Archive for April, 2010

Would you like some charts? I bet you would.

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010

I’ve a HOR-rendous week at work. The good news is that we got a nifty new office camera. The bad news is that someone took a picture of me with it.

I was so freakin’ tired when this picture was taken. And my work area looks like an episode of Hoarders should be filmed there.

But there is also happiness in my world in the form of charts. As everyone knows, I heart the infographics. And I’ve seen quite a few good ones lately.

Also, I saw this wallpaper, and I love it. It’s Victorian and macabre, and it’s got buggies! Total win/win.

My favorite movies.

Thursday, April 22nd, 2010

I would like to tell you about my three favorite movies. I was recently re-acquainted with one because Netflix was streaming it. I had forgotten how much I loved that film. So, without further ado, my three favorite movies are The Shawshank Redemption, Men In Black and Antonia’s Line. You probably know the first two, bein’ big Hollywood-type movies and all. I became familiar with Antonia’s Line while watching the 1996 Oscars. That really famous tearjerker The Postman was nominated for Best Foreign Film. I loved it and I thought it was going to win for sure. And then this other film, this unknown Dutch film, comes in and wins the award, and I was all like, “Wait… what?” Flash forward about a month. I’m in Massachusetts with my mother for a long weekend. We had a evening with nothing planned, so we decided to go to the indie/foreign movie theater, where Antonia’s Line was playing. I saw it, and I then agreed that it was the Best Foreign Film of the Year, definitely the best film I saw that year. It’s a Dutch film that takes place in a rural farming village, and it tracks the life of a woman named Antonia and her family over about fifty years. You get to know the other villagers and their idiosyncrasies, as well as Antonia and the people that swirl in and out of her storied life, kind of like a maypole dance. I was in high school when I saw it, and unlike most American films of that time (and this time as well, who are we kidding) there was no puritanical undertones of any kind. This movie starts right after WWII, and people do things that are frowned upon still now (getting pregnant out of wedlock, homosexuality, etc.) and the most of the characters in the film are okay with this. This blew my mind. I was so accustomed to Hollywood’s standard punishment of the sinners in all their films. This was like a revelation. The other great thing about Antonia’s Line is that I would say about six characters don’t talk. They just don’t have any lines, or just one line. But they are integral to the story line and they really stir up emotions in you. As long as it is streaming on Netflix, I recommend you watch it. And you might want to watch The Shawshank Redemption and Men In Black again too, while you’re at it.

Random things you ought to know.

Thursday, April 15th, 2010

1. I did not know this about myself, but I learned today from Cute Overload that I like banana slugs.

I think that the name should be changed to “American Cheese Slug”.

Thank you, photographer J-Fish.

2. I saw The Princess and The Frog the other night (it was meh) but I noticed that I look exactly like the large friendly alligator named Louis who only wants to play trumpet in a band. I took a screengrab so you could appreciate the similarity. I mean, look at Louis’ facial expression. I make that face all the time.

I would prefer to look exactly like a fancy-pants lady movie star, but it is what it is.

3. Charts! First, a chart about Pixar characters.

And then an angry chart about how stupid charts are.

4. I originally thought this was the greatest Rube Goldberg thing of all time – the Honda cog commercial.

And then I saw the OKGO video. Super rad, dudes. Super rad.

Happy happy spring spring!

Monday, April 12th, 2010

While living in New York can be awful, weather-wise, the benefit of that is that when the weather is beautiful, you really appreciate it. Can’t imagine it’s the same for people who live in the Caribbean. Now spring has sprung in Manhattan, and the park right in front of my job is full of flowers. I tell you, it makes everything better.

It also means that the Macy’s Flower Show was this past week. Since is it:
– across the street, and
– free,
I couldn’t not go. Here’s my blog entry from two years ago on it. And, as usual, it was visually stunning. The theme this year was oldie-tymie hot-air balloons.

The gardens were lovely. As usual, my favorite was the bromeliad and orchid garden.

And the entrance area’s ceiling was covered with paper butterflies.

The best part: a cage with three neat colored finches in one of the aisles.

The sad moment for me was when I realized that all the little placards were written in Papyrus font. (Sad face emoticon here.) However, I did have a “tee hee” graphic designer moment.

See? The plant is called Papyrus, and it’s in the Papyrus font! Ha ha ha! Graphic designer humor! Never gets old.

I’m watchin’ movies. Epic sweeping movies. And not-so-epic or sweeping movies.

Wednesday, April 7th, 2010

I saw Mongol, the epic film about Genghis Khan. I heard about it, people told me it was excellent, and it was streaming on Netflix, so I watched it. And while I don’t think I need to see it more than once, I’m glad I took the time to watch it. It takes place in Mongolia in the 1100s, when various nomadic tribes occupied the land. It’s a slow and temperate film, tracking the life of this boy who has a target on him at all times. There’s a lot of fur, a lot of animal hides.  Also, much trekking around in the some of the most beautiful landscape I have ever seen with no one else around for miles. Super-mega-isolated. The tribes are fractured and are constantly getting into little wars with each other, killing and raping and burning each other’s yurts and whatnot. Genghis Khan’s final goal is to unite all these tribes, which is where the film ends. (If you read the history books, he achieved his goal.) One of the things I found funny about this film was that a great portion of Mongol was characters meaningfully staring off into the distance, at each other, etc. When they did talk, it was short terse sentences. And a great deal of trekking across unforgiving terrain. Then there’s be a brief action sequence and it would be a chilly version of 300, with the slow-motion, the blood splattering in a circular pattern, clearly done post-production, squelchy fleshy noises, etc. It was like two different films meshed together. But check it out, if only for the scenic expanses of Mongolia and the cool music.

I also saw Clash of the Titans, and it SUCKED.  It sucked HARD. I was so very sad. I was looking forward to this film since I heard it was coming out, because the original Clash of the Titans was flawed. Specifically, the stop-motion animation was choppy, and Harry Hamlin’s acting was wooden. Like the Trojan Horse, it was. But I loved all the British actors rockin’ it on Mount Olympus, playing with the humans like they were chess pieces. And the story was clear and understandable. This new version, yeah, the animation was better, but the story was gone. You hear me? Gone. If I had to describe it to someone, I would say, “A bunch of stuff happened in no particular order.” On Facebook I called it as a baklava of disappointment – you peel away one layer of philo dough, and more sadness is underneath. And pistachios and honey, but mainly sadness. And never mind the completely non-existent plot thread, what the freakin’ hell was Liam Neeson wearing? It was mylar and silvery with big shoulder pads and sequins, and he had copious amounts of eyeliner and mascara. He looked like Gary Glitter. I couldn’t take him seriously for three seconds. By the time he said, “Release the Kraken!” I didn’t even care anymore. I was biding time until I could leave and go home and drink away the pain of this atrocity. Transformers was better. I know them’s fighting words, since most people think Transformers is a crime against humanity, but it was better. I hoping Iron Man 2 and Kick Ass will redeem my summer and save me from the cinematic abyss I just fell into.

Budapest and Prague – Part 5.

Saturday, April 3rd, 2010

On my last day in Prague, I went to Kutna Hora, a city an hour outside of Prague. Originally, Kutna Hora and Prague were keeping pace with each other in size because Kutna Hora had a large silver ore running under the city. Therefore Kutna Hora was where the money was minted. However, the mines ran dry, there was a fire in 1770 and Kutna Hora fell behind. So now Prague is the capital with 1.5 million people and Kutna Hora has about 23,000. It does, however, have a lovely cathedral and the reason I came to Prague in the first place – The Ossuary of Sedlec.

Before I show you the pictures, let me tell you the backstory: There was monestary. The monestary has a little graveyard. In the 13th century, a monk went to the holy land and when he came back he sprinkled holy land dirt in the graveyard. Suddenly, EVERYBODY wanted to be buried there. During the Black Death thousands of people were buried there. A chapel was built in the center of the graveyard, many graves were exhumed and bones put in the ossuary/basement. In 1870, the Schwartzenburg family, who owned the property, asked Frantisek Rint, a woodcarver, to put the large piles of bones in some kind of order. And hoo boy did he ever.

It’s a small building. You walk in, and there are stairs right in front of you.

The temperature drops dramatically as you go down the fifteen or so steps, so much that you can see your breath. As soon as that happened, I couldn’t not quote The Sixth Sense. I said, “I see dead people”, and it was true. Approximately 40,000 dead people, to be exact.

Is this not the greatest thing EVER? The chandelier is rumored to have at least one of every bone in the body. And that’s the Schwartzenburg family crest. I know this doesn’t look like that many deceased people, and that’s because there are four ginormous piles of bones in each corner of the room. Note my mother laughing at me because I was so ecstatic about being there.

I was in heaven. I wanted to stay there forever. Check it out: Rint even signed his name in bones.

I held up the whole bus because I didn’t want to leave. But there were other things to see in the town. And a lovely town it was.

There was their cathedral that was built during the Great Competition with Prague. This one is called St. Barbara.

St. Barbara wasn’t as high or as breathtaking inside as St. Vitus, but it did have a few beautiful and unique qualities. One was the paintings on the vaulted ceiling.

The other thing I loved about this cathedral was the turn of the century windows. I took pictures of all of them. Here’s a sample.

That pretty much covers my nine-day trip to Prague and Budapest. It was great, really really great.

Budapest and Prague – Part 4.

Friday, April 2nd, 2010

Okay, now I’m going to cover a few basics about Prague. Apparently in the Communist countries, they were really keen on having insanely long and sharp-angled escalators into the subway. They’re so long that halfway through you get disoriented and start tipping backwards because your internal gyroscope is confused. I have a picture I took, but it’s difficult to really capture the length and steepness of these things. Take my word for it.

I learned a few days into my trip that “y” at the end of a word makes it plural (sort of like our “s”). I walked past a store that had a big sign outside that said DARKY and inside was a plethora of things from Africa, and I was all, “THAT IS SO NOT OKAY,” and then I learned that “darky” meant “gifts” and I felt stupid for gettin’ my racism hackles up. But it still threw me for the rest of the trip.

This was amusing: I walked past a building and it was gorgeous like every other building and – is that a sculpture of Darth Vader at the bottom?!

Alas, it was not. But I had to cross the street to check for myself.

One of my favorite architectural details was on an Art Nouveau building. Tell me if I’m wrong: It is a chicken on a woman’s head, yes? I’m not misinterpreting this, right?

This is an important window. I will summarize why. In 1617, there was drama between the monarchy, the Roman Catholic Church and the Protestants involving land and whatnot. On May 23, 1618, a bunch of riled-up Protestants stormed the castle and threw two aristocrats and a secretary out this window. They fell thirty meters, but luckily a moat filled with dung broke their fall, and they lived. In fact, the secretary was later made a noble by the emperor and given the name “von Hohenfall” (Highfall). The turfing of these people out this window started the Thirty Years War. My favorite quote from the Wikipedia page on the Defenestration of Prague, as it is called:

Roman Catholic Imperial officials claimed that the three men survived due to the mercy of angels assisting the righteousness of the Catholic cause. Protestant pamphleteers asserted that their survival had more to do with the horse excrement in which they landed than the benevolent acts of the angels.

I will now delve into one two major high points on my trip: St. Vitus’ Cathedral. I love me some good old French Gothic buildings. Notre Dame is a big favorite of mine. So I was delighted when I learned that the Frenchies has built one in Prague. The Cathedral was started in 1344 and because of wars, funds running out and a fire, it was not completed until the 1890s. Given that it took forever and a day to build this thing, I was really impressed by the cohesiveness of the design. It’s quite the example of Gothic architecture.

The building itself is very lovely, but the clincher for me was the Mucha window. Since the Cathedral wasn’t finished until the turn of the century, there is a wide variety of styles to the windows. The Mucha window is definitely the best. Alphonse Mucha is a famous graphic artist who is often credited with starting the Art Nouveau movement, so for me to see one of his works like this was a big, big deal.

See how it’s dark blues and purples around the edge, and then it’s golden yellow towards the center, with that woman and the young boy (St. Ludmilla and St. Wencenclas)? The man was a genius.

There are other beautiful windows in there as well, don’t get me wrong. I liked this one with the rainbow ribbons as well.

And this one was also very beautiful.

But you see how the Mucha one is like, really breathtaking and super-special, right? It’s more than just color placement and design, it’s also really evocative.

It’s not all airy lightness and delicate stone tracery, oh no. On one side of the cathedral is the most overdone, garish tomb/casket thing I have ever seen aside from Versailles. This thing was… eye-catching.

Not subtle. You can’t even really see the giant silver angels holding up the red velvet curtains. It be TACKAY. You know my “If it’s not Baroque, don’t fix it” quote from Beauty and the Beast? Yeah, this is broke. They should fix it.

One of the coolest things in both Budapest and Prague was the signs that stick out from the buildings. Each one was unique and special and I took a gazillion pictures of all of them.

The last one is, yes, a giant bullet. Huntin’ and fishin’ is a big thing in the Czech Republic. The best one I saw was this one:

Because it moved. I will put up an animated gif of that later today.

To finish up, I want to show one of the coolest houses I have ever seen in my life. Ever. You know those people who fall in love with inanimate objects, like bridges or the Eiffel Tower? I might have that going on with this building.

Tomorrow, Kutna Hora and the place I dreamt of going to for thirteen years.

Addendum: Animated Gif!

Budapest and Prague – Part 3.

Thursday, April 1st, 2010

And now we’re in Prague. Perhaps the most irritatingly attractive European city ever.

The architecture was NUTS. It was like being in a fairy tale, with dragons and princesses and everything. My heart actually hurt a little.

Even our generic hotel couldn’t avoid the Grimm’s fairy tales vibe. This was the picture that was over my bed.

“In Czech Republic after woman has been defiled in the middle of the road she chops off man’s head. Enjoy your stay in Prague.”

Also in my hotel bathroom? This.

Beer Capital of the World, indeed.

The great thing about visiting a primarily Catholic country is that there are festivals and celebrations all the time. Every saint needs to be venerated in some way, so the main square usually has something going on. When we were there it was Easter. And the Renaissance Fair thing that Europe does so well (being that they had the Renaissance, of course) was out in force.

First, you see that church there, the white one with the greenish turrets? The Czech Republic is known for glass, specifically lead crystal glass, and they had a GORGEOUS chandelier in that church. My picture totally doesn’t do it justice.

Okay, back to the Easter festival. First of all, there is a clear color scheme for Easter in the Czech Republic, and that is yellow, green and orange. So everything was decorated in those colors.

There was also an eight-foot-tall easter egg made from twigs covered with those ribbons. And the best thing was people were taking pride in the crafts and traditions that they have been doing for centuries. There were people selling small glass and ceramic things and painted blown goose eggs and this forger? Pumping up the heat on his forging station with his foot, like a Singer sewing machine.

And then there was the food. For both Budapest and Prague, the food is pretty much the same. It’s stick-to-your-ribs, meat and potatoes stuff. There were people selling gingerbread cookies that they had decorated with fine lines of white glaze, and tons of sausages, and this baked good that I called a turtleneck because apparently vowels were in short supply the day they named this thing.

How it works: You wrap a strip of raw dough around a wooden dowel, and then the wooden dowel rotates over a roasty-toasty fire. I think they may sprinkle sugar on there too. Then, they slide it off the wooden dowel and you eat it. Along with this, there was what I considered the piece de resistance: The pig roasting on a spit.

I didn’t include a picture of the pig from the front because, frankly, it was kind of gross and wee bit barbaric-looking, but the cool thing was that it was run on wood. And when the roaster ran out of wood, he chopped some more. With that axe can see. Oh my God, it’s so medieval and authentic.

On one of the sides of the square is one of the hot sights in Prague, the astrological clock. I’m not really sure how it works, but it does work and it sure does look complicated.

At the top of each hour, one of the four figures next to the clock, Death, rings his bell and shakes his hourglass. And those two windows open and the twelve apostles swing by. It’s great. Here’s a close-up of Death.

The four figures around the clock are the most-hated things they could think of: Death, Greed, Vanity and a Turk. That’s a whole lotta hate for Turkey. I guess the Czech Republic did not particularly enjoy being ruled by Turkey when this clock was made.

But wait! This is not the only cool clock in Prague. Prague has one of the finest Jewish Quarters of any European city. That’s mainly because Hitler wanted to preserve it exactly as it was as a museum of an extinct race. So it is relatively untouched. In the Jewish Quarter there is a clock that runs backwards because it has hebrew letters on it.

The Jewish Quarter has the really cool cemetery as well. The Jews were allotted only a small amount of space to bury their dead, so it’s a really dense cemetery. Let me explain: when the Jews ran out of room, they put another layer of soil over the graves, moved the pre-existing gravestones up, and buried another group of people. In some places it is twelve people deep. The cemetery was in use from the 1500s to the end of the 1700s, so up to 100,000 people may be buried there.

Another thing about the Jewish Quarter is that throughout the ages, Jews have had to wear identifying garments when out and about with Christians. At one point it was a yellow sash. For a long time, it was a yellow pointed hat. The Jews took this hat and incorporated it into their architecture, so one can see it all over that part of town.

My mom and I partook in the local ethnic cuisine throughout our stay in both Prague and Budapest, and one of the places we ended up in was something between a mad scientist’s laboratory and Applebee’s. It was covered with alchemy symbols and gurgling, lit-up giant fake Bunsen burners and well, you can see for yourself.

And, in keeping with the Crapplebee’s design motif, they also had musical instruments on the wall. No skis or fake-o vintage team photos.

They served green beer. Really. Green beer. I don’t drink beer, but my mother does, so of course I forced the green beer on her. She said it tastes like ear wax, but more bitter. So as tempting as it might be, don’t drink the green beer.