Archive for the ‘Tasty ‘n’ Delicious’ Category

Mexico 2019 Part 5.

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2020

Sorry for the delay. Coronavirus, right? I lost someone very close to the ‘Rona so we all had to deal with that. But I have returned! We’re going to talk about Diego Rivera murals today. But first, other food-related items.

Food. Beautiful food. You’re in trouble if you don’t like beans and corn and peppers and tomatoes but otherwise you’ll be fine. There was this one restaurant near our AirBnB, oh my God, so good. So. Good. I would have eaten there every night.

Look at that plating. Delicious.

Bonus – the restaurant serves the worms I referenced in the last post.

Other breakfast photos. I ate salad and nothing happened. Eat the salads. Definitely drink the fresh-squeezed juice.

One of the cafes had a valiant attempt at wall decor. There was a line painting of a couple sharing hot beverages and, I imagine, canoodling romantically. What it looks like is that they are having the most intense staring contest, so intense that their foreheads are pressed to each other.

Okay, Diego Rivera murals. Now, while Mexico didn’t have a lot of slavery it did have indentured servitude. Families would work on farms and get paid but they were not paid with money, they were paid with slips of paper to use at the stores. The problem with that is that the bosses owned all the stores were the papers were valid so they could charge whatever they wanted. Plus the farm workers were not allowed to read (90% of the population was illiterate) so the painted murals were extremely important in teaching the people the history of the country. This oppression of those not-slaves-but-kinda-slaves led to the Mexican Revolution of 1910.

Diego’s early work had a slightly different style but very similar thematic material. A lot of “Day In The Life” of the typical Mexican citizen.

Rivera really disliked the Spanish coming to Mexico and taking over, basically obliterating the religion and culture of the existing Aztecs and Zapotecs. This panel depicting the revolution shows the rich, the church (Rivera was an atheist and a communist) and those land owners as dolls and puppets.

Rivera left a lot of his work up to interpretation. The skulls of the same people as above – rich, church, landowners – are they dead, killed by the native and / or poor people? Do they represent grim reaper-esque characters?

His more famous murals are probably the ones in the House of Parliament. There’s the giant one that covers the stairwell but there also are individual murals surrounding the cloister. I’ve covered these pieces on my last trip but I have additional information I accrued.

Underneath the colored part of the mural was a smaller section painted to resemble carved stone showing ancient peoples doing their typical activities.

This one shows their keen understanding of astronomy.

This one shows how belts other kinds of weaving was done. I saw weavers using this exact technique, it is still popular in this day. Listen, if it works it works.

A huge part of understanding these people are the codexes. A codex is a ancient manuscript in book form. Pictographs, similar to hieroglyphics, we used. When the Spanish arrived they destroyed most of the codexes but about four remained and they are the link to how life was like. Here are people making a codex.

Here is an excellent representation of those man-made islands that were in the lake where Mexico City is now. They would grow crops on the islands.

I believe this represents an important, perhaps a holy, day. You can see the leader being carried in with a sack that most likely contained a person for sacrifice. In the upper left you can see a game being played in some kind of stadium and in the upper right you can see people dressed as birds swinging around a maypole by their feet which seems like a great way to break all the blood vessels in your eye but what do I know.

Okay, so the giant mural that covers the entire stairwell is AWASH in symbolism but I can only remember bits and pieces so that’s what you’re going to get. Here we go.

The eagle in the middle, the symbol of Mexico, why does that snake look so sloppy? One can see the skill level in the other parts of the painting. Well, it turns out that is taken from old indigenous imagery. And the snake wasn’t a snake it was water representing a river that forks at the end.

Now, as you can imagine, there is no way the Spanish could defeat everyone already living in Mexico so they decided to only conquer the Aztecs and Zapotecs. Those groups had other tribes who hated them, so the Spanish convinced those tribes to fight with them and that’s how they won. In this section you can see two tribal members battling each other.

Here is a rubber tree being tapped. There is a tree that secretes the material originally used in chewing gum called chicle. It looks exactly like that. Nowadays they use vinyl.

The leader of Mexico during the Revolution was a man called Porfirio Diaz. He’s somewhere in that mural. He’s all over the place.

I kept internally giggling when I saw or heard his name because there’s a disease called porphyria where your pee turns purple. Couldn’t stop thinking about that.

 

Next posting: More murals.

Mexico 2019 Part 4.

Thursday, March 12th, 2020

More city center stuff! Before we delve into that, let’s look at a sign that made me feel a variety of emotions simultaneously – rage, despair, confusion, sadness, other ones. Here it is.

Now I spend my entire day creating signage like this so I have trained my eye to catch bad choices. Therefore the epic tragedy of this sign might not be immediately obvious to you. That’s why I made these helpful notes to bring you into my world of sorrow.

Ughhh. I know there are amazing designers in the country, go find one and rectify this.

I also wanted to show you the symbol of Mexico because it pops up periodically. You can see it on the flag. It’s an eagle holding a snake in its claw on top of a cactus with a indigenous thing under the cactus. I’m not being disrespectful. I asked numerous times what the thing was. It looks kind of like a pillow with thick twig branches. No one could tell me except that it was part of the pre-Hispanic era.

I looked on Wikipedia. It says the symbols are:
The eagle, in a combative stance
The snake, held by a talon and the beak of the eagle
The nopal on which the eagle stands; The nopal bears some of its fruits (tunas)
The pedestal, on which the nopal grows, immersed in the Aztec symbol for water
Oak and laurel leaves encircling the eagle cluster; tied together with a ribbon with the Mexican flag’s colors

Okay, so that’s more information than I had before. I still want to get clarification on the details but that’s good for now. Related: Since our tour ended near sunset I got to watch the folding of the giant flag.

CHARCH! We went to the cathedral. Unfortunately, like most places of conquest the cathedral was built on the site of the previous religion’s destroyed house of worship. These were the original steps.

Surprise: The churches and cathedrals, despite being build during the Baroque period which is the most gaudy period in ever, are surprisingly tasteful. I mean there are splashes of WayTooMuch but the whole interior is not bad. The only gold-encrusted excessiveness was the organ and the altar. The organ is very cool, it has organ tubes sticking directly out and it’s double-sided.

Here’s the altar. It’s very Baroque.

But the rest, lovely. Clean. Simple.

I saw a pendulum in the middle of the aisle. I’ve seen those before and they’re usually to show the rotation of the earth throughout the year but this one is different. Since the city is slowly sinking into the mud this one shows how much the cathedral is shifting.

The city has a lot of tilting, a lot of sagging. Near the end of the tour we saw a two buildings where they needed to spackle between them because they were ever so slowly sliding away from each other.

Outside the cathedral is the main square. The cathedral is a major center of Catholicism. It may seem obvious but it’s important. Directly in front of the cathedral were people sitting in front of blankets. I assumed they were selling trinkets but no, they had herbs and candles and other objects. And they were practicing pagan rituals taught down throughout the generations from their ancestors. I heard a sound that concerned me, it sounded like a man AGGRESSIVELY vomiting but it was one of the shamans doing a bark / growl combo. He was cleansing a woman of demons because she was possessed. This is real. Did I mention this was happening in front of the cathedral? And is that a child’s skull on that blanket? It was at that time that I left. I did not need that answered.

Time for candy and snacks. We went to a ye olde candy shop that sold traditional Mexican sweets. The interior and signage is intact and unchanged.

The guide Pau pointed out one particular snack, a brick of seeds. She said:

“You know, this was banned when the Spanish got here.”

Me: “?”

Pau: “It is amaranth held together with honey.”

Me: “Sounds nice.”

Pau: “But it used to be held together with human blood.”

Me: “Ok, there it is.”

After that we went past the Palacio de Bellas Artes. It looks like a glorious Europen turn of the century building.

But if you get up close there are smatterings of Mexican imagery. Like the man wearing the jaguar head and the snakes around the doorway.

See? If you’re not looking you could totally miss it.

There were a few other things we saw that were notable. One is the inability of the Mexicans to carve lions in the 1500 – 1600s. They had jaguars. They did great jaguars. Imagine a jaguar with a fluffy mane, right? Nope. Janky dog-monkeys for days.

Coming up next: Murals and craftsmen.

Mexico 2019 Part 3.

Friday, February 21st, 2020

I apologize for the tardiness between posts. My whole family thought my dad was DYING. We were doing the whole bedside vigil thing at the hospital which, as you can imagine, is very time-consuming. Over time we settled on Dying?? and then it turned into straight-up Not Dying and now he’s in a elderly care facility. I still split my time between working and helping my mom and there was no blogging. But now that he’s in a home and stable I can return to my regular activities. I would like to share my favorite picture from this whole ordeal and it’s when they transferred my dad from the hospital to the home.

Uhhh, that doesn’t look right, with the seat belts all higglety-pigglety like that. What is he, Hannibal Lecter? I sent the photo to Cricket who has locked many a person onto a stretcher in the same way and he simply wrote back “All of that is wrong.” I started laughing and couldn’t stop while I took this picture. Look at my father’s face. His expression says “Is this mockery absolutely necessary?” (It was.)

Before we get back to Mexico proper let’s look at some rando pics I have and wish to share.

Art Nouveau stained glass.

Extremely large cactus. The Moomins for scale.

Coffee maker. I had them explain how it works. You put water in the golden container on the right and light the little flame underneath it. The water boils and goes through the tube into the glass container with the coffee grounds in it. Then the flame is extinguished and the vacuum created causes the now coffee-infused water back into the golden container. You open that wee spigot in the front and you’ve got your coffee. I think it’s pretty cool.

Okay, onto the actual topics of the day. We went on a tour of the main part of Mexico City in the morning and then a tour of the murals in the same area. First we explored the center of the city. The guide (who’s name was Pau, she was awesome) said if we take one thing away from this tour it is “Don’t build your city on a lake.” There was originally an island in the center and then the island-dwellers made proto-islands all around that to grow crops and then they became legit islands and then the lake was drained and now everything is on squishy ground and is sinking down in the most inconvenient way. This is a major church in the middle of the city.

The property of the church is a solid four feet below the street level because it is heading on down and they can’t lift it up, churches are very heavy. So now there are stairs and that’s just how it is.

This is the city square. It is the third largest city square in the world: First there’s the one in Moscow, then Tiananmen Square in China and this one.

Off to one side was a section where someone was digging to create a structure and oh look it’s an archeology site and now we can’t dig anymore.

It was very cool. There was a snake, possibly a feathered serpent:

But the thing that I found the most helpful was a 3D map that showed all the islands that the original dwellers made to grow crops.

Hospital! Pau took us to a hospital, the most mundane-looking hospital you can imagine. If I had to describe it I would use the words “unexceptional and satisfactory.” Here’s a picture of a hallway.

I couldn’t fathom why we were there until Pau took us inside. Turns out the bleh hospital was built around a colonial hospital and that was secret-y and beautiful.

You can see a bit of the present hospital built around this courtyard.

Here’s the entry on Wikipedia about the history of this hospital.

The Church and Hospital are supposedly located at the spot where Hernán Cortés and Moctezuma II met for the first time in 1519, which was then the beginning of the causeway leading to Iztapalapa. Cortés ordered the hospital built to tend to Aztec soldiers wounded fighting with the Spanish.

In his last will, Cortés states that he wanted the hospital to be built for the sons of the Aztec warriors who had perished in battle during the Conquest of Tenochtitlan. This was not an institution for wounded Spanish soldiers.

In 1646, the hospital was the site of the first autopsies performed on the American continent, performed to teach anatomy to medical students of the Royal and Pontifical University of Mexico. In 1715, the hospital published the Regia Academia Mariana Practica Medica to promote more professional practices in the field of medicine in New Spain. The building today continues to function as a hospital.

On the second level a class was being taught to the hospital staff. Did you know nurses still wear those WWII origami hats? I did not.

I was delighted to see that someone built anatomy models out of clay as opposed to buying fancy plastic ones. Crafts! For science!

Now, I came with The Moomins to Mexico City to see the murals by all the famous artists (there will be a post about them later). I am ashamed to say my favorite murals were the ones surrounding the outer edge of this courtyard painted in the 1970s by no one of note. I thought they were so smooth and magical, like a combination of Rousseau and Where The Wild Things Are. I found a photo of the panel representing the meeting of Cortés and Moctezuma.

The Wikipedia entry says that the strip above the mural is original from the 1600s and I’d like to believe that, but Wikipedia also says these murals were painted by the famous Mexican artist Orozco and that is definitely wrong. This is the mural.

And this is a typical example of Orozco’s work.

Yeah, no. I don’t care who you are, you can see that. So the entire second floor has this mural representing the typical life of  pre-Colonial and a bit of post-Colonial societies. There is symbolism everywhere. For example, the reason the little kid is holding a bunny near the moon is because the bunny represents the moon. I found that so cool because Japan has the same folklore. It’s amazing how distant cultures have the same mythologies.

This is a wedding. The bride and groom tied their garments together during the ceremony which Mexicans still do but on a smaller scale like tying handkerchiefs together. The elders on either side are whispering wisdom to each other and those marks coming out of their mouths represent talking. It’s so cool that they look like our speech bubbles but the pictograms were created hundreds of years ago and were translated when the Aztec Codexes were found. People have always been people.

This panel represents magic and occurrences that foretold the future. That’s what the comet represents as well as the conjoined twin.

In addition to corn, squash and beans, the food staples of the indigenous people, insects were and are a big part of the diet (as mentioned in an earlier post). The two big edible bug groups are grasshoppers and maguey worms. The woman is covered in maguey worms and no one knows what the artist was going for but the common theory is that she is the spirit and source of the vital protein.

Once outside again we saw a cornerstone of a Spanish building. When Cortés ‘n’ Crew arrived they wanted to convert everyone to Catholicism so the Spanish knocked down all the existing temples and scattered the stones so the temples could not be reassembled. After a substantial amount of time Catholicism was the official religion and the Spanish could ease up on the oppression of the local belief system. Someone found this cool stone and used it as the cornerstone, probably not realizing it is the head of the most important god of the original Mexicans, Quetzalcoatl the Feathered Serpent.

Coming up next: More Mexico City tour with Cathedral.

Mexico 2019 Part 2.

Tuesday, January 21st, 2020

We’re going to talk about Gods and Death, big day, but first – eatin’ bugs.

Mexico is not afraid to talk about their penchant for insect consumption and that’s how we stumbled on this exhibition:

What enticed us in were the very large wicker ants gracing the foyer and balcony.

The actual exhibit had photos of local insects with recipes which I neglected to copy down so now we will never know the proper way to prepare moth stew or whatever.

And I was delighted by the print of an anthropomorphic beetle reading an important document to a rapt audience of winged critters.

Unrelated but still on the topic of food: I had no idea that Lebanese cuisine had such an influence in Mexico. But I saw shwarma stands all over the place.

I learned that shwarma is a Lebanese influence. Mexico has a whole bunch of different influences. From Wikipedia:

During the 19th century, Mexico experienced an influx of various immigrants, including French, Lebanese, German, Chinese and Italian, which have had some effect on the food. During the French intervention in Mexico, French food became popular with the upper classes. An influence on these new trends came from chef Tudor, who was brought to Mexico by the Emperor Maximilian of Habsburg. One lasting evidence of this is the variety of breads and sweet breads, such as bolillos, conchas and much more, which can be found in Mexican bakeries. The Germans brought beer brewing techniques and the Chinese added their cuisine to certain areas of the country. This led to Mexico characterizing its cuisine more by its relation to popular traditions rather than on particular cooking techniques.

Okay, on to the main topic. Day 1 started with a trip to the Anthropological Museum. It is a totally awesome museum, especially in layout. There’s an big open middle plaza between all the buildings that make up the museum. The plaza is covered by cement and it’s supported by an enormous pillar with indigenous symbols. Bonus: It’s also a fountain. Like a giant tree surrounded by a waterfall. It’s great. This is my picture and it’s crappy. However you can get a sense of scale. That small man with his arms up at the bottom? That’s Cricket and he’s 6’2″.

Here are some better pics I found on the web.

As we entered the first exhibition hall we were greeted by this sculpture.

And this display of a necklace made from human teeth.

I was like “Oh, you’re not going to warm me up with an icebreaker? We’re gonna go right into it? Alright, okay.”

I saw this article when I got home and I understood it. Crystal clear. The Pre-Columbian people were not cute. They would eat your children and make a tiara of the leftover phalanges if they felt like it.

One of the best displays was the outdoor temples. Now remember, we’re in the middle of a city with limited space so whoever designed this did a kickass job. The temples are nestled in thick foliage and you really couldn’t hear the cars even though you were right next to the street.

I saw of my favorite exhibition items, like a mummlet (what I call a mummy that’s in the crouching position, bonus points if they’re stuffed in a ceramic urn).

A selection of shrines with offerings.

Some excellent filigree work done with gold.

Clarification of filigree and why it’s so impressive.

That’s tough to do today with modern tools, imagine how difficult it was to do way back then.

Here’s a supremely janky looking snail.

A screaming badger.

This smiling… frog, maybe? We’ll go frog.

There was a recreation of mural (because the original is some cave in the mountains) and I loved how the brown and black elements overlapped and interacted with each other.

There were some tombs with their contents.

What appeared to be a quaint little KKK meeting rendered in clay.

When I first saw this pair of earrings I immediately went “Nazi!! Nazi earrings!!” but when I got closer I realized my error. From farther away they distinctly resemble something Fuhrer-y.

The cafe downstairs had very nice offerings and if I go back I want to get the salad with the grasshoppers.

And I liked the way you donated to the museum. You dropped coins in the mouth of the snake and they zippered their way down to the bottom. Good design.

Vienna and Krakow, Part 11 and done.

Friday, 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 5.

Sunday, 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.

Thursday, 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.

Vienna and Krakow, Part 3.

Wednesday, March 21st, 2018

The Moomins and I are expert travelers. Without making an effort we managed to see seven museums in five days. If we had tried and pulled ourselves out of bed before 10:00am we probably could have done far more but seven isn’t too shabby. One of those museums was The Belvedere. Here’s Wikipedia’s description of it:

The Belvedere is a historic building complex in Vienna, Austria, consisting of two Baroque palaces (the Upper and Lower Belvedere), the Orangery, and the Palace Stables. The buildings are set in a Baroque park landscape in the third district of the city, on the south-eastern edge of its centre. It houses the Belvedere museum. The grounds are set on a gentle gradient and include decorative tiered fountains and cascades, Baroque sculptures, and majestic wrought iron gates. The Baroque palace complex was built as a summer residence for Prince Eugene of Savoy.

It’s a beautiful building and I’m sure the gardens are great in the summer, but I went there during Frozen Mud Season so yeah, gardens not so great. Here are my pics of the exterior.

I love how the sphinx has dirty boobies because people keep rubbing them. Never change, everybody.

Here’s a picture through a rainy window of the gardens and the city in the distance.

On the front lawn was a fun piece of modern art. It’s one of the best-named pieces I’ve ever seen. It’s called “Fat House” and it’s… a fat house. The only name more descriptive would be “Morbidly Obese Cottage.”

The inside of the Belvedere had lovely gallery spaces that were very very Baroque.

The only time I got miffed was when they put perfectly good paintings of guinea fowl a million miles above the doorway, as shown by this picture here. I can’t see the guinea fowl, guys! Provide a ladder please and thank you!

We went in the main entry hall and immediately noticed the pervasive scent of church incense. The Moomins and I were confused because there’s no church in there. We decided to start with the Medieval Art Wing and headed to that area and the smell got stronger. When we opened the door to the wing The Moomins and I were greeted by a sight we were wholly unprepared for.

Get ready.

In the entry hall to the Medieval exhibit, with no explanation whatsoever, was an oversized white sculpture of a woman on all fours using a broken shard of mirror to tweeze her mustache while wisps of church incense puffed out of her butthole.

I was mentally not equipped to research the reasoning for this at the time but I just went to the Belvedere website and this is what I found:

Larger than life, she kneels on a tabletop with her blouse pushed up. The only sign of her divinity is the frankincense emanating from an opening in her body. Unfazed by the viewer’s gaze, in an all too human manner she plucks a hair from her chin. The intimate nature of this representation is in diametrical opposition to typical depictions of Olympian gods. This is Hera by Ines Doujak.

I do not understand why this is a thing that is. Later on I was climbing the giant staircase and at the top I saw what I assumed were giant ceramic jars decorated with snakes. Nope! Those are supposed to be intestines. It was at this point I turned to Moomins and said, “I’m concerned about the curators of this museum. I think they’re trying to tell us something. Like their mom didn’t hug them enough, maybe. Or their pet was hit by a car and that is their primary childhood memory. There’s definitely some weird trauma they’re working through.”

There wasn’t only disturbing confusing modern art. There was also old art which can be disturbing and confusing in their own way, but it’s different. For example, one of the elements I love about paintings from around 1300 is the exquisite way fabric is rendered and how everything else looks terrible. I appreciate that they didn’t know how to do perspective so that looks janky as heck:

And the horses look like they’re on drugs and are vaguely humanoid:

And these farm animals appear to be plotting to kill that old man doing a poor job of hiding his Fifth Element head:

I fixed it to accurately portray what I think I’m seeing.

This was surprising. It’s a plague-ridden time, you would think there would be skulls all over for reference and the artists would be able to paint them accurately. You would be wrong.

There were a ton of other pieces of art from all different periods. The Belvedere is most famous for having “The Kiss” by Gustav Klimt but it’s not that amazing in person. I would recommend you go to the Neue Gallerie in New York City. That museum has “Woman in Gold” which I think is a far superior Klimt. I was very psyched to enter a room and bump into one of the paintings I studied in school, “Napoleon Lookin’ Hella Patriotic On A Horse” by Jacques-Louis David.

My favorite painting was a thoroughly non-famous one I just happened across. It’s an exceptionally well-rendered painting of four vultures. I really wanted to shove it under my shirt and take it home but it’s a large painting and I most likely would go to prison so my desires went unquenched.

And, of course, we had coffee and cake in their cafe. And it was magnificent.

Next entry: What else? More museums.

Vienna and Krakow, Part 2.

Tuesday, March 20th, 2018

Continuing with Vienna: I let The Moomins book our hotel. I have one rule about hotels, and that is I don’t want to share a bathroom. If I need to pee I’m not waiting. Private bathroom is a must. The Moomins took that and got us a room. Not a hotel room. A room. It was a good room, but we had to climb a flight of stairs and there was no breakfast or bellhops or free shampoo or ice machine. But it was also forty-five Euros a night and well-located so I think for the amount of time we were in Vienna (five days) that is perfectly fine. While our room had the depressing ambiance of a place two spies would meet to have their illicit and doomed love affair during the Cold War, it was toasty and comfy, the shower worked, there was a towel-warmer that did a stellar job of drying our freshly-washed socks, I would recommend it. Hotel Arpi. Check it out.

Before we get into one of my favorite moments of the trip, let’s look at some random bits that fit neatly into no category. I saw this eatery from the second level of a double-decker tourist bus.

Okay. If you’re going to have the majority of your signage in English I am going to assume all of your signage is in English. Therefore, if you write “abnormal gut” in the upper corner, I’m not going to think, “Oh, that means ‘abnormally good’ in German.” I’m going to think it has something to do with your food giving people IBS which is not a great selling point. A helpful hint from Auntie Jessica Who Works In Advertising.

And look at the level of concern about allergies on this menu. I saw this a few times and I was really impressed.

The reason I know so much about menus is because Vienna is a cafe culture and every single day The Moomins and I would stop in to a cafe and get tea or coffee and cake. There is no flavored coffee, but there is a myriad of ways for it to be served, and a big ingredient is whipped cream. It’s always served with a small glass of water as well. And sometimes a tiny cookie. They’re a classy bunch, the Viennese.

On to the focus. There is an enormous important church in the middle of town called Stephansdom and if you go to Vienna you are required to visit it. Here is Wikipedia’s description:

St. Stephen’s Cathedral is the mother church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Vienna and the seat of the Archbishop of Vienna, Christoph Cardinal Schönborn, OP. The current Romanesque and Gothic form of the cathedral, seen today in the Stephansplatz, was largely initiated by Duke Rudolf IV (1339–1365) and stands on the ruins of two earlier churches, the first a parish church consecrated in 1147. The most important religious building in Vienna, St. Stephen’s Cathedral has borne witness to many important events in Habsburg and Austrian history and has, with its multicolored tile roof, become one of the city’s most recognizable symbols.

It is extremely beautiful and the roof is pretty great.

Here’s a picture someone else took of the other side. More fancy tile work on the roof.

The inside is your standard major European cathedral filled with a hodge-podge of relics and art which is fine. Gorgeous, lofty, almost no original windows due to bombs dropping (boooooo). Here’s a video to give you a sense. However, around the corner maybe a block away was another church, Peterskirche, and that’s the one I want to discuss. It’s easily recognizable because of its large green dome.

The interior is a big round room and it’s the picture I used for the “stay tuned” post earlier.

 

I went there for a concert the second night I was there and I sat up in front on the left. For over an hour I sat up in front on the left. The significance of that will become more important later. I enjoyed the concert quite a bit (chamber music with Mozart, Beethoven and Brahms) but I kept getting distracted by the massive gold statue in front of me. I couldn’t take any pictures because it was dark but I found a photo online that gives you an idea. The sculpture in front of me glinting in the light was a representation of the Holy Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Ghost. The Son and Holy Ghost were fine but the Father, aside from having the Illuminati Triangle Halo which takes some getting used to, was holding a wand that looked EXACTLY like the Elder Wand from Harry Potter.

I mean, REALLY.

So that was amusing to me. The next day we found ourselves outside the church and we went in to see what it looked like in daylight. There was a service going on so I did my best to be respectful and quiet. That wasn’t a problem until I wandered up to near where I was sitting to try to take a photo of the wand. I noticed off to my side there was a big altar with someone’s painting on top and beneath that was… a skeleton dressed in full regalia covered in silver and glass jewels and doing what I can only describe as a sexy come-hither pose. “Hey ladies. There’s room in this ossuary for two.” *pat, pat, pat*

Oh. My God. I was sitting next to a jaunty skeleton for an hour and I didn’t know it??? It helps to know that there is a book on this, I book I own and covet and I had no expectations of seeing the Teutonic saints so happening upon one filled me with unbridled delight. Here’s the problem: services were going on and The Moomins is kind of deaf so I had no way to convey my joy. Bonus was the other guy on the other side in the same position but mirrored. Two! Two festive dead guys!

Next entry: More art and I think the Viennese museum curators need a hug.

Italian-American wedding. I was not ready.

Saturday, December 2nd, 2017

I feel like, having lived in the diverse tri-state area for the all of my life so far, I have been exposed to many different cultures and their customs. I had not, however, been to an upscale Italian-American wedding. It was… intense. I’ve been to upscale Jewish weddings and I thought they were lavish but I was WRONG and INCORRECT. Let me give you some backstory: the couple is from Staten Island (Italian-American Mecca #1) and New Jersey (Italian-American Mecca #2). I’m surprised when they walk around, this music doesn’t automatically play in the background and the smell of fresh pizza wafts through the air.

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

For the rest of this story I will give the bride and groom the pseudonyms JJ and Esteban to protect their identity. I went to the ceremony which was fine, standard Catholic ceremony, very sweet, the bride looked beautiful, parking in Hoboken was difficult, nothing out of the ordinary.

After that we drove into the wilds of New Jersey to the reception. Okay. I used to mock Esteban that his family made this commercial (pertinent part about halfway through with Scarlett Johannson):

http://www.nbc.com/saturday-night-live/video/marble-columns/n12141?snl=1

So imagine my unbridled glee with we pulled up to The One And Only Westmount Country Club (that’s its name).

Here’s a better picture I found on the internet.

Guys. If I had to sum up this place with one specific description, it would be “rainbow-cycling LED uplights.” It was on the outside of the building. It was in the trees. It was in the entry hall. It was in the floors of the reception area and in the chandeliers.

After walking under this glorious castle-like overhang I was greeted with glossy veined marble stairs with uplighting between every stair and fifty small chandeliers that changed color (you can see some of them in the back part of the picture). My friend Børkke had to pull me aside and remind me to behave myself because OMG.

There were attendants passing out drinks and hors d’oeuvres, all dressed in long, t-shirt material evening gowns and elbow-length black gloves. There was a stack of champagne glasses with small amounts of colored flavored syrup and the attendant would pour champagne into them.

There were plenty of snacks in the hallway – an assorted meat cart, an assorted cheese cart, a big plate of fruits, little snakkies, ladies bringing festive drinks around – so I thought that was a light cocktail hour. It was not. It was TRASH. We were eating TRASH from a DUMPSTER compared to the cocktail hour. Eventually they opened the door into the cocktail hour and it was pure gluttony. It was so fancy and excessive I kept waiting for French revolutionaries to storm the building and execute us all via guillotine. There were, I kid you not, maybe fifteen stations. I’ll try to remember all of them. There was veal scaloppini, risotto, chicken tetrazinni, arancini, kale and white beans, prime rib, thick-cut bacon and a full suckling pig wearing a chef’s hat. Those were the hot station with servers. Then there was the seafood area, complete with a two-foot tall ice sculpture of a fish, and that had oysters and crab claws and jumbo shrimp. There were about twenty different salads and a huge pile of pickled vegetables, antipasto-style. There was a person with a fancy shiny silver slicing machine and he would cut you molecule-thin strips of prosciutto. There was cheese. There was a fruit platter the size of a baby stroller. And, I might add, that’s only the parts of the room that I saw. There was a whole lot of remaining room I did not explore. There was more. It was insane. I was not well-behaved. Esteban came over to say hi and thank us for coming to the wedding. Did I say, “You looked nice?” Did I say, “It was a beautiful ceremony?” No. What I greeted him with was, “WHY DIDN’T YOU TELL ME IT WAS LIKE THIS?? I WOULD HAVE BROUGHT TUPPERWARE!!” Favorite picture of the night: someone offered to take a picture of our group of friends and said we should put down our plates and smile. I flat-out refused. Nothing interrupts Shrimp Time.

Eventually cocktail hour ended (why??? why did it have to end???) and in order to inform us that the proper reception was going to begin an otherwordly thing occurred. A bored, visibly pregnant attendant wearing the t-shirt evening gown and the elbow-length black gloves walked around the room like a spectre strumming a small set of chimes which sounded like when they have a flashback on a TV show. I feel like that’s what happens when you pass away in your sleep: a dead-eyed pregnant woman enters your dream slowly walking around in a stretchy black dress and fancy gloves making woobly-woobly sounds from a tiny percussive instrument. That’s your cue to get coins to pay Charon so he can ferry you across the river Styx. As soon as this apparition departed the lights dimmed and a curtain rose up to reveal the reception hall. At that moment I gave up all pretense of being a calm collected human being and started cheering and clapping. I was the only one. Everyone else was whelmed. I was flipping out. There were flowers everywhere and silver chafing dishes on the table and an 11-person band and swirly lights bouncing off of the giant chandeliers. I ended up taking a ton of pictures because the lights kept changing color and I couldn’t decide which color palette I liked best. After much culling of jpgs I’ve decided on this one.

The two bars in the back of the room looked like giant chrome spaceships. And there was a woman live-painting the party off to the side of the dance floor.

My only major complaints are, when announced, the couple did not rise up out of the floor and during the first dance there was no smoke machine workin’ overtime to create faux-mist. Way to drop the ball, Esteban. Other than that it was lovely. There was drinking and dancing and dinner, all of which was fine.

And then I saw the fire.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a man wheel what appeared to be a crucible filled with liquid metal into the middle of the dance floor. I blame Game of Thrones for this, but does everyone who watches the show remember in Season One when Khal Drogo gives Jerkface McBlondDragon a “crown” by pouring molten gold over his head? Great scene. Here’s a link. You can start it about halfway through.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Akl6OK2HUNA

So when this made an appearance I was like, “Oh no, someone did the family wrong and as a gesture of goodwill they’re going to kill that person in the middle of the dance floor! This wedding is amazing! And horrifying! I am awash in emotions!” Turns out it was an enormous baked Alaska and it signified the beginning of the dessert train. Following the baked Alaska was the wedding cake (which was small and tasteful and did not have white doves or a naked lady pop out, so meh), then there was a guy on a bicycle pushing a full gelato stand (holy crap), but the piece de resistance in my opinion was the giant shiny brass chocolate fountain that had milk chocolate on one side and white chocolate on the other and they cascaded down and around each other in twinkling gravy boats into a huge punch bowl with a partition in the middle so the two chocolates didn’t mix. After that came the full espresso / cappuccino cart but who cares because did you see the chocolate fountain? I now know how the wayward Israelites felt in front of the golden calf. I was obsessed with the chocolate fountain.

https://youtu.be/5gVs3iA-Ef4

And then there was more dancing and more frolicking and then it was over and we took some flower arrangements and went home. If you get invited to any event, a circumcision, a tax-filing conference, anything, at the Westmount Country Club, I highly recommend you go. Here’s a promotional video that has the chime ladies. And additional footage of the flaming dessert.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2gMUnVMRuzo