NYC Spring 2016: Part 2

The next day started with a trip to the Union Square Green Market. It’s a favorite of my parents and we always try to go when the weather is nice. It was a little brisk and early in the season so they weren’t many vendors out. But there were waves of beautiful fragrant flowers. Goodness, winter makes me miss nature so much! We had breakfast nearby at the Coffee Shop where I had delicious omelette. I love the entry walls to the place are covered in crushed up chinaware. Very cute.

I spent sometime wandering around the Strand bookstore, one of my favorites in NYC. Not only does it have a fantastic collection of books, it always has an amazing literary/nerdy selection of socks. There I said it.

Afterwards, we decided to walk up from Union Square to Macy’s. We briefly stopped into Rizzoli, a fancy bookstore, on the way. There used to be Rizzoli in Chicago but the chain contracted. Now it’s got a lovely bookstore near 26th street but it’s high end with lots of beautiful books. We continued our walk, watching as the neighborhood changed over and over. There were fancy boutique shops, then costume jewelry shops, and then to giant stores like Macy’s. The Flower Show was going on, which is one of my favorite retail events each year. While I prefer Chicago’s Macy’s Flower show, the one at Macy’s flagship was nice. The windows were fine but the interior is exciting. Throughout the first floor, there are flower displays that are out of this world. The theme this year was America so there were displays for the Midwest, the Pacific, NYC, and more. One display had mannequins modeling hats that I wanted to steal. Alas! There were some very patriotic flower displays as well. Good times.

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Macy’s. I want the hats.

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Macy’s

I continued my walk back to the hotel in midtown. I had a special mission to go to a coffee/chocolate shop on Park Avenue called 2bean. It was one of the few shops carrying a new spectacular chocolate bar called Marou, which was written about in the NYTimesThe bars are colored coded due to the color of the beans! They had just gotten a shipment the day before (I called) and were already out of two or three bar types by the time I got there. I was getting a birthday present for my best friend. The shop reminded me a lot of Hannah’s Bretzel because it is covered in different kinds of fancy candy bars. But it has even more than Hannah’s Bretzel. So cool.

I then walked up to Momofuku for my favorite truffle balls. There was a fairly healthy line but the balls are totally worth it. I got three packs of “Birthday Cake,” “Dulce de Leche,” and “Mint Chocolate.” I didn’t love the “Dulce de Leche” ones but they are still good.

Then I ran off to meet my husband who had just arrived in NYC. We decided to walk through Central Park to the Museum of Natural History and have tea at Alice’s, an Alice in Wonderland themed tea shop. I’ve been in Alice’s before but I had never stayed. It’s near the museum. We got there just in time as we were the top of a long line to get seats. The place was charming but not overwhelming in Alice in Wonderland mania. That was a bit of a disappointment. There were murals (especially in the bathroom) that made me very pleased. There were doors to the kitchen with keyhole windows in them, which was cool. But it could have upped the theme. We decided to keep it simple with tea and scones. (High tea seems to be too much for me these days). We had the Alice tea and I had the pumpkin scone. Both were delicious. So that was nice. It’s a tad pricey for tea and scones but it was nice to do once.

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Alice’s

I was excited about taking my husband to the museum since he had never been before. The last time I went was in graduate school when I was visiting my best friend who worked at school nearby. I had spent the entire time in the Ancient Americas’ rooms. When we got there, there was a line. Thankfully, it moved quickly so we were in the ticket line inside within about 10 minutes. Once in, we wandered accidentally into the Carl Akeley Hall, which was amazing. I had read a biography about him. He’s basically the man that made taxidermy into what we think of today. Many of the dioramas and specimens at the Field are his work. (The two elephants in the entryway were shot by him and his wife. She shot the larger of the two). So the hall at the NYC museum was wonderful. There was a herd of elephants in the middle (Possibly all shot by him though). Around the first floor were beautiful scenes of animals in the wild. Magnificent.

Then we made a beeline for the dinosaurs, both of our favorites. There was a dinosaur, titanosaur, that was so big that it couldn’t be kept in a single room. It kinda looks like a giant brontosaurus. Very neat. They had a good collection of dinosaurs including many triceratops skulls.

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We imagined this dino was a lot like my husband

We also wandered into the Ancient Americas to say hello to old friends. They have a giant Olmec head, which most would recognize as Olmec from Legends of the Hidden Temple. Of course, the people who made the head are actually the Olmecs…but anyway, it was nice to check out their collection. It’s smaller than the Field but I love checking out the pottery and stone carvings.

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Possibly Moche pottery

Before we left, we did check out the famous blue whale, which freaked me out as a kid. It’s still kinda insane. The museum has moved away whatever used to be beneath it and now you can lie down and stare up at it.

On our way back to the hotel, we strolled through Central Park. It was a really wonderful walk as nature was beginning to wake up. Budding trees, tiny daffodils pushing their heads up through the dirt. There were plenty of rocks to climb (though I never seem to wear the right kind of shoe for that kind of thing). We even shared a pretzel while walking through the Poet’s Corner. So classic NYC movie, I feel. But fun to do, nonetheless.

That night, we ate Italian food in a nearby restaurant named Teodora, that had food from Reggio Emilia. It feels like they took someone’s home and converted it into a restaurant. I had a wonderful plate of gnocchi, my favorite. Afterwards, we met a friend in Union Square for a drink. The place kinda had a speakeasy feel since there weren’t any signs. Inside, it was richly furnished with deep wood and low lighting. The cocktails were wonderful; I had champagne with raspberries, which made me happy. My husband got a wonderful drink of prosecco, sorbet and a third ingredient that I have forgotten. Very tasty. It was a lovely place to end the day.

That’s all for now!

 

Our Hospitality

I recently finished watching Buster Keaton’s Our Hospitality (1923). It’s basically a humorous take on the famous Hatfield and McCoy feud, where families kill each other out of some ancient, long forgotten wrong.

One of the scenes again used hats as a humorous device. Basically, Buster Keaton’s character is riding in an open car train when a young lady sits next to him. He tries to put the top hat on to be more respectable but it won’t fit with the low ceiling of the car. He tries to sidle into it from below but various bumps frustrate that effort. Eventually, he ends up switching hats out of frustration. Perfection.

It was also curious to see the depiction of the train. The train was completely open. Allegedly, it’s based on trains from the 1830s. The engine car is allegedly modeled after one of Stephenson’s Rocket, which “Rocket established the basic architecture for the steam locomotive” and appears to have reached 29 miles per hour.  In the movie, the train is so slow that Buster Keaton’s dog walks underneath the last car from NY to the Midwest. People fall off the train without harming themselves.

Moreover, the tracks aren’t fixed; people literally pick them up and move them where they please. For instance. a donkey hangs its head over the track so the engineer just picks up the tracks and moves it. It’s more like a roller coaster ride than what we know as railroads. It’s a different take on trains than in the later movie, the General. Here the train is really a delicate thing while the General’s trains are powerful, decisive forces.

So it’s got hats and early trains, what else can you ask for in life?

 

Review: Waiting for Godot

On Saturday, I was fortunate enough to see Waiting for Godot with Ian McKellan and Patrick Stewart. The play is one of my favorites; I’ve seen it three times now. The two actors are really monumental and it is always a pleasure to see them act. I loved watching Ian McKellan and Patrick Stewart play off each other; it was extraordinary.
Sadly, it was a situation where the whole was not greater than the parts. Both were splendid but I don’t think that they were best suited for the role. I think the actors need to be less confident, shlubby actually. Three years ago, I saw the same play with Nathan Lane and John Goodman and that was perfect. John Goodman blew me away. The performance was probably in my top three ever. This current production just didn’t work for me. I think Patrick Stewart is just too dignified or confident for his part. But I got to see them dance together.
Anyway, I digress. I want to return to a favorite topic of this blog: hats. Hats were a feature in the show. The most notable moment is when Lucky needs his hat to think. When his hat is placed on his head, Lucky thinks nonstop for several minutes until they can remove the hat from his head. Literally his thinking hat. Why the hat? One possible interpretation is that one has to be properly dressed (or to a degree properly dressed) to do something as respectable (well, sometimes) as thinking. It’s a great comment on the artifice of society; a hat is needed to think, Lucky needs to be ordered to think by his master to entertain two strange men…
The hat was used as a tool of comedy. There is great humor in adding and then removing Lucky’s hat. Another scene also shows the characters trying on each other’s hats over and over. The hat is simply a brilliant tool of comedy. It’s small and mobile enough that a hat can be passed around, worn by other characters easily. Hats can be removed easily. Other pieces of clothing don’t do the job well: shoes aren’t easy to take off and there are two of them. Shirts and pants can be obscene and/or difficult to take off. Scarves could be shared but it could be threatening depending on how you play it.
Anyway, that’s my thoughts on hats and Godot.

Happy Birthday Rene Magritte

Today is the birthday of the man responsible for my beloved bowler hat. Rene Magritte, Belgium surrealist artist, was born today, November 21st, 1898. It is he, and he alone, who inspired me to take the bowler. (I have even dressed as one of his bowler hat men with obligatory apple.) His work has been monumental to me in my development. It is a good day when I encounter his paintings.

I remember the first work that really made an impact on me. At the Tate (back when there was one unified Tate), I remember seeing  a sculpture of the Healer, a cloaked man with a hat and cane whose body was a bird cage. It floored me. It was delightfully recognizable but new and strange. It really opened up an entire world for me.

I love his conception of the mystery of the ordinary. He takes everyday items, items we even take for granted, like curtains, mirrors, shoes, leaves, etc, and plays with them. He pivots their meaning in language, space, the visual realm itself. He plays with perspective, especially with those paintings of paintings that are continuations of their landscapes like “The Human Condition.”

The viewer will see this familiar vocabulary of images but have to reassess, reconsider them in his work. One of my favorite paintings “Personal Values” shows a room with oversized comb, brush and other cosmetic tools. He has taken the items we take for granted, the items we need for everyday and magnified them to the size of furniture. He emphasizes their importance by changing their scale. Also, I think that we need to be reminded of how wonderful everyday life is. Sometimes it is easy to get bogged down by the day to day. But Rene Magritte tries to make us realize that everything, the smallest things, can be full of mystery and possibly adventure.

I also love how he makes one rethink language. One of his better known paintings is “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” or “This is not a pipe.” There is the easy interpretation: of course, it is a painting of a pipe or a painting of that phrase. But he also could refer to the fact that the pipe is a word, not the object of the pipe. Or even, why is it that we call this thing that we recognize as a pipe, a pipe. One quotation attributed to him is “An object is not so attached to its name that we cannot find another one that would suit it better.” I love it.

And I think THomas Crown Affair’s homage to Rene Magritte and his bowler hat men is one of the best scenes in cinematic history. I don’t think there was a better way to celebrate this artist. (Also, that movie is just great).

So happy birthday Rene Magritte. May your bowler hatted men be causing surrealist mischief wherever you are.

Hats as Plot Points

This evening, we went to the fabulous Hideout to see Studs’ Place Part 2. For those of you unfamiliar with the Studs’ Place, it was a TV show starring Studs Terkel, famous Chicago oral historian) that ran sporadically from 1949-1951. It was mostly improvised, based on a one pager with some plot points, and featured other notable Chicagoans like Win Stracke, who would later co-found the Old Town School of Folk Music.

 
In this episode, Grace is preparing to give a speech at the Women’s Booster luncheon. However, her friends find out that a rival on the committee is going to foil her speech because Grace doesn’t care about her appearance and will wear something tired and old fashioned. So her friends decide that the obvious solution is to convince Grace to buy a new hat. They scheme and even end up buying the hat for her so she’d have to wear it at the luncheon.
 
 
Absolutely charming. And while it seems a little odd for the plot to revolve around hats, it was still a time when hats were a central part of the wardrobe (though it is telling that Grace comments that she doesn’t want to buy a hat since she’d only wear it once or twice a year).
 
 
However, plots involving hats were not totally singular.  There is a great P.G. Wodehouse story called “the Amazing Hat Mystery” which describes the foibles of two young bachelors when their hats change. Engagements and friendships are broken; it’s a real catastrophe! Of course, PG Wodehouse was making rather fun of these two gentlemen and the society that puts such importance into a fashion item. In both cases, hats are used to discuss trivial concerns that society put on people; after all, does it really matter what Grace wears to the luncheon?
 
 
There are a lot of presently told stories that feature items of clothing, often shoes, such as “Cinderella,” “Red Shoes”, or the entire outfit like the “Emperor’s New Clothes.” There are of course the tween movies that show the female lead finally sprucing herself up like She’s All That or Ten Things I Hate About You. But hats as plots seem to have disappeared from our story lexicon, probably related to the fact that hats have diminished in significance in our present day.  I’ll keep my ears and eyes out for more stories concerning hats. Or if I have to, I may just have to make some more.

Strong Opinions on Hats.

I have strong opinions about hats. Well, maybe not strong, but I have distinct opinions about hats and hat wearing.

It all started with my straw summer hats. I have to wear sun hats because I am suspetible to horrible sunburns and an unfortunate allergy to most sunscreens. Straw hats have been a necessity for me for my entire life. And since I live in Chicago, I had to wear hats during the uninhabitable months…basically nine months out of the year.
However, my opinions regarding hats began to take shape when I bought my first structured (non-straw hat). It was a bowler hat named George.  I’ll never forget the day; it was a February snowy day (well, there was snow on the ground). My boyfriend and I had spent a good part of the day wandering around the Graceland Cemetary in Chicago, seeing the great monuments that great men (and some women) built to themselves for death. On a whim, we decided to drive far west to the true six corners to Hats Plus, a men’s hat store.
There I finally bought my bowler hat. I had always had an inordinate amount of fondness for the bowler because of Rene Magritte’s Bowler hat man. This Belgium surrealist has been my favorite artist for most of my life. His pieces are playful and mysterious. And the bowler hat man epitomized that.
So we got to Hats Plus, which is a real splendid Chicago Institution, and were surrounded by an incredible assortment of hats. Fedoras, top hats (collapsble), hunting hats, you want it, they got it. They even had a range of bowler hats from $30 to $200 Oxford bowler hat. A nice spread. There I met George and we’ve been friends since. He’s been a good hat to me; I’ve mostly been good to him. (I did have to get him reblocked about two years ago since he got manhandled). We’ve spent nearly 3.5 years together. I wear George a lot to work, class, etc and many people associate it with me. Which is perfect.
But my interest in hats didn’t stop there. I started making my own hats…out of duct tape, card-stock and acrlic paint. For Santacon (a pub crawl where everyone dresses as Santa), I made a Menorah hat where I went as Hannukah Henrietta (yep, I’m a bit of a nonconformist). Or my lit lighthouse hat for my Carmen Miranda pirate Halloween costume.
Then somehow, I started collecting and wearing vintage hats. Now, I find situations to wear hats or sometimes, create them so I can wear certain hats.
There is also a special camadrie between hat wearers, especially bowler hat folks. When we see each other, we nod at each other.
It’s gotten to the point that it is strange, even shocking, when I leave the house without a hat. It’s almost to the point where I feel like I am missing pants or a shirt. It’s so natural for me to wear a hat. When I watch older movies, I am gleeful at the sheer number of hats. I yearn for the days when hats were essential. Of course, I really don’t since hats had significant class, gender and racial characteristics. My nostalgia is for a time I nevered lived in and probably would hate the limitations society would place on me (or those placed by me on myself). But I can yearn for the fashion.
i don’t know what it is exactly that I like so much about hats. It may have to do mystery that is envoked from Magritte. Or it may just be the sheer aestheticism of it. I like the look. But I think it’s a bit deeper than that. I think that hats, with some exceptions, make everything more glamourous. Maybe it’s because we wear hats to events which should be glamourous or at least special.
After all, shouldn’t we tip our hat at life?