. However, I am able to show you some pictures of the hotel we were in. It was so very pretty. It’s called the Tremont Grand on St. Paul Street in Baltimore. It was built as a Masonic Hall in 18-something-something, and the architecture is impressive. It’s not how I would decorate my house, but it is definitely stunning.

hotel5 hotel2 hotel3 hotel4 hotel1

And the architecture in Baltimore itself, oh, it is something else. The many crack-addled people sauntering around the neighborhood the hotel was located in (anybody see The Wire? Yeah, it was like that), even they looked beautiful against the turrets and bay windows and columns. It’s just beautiful. Here’s a building that caught my eye. I wouldn’t mind living there, not one bit.

baltimore1

And here’s a building from the Art Deco period with owls (must I remind you of my feelings for owls?), but more importantly, angry sparrows! And the city’s mascot, the crab!

baltimore3 baltimore2

Tomorrow I will tell you of my exciting Baltimore convention purchase.