The Fancy Dreamy Castle: A Scottish Holiday, Day 4

Today we were off to Edinburgh Castle, which is one of those places that first time visitors to Edinburgh simply must see. Not seeing it would be like not seeing the Tower of London or the Empire State Building.

Approaching the castle, we were first struck by how tall the Castle Rock (the volcanic plug that the castle rests on) was. And then the castle towers above that even ever higher over the entire Edinburgh cityscape. It’s truly a remarkably impressive site.

Climbing up the Castle Rock proved relatively easy, the incline round the side of the rock along Johnston Terrace quite manageable. Eventually you’ll reach a staircase on Castle Wynd West (maybe about 40 steps… I didn’t count) that’ll take you the rest of the way.

As with lots of things over here, the castle itself has a long history. The architecture dates from as old as the 12th century to as new as the present day. The oldest building is Saint Margaret’s Chapel, located on a quite high point of the entire site. It’s a very small, unassuming chapel that leaves little room for even 15 people to fit inside. But, it’s still worth a step inside.

Right outside Saint Margaret’s Chapel is Mons Meg, a giant canon built in 1449 and capable of firing 400 pound canons a distance of two miles. It was used several times during the castle’s many sieges until the 16th century when it was then used for only ceremonial occasions.

At first I thought the Mons Meg was actually some kind of replica because we were allowed to touch it and idiot parents were letting their children climb on it until a staff of the castle told them to stop. But, it really is the real thing! I’d suggest they fence the damn thing off rather than rely on idiots to read signs and expect them to “treat Mons Meg with respect.”

There is so much else to see at the castle, though, that it’s difficult to succinctly cover it all! Definitely check out the Great Hall, which dates from 1511. It’s compete with a wooden roof of huge beams carved with intricate designs, walls decorated with swords, guns, and armor, and the far end is adorned with a giant, stately fireplace. Make sure to view the Honours of Scotland (i.e. the Scottish Crown Jewels), which are the oldest surviving jewels of Britain consisting of a crown, scepter, and sword of state, and used to crown Mary Queen of Scots in 1543. Do step into the Scottish War Memorial, a space of somber commemoration for Scottish lives lost in the two world wars and military campaigns since 1945. (It could be more somber if people would just shut the fuck up while they’re inside such a place.)

Make sure you don’t miss the Royal Palace, which is the birthplace of Mary Queen of Scots’ son, James, who would be crowned James VI of Scotland and then later James I of Scotland and England, succeeding Elizabeth I. And you mustn’t miss some amazing panoramic views of Edinburgh while atop the castle. There’s prime viewing right outside Saint Margaret’s Chapel as well as along the Argyle Battery and an overlook near the War Museum.

Following the castle we made our way down the Royal Mile, which is a, er, mile-long set of streets (actually a Scots mile long… there’s a difference) that connects Edinburgh Castle on the west end to the Scottish Parliament and Holyroos Palace on the east end. The mile is a main thoroughfare in Edinburgh’s Old Town area. We did take a slight detour off the mile for a late lunch at MUMS Great Comfort Food (mmm! yum-yum! pumpkin and sage pie! mushy peas! lager! do go!), but then walked the whole length of the mile to see Canongate Kirk (a quite modest church) where Adam Smith is interred, and, naturally, the Scottish Parliament (a quirky, angular building of some kind of faux steel… or maybe it is real steel bent into a cartoon of a building) and Holyroos Palace itself.

Stray Observations:

1. We did step into the Scottish War Museum in Edinburgh Castle, but my attention span just couldn’t handle much more. (Sorry.) It’s a fine exhibit, carefully curated, masterly researched. There’s just so much to see in the castle that something will no doubt be neglected on your visit, unless you have the attention span of some kind of time-shifting alien. (Plus I kinda get bored in museums. Sorry.)

2. Driving in this city is quite a challenge, especially when your Tom-Tom is malfunctioning. I had to rely on a pre-loaded Google map on my phone (without Siri’s voice directions… no internet, you see) to find my way to the castle and back again. Still, driving here has been an adventure that I’ve rather enjoyed. (Parking, however, sucks terribly and is expensive.) All things considered, you don’t need to take a car into this city, unless you have a 73-year-old mother with you who appreciates the lift.

3. I made one final side quest along the Royal Mile to Saint Giles’s Cathedral. It’s a gorgeous Gothic cathedral, and I happened upon it while an organist was performing some florid toccata using the reed stops. If you’re pressed for time, don’t feel bad if you miss this cathedral, but if you can fit it in, then do stop by.

4. Edinburgh really does feel like and, indeed, is an old city in ways the Glasgow didn’t and wasn’t. (Sorry. I’ll stop obsessing over this point after this final observation.) But, as I’ve said, Glasgow just felt (and, indeed, is) so much newer than Edinburgh, and we Americans (or, at least this American) like to visit this side of the Atlantic for its long, long history and old, old architecture, and Edinburgh definitely delivers on that! It really is a magical, dreamy city!

The Fancy Old Palace: A Scottish Holiday, Day 3

Today we said, “Bye for noo!” to Glasgow, picked up a car from the airport, and made our way to Edinburgh, but not before stopping at Linlithgow Palace on the way there.

Now, the last time I drove in the U.K., we spent most of our time in the southwest corner of the island, where motorways were few and narrow country lanes were many. Perhaps naively, I expected the same today as we made our way from Glasgow to Edinburgh via Linlithgow, but I was terribly mistaken.

The M8 is a major artery for automobile traffic that connects Glasgow and Edinburgh. It’s about an hourlong drive, and the whole way is at least four to six lanes. We all found ourselves remarking that it didn’t quite feel like we were in Scotland while on this drive. We all had this image of narrow country lanes, castles, sheep, stone walls, and green bens (i.e. mountains or peaks). But this stretch of roadway wouldn’t’ve been out of place in Minnesota, apart from the fact that we were driving on the left side of the road and the road signs and license plates were a bit different.

However, as we started to get nearer to Linlithgow as we exited the M8, we did, indeed, start to encounter narrow country lanes, sheep, stone walls, and bens. And, indeed, we eventually arrived at Linlithgow Palace.

Apart from the roofs that were destroyed in a fire in the 1700s, much of Linlithgow Palace survives. It dates back to the 1300s when a fort known as the Peel was built on the site of a manor from the 1100s. However, much of the town of Linlithgow was partly destroyed in a fire in 1424, so James I decided to rebuild the fort as a palace. It was also during this time that the adjacent Church of Saint Michael was built. Over the years, many kings (all named James, incidentally) continued adding additions to the structure. In 1542, Mary Queen of Scots was born in the palace. After the union of the crowns, the palace fell into disuse, went through one more rebuilding, then two occupations, the second of which (by the Duke of Cumberland’s army) destroyed much of the buildings by fire in 1746.

Today, a striking amount of the palace actually survives that not much imagination is required to imagine what it was like in its heyday. You can view royal bedchambers, the chapel, the great hall, the royal kitchen, many nooks and crannies, long hallways, spiral staircases, and tall, tall towers. Since all the roofs are gone, it’s possible to view, for example, the great hall from a staggering height, uninterrupted by a roof or intervening floors. There is also one tower that you can climb all the way to the top, which provides not only spectacular views of the palace but also the town of Linlithgow and Linlithgow Loch. It’s so high up, in fact, and open to sheer drops, that it tests anyone with a fear of heights (er, like myself). Even still, Linlithgow is worth a visit, and it’s enjoyably easy to get turned around in it’s somewhat labyrinthine halls, staircases, and chambers. The only criticism I have is that there should be more placards placed about to explain certain areas beyond the main ones that were available at the great hall and the chapel and so forth.

Our day continued on with a drive to Edinburgh, and it was somewhat of a challenge and kind of stressful driving in this city. Unlike Glasgow, Edinburgh checks off some of those traits that we expect from old, old cities: narrow lanes, a spaghetti grid, and old architecture that isn’t pushed aside by the new.

As we sat down to dinner at a fantastic British gastropub called the Blackbird (located on Leven Street), we all agreed that because we’re in Edinburgh, we now really fully feel like we are actually in Scotland. Glasgow had a striking newness about it that we found distracting. Edinburgh, however, really does feel like an old Scottish city in the way London feels like and old, English city. We’re quite looking forward to exploring it!

Stray Observations:

1. Now, I do have to say, Glasgow is marvelous in its own right and is worth a visit. The people are kind, warm, and welcoming, the history is engrossing, and the food and beer are delightful. However, there’re just a little bit too many chain stores, the streets are too uniform and therefore distract from expectations of what old cities should be like, and everything is just a little bit too new.

2. It is so, so nice that they post prices with taxes included. If you pick out an item that costs £10, you can go to the counter and give the cashier a £10 note. There won’t be some percentage of money added to the posted price.

3. I neglected to mention yesterday that our walk back to Glasgow’s city centre after viewing the Necropolis also took us by the City Chambers, a striking building designed in an interpretation of Renaissance Classicism. However, on Sundays it’s closed, so if you want to go inside, then visit any other day of the week.

4. While I quite enjoy driving around this country and it’s cities, parking in Edinburgh is a nightmare and made coming into the city all that more stressful as we navigated the charmingly narrow and twisting streets.

The Quite Old Places: A Scottish Holiday, Day 2

Glasgow’s relative newness continued to fascinate us, and today we figured out a little more about why that is since the haze of jet lag has now left us. Today we were somewhat bothered by Buchanan Street, which is just basically a boring old shopping district or outdoor mall that you might find in any boring town in America. (By all means, avoid this street unless you want to go, er, shopping for some reason.) Glasgow also has a quite organized grid of streets, and I don’t really associate old cities with a grid of streets but rather a spaghetti-like maze of tiny streets. I also later found out that much of Glasgow’s medieval architecture was torn down in the 18th to 20th centuries, so much of the city really is new. Even still, we saw some sites today that affirmed Glasgow’s long, long history.

After a quick coffee and tea and sandwich at a Caffe Nero (we later discovered this is just a boring old chain), we made our way to the Lighthouse. I mainly wanted to go because of these images of a spiral staircase I saw online as well as promises of amazing views of the city. And, by all means, do make a stop at the Lighthouse (the entrance looks like you’re just going into a boring mall, which might deter you), but once you ride the escalators to the third floor, and once you climb up over a hundred stairs on a modern, spiral staircase built into a 110 year old tower of red-brown stone, the views of the city atop the Lighthouse are breathtaking.

Following our visit to the top of the Lighthouse, we visited the third floor’s Mackintosh Centre, which is an exhibit highlighting the architecture of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, whose work features prominently throughout Glasgow. The Lighthouse itself is Mackintosh’s first public commission, and it is a quite good example of the architect’s style: geometric forms of right angles; minimal ornamentation but just enough ornamentation  to hint at subtle, rounded edges; red-brown stone; a delicate balance between functionalism and an aesthetically-pleasing turn-of-the-century style; by no means anywhere near sterile modernism nor anywhere near baroque excess. The exhibit itself was quite good and worth a visit.

Following the exhibit, we made our way back towards Glasgow Cathedral to visit Provand’s Lordship, Glasgow’s oldest house, built in 1471 as part of St. Nicholas Hospital but also used for temporary housing for clergy and other staff since it is so close to the cathedral. Eventually, the Lord of the Prebend of Barlanark (later known as the Lord of Provan and then Proband’s Lordship) lived in the house along with the priest of St. Nicholas Hospital.

The house is definitely worth a visit. It’s a prime example of medieval design and is decorated with furniture from the 15th to 17th centuries. The placards are informative, and it really is just simply quite incredible to step foot in such an old house.

Following the house, we made our way to the nearby Necropolis, which is essentially an astounding cemetery on a hill. It’s not the oldest cemetery I’ve been in (the tombs were dated only as old as the 18th century and remarkably as late as the 1970s), but it was still a quite fascinating walk through rows and rows of tombstones, statues, and mausoleums. Atop the Neceopolis we were able to admire some more splendid views of the city, views that rivaled those from atop the Lighthouse.

Our walk back to the city centre took us by the University of Strathclyde and the City of Glasgow College before we enjoyed some good old fashioned pub fare at Hootenanny.

Stray Observations:

1. One cab driver we had didn’t accept one of our five pound notes because it was of the old paper style and not of the new plastic style. We asked the cashier at the Tesco what the issue was, and he just said that the driver was just being stupid and paranoid.

2. The people of Glasgow continue to be so, so friendly. The server we had at the Hootenanny was so, so nice, as she suggested I try a Tennant’s lager, a good old Scottish favorite brewed right in Glasgow, she informed me.

3. I think yesterday I was so tired from jet lag that I disparagingly called the Glasgow Cathedral “quaint.” While, indeed, it isn’t as large as Westminster Abbey, Glasgow Cathedral’s size does not diminish its massive achievement in stunnning gothic architecture.

4. The weather here is GORGEOUS! The skies range from grey to cloudy, highs in the range of 15-17, small bouts of drizzle and rain interspersed throughout the day. Right now I’m sitting in a square right outside the St. Enoch subway station, and my ears and fingers are a bit cold as if it’s late October in Minnesota! Sheer bliss! And NO! I’m not being sarcastic at ALL! (No, really. I’m not. I ADORE this weather!)

The Dear Green Place: A Scottish Holiday, Day 1

Yes, it’s been just under three years now since I’ve been in the U.K., and when I finished writing about my excursions then, I concluded that, “One day, I shall come back. Yes, I shall come back. Until then, there must be no regrets, no tears, no anxieties. Just go forward in all your beliefs, and prove to me that I am not mistaken in mine.”

Well, here we are. Three years later. And I’ve come back. Sadly, however, the U.K. has since gone a little backwards in their beliefs what with Brexit, but at least Scotland had the sense to vote against it unlike its southern neighbor (London excluded).

Last time I was in the U.K. I was with my mother. This time, however, my sister has joined us on these adventures. It’s her first time visiting a foreign country, and it has been a delight sharing this experience with her.

Our first day in Scotland involved acquainting ourselves with Glasgow. Glasgow is a curious little city, but in a good way. There’s a newness to Glasgow that I wasn’t expecting. While the city does have old buildings and while the history of the city goes back 2000 years to Roman times, large portions of the town have newer architecture that has a slight tendency to overwhelm the older parts.

Our first stop was to get some much needed lunch, so we discovered a curry restaurant called Chaakoo Bombay Cafe. Glasgow is somewhat known for its curries, and Chaakoo did not disappoint! We got everything to share: lamb saagwalla (with spinach); dhansak (chicken, lentils, vegetables); saag paneer (spinach and cubes of cheese); daal makhani (black lentils, red kidney beans, tomato purée); sabji roti (stuffed with green peas, crushed potatoes, coriander, chilli); all with a side of jeera rice and lemon rice. It really was some of the best curry I had ever had. The service was also super friendly, our waiter commenting that Glaswegians are the friendliest Scots around. So, we’ll see how the rest of Scotland’s inhabitants stack up as we make our way around this country!

Following lunch, we made our way to Glasgow Cathedral, and this certainly is a stop every visitor to Glasgow needs to make. Now, if you’ve been to places like Westminster Abbey or Saint Paul’s Cathedral, Glasgow Cathedral will seem decidedly quaint. It is much smaller compared to lots of other cathedrals in the U.K., but it is still breathtaking in its own right. The structure dates from before the Reformation from the late 12th century and so is built in classic gothic style. It also has that charred, blackened look old structures like this have (like the Kölner Dom), but you can view the preservation they’re doing to a section of the cathedral called Blackadder Aisle in order to envision the classic white color the whole structure originally had.

Following the cathedral, we started to succumb to our jet lag, so we viewed the adjacent Necropolis from across the street with plans of returning there tomorrow.

This city is very walkable, so we made our way back to the city centre via High Street and then Trongate and Argyle Street.

Stray Observations:

1. We came across two police boxes while we explored the city without even looking for them. One was near the cathedral at the corner of Cathedral Street and Castle Street. The other one is on Buchanan Street north of Argyle Street.
2. So far, Glaswegians really are super friendly, especially the waiter at Chaakoo Bombay who took time to explain tipping expectations in Scotland (basically, 10% unless a service fee is already included in the bill).
3. We also took a moment to admire the River Clyde, which borders the southern end of Glasgow’s city centre. It was there where we discovered a quite large and striking mural of a tiger.
4. Lastly, it didn’t take us long to discover not just one, but two street performers playing bagpipes! (Yes, bagpipes!) And they were wearing kilts! Both were performing on Buchanan Street.

The Most Giant Star Outshining Worlds of Terror

It’s been awhile since I’ve written, and this is something I’ve wanted to remark upon for a good couple months now.

Over two years ago, I wrote a quite optimistic post about Twin Cities Pride, declaring, “I absolutely and resolutely adore pride in the Twin Cities, but a part of me can’t help but think that pride month will have to rapidly transform itself very soon, mainly because so many other things are changing very quickly, from marriage rights, workplace discrimination, to bullying in schools.” I was essentially suggesting that unless Pride changed, it would quickly become obsolete and unnecessary. Keep in mind, I wrote this shortly after Minnesota legalized marriage for all, and the excitement in the air was palpable. Nothing could stop this progress. Everything we ever wanted would come true.

And, indeed, the Supreme Court would come to legalize marriage for all across all 50 states. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, idiot governors sign nonsensical bills into law declaring transgendered men and women must use specific toilets. Trigger happy police officers execute black men under circumstances that no reasonable person would find justifiable. A white male swimmer who rapes an unconscious woman merely gets his wrists slapped. An American civilian with a scary sounding name who happens to admire ISIS kills 49 people at an Orlando nightclub while a dysfunctional Senate fails to pass commonsense gun control measures. And, just to top the end of 2016 off with an event to end all events, the electoral college is going to vote for an idiot man to run the most powerful office in the world because Colin Powell advised a woman it’s fine to be a bit sloppy with emails. This is an idiot man who openly mocks people with disabilities, an idiot man who calls for a registry of Muslims as if we’re in Nazi Germany, an idiot man who thinks it’s perfectly acceptable to grab women by their pussy and pass remarks like these off as everyday locker room talk, an idiot man who has filled his cabinet with the least qualified people (i.e. idiot rich men) who seem poised to actually dismantle the very programs they were hired to support. His idiot administration so far is shaping up to be the most out-of-touch administration since perhaps Warren Harding’s, but even Mr. Harding’s administration seems more adept at running a country than compared to this idiot’s administration we’re about to have for our executive branch.

And if that wasn’t enough, we now also have an idiot vice-president who is a man who has advocated for public spending on conversion therapy for LGBT people. He wants to overturn Roe v. Wade. He has sponsored multiple bills to defund Planned Parenthood. His policies inadvertently caused an HIV outbreak in Indiana. He opposes marriage equality. He voted against fair pay for women and minorities. He opposes raising the minimum wage. He has tried to block aid to Syrian refugees. He believes condoms are not effective in preventing STDs and pregnancy. He believes the LGBTQ community should not be protected from discrimination. He opposed the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. He opposes Obama’s transgender bathroom directive. He defied a bill combating rape in prison. He refused to call a former leader of the KKK deplorable. He sponsored a bill that would have prevented children of illegal immigrants from becoming citizens. And lastly,he believes smoking doesn’t kill. (No really. Look it up. Don’t take my word for it, but all these are true and do not come from some Onion article.)

These, among other stuff, are the idiot things happening right now. It is so very difficult to call up the hope and optimism we all felt when suddenly, in an instant, the highest court in the land said that states have no right forbidding certain people to marry (again).

It is so difficult to call up this hope because what’s most distressing about this election is that millions of people voted for a man who believes in some very deplorable things. These are things that affect me personally as well as millions of others of our fellow brothers and sisters and cousins and neighbors and friends and mothers and fathers and sons and daughters all across the nation. But, I’ve heard people comment to the effect of, “Just because I voted for that man doesn’t mean I’m a racist,” to which I must respond:

You may not think you’re a racist or a misogynist, but you do seem to think that this idiot man didn’t cross a single line to get you to change your mind to make you say, “You know what? That’s pretty upsetting, what he just did there just then. I don’t want a repulsive man like that running this country and representing us abroad.”

Let me refresh your memory what lines he did cross but that you have now validated are lines that are either acceptable to cross or are not a line crossed at all. You heard him say he wants to register Muslims, but apparently that’s not too far. You heard him say he wants to build a wall between the U.S and Mexico, yet again that’s apparently not too far. You heard him talk about how it’s fine to do to women whatever you want, including “grab ’em by the pussy,” but even that wasn’t a line too far. You saw him mock a man with a disability on national television, but, again, that seems not to have been a line crossed.

And what’s worse is that he’s given voice to some very despicable ideas and amplified them. Indeed, he’s even validated that this kind of hatred can now exist within our national dialogue. This hatred has always been lurking in the dark undersides of this country for awhile, but now this idiot man has given them reason to come out to spout their hatred as if it’s totally acceptable behavior. “Have they no decency?” Apparently not, unless what their version of decency is is some transfigured misrepresentation.

So, what happens now?

Well, you know what Twin Cities Pride and Pridefests everywhere? You stay exactly as you are! You stay resolute in your beliefs! You keep working towards your vision of the future! Because now more than ever, we need you to stay just the way you are. And I’m sorry that over two years ago I had the arrogance to suggest that we didn’t need you anymore because the world was just fine and dandy now that some ridiculous court said gays and lesbians could get married. How short-sighted I was. I apologize.

The wonderful thing about pride, though, is that it is marvelously protective. I like to think of my own pride as if it were the most giant star ever. More giant than our own solar system’s star. More giant than the most giant of red giants. More giant that the most giant galaxy. More giant that the entire universe in all its magnificence. My pride is a vast, sprawling gigantic beacon of light and hope that outshines the darkest of hatred and the ugliest of behavior. It’s a fantastic and brilliant and powerful light that is larger than anything imaginable, and no amount of hatred or bullying or any other despicable thing could even come close to stamping it out, because this light is untouchable, bold, and courageous. And it is infinitesimally greater than any dictator, any evil, any repulsive invention that tries to undermine the small, fragile, and delicate beauties that do exist in this horrible little world.

We have difficult and dark days, weeks, and months ahead of us. It’s going to be hard. It’s going to be awful. It’s going to be terrible.

But those of us who believe in the right and good in the world will not falter. We will not go away. We will not move to Canada. We will not let those in power forget that they are supposed to be public servants that represent us all. And when they forget their place, we will still be here to remind them that we will hold them accountable to all the horrible things they are going to unleash upon us all.

So don’t you go anywhere. We need all the giant stars to be strong enough for all of us, including those who may not know how to be strong enough or those who may not know that they can be strong enough.

Worlds of terror are only tiny pale blue dots in the grand scheme of things. Our pride will always protect us from whatever horrors they breed.

But it’s going to be hard. And we have a lot of work to do and a lot of work to protect. But when everything is said and done, we may actually feel fine after all.

This Is the End of It All: A New York Holiday, Day 7

At long last, part 7 of 7 of a fantastic adventure in New York!

Our last day felt a bit truncated and abridged. We had an evening flight, and (if you can avoid it), I think it’s actually better to always leave on a morning flight so that you don’t have to worry about where to put your luggage during the day after you check out of wherever you’re staying. It was kinda icky, lugging it around as we went to see some final sights.

For our morning, we made our way to Russ and Daughters, but this time to their shop, not their cafe (which we went to for brunch on our third day). Their shop has on display in elegant and smart display cases their caviar, salmon, herring, cream cheeses, and an assortment of other items like fruits and nuts and other sweets. I ordered a bagel sandwich called the Super Heebster and it had whitefish and baked salmon salad with horseradish dill cream cheese and wasabi flying fish roe. It was just so, so good! After this, we made a quick side trip to Caffe Vita, where I picked up some coffee beans for my friends who were looking after my cats back in Minneapolis.

Our last two stops in the East Village before we made our way towards Harlem brought us to Avenue C, very nearly on the easternmost edge of the island, where we first had a look at C-Squat, mainly because I was interested in the building’s history with punk rock. I linked you to an article about what C-Squat is, but in short (and I’m essentially paraphrasing Annie Correal’s words), it’s a building that squatters moved into in the late 1980s. At the time it was an abandoned building, but they slowly fixed things up, turning a disused space into something useable again, and by the 1990s, the building was host to various basement punk shows.

The East Village has a colorful history of squatters, but sadly most of of them have been evicted. In the mid 2000s, however, the city and the squatters reached an agreement, and the squatters were allowed to stay and take ownership of the buildings, provided that they returned the buildings to code. Today, many artists and musicians live in C-Squat.

C-Squat itself is an unassuming red brick building that would pass unnoticed if it weren’t for a small sign that reads, “This Land Is Ours / See Co-op Squat / Not for Sale” in red and black stenciled typeface (and even then, the building still might go unnoticed, as the sign is quite small and unapologetically simple, and unless you’re specifically on a mission to see C-Squat, you would pass by it all together regardless).

Nearby C-Squat is the Museum of Reclaimed Urban Space, and as I indicated on our fifth day here, it was the second of only two museums we visited while in the city, the other being the wonderful Mmuseumm. But what museums they both were! Both are definitely worth a trip out of your way!

The MoRUS is a perfectly glorious museum that has exhibits about the city’s community gardens, squats, and people, all focused especially on the history of the Lower East Side. As I’ve said in other posts, I felt an especial affinity for this area of town, as it was a colorful celebration of people from all over, unpolished as to reveal the true nature of things and not prettied up in a kind of plastic facade.

And so as it was as we learned about Adam Purple at the MoRUS, a man who spearheaded community gardens in the Lower East Side with his Garden of Eden and who had just died in September of this year at 84 years old. From 1975 to 1980, he created a beautiful garden designed in concentric circles that provided a place for children to experience ground beneath their feet rather than concrete rubble, for people to grow food like corn, berries, and cucumbers, and for the community to generally have a safe space away from all the riffraff. At its height, it was 15,000 square feet large. (Again, the article I linked to above provides a nice overview of the garden, and I’m essentially paraphrasing Christopher Jobson’s words as I write about this.)

Sadly and unlike other parks, the city never recognized the Garden of Eden, the space always marked as vacant on maps. And on 8 January 1986, the whole garden was bulldozed in 75 minutes to make room for new buildings.

All of the MoRUS, however, paid a wonderful tribute to Adam Purple himself and the work he did. In addition to photos of the garden with placards offering information on the garden, we could even view one of his purple tie-dye outfits. The whole museum is quite colorfully designed (as befits such a vibrant history), with bright, bold paintings on the walls and staircases that detailed the timelines of community gardens.

As I said, try to make your way to the Museum of Reclaimed Urban Space and send them some money, if you can.

We continued onwards, making our way ever farther north, stopping by the northern part of Central Park along Museum Mile (a stretch along 5th Avenue between 82nd and 104th Streets) where we saw the outside of the Guggenheim (it looks much smaller in person, its famous circular design of ever larger circumferences of four levels from bottom to top, like an upside-down pyramid except shaped into a cylinder) and enjoyed a walk along the east side of the running track that circles the Reservoir (a 40 foot deep body of water that houses a billion gallons of water and built in the 1860s as a temporary water supply for the city).

This part of town is very “cleaned up,” shall we say, and looks very expensive. That kind of aesthetic never really appeals to me, though, as I rather prefer the realness of the East Village or Chinatown or Harlem, where people from all over the world make there way about redbrick buildings that show their age.

Speaking of Harlem, our last stop in the city was in Harlem itself where we first enjoyed a pizza made in a wood burning oven at Babbalucci along with a Manhattan to drink, and then we had a short walk to the nearby Harlem Corner Social, where we enjoyed a drink called the Lychee Lii (Belvedere, Sake, Elderflower, Lychees).

It was at this point when we began to keenly feel the end of our time here, and it was very sad. I’m glad we got to experience Harlem, even if just for a very little bit, as I want to make sure to spend more time here when we return. It is bustling and vibrant and busy and full of lots of things to do. We happened to walk by the historic Apollo Theater as we navigated our way to the bus stop that would bring us back to the airport, and I would love to attend something there when we come back.

And one day, we shall come back!

Here are some final thoughts about our time:

  1. Just for fun, here’s how I’d rank all the plays we attended, keeping in mind that the play at sixth place is only at sixth place because we only saw six things, and so therefore, if we saw 100 things, it still wouldn’t be deserving of 100th place.
    1. Ronnie Burkett Theatre of Marionettes: The Daisy Theatre
    2. Daphne Rubin-Vega and the Labyrinth Theatre Company: Empanada Loca
    3. Third Rail Projects at Kingsland Ward in Brooklyn: Then She Fell
    4. Elevator Repair Service and the New York Theatre Workshop: Fondly, Collette Richland
    5. Daryl Roth Theatre: Fuerza Bruta
    6. Punchdrunk: Sleep No More
  2. I did rather enjoy New York City, but it hasn’t displaced London as my favorite city in the world. While London isn’t perfect (New York far surpasses London in terms of diversity of excellent cuisine, for example), London is easier to navigate (I mean, we used old fashioned paper maps while we were there instead of iPhones and didn’t get lost!), much more walkable, and denser in terms of how close so many fantastic things are in relation to each other.
  3. I missed talking about some additional things that got lost in my notes on our time here:
    1. Somewhere along our journeys, we enjoyed Big Gay Ice Cream where you can order such colorfully named creations like the Salty Pimp or the Bea Arthur.
    2. We also happened across J. Kathleen White’s peephole dioramas, installed along the fence along the Ninth Street Community Garden, where you can view whimsical scenes of rabbits and other animals in small dioramas that you view through, obviously, a small peephole.
    3. We did happen to stumble across the New York Stock Exchange on Wall Street by accident. I’m glad we did, because now I can say I saw it, but I never have to see it ever again (much like how I can say I’ve been to New Jersey by nature of how the Staten Island Ferry crosses into New Jersey waters for a bit, and now I never have to go out of my way to go to New Jersey just to say I’ve been there).

Loud Music, but Strength in Choreography: A New York Holiday, Day 5

On the morning of our fifth day, we enjoyed some fantastic brunch at a little place called Estela, located on Mulberry St. and Houston (back in the part of town where the numbered grid ceases, Mulberry and Houston roughly equating to 4th Avenue and, er, Zero-ith Street). I can’t remember how we stumbled upon this place or why we decided to dine here, but it was a delight nonetheless. The place is one of those so-called “New American” restaurants, and it’s difficult not to compare it to nouvelle cuisine except with proper portion sizes: essentially, Estela mixes things up in new ways but without all those ridiculous bits of dribbled sauces surrounding three walnut sized chunks of some kind of edible matter shaped into flat cylinders, all on a giant white plate big enough to hold a turkey.

I enjoyed a dish of endive with walnuts, anchovy, and ubriaco rosso (that’s fancy talk for some lettuce with nuts, fish, and cheese), and it was simplistically delightful. I believe I also enjoyed a drink call the Big Soft Punch: Bourbon, rye, Cynar, and genever (I’ve started to develop a taste for rye, which is surprising me), and we closed brunch with some desserts that are now escaping me, but I seem to remember enjoying them immensely.

Following this, we did some snooping a block south of Estela, venturing along a cute little street market on Prince where artists were selling photographs and jewelry among other things, then continued east on Prince to stop by Little Cupcake Bakeshop on Mott and Prince (it was fun but nothing to, er, write a blog about), walked farther south on Mott to admire Chinatown with all their street vendors selling fish (the crabs were still moving a bit as they sat there, mainly dead, on ice) and vegetables (where I got to try lychee for the first time, a curious fruit with a kind of porcupine exterior that splits in half as if someone designed it to [but that would be, obviously, ridiculous], and within is a creamy white fruit that tastes understatedly sweet), until we made our way to a wonderful little museum called Mmuseumm, directed by Alex Kalman.

We haven’t done many museums thus far on our adventures (indeed, Mmuseumm will be only one museum of two we actually enter during our 6-1/2 days here), but this little museum is definitely worth going to over any of those other museums in town.

Mmuseumm is located at 4 Cortlandt Alley, and the permanent collection resides in the space no larger than an elevator, about 10 feet deep, 6 feet wide, and 7 feet tall, a tiny alcove within a building. Among its collection are a series of God Made books for children, as in God Made the World (he didn’t), God Made Me (she didn’t either), and God Made Weather (they also didn’t). There was a also a series of fishing lures and various hooks that had at one point been surgically removed from human bodies, a series of promotional items for various drugs like an Adderall soap dispenser shaped like a brain, and a series of homemade gas masks made out of plastic bottles and pop cans. One particularly delightful series, however, was a “Cornflake Index”: a collection of variously sized and shaped cornflakes, some long and thin, others small and broken, and more still just awkwardly shaped.

All of Mmuseumm’s permanent collection, if it isn’t obvious to you by now, is a collection of modern day artifacts, “and the artifacts of today’s world, found in between the cracks of our communities, are the physical embodiment of contemporary humanity – intimate illustrations, honest proof,” as the guidebook said.

The museum’s current feature exhibition, located just ten steps away from the permanent collection, housed in a similarly small alcove inset into the building and sectioned off by glass, is Sara Berman’s Closet in collaboration with artist Maira Kalman (the museum director’s sister), and the exhibition was (as the name suggest) a re-creation of the artist’s mother’s closet, and she was a mother who wore all white in shades of eggshell, cream, and parchment, and who always carefully organized her closet with every shoe, every dress, every blouse placed with purpose and intent in a way that suggested an eye for detail of the most minutest kind.

We were apparently at the Berman exhibition on its last day, but their website currently indicates that it’s been held over. So, if you have a chance, do make sure you make it to Mmuseumm and the current exhibition. It’s fantastic and worth going out of the way for!

We made our way back to the walkup via a Chinese market where I bought some oolong tea (It’s so, so good! I’m enjoying some right now!), walked by Roosevelt Park (that’s Sara Delano Roosevelt, the mother of who you were probably thinking of when I mentioned Roosevelt [FDR if you weren’t thinking of him {Franklin Delano Roosevelt, if I must spell it out <he was president during the Great Depression and WWII, if you didn’t know, but you really should, and if you didn’t, then I don’t want to talk to you>}]), and after enjoying some oolong tea at the walkup, we made our way to the Daryl Roth Theatre to enjoy Fuerza Bruta, a kind of acrobatic dance show created by Diqui James and Gaby Kerpel.

And the show was, well, fine, I guess. Not really my cup of tea, as they say, but a marvelous spectacle, nonetheless. That said, of the six shows we saw while in NYC, I would place this fifth (but the distance between Fuerza Bruta’s fifth place and Sleep No More’s sixth place is immense–more on that when I write about Day 6).

Before the show started, we’re forced to listen to some awful music. (I Shazam’ed it while I was there, and one number that happened to play was this repetitive monstrosity by someone called Joey Daniel and Rub A Dub.) This music sadly was an omen of the music to come, a kind of acoustic version of horrible club music where all you hear is a loud beat with some semblance of a two-note melody with a one-chord harmony. (Not that there’s anything wrong with two-note melodies and one-chord harmonies, but it takes delicate care and careful thought to pull it off successfully.)

The choreography, however, was impressively glorious, and the skill of the dancers was sublimely divine. The lighting, too, was a delicate mix of impatient strobes counterpointed by carefully blending colors, shifting at just the right moment and at the right tempo to keep you interested in everything that happens around you.

All of Fuerza Bruta takes place in a black box affair, maybe 50 feet on each side (but I’m a terrible judge of distances like that), and you remain standing throughout the whole show (I think about 8o minutes or so in length), as at points throughout you need to shift your position with the crowd a bit to accommodate space for the dancers and other apparatuses that enter into the area.

One such apparatus was a conveyor belt raised about 6 feet off the ground and about 10 feet in length. With booming music playing, a single man walked on this conveyor belt as other members of the troupe placed chairs and tables on the belt, simulating someone walking through a busy sidewalk, perhaps, past restaurants with street seating. The tables and chairs would be caught by others on the other end of the conveyor belt, then brought forward to the front, and then placed on the conveyor belt again.

The tables and chairs were then replaced by walls of stacked cardboard boxes that the man would crash through, the conveyor belt speeding up, the man running as fast as he could until a loud crack simulating a gun shot struck him in the chest, but he tried to continue on, running, as best he could despite being wounded.

The man was black, incidentally, and this moment no doubt was a clear representation of goings-on amongst us that the terribly important Black Lives Matter movement is working so hard to remind us all.

The athleticism of this man was so impressive, and it was an athleticism that every other dancer shared, and the choreography saved no expense to showcase the skill of these dancers, and there were many examples. At one point in the show, the entire audience became surrounded in a shimmering tarp that stretched all around us and all the way to the ceiling. Two dancers were suspended from the ceiling with a cable on a circular track, and the two women simulated running along this tarp, bodies perpendicular to the floor. At another point, another similarly shimmering tarp was gently draped over our heads, and then the tarp was inflated Metrodome-style with loud and powerful fans. Up top were three person-sized holes that the dancers would emerge from, suspended by cables, performing various twists and turns in the air as they descended to the audience. The part that everyone probably talks about, however, is when a transparent ceiling appears above us, it filled with water, and four dancers slipped and slid across the surface.

And this was all very well and impressive, but I couldn’t help but think that this was all just spectacle for spectacle’s sake. “Look what we can do!” they might exclaim, and I might respond, “Sure, this is all very cool, but it’s kinda weird that you made a powerful statement about Black Lives Matter early on in the show, but then everything after that just forgets that moment, and I’m left wondering what the whole show’s raison d’etre is. And the music is too loud and boring.”

So, that’s that. If you like spectacular shows that lack any depth beneath the surface layer, and you want to just go to a show where you don’t have to think too much, then you’ll probably like Fuerza Bruta. I’m glad I went, of course, because, as I said, the athleticism of these dancers was quite a sight to behold, but I was left feeling that the show didn’t really have a clear purpose to bind it together. Maybe I’m fixating on the moment that we witnessed a black man being shot, and that moment seemed to have no effect on events to follow, but it just seemed a bit crass to include something like that in a show that was really only spectacular because it was spectacular.

Following this, we made our way to an Italian restaurant called Via della pace (you really can’t get Italian food quite like this in Minneapolis) to hold ourselves over until we had a simply divine dinner at The Eddy, located right next to our walkup in the Village. This was Amy’s birthday dinner, and we enjoyed their fantastically wonderful 5-course tasting menu. I think the tasting menu has since changed, as some of the items on the menu aren’t jogging my memory. In a couple words, though, it was a decadently sublime evening of fine food and drink, and I wish I could remember it better to entice you with all the details. The Eddy is one of those fancy-ish places where you don’t have to wear a jacket and tie, but you should at least make some sort of effort to look nice, and everything is priced generally very reasonably for the quality you receive.

(Incidentally, there was a couple sitting next to us the were on a horrible first date that made us chuckle and feel bad for them.)

Our evening ended with some more drinks at a little place called Amor y amargo followed by more drinks at Dead and Company. Needless to say, we rather stumbled home, but nevertheless made it home safely.

Stray Observations (a la AVClub):

  1. In Minneapolis, three cocktails probably means $30. In NYC, two cocktails means $30.
  2. Where are the cats? We were always on the lookout to find cats sunbathing in windows, but never saw a single one!
  3. And we also never saw a single cockroach.

For the Love of Animals: Dane County Humane Society Benefit Concert

If you are in the Madison, WI area or want to make a road trip out to the city of one of my alma maters, I shall be in town on 25 October at 3:30 at First United Methodist Church located at 203 Wisconsin Avenue for a concert benefiting the Dane County Humane Society, Songs About Our Pets. All freewill offerings will help support the organization.

This concert will include performances by soprano Chelsie Propst, mezzo-soprano Amy Hartsough, and pianist Jennifer Hedstrom. The evening will feature songs about our love of animals and the impact they have on our lives. There will also feature three world premieres of new works by composers Jerry Hui and Anthony Lanman in addition to my own Cat Haikus with words written specifically for the concert by Amy Danielson.

I do hope to see you there!

Please Pronounce Pho Correctly

Some months ago, I was listening to MPR.  I think it was Radiolab, but I can’t remember.  It was one of those wonderful Saturday afternoon shows, and Radiolab seems like the show on MPR’s Saturday afternoon lineup that would talk about this sort of thing.

In short, I hadn’t heard of pho until I listened to this story in Radiolab.  (I know.  Shameful, considering Minneapolis doesn’t have a shortage of such a thing, especially considering the offerings we have on Eat Street alone.)  And it wasn’t until my friend Amy took me to a restaurant called Pho 79 on that very street where I fell in love with pho.  I think it was mid-January during a really long cold spell.

For those who don’t know, pho is a Vietnamese soup of broth, some kind of meat (I usually prefer these beef ball things), and rice noodles.  Once it arrives at the table in a really quite large bowl that makes you think they brought enough for two, they usually provide bean sprouts and Thai basil and a lime or two for you to add, and then it’s also traditional to add some fish sauce and chili sauce, mix it all up, eat it with chop sticks and those deep ceramic spoons that you can sip from.

The word “soup,” though, doesn’t quite do it justice, as soup suggests something that’s kind of boring that’s made in three hours (including the simmer time).  The broth of pho uses beef bones and oxtails that have been simmering for hours and hours, though.  (No really… for hours and hours.  I’ve seen suggestions for restaurant quality broth to simmer the broth for twelve hours or more.)

It’s a wonderfully delightful dish, pho, and I highly recommend eating it in the winter months when it’s very, very cold outside.  It just seems like the most perfect thing to warm up to on a weekday evening after a long day.  Really, it is.  It’s fantastic.

Something that irks me, however, is that no one in this country seems to know how to pronounce it.  (Well, no one in Minnesota, anyway.  I’m not sure about elsewhere, as I haven’t had the chance to listen to other people on the outside pronounce pho.)  Just tonight I was at Chino Latino in Uptown (that gold, glittering place on Hennepin and Lake), and I wanted a virgin drink, as I’ve been drinking way too much lately and my mind hasn’t been working properly very well.  There was a drink that caught my eye called Auntie’s Pho.  I asked the server what it was, as there wasn’t a description, and she had to look at what I was pointing to because she didn’t understand my pronouncing pho correctly.

“Oh!  Aunti’e Pho is just like Uncle’s Pho,” she said, pointing out the uncle version on the menu, “except that it doesn’t have the alcohol.”

Needless to say, she pronounced pho incorrectly.  I wanted to try to slip in a few extra phos (“Oh! It’s like the Uncle’s Pho except without alcohol!  Cool!” / “Yes, the Uncle’s Pho.” / “OK.  I’ll try the Auntie’s Pho, then.”  “The Auntie’s Pho?”  “Yes, the Auntie’s Pho.”  “Are you sure you want the Auntie’s Pho and not the Uncle’s Pho?” / “Yes, I’ll have the Auntie’s Pho and not the Uncle’s Pho.” / “OK.  So one Auntie’s Pho.” / “Yes.  One Auntie’s Pho.” / “Auntie’s Pho, did you say?” / “Yes.  Duh!  I said Auntie’s Pho!” / “OK.  One Auntie’s Pho.”) in order to passively and annoyingly try to get her to pronounce pho correctly (or, at least, get her to talk to her coworkers after and say something like, “So this guy was pronouncing pho wrong, and I didn’t know what he was talking about,” in the hopes that someone would respond and say, “Actually, he was pronouncing it correctly,” and then hopefully get more people to pronounce pho correctly), but I didn’t quite work up the nerve to pronounce it correctly a couple more times.

But, seriously.  Whenever anyone pronounces pho incorrectly, my left eye squints ever so slightly, and my head jerks about 17 millimeters to the left while remaining on the transverse plane.

I think I have such a reaction because when I listened to that story on Radiolab some months back, they pronounced pho correctly (thus adding to the stereotype that public media is the more sophisticated media) so I heard it pronounced correctly the first time (granted, they did talk about the common mispronunciation later on), whereas I heard bruschetta pronounced incorrectly the first time, and so I don’t have quite the same dramatic reaction towards bruschetta being pronounced incorrectly than I do when people pronounce pho incorrectly.

(By the way, it’s pronounced pho, an assonance of fun and lungnot pho, an assonance of known or bone.)

(If you didn’t know how to pronounce it until now, maybe re-read everything up to here so that things might be a bit more funny.  Or maybe they won’t.  Maybe things will just be a bit more annoying.)

But, of course, the humanist in me must accept that language is living, and it’s thanks to the inherent malleability of the English language that we have so many more words than, say, French.

Still, we sound like idiots when we pronounce pho as if it rhymes with Margaret Cho.

A Changing Spectrum of the Nature of Pride

It’s June.  Specifically, it’s the end of June, which means that LGBT communities and our allies are celebrating “Gay Pride” in all corners, a reminder to everyone around us that we exist, that we have been persecuted against, that we fight against such persecution, and that we are still so hated among some corners that some of us would rather be dead than live a life as someone who doesn’t quite love another person in the same way that most other people do.

But, not only does this month serve to remind everyone of these inequities, it is also a time to celebrate the full spectrum of sexuality and gender, and for many people everywhere, it’s a terribly wonderful time.

While the 1960s saw Annual Reminders take place in the form of pickets on 4 July at Independence Hall in Philadelphia to remind people that no laws and no actions can stamp out an entire people, the morning of 28 June 1969 saw police raid the Stonewall Inn in New York City, spring boarding the Stonewall Riots that made way for the modern pride celebrations that now occur all over every June.

The oppression of us is well known (if you don’t know, then I suggestion you read more), so I won’t dwell on it here.  But, what is also well known is that public sentiment towards the LGBT community and our allies has flipped dramatically in our favor.  And it all seems like this occurred overnight.

When watching Queer as Folk, it sometimes feels like the show is being overly dramatic when it explores how much we were oppressed at the turn of this century.  These were the days when a horribly despicable, unintelligent, and embarrassing man was elected to the office of the U.S Presidency (and not by popular vote), who wanted to write discrimination into the Constitution, defining marriage as between only a man and a woman.

It’s easy to forget that this was happening merely 10 years ago, when now we have a president who has overturned the ridiculous Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy of the military and who openly endorses marriage for same-sex couples.  Furthermore, the people of states everywhere are voting to legalize same-sex marriage, or federal courts across the country are overturning mean-spirited amendments to ban same-sex marriage.  The fact that same sex marriage is now supported by majorities in this country is simply remarkable, considering that roughly 3% of us are gay, which means we now have millions of straight allies on our side, and that is absolutely fantastic!  A Gallop poll in May 2014 indicates 55% of Americans now support legalization of marriage between two people of the same gender.  Even more exciting still is that 8 in 10 young Americans are now in favor.  Absolutely remarkable, this, when in 1996 support for marriage for same-gendered couples was at a dismal 27%.

Progress indeed, through and through.

But, again, this is all obvious.  It is well known the progress we’ve made.  (Again, if it isn’t, then you don’t pay attention very well and should get out more.)

All of this, however, is just to help you to understand how I currently feel about pride celebrations in 2014.  I absolutely and resolutely adore pride in the Twin Cities, but a part of me can’t help but think that pride month will have to rapidly transform itself very soon, mainly because so many other things are changing very quickly, from marriage rights, workplace discrimination, to bullying in schools.  Or, if they’re not changing very quickly, lots and lots of us are talking about how to change things in order to protect those of us who feel like there is no way forward in a life as a gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered individual, and so choose suicide instead.  Things in 1969 were terribly and horribly different, and I remain forever grateful towards those early trailblazers.  It is now 2014, and we’ve done so much work.  It’s really quite remarkable.

Even still, what should pride become?  In 50 years, when marriage will be legal across all states, when two girls in 6th grade call themselves girlfriends and sneak secret kisses at the top of the playground slide just like the girl down the street who does the same with her boyfriend, when it is unthinkable to use the word gay as a pejorative in the way that is is unthinkable to call Brazil nuts by that ghastly horrible alternative, what purpose will these Annual Reminders serve?

I suppose pride month will continue to serve as a reminder so that we never forget where we were and what we came from and the work we had to do to get here.  We may have marriage for all in Minnesota now, but we mustn’t ever forget the hard work so many people did to make that a reality.  Pride month may certainly become a celebration of what is possible.

Pride month will also no doubt continue to serve as a reminder that there are many corners on this planet that are not so fortunate, that women are still forced to wear ridiculous clothes in the name of modesty, that it is still a crime for certain people to love certain other people, that it is still bizarre and strange that the very idea that someone’s biology at birth isn’t an indicator of their true gender.

But, still, how fabulous it is in the meantime!  How wonderful it is that we live in a place such as this!  How grateful we all are towards our straight allies who stand with us!  How remarkable the tenacity of the human spirit!

Go out!  Celebrate as you do!  Come as you are!

There are no closets here to step out of, only open doors into a universe of our own identities to become acquainted with.