Part 3: Spring in Manhattan

The following day began at the Met, one of my favorite museums. It’s got an incredible collection but is rather overwhelming. I try to get into my head that we are only going to visit a few things because seeing the entire museum would be impossible.

Our first stop was a Seurat and circus exhibit. The exhibit featured Circus Sideshow, one of Seurat’s masterpieces, along with circus posters, other contemporary circus paintings, and sketches. It was nice to see some great circus posters from Cheret, a nice follow up to the Driehaus museum’s current exhibition. I was hoping for more of Seurat’s circus paintings since I’d had seen some really amazing works elsewhere but alas.

We then went to the rooftop garden at the Met. Every year they have an artist do some outdoor installation, which is always neat. This year’s piece was spectacular. Adrián Villar Rojas took 3D scans of pieces all over the museum, printed them, and created these sculptural collages. THey are laid out throughout the garden, some on tables, some freestanding. It’s called “The Theater of Disappearance.” I love juxtaposing things, like ancient Egyptian busts with animal parts or Ancient Greek torso. All while overlooking the beauty of Central Park and the NYC skyline. It could also be a great scavenger hunt, tracking down the pieces in the collection!

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We also visited the exhibit on ancient China featuring some incredible terracotta soldiers. Seeing them is always a treat. Someday I’ll make it to Xian to see the site! What I liked in particular about the exhibition was the sheer number of other artifacts that were included. There was a series of beautifully carved women dancing or playing instruments while another room featured animal sculptures. Wondrous!

After our brief visit to the museum, since any visit is brief at the Met, it was time to head to Broadway for a matinee of War Paint. To get there, we ended up passing by the Tax Rally (it was 4/15) and we saw some amazing puppets and signs. We had $1 pizza at a joint just off Times Square. Tasty tasty pizza.

War Paint is a musical about make up rivals, Helena Rubinstein and Elizabeth Arden, and their decades long feud. It was interesting to see corporate sabotage and competition played out in a musical. I’m not sure if I loved the message of the musical (you’ll just have to see it) but it definitely had some pretty neat scenes and dances.

After the play, we decided to head to a new place for us: the Morgan Library. I had come across it a few months prior and it seemed like our cup of team. It turned out that it was JP Morgan’s library. What an astonishing collection. The main library room is breathtaking. Rows and floors of books with two secret staircases taking you to the upper floors. Also, we found some pretty neat books that make you wonder about their contents!  There were some exhibitions as well on display including works by Emily Dickinson and Symbolist poets. But the rooms themselves were well worth it. It’s a research library and it made me appreciate how awesome Chicago’s own Newberry library is. Here, it’s free to check out books etc. Morgan Library requires a hefty entry ticket.

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Dinner turned into a bit of an adventure! We had reservations to Tao, a fashionable Asian cuisine place near the hotel. When we walked in, the loud overhead music enveloped us. It was all very hip looking and made me feel a bit out of place. When we sat down to eat, we learned that there was nothing, absolutely nothing, on the menu that my mom could eat. Apparently, they premake things like steaks. :-/

So we left. We found a tiny quiet Italian place called Montebello where we were the only people at the beginning of the evening. The food was tasty, we could talk, and the staff were extremely nice. They overheard me talking about how my glass of Prosecco was such much better at their place than the place from the night before so they comped us limoncello! And there were cookies too. So go to Montebello, skip Tao.

Then more adventure!  had tried calling the number on the black card from the night before but couldn’t get through for an hour. At 5pm (an hour after they opened and I started calling), I was informed that there were only taking walk-ins; they were catering to a larger party. Boo. I found the name of a speakeasy called Bathtub Gin in Chelsea that took reservations.  Bathhouse Gin was going to be the place.

We entered through a hole in the wall coffee place, serving as the coatroom. As soon as we stepped in, the noise rose up like a wall. Loud pounding music. But we trekked on. We had a little table and ordered from their cocktail menu, which is always a hit or miss. One thing was a sure fire hit though: s’mores. It wasn’t going to be high quality chocolate or marshmallows but we couldn’t resist. They actually brought us an open brazier with Hershey’s chocolate, graham crackers, and marshmallows. It was amazing. We even convinced the table next to us to do it too.

Plus there was a golden bathtub that you can get into. And we totally took photos lounging in the bathtub. Because golden bathtub!

That’s all for now!

Part 7: Prague and London

First thing in the morning was my speech to the Loyola Law Class. I have been giving a 40-60 minute lecture on local history for Loyola’s comparative Law class for the past five years. This year’s top was the London Underground. Usually, we have the lectures in the famous Middle Temple Hall, part of the Middle Temple Inn, a true treasure in London. (The Great Hall was where one of the first performances of Twelfth Night took place. Also, planks from Sir Francis Drake’s Golden Hind were made into tables there). THis year, the Hall was under construction so we had the proceedings elsewhere.

A few things about the London Underground. Most of the lines (save the newest ones after the 1930s) were independent companies with some big rivalries. Apparently, none of them made much money. Other profit lines like suburban homes or Underground Maps apparently made more money than the lines themselves.

There’s an interesting Chicago connection. Charles Yerkes, Philadelphian born “quintessential Victorian conman,” was in Chicago before his flight to London. He played a role in the development of the El. However, he tried to get a monopoly on busing contracts through extortion and blackmail, which earned him the ire of lots of people. There’s a story that famously corrupt aldermen Bathhouse John and HInky Dink Kenna were approached the mayor to stop this deal. Bathhouse John’s response was “I was talkin’ awhile back with Senator Billy Mason and he told me, ‘Keep clear of the big stuff, John. It’s dangerous.  You and Mike stick to the small stuff; there’s little risk and in the long run pays a damn sight more.” Mr. Mayor, we’re with you.” (Thanks to my husband for this one). So yeah, too corrupt a deal for them! He was run out of town (I believe an effigy was burned in front of city hall) and he eventually made his way to London. While corrupt and conning as always, he had a hand in financing many Underground lines, introducing US money into the British system.

The story goes that the first escalator was installed in 1911 at Earl Court’s station. People were super anxious but then a one legged man named Bumper Harris started going up and down the escalator. He and his descendents claimed that he was not paid to do it!

In the financing of the Bakerloo line, James Whitaker Wright was convicted of fraud in 1904 for 7 years of penal servitude. He allegedly handed his solicitor his watch and said “I won’t need this where I am going.” Then he died after biting into a hidden cyanide capsule.

The famous map of the underground was designed by Harry Beck, like an electrical circuit, in 1931. Initially it was rejected for being too revolutionary but was adopted in 1933 after the immense popularity of it.

Frank Pick was the Managing Director of London Underground and then the first Chief Executive of London Transport in the 1930s. He’s the man responsible for commissioning the look and feel the Tube. The logos, the branding as a whole, the posters advertising the city, was under his watch.

Below are some photos of various art seen in the stations of the Underground.

And while I could spend a lot more time on it, I’ll leave you with one last thing. During WWII, famously tube stations were used as bomb shelters. Apparently, individual stations had clubs for theater productions, dressmaking, darts and one even had a newspaper called “De profundis,” which is Latin for “from the depths.”

After my speech and the others for the morning, my husband and I decided to check out the exhibition on 20th century maps at the British Library nearby. What an amazing exhibition. The maps were segmented by use: survey use, war use, peacetime use, commerce and more. One of the most memorable ones was a map for children to fill in the borders at the conclusion of WWI, back when they thought the war would last weeks. So cavalier with politics! They even had Harry Beck’s map of the underground, which was a nice closing the loop for the day!

And as an added bonus, there was a pop-up shop dedicated their line of murder mysteries. It had a nice 1920s vibe going with a gramophone and decorations.

That evening, we went to see a lovely musical called Half A Sixpence that takes place at the turn of the last century. The musical is basically about a young boy who goes to the city to learn a trade and inherits a lot of money and has to learn how to handle this new world. It’s funny and sweet (kinda sorta passes the Bechdel test). Also, it had 30 people on stage playing banjo at one point, which made me immensely happy. The dancing was rather superb too.

That’s all for now!

Philadelphia and Brooklyn: Part 2

Then it was the crazy part of the trip: our day trip to Brooklyn. In 2015, I had the pleasure of going to the site immersive production Sleep No More in Manhattan. It was one of the best theater events I’ve ever been to. To summarize it briefly: it’s like a haunted house where there is a play going on. You wander where you will. I learned earlier this year that there was a similar thing in Brooklyn called Then She Fell, based on the life of Lewis Carroll and his creation Alice in Wonderland. I was hooked. However, every time we went to NYC, the play was sold out. So we made the decision that we’ll go to Philadelphia but take a day trip to Brooklyn to see the play.

We decided to make a day of it. We drove to Brooklyn and got in around 1pm. The trip itself was pretty painless. Lots of NJ Turnpike. One of the rest stops had a candy store where you could buy candy by the ounce. It was amazing. I wish this was everywhere! We drove through a lot of Brooklyn, which was fascinating. As someone who has spent most of their time in NY in NYC or Long Island, Brooklyn was larger than I expected!

One of the things I wanted to do was take a graffiti art tour of Bushwick. So we drove there directly. What a beautiful place! There are beautiful pieces everywhere, the most I’d ever seen in one spot. We had a quick lunch of coal fire pizza in the area, which was tasty.

The tour itself was extremely disappointing. Our tour guide barely took us around the block. He would mention a piece from afar but didn’t actually take us to see the piece. It also was exacerbated by the fact that it was cold and windy day so standing still for 40 minutes was really bad. I had expected a lot more from this tour company; we had taken a tour of the Bowery and East Village in September that was great. This was honestly one of the worst tours I’d been on. We ended up wandering around the neighborhood some more and saw really astonishing works.

Our next stop was the Brooklyn Art Museum, which was really awesome. I didn’t know this until we were looking at a map that Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party. I had never thought I’d see it person. What a treat! Each table setting is dedicated to an amazing woman. The level of detail was pretty astonishing. This was really the icing on the cake!

The museum had a fairly neat collection that included Egyptian artifacts, period rooms, and even Tiffany stained glass. One of the best things was a room of their overstock items. What a neat room! They also had these twin paintings of the people responsible for the construction of the Brooklyn bridge including Emily Roebling who had to finish the job when Washington A. Roebling got seriously laid up in bed.

 

After our sojourn at the Brooklyn Art museum, we drove to the area near the play for dinner. We found a Korean place that had pretty tasty food. I really enjoyed the seafood pancake  and this rice ball filled with tuna.

Then it was Then She Fell. It was worth it. Beautiful and heartbreaking. The play can only support 15 people at a time. It’s really a marvel of planning. You don’t get to wander around in the same was as Sleep No More but it works well. It was worth the day trip. I can’t say which is better because while they are more similar than any other play I’ve been to, they are very different. I don’t want to say too much because so much of Then She Fell is about the surprise and the journey.

Notably on the ride home, we heard the Cubs win against the Dodgers to go to the World Series. What a wondrous and magical day!

NYC Fall 2016: Part 1

Now, I’m going to spend some time talking about our amazing adventures in NYC earlier this Fall. Museums! Food! Star Trek!

We arrived in Friday evening. We stayed in a lovely boutique hotel near Union Square. That meant we had about an hour to get to the Strand before it closed for the evening! There are a lot of great bookstores in NY and the Strand is one of them. I always find some really interesting books there. Last year, I found a book about the history of cooking utensils. This time, I found an unofficial Banksy biography. And their sock selection is amazing. Poe socks, enough said.

Afterwards, we found this restaurant that is best described as small plates Spanish. Not tapas, mind you. I ordered a dish that was effectively scrambled eggs with sea urchin. My husband got a lovely dish of guinea fowl. I had sea urchin for the first time a few months ago. I go back and forth on it. I’ve had one really amazing dish of sea urchin in Chicago. This dish was pretty good but not the best. My husband’s dish was rather tasty.

On our first full day of our trip, my first stop was the Metropolitan Museum. I was very keen to see Manus Ex Machina. I had thought that I was going to miss this exhibition but it was extended. It was amazing. This exhibition looks at how fashion balances machine made with man-made. The first thing you see when you walk in is a wedding gown from 2008(?). It has this amazing white train covered in gold beads. At first, you think it belongs in the baroque period but the explanation notes that the pattern was actually designed by a computer. The exhibition is categorized by different materials like leather,feathers, flowers, metal, etc. In the flower section, they have a remote control dress with wheels. It has these seedlings on it. You have to climb into it to put it on. At an appointed time, you can send the seedlings into the air. Crazy times!

The exhibition was mesmerizing. There were a lot of 3D printed dresses, which is rather awesome. Some seem like they belong in some future era; some don’t look 3D printed. However, my favorite dresses were by Issey Miyake. You can see her genius with shapes in these photos.

This fish scale dress took 1500 hours to make.

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I also loved all the laser cut dresses. This one is covered in seahorses!

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I spent about an hour and a half wandering around this exhibit. Afterwards, I took a little journey through the rest of the museum. Right outside the exhibition space, there was a little exhibit on ceramics from China including vases depicting West Lake, where I was in July! Also, this soup tureen is amazing. I went to say hi to the temple of Dendur, one of my favorite rooms there. I also ventured into the American wing to see my Tiffany glass windows. I had a sandwich at the cafe there. Sadly, I would not recommend it.

I also made a stop on the roof to see the Psycho House, or “Transitional Object (PsychoBarn),” by Cornelia Parker. The front half looks like a creepy house while the backside reveals that it is fake. I loved the contrast with the skyline!

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My next stop was meeting my family at the musical On Your Feet! On Broadway. It’s a bio-musical about Gloria Estefan. I was skeptical at first but I ended up enjoying it. The music is fun; dancing is great. It was a fun time.

We then rushed off to see a museum that I had never been to: Mmuseumm. It’s in a freight elevator in an alleyway. Three people at most can be in the museum at a time. It’s been open in 2012 and attempts to elevate the mundane. Several exhibits were on display including ISIS currency, screenshots of the last text messages they sent a loved one, frosted cookies commemorating events in a year, objects found as people were crossing into America, Iranian fast food knockoffs. We only had about 20 minutes before they closed but it was the right amount of time. It was very charming and a philosophy I adhere to.

We walked home to the hotel from there, taking in the amazing street art in NYC. Dinner was wonderful Italian food with a renderings of a map of Naples in German. An unusual combination!

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What a great first day in NYC!

France and England: Part 10

That morning, we had about 45 minutes to kill so we decided to spend our time at the British Museum. This time, I suggested that we check out the back part of the museum. I realized that I had never spent much time there and really didn’t know what was there. What treasures I found there! There’s this giant hall that is split between Indian art and Chinese art. At one end, there are pieces from an Indian temple that approaches the grandeur of the Greek temples at the other side of the building. Such beautiful carvings into stone. In the Chinese side of the room, there were these amazing sculptures of immortals. Very cool. I also found a hall of Jade nearby, which decent examples of jade pieces over a period of centuries.

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The Indian Temple at the British Museum

After our brief time at the British Museum, we went back to the Middle Temple for a tour of Temple Church. Again, we were astonished by the beauty of the place. In the older part of the church, there are these effigies of famous Templar knights. On the walls surrounding the effigies, there are these incredible grotesques sculptures. A few are having their ear nibbled on by a rat.

 

 

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Temple Church Grotesque Detail

Afterwards, we headed off to the Victoria & Albert. I used to be rather indifferent to the V&A but I’ve grown much more fond of it in recent years. I don’t know if it’s because I love design a lot more or because they’ve done such a good job reframing the museum. I suspect it’s a bit of both. We spent a wonderful time wandering through the galleries from the Italian terra cotta sculptures to the Ironwork section. I found this crazy sculpture piece that seems to be composed of crushed brass instruments. It’s cool but also very sad. Poor instruments!

 

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The Crushed Instruments at the V&A

Then we took a brief look at the Science Museum nearby. Scott had never been. There was a most excellent exhibition on Churchill and his scientists. It talked about the science that went on around World War II. I loved hearing more about how they figured out the rationing for WWII. The rationing in the first WWI didn’t work so well; people were malnourished. So for the second time around, they had to be more careful. The scientists figured out what worked by experimenting on themselves. They’d try different combinations of foods and then do physically exhausting things like hiking to see how far they could push it before it was too much. Fascinating stuff! They also had a room for Ada B. Lovelace with two of Charles Babbage’s “computers.” That was pretty neat.

 

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Babbage’s Analytical Engine

Before we left South Kensington area, we made a detour to  the Albert Memorial. The things we do for love. My husband loved it; I’m not exactly a fan.  It’s a little much for me.

We headed back once again to the Middle Temple for a nice evening of wine and cheese. We got to try on Barrister robes for fun.

We then headed off to see a play called Mr. Foote’s Other Leg. Unfortunately, it was fairly awful. It varied between being very dull and uncomfortable. And then there would be random occurrences of Benjamin Franklin.  Strange! Oh well. Can’t win them all.
That’s all for now!

Christmas in NYC: Part 1

Back in November, we had a lovely brief trip to NYC. We spent about two days there enjoying NYC in Christmas time and its many cultural offerings. In the next few posts, I’ll talk about our adventures.

NYC is wonderful during Christmas time. There’s so many over the top Christmas decorations on Fifth Avenue and there’s even a Christmas market at Union Square. So our first stop when we arrived (after throwing down our bags) was a trip to the Christmas market in Union Square. It’s a fun market with lots of artisanal wares. My favorite dessert place Momofuku had a booth there and I ended up buying a dozen birthday cake truffles, which we consumed half of by the end of the two days. (Shame on us! Mmm…so tasty).

For lunch, we found a gourmet crepe place. Why was it gourmet? It used brie and goat’s cheese and other fancy ingredients in their crepes. In my experience, such crepe places can be very hit or miss; nothing is as good as a simple Nutella crepe from a hole in the wall in Paris. But this place in Union Square was rather tasty. I had brie with ham and some leafy greens, which was a tasty combination.

Then it was time for our visit to the Metropolitan Museum. It’s up there with the British Museums for all times favorites. It’s a bit overwhelming. I’ve definitely spent visits there only visiting the Greek/Roman rooms and nothing else. But I love the diversity of exhibitions. We first made our trek to the Temple of Dendur, which is still one of the best displays in any museum anywhere. For those of you who have never been, Egypt gave the Met a temple (for services rendered) and it is housed in a giant room with a pond and windows out to Central Park. It is so magnificent. Also, they hold concerts there, which I am keen to go to someday.

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Temple of Dendur

After that, we wandered through The Kongo: Power and Majesty exhibition. We accidentally went through it backwards. It talked about the use of power both by Congolese elites and Europeans.  The highlights of the exhibition were these 15 wooden carved statues, possibly called Mangaaka, at the end, each housed in it’s own display. But what struck me was how the placards said that parts of these sculptures were removed by the people who used them for religious worship as if to hide or remove the power of them. A stark reminder of the consequence of “collecting”in the West. That these artifacts meant something very real to their creators and worshipers while we in the museum regard them as history and art. There were also these magnificent carved elephant tusks that somehow made it into the Medici collection. Beautiful but loot. Very interesting and worthwhile exhibition.

Then it was time for my mission. I had read Strapless, a book about the scandal about a painting by John Singer Sargent where he had painted Madame X (Madame Pierre Gautreau) with a failing strap. Fascinating look at the world of portrait painting and high society. The painting is in the Met. So we set off to find; we passed a gallery filled with incredible musical instruments, among others. We found the painting in the American Galleries with the corrected strap. It’s a magnificent painting. Hard to imagine that it nearly destroyed Sargent’s career and the reputation of Madame Gautreau.

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The painting (with the strap painted on)

How magnificent that we could wandered from Ancient Egypt to Kongo and then to 19th century France in such a short period of time!

That evening, we went to the Metropolitan Opera to see La Boheme. What a beautiful theater!It has these Chagall murals that are incredible. As for the opera, I didn’t love it. I’ve talked before about my attempts at appreciating opera. To sum it up, I love the symphony but I can’t seem to abide the opera. I keep trying; I felt that I had to see the classics including La Boheme and Carmen. The production was well done; I love how they had 100 people on stage for the crowded scenes and how it snowed in another. But sadly, the plot didn’t move me and I didn’t particularly like the songs. Not to say that the music wasn’t good, it just didn’t hold me. Alas.

 

That’s all for now!

Honeymoon: Part 10

Our first full day in London! Woohoo!

We started the day with my favorite museum in the London and the world: the British Museum. I have loved the institution throughout my life and it seems to get stronger more and more with each passing year. Yes, I know that the museum has a troubled history of accession and treatment of antiquities that were taken from their places of origins. I will say in it’s defense: the artifacts are free to see, which is incredible compared to museums elsewhere), and it is neat to see how one civilization is similar to another. I love how I can wonder so easily from Ancient Greece to Ancient Egypt to Ancient Assyria in only a few steps.

We said hello to our favorites in the Egyptian gallery. I glimpsed the Rosetta Stone between the hoards taking photos of the stone between heads of other folks taking pictures… We also spent time in the old fashioned galleries that talks a bit about the history of the museum. The walls were covered in books (with a secret door!) and the cases had items from the original collections that founded the museum. There were objects from Captain Cook and Sir Hans Sloane. I love how the cases will bring together items from several cultures and talk about the similarities between them, such as shoes or G-ds. I’ve grown fonder and fonder of this gallery with time since I find history of accession to be fascinating.

Then it was time to become a groundling. The Globe Theater was putting on Richard II, one of my favorite Shakespearean histories. We had the opportunity to be a groundling for a whole £5 and we took it. (I had the thrilling experience of calling the Globe Theater via Skype a week earlier to book the tickets. Woohoo!) So if you don’t mind standing for 2+ hours, you can be a groundling with a really great view of the stage. And it was totally worth it. The play was well done; it showed the downfall of a truly terrible king. It was beautiful.

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View of stage as a Groundling

Later that day, we had dinner at the Simpsons on the Strand, a treat for our honeymoon. My husband, a fake English Explorer Extraordinarie, had never gone to Simpsons, a real classic British restaurant. So I decided that it was time to rectify that wrong. Scott got Beef Welligton (seemed appropriate) and I had the carved meat. A silver topped cart is rolled over and you can tell the server what cut you want. It was a lovely meal in the beautiful wood paneled room with a pianist. I learned later that I had committed a bit of a faux pas. One is supposed to tip the man who carves your meat. Eep! So, if you go to Simpsons in the future and get the carved meat, give him a pound or two. Oh well!

That’s all for now!