Archive for the ‘Tasty ‘n’ Delicious’ Category

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

Guatemala Part 3.

Monday, November 13th, 2017

Coffee beans! But first, chicken buses.

Chicken buses are one of the primary ways people get around in Guatemala. It’s called a chicken bus because people would tie baskets of chickens to the roof with the rest of their luggage. They are school buses from America that we’re done with. Guatemala buys them, paints them in the jauntiest of colors, gives it a name like “Esmerelda,” slaps some chrome and maybe some lights on there and uses them as mass transit. Not surprisingly, I loved them.

Type in “Chicken Bus Guatemala” into Google Images and scroll through that. It’s a vibrantly-festooned good time.

Coffee beans! I went to a coffee plantation in Costa Rica and a lot of the information is the same concerning how the plant grows and how its harvested, etc. Here’s a link to that:

http://design-newyork.com/blog/2012/02/28/costa-rica-2012-part-7/

Here is the enormous cement area where the coffee beans are spread out to dry.

Here are the beans dry before roasting.

These are coffee bean plants and a little pollinating bee. You go, bee! I’m proud of you.

 

Would you like to see the scariest roasting machine ever? Here ya go. If someone wheeled that into a room where I was being held captive I would immediately start spilling state secrets.

Teeniest church ever on the coffee plantation. Fits four parishioners max.

And gorgeous plants all over the property, especially the striped boo.

In the main house the owner had some coffee-oriented items. There was a collection of spoons.

And cups.

And a coffee advertisement from 1657. It looked like an olde versionne of a 1950s ad:  “Coffee puts pep in your step!”

There was a small museum on the coffee plantation. Similar to Mexico (which is not surprising since they share a big ole border) Guatemala uses those lovely paper-cut decorations on their ceilings.

And also, not surprisingly, there’s a whole bunch of spiritual non-Christian religious traditions that are still practiced. Here is a small costume worn in a ceremony. Common themes are mirrors and masks which you can see here.

There was a store in the city of Antigua (more on Antigua later) where they had a whole wall of these kinds of costumes and masks decorated with sequins and antlers. I wanted everything on that wall. It’s a good thing that place was closed most of the time because I would have laid my credit card down and asked them to fill up a truck.

While we’re here, let’s look at some random bits and pieces that relate to anything else specifically. First, geckos in light fixtures! I do love me some geckos in light fixtures.

A cemetery on a hillside. Vibrantly-painted mausoleums. I think that’s something we should adopt here, everyone should have their tomb painted the color they loved most. It tell you a little something about the deceased.

Every culture has a craft that they are excellent at. In Guatemala it’s thread-based. The embroidery / cross-stitch / loomwork / quilting / braiding is unreal in both its skill and diversity of styles. I bought some stunning bracelets using a popular pattern but different colors.

Here’s a Pinterest page that shows a pretty good sampling of the variety of threadwork. It’s pretty phenomenal.

https://www.pinterest.com/CasaAmarosa/guatemalan-embroidery/?lp=true

And here is something that made me laugh every time I saw it. In one of the hotels we stayed in there was a gift shop. No big whoop there. There was, however, a painted box on display. I assume the artist was trying to make a lovely tableau of Guatemalan items together, a themed still life. The only problem was there was an owl that looks like it had been sucker-punched in the back of the head while witnessing something profoundly traumatic. Every time I saw it I got the giggles.

Next entry: the town of Antigua.

I have charts in my heart for you.

Wednesday, March 1st, 2017

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Nuggets of Interest.

Sunday, February 26th, 2017

1. McMansions. A blight on the eyes. There is now a website that explains why the architecture is so not great.
http://www.mcmansionhell.com/

Some helpful diagrams of the crappityness:

http://68.media.tumblr.com/0a36042f20db6d53ded10b73f0d48c3e/tumblr_inline_ogsoncC0vE1sppt0x_1280.png

http://68.media.tumblr.com/47c1b1c183099c7aa256c926d9a0b4ce/tumblr_inline_og2wcdHpM91sppt0x_1280.png

http://68.media.tumblr.com/ca0eda2a8c26bf39c7f922079e282928/tumblr_inline_ofeenzGhCV1sppt0x_1280.png

http://68.media.tumblr.com/f8dff9e65f22b732fc345de5b01741c6/tumblr_inline_ofef73vsHi1sppt0x_1280.png

http://68.media.tumblr.com/4cf3ea1e5379c82eb1791506a9668e1f/tumblr_inline_oeqv95rWjN1sppt0x_1280.png

 

2. There’s a psychotic piece of music out there that is impossible to play because, well, see for yourself.

11021421_681671089420_7955140733592948695_o

Yeah. Exactly. However, because human being love a challenge (stop climbing Mt. Everest! Seriously! You’re not supposed to be there!) someone figured out how to play it on a piano. And here it is. To me it sounds like the best video game music ever.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O3Nc4iR7rGA

 

3. Google Maps was kind enough to find the saddest places on earth and collate them into helpful collages. Thanks, Google Maps.

sad-1 sad-4 sad-5

 

4. I can’t stop watching these cookies being painted. Who has hands this steady? Who? Where do these people exist? So phenomenal.https://youtu.be/Cs600U6OJJo

https://youtu.be/YZQiSEB60LM

 

5. The interwebs being amazing again. Someone posted this:

sub-buzz-12800-1476797742-18

The internet appreciated the mangling of “bon appetit” so much they made it a meme and it’s descended into madness and I’m enjoying it immensely.

bf999931267dc16c5e9f17ec842ab899 grid-cell-30979-1482108258-4 bone-teeth-pickles tumblr_ohtgo0jziy1vowx1wo1_500 tumblr_og5gxsroa31r9y691o1_500screen-shot-2017-01-07-at-3-10-43-pm czesdgdxuaaanzb tumblr_oijmfp9mXA1use6ffo1_500 bone-teeth-recipe 14566729_1165680456855624_6850527559298318336_n

My personal favorite:

screen-shot-2017-01-07-at-3-05-49-pm

6. And finally, another architectural thing. Thomassons. Who knew.

http://www.messynessychic.com/2017/01/18/the-inexplicably-fascinating-secret-world-of-thomassons/

Iceland Part 9, Iceland and done.

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2017

In addition to gawking over the landscape all the time I also ate Icelandic food. No, I did not try puffin or whale. Puffin was not in season and whale is supposed to be gross so it was not a difficult pass for me. I ended up making a reservation for Cricket and me at an extremely fancy restaurant called Dill. Dill serves cuisine using authentic local ingredients and you eat what they’re serving. Five courses or seven courses. That’s it. I liked the scariness of no control but I trusted them. I was right to do so.

dill1

Cricket and I ended up with the five-course meal because we were going to see the northern lights later and the seven-course took two and a half hours to serve (!). Here’s the menu.

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We missed out on the dung-smoked trout (the table next to us had it and said it was fantastic, I felt epic FOMO) and the 99% Omnom (Icelandic brand of chocolate). The little appetizers that are listed as a clump at the top were okay, I did not care for the chicken skin with yeast but the shredded wolf-fish with brown butter was yummers.

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Then there was the monkfish cheeks (known to be the softest part of the fish) cooked with artichokes and dulse which is red seaweed. I could have eaten a soup bowl full of that.

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Followed by Cricket’s favorite: pickled tusk (a white fish similar to cod) served with seaweed, black garlic and a splash of yogurt. SO DELICIOUS. Pickling and fermentation plays a huge role in Icelandic cuisine since they only have fifteen minutes of daylight a year. In fact, Dill’s front window is made up of pickled items in jars.

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Then my favorite: shredded fermented rutabaga, toasted rye bread crumbs and cod chunks. It had a faint vinegar flavor and in my photo some of it is missing because I forgot to take a photo first and immediately started snorfing it down.

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The last savory dish we had was the pork belly with cracklins on top and parsnip with honey. It was okay. I mean, it was really good but the other dishes were kind of amazing so it was difficult to appreciate it.

dill9

And finally there was the dessert which was a fancy smore – cake made from rye, malted cream and prunes. I watched them make it (we were right next to the open kitchen) and the only concern I had was when the chef used the creme brulee torch on the cream. Please note the scorch marks on the wooden plates. Methinks maybe not wooden plates in the future, eh, chef?

dill10 dill11

This place was so Icelandic-themed they even gave us the check in a knitted pouch. Iceland is big on the knitting because of the sheepies.

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The other place Cricket and I ate was magnificent, recommended by Snorth (thank you Snorth!). It was called Ostabudin and it’s kind of like a high-class delicatessen. We got the hot-smoked goose salad (may contain pellets) and the meat feast (also may contain pellets).

ostabudin1 ostabudin2

They were exquisite. And now I can say I have eaten horse! It tastes like bison. Red meat, very lean. If you’re down with cured meats (and I very much am) the meat feast was where it was at. You can also see they substituted the blue cheese for what they said translated literally to “ugly cheese” and they had built a little house of baguette slices over it to shield us from its ugliness (which I thought was overreacting, it looked like brie). I uncloaked the cheese for this photo.

ostabudin3

On our last night in Iceland, Cricket and I decided to go to a performance at the Harpa. The Harpa is the large music hall similar to Lincoln Center or Carnegie Hall. It was built to resemble the basalt columns and was covered in hexagons and lights. If you know me, you know my feelings about hexagons and lights (big big fan). So I adored the Harpa. I could not take an lame picture of it if I tried.

harpa12 harpa10 harpa6 harpa5 harpa4

It had a huge empty main space with several concert halls and theater spaces branching off from the primary area. There was a gift shop that sold your typical gift shop items, as well as some stranger choices. Like these books by the famous Icelandic cartoonist Hugleikur Dagsson.

harpa8

And then there were some Christmas ornaments and they were also pretty typical except for one. Listen to this description: it clearly was made from a model of Finding Nemo‘s Squirt the Turtle but painted as if it was a drag queen with a foil rainbow Christmas tree impaled into its head. Because that’s what the world needed.

harpa13 harpa14

Anyway, the show we saw. The only thing being performed during our stay in Reykjavik was a electronic dance band called… The Vagina Boys. I wish I was kidding. I am not. There were signs all over town.

harpa1 harpa2 harpa3

So Cricket and I bought tickets and we went. It took place in an enormous black box theater and because we got there at 7:50 when the show was supposed to start at 8:00 (it didn’t start until 9:00, Cricket and I are extremely cool and “with it”) we got to claim a small patch of floor and camp out on it.

harpa11

We were waaaaay older than all the other people there. It was mostly high school kids. And I do love me some electronic dance music but this sounded like 21 Pilots sung in Icelandic. The Vagina Boys were predominantly mixing behind a musician named Kef Lavik. I found some of the music to give you a taste of the experience.

https://soundcloud.com/vaginaboys

Cricket and I lasted about an hour and then we were both like, “This is very nice mellow uninspiring music and we’re good.” The next day we packed up and headed back to the U.S. A few things in the airport I noticed:

In addition to the giant dragon’s egg sculpture there is also a sculpture of the end of the rainbow. I thought that was pretty cool.

airport2

And two massive beautiful stained glass windows at either end of the interior space. Very Chagall / Picasso-esque.

airport3 airport4

That’s my trip to Iceland. I would love to go back, possibly in the summer when the sun is out all the time and the wildflowers are blooming. We shall see if that comes to pass.

Iceland, Part 5.

Friday, January 13th, 2017

I was so super-excited to go to swim between two tectonic plates. Remember? Remember that? How could I have known how depressingly south it would go for me?

Before delving into that sadness, let’s look at some other things.

“Coconut” is “Kokosnoot” in Norwegian. I vote we all move there solely based on this.

kokosnoot

Can anyone identify this meat? I’m guessing reindeer but I have no idea, really.

meat

The city closest to the basalt columns was Vik. I should have posted a picture of Vik earlier but I’m doing it now.

vik1

You’ll note the church on the hill. Just about every single church in Iceland looked like that. Plain white building, one steeple, red roof. Here’s someone else’s picture showing a) how freakin’ small the town of Vik is, and b) how close it is to the beach with the amazing structures and the homicidal ocean.

http://cdn.c.photoshelter.com/img-get2/I0000aGd276FisUA/fit=1000×750/Vik-church-beach-Iceland-1975.jpg

And look! The volcano that ruined air travel back in 2010! Notice the big divot in the top.

volcano1

Alright, let’s tell the sad tale of how Jessica almost drowned in a truly sad manner. I was beyond psyched to go to where the plates came together. The video looked so enticing.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qd1mv-wH5Pc

We arrived pretty early in the day and met up with the truck in the parking lot that had our dry suits. What’s a dry suit, you ask? It’s a suit designed for swimming in cold water. First, you strip down to your long underwear. Then you put on a pair of overalls made from sleeping bag material, so it’s puffy and warm. Everything was fine for me until the next step. You put on the dry suit. The dry suit is made out of a pretty rigid thicc-as-hell waterproof buoyant material so it is profoundly difficult to move your arms and legs. It’s also very heavy, so it’s like wearing a restrictive suit of armor. Mine was a tad too small so I could not exhale fully. In addition to being heavy and movement-resistant, there are TIGHT rubber gasket-like things around the wrists and neck to prevent water from leaking into the suit. The wrist ones were fine but the neck one made it hard to breathe. Like, to inhale. On top of that, mine was apparently a little too loose so the guy in charge put a RUBBER BELT around my neck to make it TIGHTER. I’m not making any of this up.

silfra10

At this point I’m beginning to panic very slightly and I think rightfully so because it was hard to breathe between the NECK BELT and the slightly-too-small suit. I had to consciously think about my breathing. We had to toddle over to the metal staircase into the water and it took me forever because I would immediately become out of breath. They put masks on us and flippers and we got into the water. The element most people were worried about was their exposed faces freezing from the 35-degree water but it was no problem, your face went numb after about thirty seconds. I floated pleasantly face down in the water and then I realized I was lagging behind the rest of the group so I attempted to catch up. This is the moment that changed everything. My snorkel got some water in it but because the suit was so rigid and buoyant I couldn’t flip myself upright to empty my snorkel and the guide said don’t touch the rock walls because they were covered with algae and touching them would dislodge the algae and cloud up the view. So I’m gurgling and trying to thrash (but I can’t) and I can’t take deep breaths and the neck belt is strangling me and that was my experience for the twenty minutes. I missed looking at everything because I was trying not to die. I finally had to be towed to shore by our guide because I was too pathetic to continue. If you’re wondering what I looked like this is a very accurate representation. I am the crocodile in this video.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QsRKYN8TeUg

And these are other pictures from the experience. I vaguely remember seeing this as the blackness took over my vision.

silfra11 silfra3 silfra4 silfra1 silfra2 silfra5

The scenery was absolutely stunning. I loved how the rock still showed the folds of the lava.

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However, the whole day was not disappointment for me. I got to go to a indoor tomato farm! That was super cool. We went there for lunch.

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The menu is very limited and contains only tomato products but everything we had was absolutely delicious. Since electricity is pretty much free due to the volcano juice they can run those crazy grow lights twenty hours a day. This particular tomato farm supplies 18% of Iceland’s tomato needs.

Each table had a basil plant (also grown there) with a wee pair of scissors and a vessel of cold water that had two cherry tomatoes in the bottom.

tomato-greenhouse4

To start I got the “Mary Christmas” (all the drinks had the word Mary in them, based off of the Bloody Mary) which was a very sweet breed of tomato mixed with wine and mulling spices and served warm. It tasted almost exactly like spiced cider with a little alcohol. It was delicious and wintery.

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Then we all got the never-ending soup bowl with bread which was a brilliant decision because YUM.

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And I insisted on getting all three desserts because they all had tomato in them and I needed to understand how they worked. And they were all served in flower pots! There was apple and tomato cobbler with corresponding whipped cream pot, ice cream with candied green tomato and two kinds of tomato syrup, and cheesecake with green tomato jam.

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I took this picture of the ice cream so you could see the candied green tomato embedded in there.

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It all tasted wonderful. Tomato is very versatile.

After I had gorged on all the tomato wonderfulness I walked around the facility. Since tomatoes are not native to Iceland, these are from the Netherlands. And in order to pollinate the plants there are imported Dutch bumblebees! They live in filing boxes with their queen.

tomato-greenhouse7 tomato-greenhouse8 tomato-greenhouse9

It was so nice to see how to make food without putting too much stress on the earth. And this was the definition of farm to table. The tables were in the farm. I highly recommend the Iceland Tomato Experience.