Archive for the ‘Stuff’ Category

Two artists that might make me not scared of dolls finally.

Saturday, January 23rd, 2016

Dolls are inherently creepy. The unblinking eyes. The unmovable expressions. Hell, a new horror film is coming up built on that premise. Remember my trip to Germany last year and the doll restaurant? Yep. Not a big fan of dolls. However, there is always room for change. And that change happened when I saw these handmade dolls from Russia. Two different artists. Russia is known for exceptional detail in their artwork. Their icons from many centuries ago are ornate.

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And little has changed. One dollmaker is named Marina Bychkova and she is amazing. I know that word gets thrown around frequently, but hear me out. Marina makes articulated porcelain dolls with poseable limbs. She paints their faces. Then she embroiders and hand-beads their clothes. AND those metal headdresses, she makes them too. See? Amazing.

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Then there are the Popovy Sisters. Their work is more modern but I love it as well. It reminds me of Alexander McQueen’s work but wee.

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I could get on board with these dolls. NOBODY START SENDING ME DOLLS, THOUGH. FOR REALSIES. WORST NIGHTMARE. Unless they are by these artists. Then, mildly okay. OTHERWISE NO DOLLS.

Christmas: The Super-American All-Inclusive Deprogramming Holiday of I Think I’m Their Hostage Now.

Monday, January 4th, 2016

Christmas! A holiday I never really had much to do with. I mean, I watch the stuff on TV and the movies and I’ve seen what it’s like, but it’s never really been something I’ve been immersed in. I don’t even think we did Chinese food and movies as is the way of our people. We went one step lower, doing “whatever’s in the fridge” and “what’s on PBS today?” So when I decided to spend the holidays with my friend Ness in San Francisco I was excited to see what the other 97.8% of Americans do December 24th and 25th. I was not disappointed. Let me give you a bit of backstory. All the people in my family are very very smart and very very useless. My father is a rabbi with three doctorates all in cerebral pursuits like theology and Hebrew letters. My mother is an art historian who speaks three languages fluently and five more not fluently. Our dinner parties are not for the weak of spirit. You know how you are not supposed to talk about politics or religion in polite company? That’s ALL we talk about, and any religion or any country’s politics is up for debate. It’s not uncommon to hear someone say something like, “Yes, but that is due to the rift caused by the Balkan Wars in 1912 and 1913. If the Ottoman Empire had blabittyblah blah etc. and blah.” Lots of clever and intelligent. However, between both my parents they cannot manage to use a cell phone. They didn’t clean the filter of their household water supply thing in the basement for a decade. A DECADE. (It’s astonishingly easy to replace.) My father prefers a broom and dustpan to a vacuum because a vacuum is a bit too much technology for one man. My point is anything technological or manual labor-y is beyond them. When the apocalypse comes they will be the first to be eaten because they are the human equivalent of kobe beef. Ness’s family, on the other hand, is the exact opposite. They are all in law enforcement of some kind, except for the hair dresser/Zumba teacher. They drink alcohol for fun, not only for religious ceremonies. They can fix things. They like sports. They embrace technology. They don’t watch the news four times a day. I didn’t see them watch the news once, actually. They put those “Love, Laugh, Live” letter cutouts over their couches and have tons of pictures of their families on display. We are not the same. But I imagine the rest of the country is far more like them then they are like me, an effete New York Jew, so I relished the opportunity to experience what life is like for just about everyone else.

Okay. It felt a bit like when someone gets out of a cult and they need to be reacclimated back into society and they have to be strapped to chair and immersed hard. First, Ness insisted on only Christmas music. I heard that epically crappy song “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” by BandAid about four times. Don’t ask me how many times I heard Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You.” A million, give or take. Then, Hallmark Christmas movies. Ness DVRed about ten of them. I watched five from beginning to end. I would like to deviate now from my trip to talk about the Hallmark Christmas movies if I may. They all have the same plot structure and here it is:

“Hi! I’m a woman, a single woman, and I have a promising career in medicine / dress design / business! Gosh, I’m well on my way! Reaching for the stars! Oh no, I’ve been stranded in Garland, Alaska on my way to my fellowship in Boston due to weather, or maybe my father passed and I need to return to the rinkydink town of my childhood from L.A to take care of my father’s affairs. Whatever reason, I have to leave whatever major city I was heading towards or living in, the major city where I’m going fulfill my potential. No biggie, I’ll only be here for a short while. But what’s this? This charming local man who is a woodworker / elementary school music teacher / fireman. His smile, it causes me to swoon and melt right into my mom jeans. What to do, what to do? Give up on all my career goals, ones I might have had since I was a child, to stay here with Mr. As Hunky As Hallmark Could Afford whom I barely know?”

Let me save you some time. They all stay in Flyover Town USA and devote their life to the dude. Each and every single one. I want to listen in to the Hallmark Christmas Movie meetings. I feel like they sound like this, “We must keep the women of America who got pregnant at 19 and couldn’t go to college placated, put out another movie that convinces them that careers are meh and true love is only found in rectangular states to keep them from poisoning the Sloppy Joes and fleeing to a coast. That should do it.”

Sorry about that. Back to the trip. Ness likes to plan lots of activities so on the first day I was in San Fran we did tourist stuff. I went to the Cable Car Museum. We walked around Little Italy. We met a former co-worker for dinner. Normal stuff. Day two is where things got fascinating. I was invited to an Oakland Raiders football game, complete with tailgating. I have been to one other NFL game (read this for a recap of that magical experience) and this time I was excited to have someone with me to explain the finer points of the sport. Ness and her aunt decked me out in appropriate regalia and I sat quietly in the parking lot and watched the other tailgaters do their thing.

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Their thing is THOROUGH. I’ve been to weddings less organized than some of these camps. Giant tents. The most insane food being cooked – prime rib, lobster tails, king crab legs, deep-fried turkeys. Not only did people bring their own sound systems, they brought their own DJs to spin their desired tunes. All of this was happening in a parking lot. People brought entire bars. The smell of weed was pungent and copious. (Is nothing illegal in California? Where are your mothers?) I was told that since it was Christmas Eve there were far fewer people than usual, normally the whole giant parking lot is full.

Look, proof! Lobster tails:

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A DJ for a group of about six people:

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Lest we forget it’s San Francisco-adjacent, dirty hippies!

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And some guy’s small school bus that he decorated both inside and out:

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Finally after about four hours we wrapped up the light debauchery and headed into the stadium. I would like to say I watched the game with rapt attention and can tell you all about the different players and what they did. I wish I could say that. The truth is I only watched three things: the big screen (Kiss cam! Pop and lock dancing!), the cheerleaders (did you know they’re out the the entire game freezing their components off?) and the hover-camera. That hover-camera, which I originally thought was a drone, tapped into something really primal for me. It’s a camera that looks exactly like a A.I. version of a black shiny hornet and it zips around on three cables tethered to the top bits of the walls of the stadium. It zips extremely quickly and did I mention it looks like a giant robot wasp? We were right behind the goalposts so whenever it bzzzzzed with great alacrity over to the touchdown area I would scream. I could imagine it breaking free of its moorings and killing everyone. That’s it. That’s all I paid attention to the whole time. SPORTS!

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I had heard the Oakland Raiders fans are the scariest in the NFL. They were fine. Charger fans would walk through the parking lot fully decked out and the Raiders fans would boo at them, then offer them snacks or wave goodnaturedly. There were 30,000 fans there and I saw one fight break out. It was quelled before I could even turn around and get a good look. Fine. Everything was fine.

The next day was Christmas. We watched the Warriors vs. the Cavaliers (basketball). We wore festive red and green garb. We ate cheesy potatoes and ham and green bean casserole. We opened seven thousand presents, four thousand of which were sports-related socks. This may not sound that thrilling for you, but I’ve never done these things. I must have looked completely daft watching Ness’s family like they were part of a scientific research project. I imagine this is what it must be like when people come to our house for Hanukkah. It’s neat to be on the other side.

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I spent most of my time chilling with the cat on the couch. I love that damn cat so much. SO. MUCH. I have spoken of this love before.

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The last few days there we went to Muir Woods were there are old giant pine trees. It smelled amazing.

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I must have said, “Look at that tree!” fifty times.

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Not gonna lie: hugged a lot of trees.

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There was a massive crack in one of the trees where people were taking pictures.

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Here was our version.

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On my insistence Ness also hugged a tree in her own way.

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I highly recommend Muir Woods. Especially if you wish to protest something. They have an area for that.

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It was a magnificent trip and Ness has already planned activities for my next visit. I’ve never been to Alcatraz and I want to ride on the double-decker bus, so we will do that.

Internet Dribs and Drabs.

Wednesday, December 16th, 2015

Instead of getting anything done ever I am now watching these Vines and giggling at my desk. Did I mention I work in an open floor plan? My co-workers are very lucky to be in my presence.

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These.

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Also these.

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I think Buzzfeed has run out of ideas. Stop, Buzzfeed. Just stop.

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Seriously, call it a day.

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Look at this mesmerizing gif of someone pouring mercury into a martini glass.

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And this amazing mural in an old church.

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And this jaunty festive caterpillar who turns into a slightly less festive but lovely nonetheless moth.

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South America 2015, Part 10.

Tuesday, November 17th, 2015

 

More Galapagos! First, a cartoon I found that seemed pertinent:

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Now, before we delve into the Galapagos pics let me tell you a tale about the roughness of the ocean. I mentioned before that it wasn’t just choppy, it was insane. And I was on epic amounts of seasickness meds so at no point did I get sick. I did, however, bruise myself repeatedly getting thrown around our room. I thought it was cute that there was handicapped railings on every single wall but I grew to depend on them. As soon as we boarded I went to the room and to drop off the luggage. I decided to check out the latrine and as I was crouching to sit down the boat lurched violently and I was hurled face-first into the fiberglass shower wall like a cartoon character. So my fellow travelers and I learned quickly to plan movements when crossing the open plains of the main deck, for example. You would see people standing there holding on to the railing with that expression that Olympic athletes have before they push off on their bobsleds. They would breathe deeply and, when the moment was right, sprint quickly to their destination and grab on to something and hold on. It was living in an obstacle course. We were nowhere near lights so after dinner this elderly Norwegian gentleman named G and I liked to go up to the topmost deck and look at the sky in the hopes of seeing a falling star. (We did on the last night at sea. Very happy.) That means we would be up there when the anchor would get pulled up and we would start our nightly travels. The third night the captain miscalculated and we ended up getting caught in two currents battling it out. Not only was the boat swinging side to side but also front to back. G and I were just pleasantly sitting there when the boat tipped a bit too far and two legs of my lawn chair came off the ground. I grabbed G’s arm in time for the boat to go in the complete opposite direction and both of us to topple to the deck in a heap. I don’t know the last time you had a tall lumberjack of a man completely made of elbows and knees fall on top of you, but it is not the awesome sexy time you might think. My camera skittered away from me like a demon robot spider and G crawled over to grab it right before it fell overboard. You can imagine how often this top deck gets cleaned so we were both covered in grease and layers of seabird crap and who knows what else. I ended up crawling over to the stairwell where The Moomins magically appeared, wide-eyed and panicky, convinced I had been washed away. We struggled back to our room where I went into the bathroom, put the lid down on the toilet and sat down unmoving. The Moomins was like, “You’re covered in disgusting grime. Wash off all of that, get undressed and go to bed.” And I calmly said, “No.” The Moomins was confused. “Seriously, wash off the dirt all over you, take off those filthy clothes and go to bed. ” And responded with a peaceful, “No.” I realized later that I was freaking out but very peacefully if you can understand that. I figured I was going to die and I would like to sit quietly in this nice cool room and not move any part of myself ever again ever. That’s it. I sit in this bathroom now. This is my life. The Moomins gave up and went to bed and eventually I found the inner fortitude to wash my forearms (the part of me that bore the brunt of the deck-grot), get undressed and go to bed. The next morning we met at breakfast where Luis our guide told us he was very sorry for the previous night. I asked him to be honest with me and tell me how bad it really was. He said on a scale from 1 to 10, 1 being placid and 10 capsizing, we were at an 8. So if you think I’m exaggerating, I am not. People were thrown out of bed. It was real. The only benefit of this was at the end of the week when we flew on a small plane that needed to land in the Andes and there was excessive turbulence and we missed the runway and had to fly around and try again, normally I would be very unhappy and stressed out by this.  I was like, “Ehhh whatever. I almost joined the cast of Pirates of the Caribbean, this is nothing.”

Okay, pictures! Here we go.

Lava lizards. They’re everywhere. The males are avocado green. The females have a red face.

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One of the things I did not realize was the variety of land in the Galapagos. The islands really differ. Some islands are brown sand that has been carved by the wind.

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Some have red crumbly soil.

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There were different rock islands.

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It was fascinating. The islands I was most excited to see were the ones with lava. I was so psyched to walk on fields of lumpy rippled stone.

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That’s not the only type of lava though. There are the islands where the lava hit the ocean water and the ocean water bubbled and boiled and lava hardened and what you’re left with is razor-sharp lava blades. We went there too. I have never been so cautious while walking around in my life. I looked like the Pink Panther. It was scary. The white stuff you’re seeing is not bird poop. It’s a special kind of lichen that only grows on this evil scary lava.

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Peppered between the lava blades were groups of marine iguanas. They look EXACTLY like tiny Godzillas. They swim extremely well. On land it’s hard to tell if they’re dead or alive. They don’t really do anything. Their day seems to consist of predominantly laying around, unmoving and expressionless.

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The lava lizards are so common, they are like the mosquitoes of the islands. No one seems to notice them.

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Here is a fur sea lion sleeping nearby.

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With a lava lizard on it.

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Picture of above fur sea lion, a marine iguana and the terrifying lava blades. It’s a complete picture.

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I loved this picture. It makes me think of a gang from West Side Story.

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And this is Luis explaining to us about the marine iguanas who are laying in a big lump on in front of him.

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Here’s a field where, based on that sign, they come to lay their eggs.

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Here are a bunch of marine lizards eating algae off of a boat dock.

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And here they are lying in the middle of a walkway. I have been assured these guys are alive. I am still undecided.

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Coming up next: more beasties.

South America 2015, Part 9.

Saturday, November 7th, 2015

Before we get to the Galapagos, a few Quito photos to whet the appetite.

When people first arrived in Quito there was lots of room for you to build your dream castle so people did. And when the city sprung up the castles were nice, so modern buildings were simply built around them. There are castles all over the place.

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Some of them were particularly eye-catching (code for “hideous”).

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We went to an artsy street with galleries and cafes. Since everything is on a hill, within one cafe you can see many different levels. I thought this picture of an elderly couple have tea was sweet.

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Heck, speaking of sweet, we passed an apiary which displayed a paper model of a bee. Hi Miss Bee!

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The coolest establishment we visited on this street was a master chocolatier. Most of our chocolate comes from Africa and goes into Hersheys and Mars but the finest chocolate is grown in Ecuador.

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We learned about the whole process in a presentation that contained some of the best Engrish I’ve encountered outside of Japan.

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Okay, GALAPAGOS! I went to where Darwin looked at some finches and figured out… something science-y! (I used to think it was evolution but I recently learned it was actually natural selection.) The Galapagos Islands were formed about five million years ago from volcanoes. Considering the earth is about four billion years old, the islands are pretty fresh. Here, a helpful diagram:

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So in the history of the planet we live on, not very long. And it shows. Every time I walked on an island I thought, “Should I come back later? You know, when it’s done developing? I can come back later.” If you squinted the pelicans looked like pterodactyls. It was raw. I would find myself singing the theme song from Jurassic Park from time to time.

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Here’s an important thing for you to know: at no point on this trip did I touch any animals. Not one. Not a single beastie. I could have touched the crap out of fur sea lions and tortoises and possibly some fish but I didn’t. I would like to be commended for my self-control.

We took two flights to get from Quito to the islands. 97% of the Galapagos are natural reserves but there is an airport and people do live there, about 30,000 people. Because protecting the ecosystem is extremely important the amount of paperwork we had to fill out before we got there was redonk.

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Shortly after we landed I walked to baggage claim only to see an airport employee with a disinterested expression on his face carrying two very large land iguanas out of the building so he could release them into the wild. Our Galapagos guide Luis said, “The iguanas probably come into the airport all the time.” As you can imagine I have a new career goal and that is to be an iguana herder at the Galapagos Airport. Luis told us he was going to take us to a cool experience on the same island as the airport and then we would head to the boat that would be our home for the next five days. We drove for a while in a bus which had the second-best Engrish of the journey.

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Eventually we got to a farm where we put on knee-high galoshes and walked into a grassy area. And that’s when we saw these guys.

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If you’d like you can imagine these are videos. Because these guys, not so much with the moving. It’s almost as if they know their long long lives will be all about eating bland bland grass for 150 years. It’s impressive how large they get. All these fellers were varying ages but one of them was quite old and about 750 pounds. We got two watch two males get in a fight. Let me clarify, a tortoise fight is not like a normal fight. Here’s the way it goes down: a gigantic male tortoise ever so slowly lumbers into the space of another gigantic male tortoise. There is now tension between the two of them so they open their mouths and extend their necks as far as they can. The one with the longest neck wins and the lose saunters away. Very intense fight. My niece Drea got some great pics.

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This guy was so cute. He was scared of all these people so close to him so he pulled his head into his shell. He was hiding. Awwww.

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I got really excited about this picture – a Darwin Finch perched on a Galapagos Tortoise.

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The tortoise did not share my excitement.

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Something I had no idea about when I got to the Galapagos: each island has its own type of tortoise and they cannot interbreed. So when an island’s specific tortoise is wiped out, that’s the end of that sub-breed, they’re extinct now. That’s what happened to Lonesome George. More about him later.

A bit more information about the Galapagos themselves. The Galapagos is an archipelago of islands, about 13 big islands and then some small ones and finally ones I called “Yorkshire Puddings” (because they looked like Yorkshire puddings) which were a small outcrop of lava with a bird and a tree and that’s it. It covers about 600 square miles so the schedule was visit land during the day using an inflatable raft called a panga, return to big yacht thing at night and then spend the night traveling to the next island. We would travel six or seven hours because the islands are very spread out. If I had to say one thing about the area is I could not believe the color of the water. These are untouched photos. It really looks like this.

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Doesn’t it look lovely and smooth sailing? LIES. ALL LIES. At the time of year that I went down there the Humboldt Current is slamming through the area and to say the water is choppy is the understatement of the century. I took some video of the panga when we dropped anchor in a harbor. Again, this is in a harbor. Imagine what it was like in the open sea.

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I get motion sickness pretty easily so armed with that knowledge I brought every possible drug and pill and potion to alleviate the symptoms on this trip. I ended up using them all at the same time. I had the patch on my neck, I was swallowing six Dramamine a day, I wore Sea-Bands and to top it off I would occasionally pop a Klonopin to dull the anxiety. If you’re wondering about side effects, I had two. I appeared completely hammered drunk for the whole five days (“Yaaaaaayyyy! Pelicans! Zzzzzzzzzz.”) and I swelled up like a water balloon to the point where I could not make a fist. Totally worth it. Didn’t barf once. Went on every excursion. Total team player. Thank you, Modern Medicine!

Next entry: Some of the islands themselves.

South America 2015, Part 8.

Monday, October 26th, 2015

Sorry about the extreme time between posts. I am attempting to get my kitchen done by Thanksgiving (probably not going to happen but a girl can dream) and it’s the busiest season of the year in advertising so I’ve done about three weeks of work in two weeks. I’m so exhausted I did the creepiest thing ever this past Saturday night. I asked Cricket if when I came over to his house we could have a fire in his fireplace. He obliged, put some logs in there and got a fire going. I proceeded to get two grocery bags filled to the brim with his recyclable mail, sit directly in front of the fireplace on the floor and burn each piece of mail individually over the next THREE HOURS while saying nothing. I was simply decompressing but I imagine it looked like I was hiding the evidence of the murder I had recently committed. Cricket fell asleep on the couch watching me do this stellar performance art and when he woke up he said, “Okay, well, I’m going hiking tomorrow so I’m going to bed. When you’re done doing whatever it is you’re doing let yourself out through the back door. Night night.” About twenty minutes later (that would be 1:30 in the morning) after I had reduced all Cricket’s recyclables to ash I quietly left. My point is that I’m very busy and very stressed and with the first opportunity I got in the last few weeks to relax I decided not to go to a movie or catch up with a friend but to become a character in a Korean horror film. So please cut me some slack. Okay. Back to South America.

Quito! It’s pronounced Kee-toe, not Kwee-toe. It’s a big city, I think about 34 miles long, nestled in a long valley between a whole bunch of mountains.

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And it’s got a massive basilica. More on that in a bit. But as you can see it makes an excellent landmark.

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Another great landmark is the angel made of aluminum perched on one of the mountains. It was a gift from the French. One thing you can say about the French – they love to give massive metal statues to other nations.

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Quito has a few major town squares which are wonderful. Often bands are playing and there are all kinds of food vendors. One food I saw being peddled by quite a few women looked like a pile of frosting in a Tupperware. I found out later that it was called espumilla (which means “foam”) and it’s a meringue of sorts made with guava and egg whites. I did not feel comfortable buying a bunch of uncooked egg from a street vendor who had been carrying it around all day in the bright sunlight but I won’t say I wasn’t tempted.

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And there’s a ton of other snacks one could enjoy. And toilet paper (in case you ate the raw egg whites).

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Back to the town squares.

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Almost all of them have a church in them and we visited two. The first one, the Church of San Francisco, had a pretty nice exterior and even though we weren’t supposed to take pictures inside I surreptitiously snapped a few pics because the ceiling had just been redone due to a fire and the amount of gold was crazy. These are not great pics. It was so shiny and reflective my poor lil camera didn’t have a clue how to calibrate itself but at least you get a vague idea.

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I thought that was as fancy as it got, church-wise. I was incorrect. This is the Church of the Jesuits. It’s down the street.

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Look at the level of detail. And the awesome fish that flank the doorway.

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I didn’t take any pictures inside because I had to scrape my mouth off the floor, but I found some other people’s pictures. And none of them do it justice. It was overwhelmingly amazing. Like being inside a jewel box.

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Interestingly, we were there on a Saturday and every Saturday the President of Ecuador comes out on his balcony and makes a speech and we ended up outside his house about a half-an-hour before speech time. Our guide for the day asked us if we’d like to watch the speech and we were like, sure, we’re here, let’s see this all go down. The speech itself was whatevs but the fancy military men on equally fancy horses were delightful. One horse had a checkerboard shaved into its rump. I liked that a lot.

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We ended up going to a very posh hotel for lunch were we drank a local drink, basically a tisane of sorts made up of a variety of flavorful herbs and reb quinoa. The red quinoa both imparts a pretty color and makes the drink have protein. Protein water!

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Now the Basilica. The Basilica, compared to the gold churches, was pretty low-key. It’s a big ole cathedral-type building and the inside is very high and lofty and gray stone except for the small chapel off to the side which is polychrome, meaning the stone was painted.

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The part of the Basilica that makes it awesome is that all the gargoyles are indigenous animals from Ecuador! How many pictures did I take of them? All the pictures. There were iguanas and turtles:

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And monkeys and pumas and what I thought were giant crab claws from a distance but when I got closer I realized were anteaters:

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Armadillos and crocodiles.

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On the exterior of the painted chapel (which I imagine was built later because it’s made out of a different type of stone) there are regular gargoyles.

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After walking around the Basilica several times, I noticed that you could go beneath into the catacombs. Hooray, catacombs! Those were amazing. It seems like it was  filled predominantly in the 1950s, 60s and 70s and the design elements on the fronts of the tombs reflect the aesthetic of the time.

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Coming up next: The Galapagos. Get pumped because lava and beasties a-comin.’

South America 2015, Part 7.

Saturday, October 10th, 2015

More Peru! But first, a few lone pics.

Llamas don’t poop all over the everything. They pick an area and go there every time. It’s kind of awesome, they toilet-train themselves. In fact, if you put them in a new enclosure and you want them to go in the far right corner, you put llama excrement and tinkle in that corner and they will think a previous llama deemed that the lavatory and make that their permanent spot.

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In this photo there is pumpkin ice cream and in the background there is fava beans. Most meals had a small plate of beans as an appetizer. Lotta beans in Peru. Beans and potatoes and corn, oh my.

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Okay, silver! It’s a chemical element we wear as shiny awesome decoration. And it is common in Peru. The pre-Inca and the Inca loved anything reflective because the sun god was extremely important to them, so gold and silver were big. Interestingly, when the Spaniards got there they had mirrors and the Incas traded gold and silver for the mirrors because they were far more reflective. We might think the Incas were duped but to them it was an excellent trade. Mirrors were more valuable to the Inca and the Spaniards coveted gold, so everyone won in that exchange. We went to a silver processing and jewelry making place so we could see the whole process.

The first thing I noticed when I got there was the insane-looking flower in the courtyard. I know it looks fake. It is not, I checked.

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First Henry showed us what the rock that contains the silver looks like. Hint: pretty much like a rock.

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What they used to do before they had fancy machinery was grind the rock into a powder in a bowl.

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And then they would put it in a jar with water and shake the jar. The silver was heavier than the matrix so the silver would sink to the bottom and the other stuff would stay at the top. That’s how they would separate the silver from the unwanted dirt.

To make wire a slender bar of silver is put through a press with progressively smaller openings.

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At this studio they do a great deal of inlay as well, so we were shown the different kinds of stone found in Peru. I also learned that the mother of pearl pieces you see don’t use the inside portion. They grind away the brown exterior and use that side. I don’t know why, maybe it’s more even-toned but I was fascinating to see.

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We had the opportunity to meet a priest and watch him do a typical ceremony. Not a Christian priest. I imagine in Africa he would be called a witch doctor. Henry said that the old religion worked in harmony with the new religion and most people incorporated both in their lives. I had no idea what to expect but it was great to see a ceremony that had been performed for thousands of years.

First, the priest laid out a piece of fabric with a piece of wax paper like you would find at the butcher on top of it. He then sprinkled about twenty different things on this wax paper representing different aspects of life. I loved how he used modern items along with ancient ones. For example, he put in alphabet soup noodles to represent all our names and sequins to be the moon and the stars. Candy for sweetness, llama fat for energy and connection to the gods, seashells for the ocean. There were garbanzo beans and red kidney beans in there as well.

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We were each given three coca leaves and told to wish on them and they were also added. The priest then wrapped up the whole package with string and each one of us stood in front of him while he briskly rubbed the package on us and chanted incantations. We then were told to puff three quick breaths on the package to lock in our identity and our wishes. When everyone had done it the priest took the package outside, removed his piece of cloth and burned the package, sending our messages up to the gods in the sky. It felt quite cathartic.

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The llama hanging out nearby was underwhelmed.

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Post-priest-experience we were driving and Henry told us we were going to pull over. There were groups of people hanging out in what appeared to be abandoned fields. Henry told us something most interesting – at the end of the planting season, the farmers till the soil and big clumps of natural brick are revealed. The city-dwellers come out and use this chunks to build ovens that they have cookouts in. The farmers encourage the people to do that, to hang out in their fields all day because they don’t hurt anything and often they leave ash from their bbqs which acts as a fertilizer. I couldn’t believe it, this mutual respect. I don’t see this flying in the U.S. There would be all kinds of trespassing drama. It was great to see all these families hanging out, playing soccer and talking. I know it’s hokey-sounding, but it seems like a simpler way of life in Peru.

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On our last day in Peru we got to finally explore the cathedrals and churches of Cusco. I love me some CHARCH. And there were so many churches. Quick recap on the town square. On left: Cathedral. On right: another church. Little building on the far right: older church. Down the street: three more churches. I was thrilled.

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I wasn’t allowed to take pictures in any of the places of worship and I decided to be tactful and respect their laws so no inside pics. But I can describe them. They is the main altar in the front, but along both sides there are private chapels devoted to one saint or another. They are, to be honest, garish. So much shiny gold and silver. Lots and lots of statues. Complex woven fabrics. Everything clashes. Some people might be overwhelmed but I liked it. The churches wanted all different looks so they went for it. Good for them.

Outside the cathedral were a group of boys performing a dance that represented their heritage as hunters. One kid’s dog didn’t want to leave so he stood by his little man throughout the performance.

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Henry wanted us to visit a church with a cool history, the Church of St. Domingo right next to where he grew up. The Spaniards, when they arrived, asked where all the holy sites of the Incas were and promptly build Catholic buildings on top of them. It’s ruthless but an excellent way to eliminate any other religions from being practiced. You can see the ruins at the base in this exterior shot.

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Until the 1950s if you went inside there was no inkling of what had been there. Everything was coated in plaster and painted with Baroque murals. But sometime in the 1950s there was an earthquake and much of the plaster cracked off. Lo and behold, a whole Inca structure was revealed.

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(BTW, I wasn’t breaking any rules and being disrespectful by taking photos. This is all outside in the courtyard.)

It turns out this was a massive complex where the stars were studied. The archaeologists found stones with strange carvings, tubes and divots, and then they found one intact window. They deduced that at certain times of the year certain stars could be seen through the holes and lined up with the divots and that was how the Incas knew when the different seasons started and ended. Very cool. Here are the stones neatly lined up in a row.

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Remember they didn’t have any metal tools, only other pieces of granite and hematite to rub against the stone and wear it down. It’s really impressive what they accomplished.

Here is the semi-intact window.

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And here is the courtyard that surrounds all of this, clearly built by the Spanish.

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At the same time as the earthquake hit, the massive backyard behind the church was revealed in full as well. There are all kinds of star-mapping paths on it as well. I got a few decent photos even though the sun was setting and it was getting dark.

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Three things from Cusco before we head out to the Galapagos: I liked how the streetlights had little ornamental Inca designs on them.

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And instead of pay phones, you look for women wearing green vests. They have cell phones and you can make calls on them and pay by the minute.

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Here’s a great shot of Cusco from the place where I ate the pumpkin ice cream.

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The next day we left for Equador to begin the next chapter of this neato journey. The part I was most excited about was coming up – the Galapagos. Anyone who knows me knows how I feel about nature and beasties, so I was super-psyched.

South America 2015, Part 6.

Sunday, September 27th, 2015

More Machu Picchu pics! Not taken by me whatsoever. I’ll explain. After Day 1 at the site, we were given the option of getting up the next morning at 4:30, lining up for an hour or two at the entrance to the village, and going on one of two long hikes around the area. I opted to stay in the room and meet everyone at lunch. My niece Drea, however, due to her ability to walk very quickly, managed to do both hikes and took pictures. These are her pictures. My pictures would have been of my pillow. Because I was sleeping.

Drea hiked this far away from the place we had been the day before on the first hike. After looking at this picture I feel I made the right decision.

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The other hike was to go see the Incan Bridge. I don’t know what your preconceived notion of a bridge is, but this is so creepy-scary.

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Then they returned to the town we were staying in for lunch and we got ready to head out.

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But not before seeing another hairless dog:

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And visiting the local flea market.

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We headed out in the bus and got to visit a local breadmaker.

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He is the fourth generation in his family to be a breadmaker and work at this bakery (which his grandfather built). There is a fifteen-foot-in-diameter domed oven fueled by eucalyptus wood and this man slides the loaves into the oven using a super-long pizza paddle, also made from eucalyptus wood. People are encouraged to use eucalyptus wood for anything and everything because it’s an invasive species from Australia and it uses up a lot of the ground water, preventing indigenous species from thriving.

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The loaves he is holding? They have ducks on them because that’s his family’s crest. They were soooooo yummers. He pulled them fresh out of the oven and they were warm and fluffy and had a thin crust on top of crystallized suger and anise. Normally I’m not on Team Black Licorice but for some reason I could not stop stuffing what amounted to probably half a loaf of this bread into my mouth. So. Good.

The most interesting thing I saw at the bakery was how he gauged the heat of the oven. On top of the oven is a water tank. Off to the side is a rudimentary faucet that the water tank flows into. This breadmaker turns the faucet on and the quantity of steam that comes out tells him how hot the oven is. Amazing.

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He also let us try another bread that had a large air pocket at the top. I think that bread is more about how cool that looks versus how good it tastes. I mean, it was fine but after the magic of Duck Anise Bread all others pale in comparison.

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After snorfing ourselves into a bread coma we visited Tipon. Tipon is another terraced ruin but this one is different because this is where they did experiments on their crops, grafting and the like. There are 3,800 types of potatoes in Peru, as well as quinoa and corn and tons of other foods, and this is where they made them less bitter or hardier. The part of Tipon that is most impressive is the canals built to channel the water all around the three-sided amphitheater space.

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Look at how convoluted that is. These are people who did not have a written language, but they figured out the complex engineering needed to pull this off. That is so impressive. The Inca even figured out that if they made the vertical canals thinner on the outer edge it would reduce splashing at the bottom which would reduce waste. That’s pretty ingenious.

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We also visited another site called Sacsayhuaman (pronounced “Sexy Woman,” really). We walked through a grove of a typical Peruvian tree. I avoids growing lichen by have bark that resembles filo dough pastry.

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The reason we were visiting this particular site was the size of the stones the Inca had dragged to this place. They’re the biggest at any site. No one knows how they got them here. This is Drea modelling to show scale.

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It’s laid out in a zigzag formation to resemble lightning, something the Incas considered sacred.

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And the wind at the top of this hill never stops blowing ever. Therefore there’s some serious erosion on some of these stones.

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There were two things I really liked seeing at Sacsayhuaman: one was the rock that looked like it had been pushed through a Play-Doh press (because it was once lava that was squoozed out onto this hilltop):

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And the other was the llama waiting outside the gates. Peruvian people will dress up in local costume and pose for pictures outside various sites and I never felt compelled to take pictures with them. Until this llama came into my life. It was the most glamorous llama I had ever seen. Look at those lashes. It is the Marilyn Monroe of llamas.

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If I could have bought that llama and brought it home, I would have. My goodness. Apparently The Moomins is holding a lamb in some of these pictures but I can’t see them because my vision is consumed by the majestic llama. I heart this llama. I heart it bad.

We ended the day walking through a natural labyrinth where sacrifices were made.

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We know that the Incas did not carve out the altar area because the rivulets of dried sediment on the walls (they would be stalactites if they were drippier) are over 10,000 years old which is older than the Incas.

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They did carve out the altar (in the shape of the Inca cross) and that big square space you see in the back, that was lined with silver or gold to reflect the light onto the altar itself because it was kind of dark down there.

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Coming up: A last day in Cusco and then off to Ecuador.

Things I got myself for my birthday.

Thursday, July 30th, 2015

1. A molecule bedspread. Specifically the theobromide molecule, the one in chocolate that makes everything feel sunshiny. I don’t have a nice bedspread so I figured this was a good way to go and I supported an artist in the process! Bonus. Thanks for bringing this guy to my attention, Bex.

http://home.theodoregray.com/moleculequilts

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2. This vitally important t-shirt because I’m down to only seventy or eighty black t-shirts and I feel like I’m running out.

http://www.lookhuman.com/

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3. Things-could-be-worse mugs. There’s a kickstarter to produce them. I don’t need another damn mug but how can you resist this tagline?

Lost your keys? Lost your job? Look at the bright side. At least you’re not plagued by pterodactyls, pursued by giant robots, or pestered by zombie poodles. Life is good!

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/159974695/things-could-be-worse-mugs

 

4. A ticket to see Weird Al Yankovic at The Capitol Theater in Port Chester. When I was twelve my friend Jem introduced me to Weird Al’s work (she’s still my friend, hi Jem!) and I’ve loved him ever since. This polka mix in particular has made it impossible to hear these songs correctly ever ever again.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C0g_LYOFJ1I

A masterpiece. He also writes his own music that is oft overlooked for his parodies but his original stuff is great. Have you heard “Hardware Store”? It’s a pipe dream of mine to be able to do the fast part in the middle, at about 2:30 on the video below. Never gonna happen but a girl can dream.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9m7SldTq8CY

His live show is supposed to be a hoot with multiple costume changes and special effects and I’ve wanted to see him for so many years now, this is a real dream come true.

New Orleans Part 5 and done.

Wednesday, July 29th, 2015

I saved my favorite tourist activity from New Orleans for last, and that was Mardi Gras World. Mardi Gras World is a studio that builds and designs all the floats for the parades. I figured they would have a few on display but happily I was incorrect. You could actually tour the workstations where pieces were being created and I totally freaked out. Cricket stopped me from quitting my N.Y. job and applying right then and there. I know all the techniques Mardi Gras World is using! I could have started working immediately! Gimme a tub of glue and I’ll paper-mache that giant raccoon! Cricket, stop dragging me away, it is my destineeeeeeeeeee!

We walked to the studio from the hotel which was not the best decision because we misread the map and it was a million miles away (about three miles really, but it was very hot so it felt longer). As we approached (on foot, in the heat, did I mention that?) you could see the size of the warehouse and appreciate the scale of it. When we walked around the interior the tour guide told us that elsewhere in the state there have fourteen more warehouses full of float-parts and scenery.

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This was the permanent installment of the jester pointing to the door. As you can sew, the threat level is Marsec 1. Since this building is on the banks of the Mississippi I assume the threat is the water level rising and not an imminent alien attack or spores that take over your brain and make you punch your neighbor.

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You then walk in the front door and are greeted by a cavalcade of nuttiness. Can you think of a thing? Chances are it’s there, next to another random thing. Some of my top collections – the Hieronymus Bosch fish chillin’ behind the vino bottle:

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The chili pepper hangin’ with The Cat in the Hat and an ornate column:

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Two wee demons looking in a mirror, a big fluorescent fish and a snow monster with stars in its fur:

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Really angry anglerfish (an anglyfish), a clock with jewels and a sparkly poison-dart frog on a sparkly mushroom:

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Napoleon, a carp bench and a pelican:

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And a nightmare spider from a 1950s movie.

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In the gift shop there was a scary chef with the ingredients of gumbo bursting forth from his cooking pot. A bit macabre for my taste, the food items popping out and smiling but to each their own.

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Off to one side was a costume that would be worn at Mardi Gras of a Crayfish Queen. I tried to convince Börkke to wear it as a wedding dress (she was getting married in Maine, I tried to convince her that they were lobsters) but she declined. Sigh.

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I went on the tour to get a better idea of the work they do at Mardi Gras World. I found out they also make props for places like Universal as shown by this dinosaur we passed. On a related note, has everyone seen the latest Jurassic World? I saw it in 3D and I would recommend that. The raptors come snappy-snappy right at your face. The new big bad dinosaur is creepy and awesome. It’s a jaunty summer film, all fluff but a good time. I’m a bit obsessed with with the giant water demon shown in the trailer, Bitey McChompersons. The one that eats the shark. I would watch a movie with only that guy in it.

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Anyway, back to awesome props. Since it was a Sunday no one was at the workstations but they had left the pieces they were constructing out so I could behave creepily and gently caress them like a lunatic. Here’s the general way this works – there are krewes, like clubs, that decide they’re going to have a Mardi Gras parade. A parade must have a theme and consist of no less than fourteen floats. The krewe then collects money throughout the year from various krewe members and then they decide on the theme. “Characters from Books.” “Important Americans Through History.” “Oceans of the World.” That kind of theme. Then they meet with a designer who lays out how the floats will look. They can reuse the substructure of previous floats which is why they are kept in giant warehouses. Did you know there’s no entrance onto the float? You need to climb on or in via a platform and you stay there all day. Therefore many floats have a restroom built into it. When the work by the designer is approved, construction begins. These float items need to be large but also very lightweight so they are made a few different ways. Mostly a welder makes the skeleton which is covered with industrial styrofoam and carved with a hot knife into the rough shape. Then it is sanded and covered with brown kraft paper paper-mache which makes the surface even and receptive to painting (exactly how I made my crab for my ocean costume!). There were some structures that were welded together and only covered with thick pieces of cardboard to give them a light, airy feel. It appears that one of next year’s themes is Chinese in nature.

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They will also pull older pieces, cut them up, remodel them, paint them and send them back out. For example, this hourglass.

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In the back area they have the full floats parked. They’re really big. None of these parades go through the French Quarter because the streets aren’t wide enough and the wires would get in the way. These all go down the main thoroughfares.

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And here’s a finished piece sitting in a workstation. I started drooling when I saw all those paints and brushes.

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And here are some photos that were left behind but are no less important.

Crab escargot. Look, it resembles a demon emerging from the bowels of hell! Dig in, kids! (It was actually delicious.)

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Cricket and my boat trip down the Ole Mississip. It was RAINING. Not raining, RAINING. All the rains. I insisted that we sit outside so we got soaked. It was cool nonetheless.

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On the boat there was a women’s restroom and it reinforced my comments on how important typeface choices are. I swore it said “Loadies” which is a terrible name for a women’s restroom. Bad. Bad designer. No biscuit.

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I would totally go back. I would like to go for Mardi Gras and watch all the parades. Maybe someday I will have that opportunity.