Archive for the ‘Travels – I Has Them’ Category

Mexico 2019, Part 7.

Friday, June 26th, 2020

Mexican craftpeople! But first, an oxymoron.

Mini-super.

Mexican crafts. Moomins and I came across a state-funded exhibition of all the styles of art Mexicans make and there was no way we were going to pass that up. I’m so glad we didn’t because I had no idea. The different materials and the variety of creative outlets, it was mind-boggling. As you well know I like details, the smaller and more complicated the better. And I was not disappointed. Look at these free-handed ceramics.

 

To give you an idea of how much The Moomins and I differ in our artistic taste, I got soooo excited to see the work of Jacobo y Maria Angeles. Look at the carving, the painting. So precise.

Moomins was disinterested. The one that catches her eye? This.

So, you know, different. Going back to bananas intricacy: candles. Ever thought your wax candles were unexciting? How about making lace and flowers from dripped and carved wax to jazz up those blandles?

Those figures are also made of wax which I totally understand because wax is slightly translucent and therefore looks a great deal like skin. But I hope all these artists live in cool climates because on a hot day all this awesomeness is going to gently slump to the ground.

I was introduced to an art style I never knew existed which is unusual and really neat. See this tapestry? It’s a village scene. Not big, maybe 2′ x 3′. Whatevs.

But wait. It’s made by attaching small pieces of black and white feathers in a meticulous manner. Suddenly every line and section is far more impressive. It’s a very old art in Mexico. Here’s a section of antique featherwork.

You can see the labor put into that. I was impressed as hell.

Something I’ve always enjoyed about Mexican art is how relaxed they are about how animals are represented. Is that a bird? Who knows. Maybe it’s a jaguar? Your guess is as good as mine. Here are some of the better examples of that with what I think the animal might be. Feel free to disagree, we each are probably right and / or wrong.

Fish and deer. That one’s easy.

Lions. With back scales.

Fox owl hybrids.

Crocodiles. Or horses. Definitely crocodiles or horses. Maybe.

Okay, I see a frog off to the left, a bird wearing a hat playing a saxophone off to the right, a cat (?) wearing a hat playing something small near its mouth and a lizard (??) with a horn fused to its snoot (???).

Uhhhh…

UHHH…

Other art forms represented: Sheet metal sculpture using things like soda cans.

Lacquer:

Carving:

There was a model of a cathedral made of corn husks that I forgot to take a picture of. There was silver jewelry and complex weaving and embroidery art, it was insane. I was blown away. Unrelated to anything, I liked these doves and leaves on this chair.

Coming up next: The beginning of Oaxaca.

Mexico 2019 Part 6.

Tuesday, June 16th, 2020

More art! First, the Museum of Modern Art which has an awesome interior if you like mid-modern architecture. The gift shop is in a pit under the stairs for God’s sake. Big fan.

Outside the museum is a sculpture of the beloved Mexican protein source, the grasshopper. I love his buck teeth.

The modern museum has a sweet little cafe in the back and they will give you a picnic basket full of sandwiches and such so you can go eat in the small but lovely sculpture garden. I didn’t get a chance to do that this time but next time for sure.

Alright, more murals by Not-Diego-Rivera. Now we delve into José Clemente Orozco. Here’s a brief description from Wikipedia:

José Clemente Orozco (November 23, 1883 – September 7, 1949) was a Mexican caricaturist and painter, who specialized in political murals that established the Mexican Mural Renaissance together with murals by Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros, and others. Orozco was the most complex of the Mexican muralists, fond of the theme of human suffering, but less realistic and more fascinated by machines than Rivera. Orozco was known for being a politically committed artist, and he promoted the political causes of peasants and workers.

A truncated version would be, “This dude has STRONG OPINIONS and would like you to know them.” Get ready.

Orozco was commissioned to do a series of murals all around the inside of a courtyard. He started to create them, they were beautiful, they were inspired by Renaissance paintings, etc. And partway through he was like “Too nice! Repaint! Make oppressively depressing!”

Here’s an excellent example. Drunk rich man dancing with Blind Justice who’s blindfold has slipped and who’s wearing fancy shoes, possibly bought by the rich man. Don’t have to look too deep to figure out what Orozco is trying to say with that one.

Workers shaking hands, one of whom has a hammer. Communism? Sure, probably. Wouldn’t surprise me.

This was kind of funny. These beaten workers and folding a flag while Freddy Mercury’s head floats above them. Turns out the head was part of the original Renaissance-style painting and Orozco liked it so he didn’t paint over it, he just left it there.

Say what you want about the grim sentiments of his paintings, Orozco could paint hands. Like, really well.

Upstairs was a painting of God with the fat and rich off to one side wearing halos and on the other side are devils chasing a poor mother carrying her baby.

This was the only painting left from the original painting. It’s supposed to represent motherhood. Isn’t it nice and not a horrifying statement on society? Well, people couldn’t leave it alone. Women were upset because the ladies are naked so Orozco left it to piss those women off. But that’s not all. He said “I’ll make a portrait of you, good upstanding women.” Surprise, it was wildly unflattering.

This mural is called “Motherhood.”

Aaaaaand it’s fat rich women ignoring and stepping on a starving woman in the street. You couldn’t leave well enough alone, could you? You had to antagonize the already angry mural-painter, didn’t you? Nice job. You deserve this.

One more muralist. I can’t remember his name but his story is interesting. The muralist started his mural on one underside of an arch but he kept getting arrested and going to prison for acts of protest so it took him 40 years to finish the mural and you can really see how his work changed and evolved over time by the time he got to the other side.

Here’s a bit of his original style on one side of the stairs.

And the 40-years-later-style on the other side.

Despite the population being literate, murals continue to be a huge part of the Mexican experience. The street art is some of the best I’ve ever seen.

Next, Mexican craftspeople bringing their top-notch skills.

Mexico 2019 Part 5.

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2020

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

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

Look at that plating. Delicious.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This one shows their keen understanding of astronomy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Next posting: More murals.

Mexico 2019 Part 4.

Thursday, March 12th, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s the altar. It’s very Baroque.

But the rest, lovely. Clean. Simple.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Me: “?”

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

Me: “Sounds nice.”

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

Me: “Ok, there it is.”

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

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

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

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

Coming up next: Murals and craftsmen.

Mexico 2019 Part 3.

Friday, February 21st, 2020

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

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

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

Art Nouveau stained glass.

Extremely large cactus. The Moomins for scale.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coming up next: More Mexico City tour with Cathedral.

Mexico 2019 Part 2.

Tuesday, January 21st, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are some better pics I found on the web.

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

And this display of a necklace made from human teeth.

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

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

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

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

A selection of shrines with offerings.

Some excellent filigree work done with gold.

Clarification of filigree and why it’s so impressive.

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

Here’s a supremely janky looking snail.

A screaming badger.

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

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

There were some tombs with their contents.

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

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

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

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

Mexico 2019 Part 1.

Monday, December 30th, 2019

Mexico! I went a ways back to Mexico City and Puerto Vallarta for the beading intensive with my dream beading artists so I’m not going to cover everything because I did a considerable amount already (see here for the last trip). Anything new I will share aggressively; I accrued a lot. Let’s start with the flight to Mexico City. As we lined up to board I was next to some men that had a really specific look going on. After studying their tattoos (skulls, Satanic pentagrams, skulls with Satanic pentagrams, horned demon faces, flames, upside-down crosses, naked ladies making bad choices, etc.), their black clothing and their guitar cases I came to the (correct) conclusion that these gentlemen were in a band. I did some research when I saw the stickers on their luggage and their name is Belphegor. Belphegor is listed as “blackened death metal” because apparently “death metal” didn’t adequately get the point across. Some of their albums are Blood Magick Necromance, Infernal Live Orgasm and my personal favorite, Bondage Goat Zombie. What was most surprising is they were very nice. I don’t know what I expected, maybe they would eat raw meat or something but they didn’t do any of that. One of them had a neck pillow covered in other band’s names which was rather sweet. The only problem I had was – you know when you’re finding your seat and you’re putting your luggage in the overhead bins and the plane is playing pleasant stuff? The lead singer called in “scheisse musick” and I was like sir, this is Fleetwood Mac’s “Hold Me” and while it is not everyone’s taste it’s a classic, I’m sorry AeroMexico is not blasting some festive number about a cockroach-infused undead woman so settle down with your snotty comments. Drink your beer and eat your snacks and hush.

Please enjoy their logo.

My main purpose for going to Mexico was two-fold: One was to show The Moomins the Diego Rivera murals and Teotihuacan and to go to the studios of the artist who made the alebrijes I saw in Puerto Vallarte. In case you don’t remember I went to a gallery called Peyote People where I was introduced to this exquisite work:

http://design-newyork.com/blog/2016/05/24/mexico-part-3-and-done/

Yeah. I felt a lot of feelings but the pieces were thousands of dollars and that’s more dollars than I have. I did end up buying some small pieces and I was right – going directly to the artists’ studio dropped the prices considerably. An added bonus is watching them work and meeting them in person. That was pretty miraculous.

Here are a few loner images to whet the appetite.

This place was not open so I don’t know what they were selling. I will never know.

I really liked this chandelier with the flame-shaped glass caps over the actual bulbs.

You’re damn right I paid to take a picture with the Mexican Freddy Mercury. That’s not an opportunity you can pass up.

At a church there was this campaign to make items for handicapped people using soda tops. I liked both the idea and the designs.

There were almost no Chinese restaurants which as an American made me feel confused and uncomfortable so when I saw this one I felt compelled to take a picture of it.

The skyline of Mexico City main square at sunset. I like this picture. It’s so black and spiky.

More to come.

New Orleans. I knew I’d get to it eventually.

Thursday, August 8th, 2019

In February (yeah I’m aware it’s August, hush your judgmental self) I went to New Orleans to take a surface beading class where I did precisely no surface beading whatsoever. It’s where I worked on St. George. Snorth and her husband Speeb and I made a trip of it. While the class was only three days we went there for five because it’s important to see as much as possible. New Orleans continues to be one of my favorite destinations in America. I have a list.

– They have no snow. That means no slippy slidey slushy sadness. Yes, it’s oppressively hot and muggy but you know what I’m not going to do in that muggery? Get betrayed by physics and gravity and have my feet shoot out from under me, potentially damaging my body and definitely damaging my mental state. Ain’t nobody need that.

– You like making props and costumes? All year. They do it all year. There’s not only Mardi Gras, there’s also some big party at Halloween. People makes bikes with critters on them (more on that later). They make carts with musical instruments and all manner of flashing blinking whatnot and roll it around the neighborhoods for no reason. When Snorth and I went to the major float provider I found out they do sets for shows and brands and really anyone who needs something, not only Mardi Gras. They’re busy all year round. I asked what it takes to work there and I seriously considered quitting my job and going down there to live my best life but decided against it because it’s wildly reckless and very unrealistic. But I’m still thinking about it. Secretly. In the back of my mind.

– The people. The people there love their ugly folk. I don’t mean it’s a city entirely comprised of trolls and sewer-dwellers. It’s that in New York there’s a ton of high fashion and models and that’s valued and important. Chanel and Versace and Prada and Fashion Week. In New Orleans there’s no Prada and there’s no supermodels. Regular people leading regular lives. Wearing what they want. All the beautiful people I saw weren’t being pretentious, they were dressed in super-cool clothes and clearly unconcerned with people’s perception of them. It seems that your story-telling or music or art you make is more valuable than your appearance. Appearance still matters in New Orleans, it’s just not the top of the list. Quite the breath of fresh air.

I’ve been to New Orleans before and blogged about it (see here) so I’m going to do a very truncated version.

The class was offered in the Mardi Gras Museum of Costumes and Culture and I learned quite a bit. For example it is not uncommon for someone participating in the parade to wear elements of their career in their costume. The woman wearing this was a nurse, hence the syringe and the stethoscope and the caduceus.

 

The museum had the nutria bike I’d seen previously, I was super-psyched to meet it in person as you can imagine. His name is Napoleon and his whiskers are zip ties.

Some of the other notable items in the museum: The Erté dress with the dog made from a lawn holiday decoration of a reindeer on wheels.

There was the mannequin with a large, concerning lump on his neck.

There was a beaded patch that caught my eye. Often these beaded elements are roughly sketched out and the creators are more concerned with conveying a message than intricate technique. This patch is a portrait and it is a very good representation of Big Freedia. Big Freedia is called the Queen of Bounce which is a style of dance music that I have difficulty listening to. But I find Big Freedia a delightful person and I love her fashion choices. She’s a killer and she works hard.

In the back was a metal skirt that women wear at giant balls and parties. The rings hold champagne glasses and the wearer glides around the floor where you can pick up champagne from her.

That was fine. What was NOT fine was what was perched on top of one of those skirts. I walked to the back of the museum only to be confronted by the most nightmarish thing ever: a papier-maché crawfish (an already rough-lookin’ critter) but gigantor and falling apart. It was broad daylight in a well-lit room and I still shrieked like it had snuck up on me. Look at the skirt for scale.

Huge. In my face. Nightmares. Greeting me. Every morning.

During the class we got meet one of the premier beaders of New Orleans, Demond Melancon. He went from being a dishwasher in local hotels to having his work shown in museums and sold in galleries. Demond makes crazy complex costumes which are used for battling. Instead of battling with knives and guns, two people wearing these kinds of costumes go up to each other and display off the stories they have been working on for that year. There are all those layers so when you think you’ve seen it all the wearer pulls a panel away and paplow! Another panel. You slide an arm flap and there’s a whole different section you hadn’t noticed. If you know how heavy glass beads are you can only imagine how heavy this whole ensemble is. I think showing dominance over others in non-violent ways and using talent and storytelling skills is awesome so keep it up, everyone. One of my favorite things is the beaders brag about how small the beads they use are. The smaller the beads, the more detail, the more time invested, the more skill. The higher the number the smaller the bead. So while everybody else is using 6s and 8s, Demond is out there yelling “10s and 11s! You hear me? 10s and 11s!” Every so often I’ll talk to Snorth and I’ll say, “10s and 11s! Look at it! 10s and 11s!”

We went to Demond’s studio which is a large artist’s collective in a big warehouse. Outside his door is the studio of the people who made Napoleon the Nutria bike. I got very excited.

Since Demond (and his wife, the unsung hero of his success, she needs accolades for her work) do such large projects there’s an ingenious solution to get beading done on such a large scale. They get old dining room tables, take the tops off and staple-gun the thick cotton or linen to the table edges. That way they can draw with markers on this taut surface and see underneath when they’re beading. They had a table off to the side with only the marker drawing on it.

Here’s a video where you can see his studio and some of his work.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jrG8xgZCwTo

Snorth and I went back to my happy place which was Mardi Gras World where the floats are made. I’ve already covered this place (glorious bliss heaven) but there were some cool new things I thought I’d address.

Look at this excellent painting job! These coins are really great.

I’m glad someone is repairing the giant snail. The snail deserves only the best.

In order to cut down on foam carving time for non-Mardi Gras-related items (like a recent project the Chik-Fil-A cow) they have a computerized carving machine. It’s huge, it takes up a whole room. Which is why most people might not notice the Buddha off in the corner with the DJ Deadmaus’ signature head on it. But I did. I noticed.

They had the usual pile of randomness. Some I took because of the incongruity of one piece next to another. Some I took because of the excellent painting or carving. Some because their expression is hilarious.

Two other New Orleans sights that I want to address – the shoes I would have killed for at 10 years old (wouldn’t mind them now either):

And the Squirrel Carousel. It lit up. It spun. I wanted it. It was $4000. I did not buy it. I have regrets.

San Francisco Part 8 and done.

Friday, May 10th, 2019

Birds! So, so many birds. But first, something else.

I’ve spoken about how much I love Jeremy Fish’s style. I own one of his pieces in my apartment, a signed print of a skull with wings and a bunny head riding on two dachshunds while a hand holds a carrot to motivate them. (Jeremy Fish is very surreal – it’s best not to ask questions.) I know Jeremy Fish is based in San Francisco so imagine my delight when I saw this pasted to some wooden siding.

And here’s a another bit associated with the game park. On the side of the road there was a ankole cow, the kind with the gigantor horns. It makes the difference between antlers and horns very clear. Horns are temporary, they’re used for mating rituals and then they fall off. Horns are forever and in the ankole’s case (and many other beastie’s cases) it cools the blood before it goes to the brain. That’s why it looks like a sponge.

Okay, birds. The game park not only had herbivores and the occasional carnivore, it also had birds. A lotta birds. And few of my dream birds that I never thought I’d see so I got super-excited.

These are storks of some kind. Fancy storks. The males and the females are almost exactly the same and the only way to tell them apart is one sex has yellow eyes and one sex has red eyes.

Flamingos. I don’t feel like I have to do much explaining here. They’re a bird we all are familiar with.

In a very large net-covered area was a plethora of birds. A lot of ibises (I like to call them ibii, I assume that’s wrong but I don’t care). Some different storks. A lovely medley of ducks. Something called a hammerkop. It’s related to the pelican.

The tour guide said we could go inside the enclosure as long as we stayed with him and didn’t interfere with whatever the birds were doing. That’s how I got so close to these fancy fancies.

And then… I saw them. I’ve mentioned the vulturine guineafowl before. I’m well-acquainted with helmeted guineafowl, they’re common in South Africa. They was free-range there, wandering around being stupid (which is what they do).

But there’s the bestest guineafowl in the world and that’s the vulturine kind. And there they were, two feet from where I was standing. I tried to be cool about it. I was not cool about it. I was plotting on how to steal one.

So if anyone is going to the San Francisco area and feel like picking me up a present, this would be an excellent choice. Get me the skull-faced balding blue-faced chicken asap.

There were a couple other creatures in other areas.

Cheetahs!

Servals sunning themselves!

And one of the few monkeys I like (I find monkeys and apes a bit terrifying) the De. Brazza’s Monkey.

And that’s it for the trip to San Fran. I hope you found insightful and informative.

Many changes.

Tuesday, April 16th, 2019

As the title implies, there have been many changes. Mainly I quit my job with Publicis after 11 years. I had had enough. I only left a little over a week ago and now I’m making my way in this brave new world. It’s scary but it’s also awesome. I gotta hustle now and make lunch appointments and update my LinkedIn profile, it’s all very exciting. Now, concerning blog entries. I was going to wrap up my San Francisco trip but since there was the tragedy of Notre Dame yesterday I figured I would talk about other churches and cathedrals I have visited that are nowhere near as famous but are similarly old and maybe even more beautiful. It gives one hope that there’s still beauty out there in this time of sorrow for all us art history and architecture enthusiasts.

It also helps that this was a kind of inevitability. not a fluke. From The New York Times:

Vincent Dunn, a fire consultant and former New York City fire chief, said that fire hose streams could not reach the top of such a cathedral, and that reaching the top on foot was often an arduous climb over winding steps.

“These cathedrals and houses of worship are built to burn,” he said. “If they weren’t houses of worship, they’d be condemned.”

Okay. On to other Christian churches / cathedrals that will make you feel better, maybe.

  1. St. Vitus’ Cathedral in Prague: http://design-newyork.com/blog/2010/04/02/budapest-and-prague-part-4/
  2. In case you’re missing the catacombs, outside Prague is The Ossuary of Sedlec. And St. Barbara’s Church (should be a cathedral, lost out to St. Vitus): http://design-newyork.com/blog/2010/04/03/budapest-and-prague-part-5/
  3.  Cathedral in Antwerp, Belgium that still has the polychrome intact on the walls (which had chipped off in Notre Dame): http://design-newyork.com/blog/2012/12/03/belgium-for-thanksgiving-2012-part-3/
  4. St. Vitus’ Cathedral again (because awesome): http://design-newyork.com/blog/2015/02/03/germany-part-6-technically-prague/
  5. AND The Ossuary of Sedlec / St. Barbara’s Church again (because awesome): http://design-newyork.com/blog/2015/02/15/germany-part-done-technically-prague/
  6. The Church of the Jesuits in Quito, Ecuador (which is not Europe but holy crap this church was amazing): http://design-newyork.com/blog/2015/10/26/south-america-2015-part-8/
  7. Peterskirche in Vienna (super Baroque with festive dead bodies on display!): http://design-newyork.com/blog/2018/03/20/vienna-and-krakow-part-2/
  8. St. Mary’s Church in Krakow: http://design-newyork.com/blog/2018/04/15/vienna-and-krakow-part-8/
  9. Wawel Cathedral in Krakow (dragon dragon dragon whale bones dragon dragon): http://design-newyork.com/blog/2018/04/03/vienna-and-krakow-part-7/

And because I went here before I started blogging, the Cathedral of Monreale in Sicily. I straight-up lost my mind when I walked in. The mosaics are unreal. Here’s some info:

The Cathedral of Monreale (Italian: Duomo di Monreale) is a church in Monreale, City of Palermo, Sicily. One of the greatest existent examples of Norman architecture, it was begun in 1174 by William II of Sicily. Since 2015 it is part of the Arab-Norman Palermo and the Cathedral Churches of Cefalù and Monreale UNESCO Heritage site.

The main internal feature is the large extent (6,500 m2) glass mosaics, executed in Byzantine style between the late 12th and the mid-13th centuries by both local and Venetians masters. With the exception of a high dado, made of marble slabs with bands of mosaic between them, the whole interior surface of the walls, including soffits and jambs of all the arches, is covered with minute mosaic-pictures in bright colors on a gold ground. The mosaic pictures, depicting stories from both the Old and New Testament, are arranged in tiers, divided by horizontal and vertical bands. In parts of the choir there are five of these tiers of subjects or single figures one above another.

I hope this helps ease the pain of losing Notre Dame. Remember, these are only churches and cathedrals I have visited. There are tons more.