Weekly Adventure: Texas State Cemetery

IMG_4112

My mom loves cemeteries, when I was a kid this used to be flabergasting to me. Although, I could see that some of them are very pretty, I always felt like I was stepping somewhere wrong. Partly in a “I’m scared of dead bodies” way, I was a child after all, but also in a “this is a sacred place, I feel like I’m intruding” way. I couldn’t have articulated this, but there was always something that felt wrong about strolling through a cemetery for entertainment.

And then I went to Paris, and became obsessed with the idea that the trip would be wasted if I didn’t kiss Oscar Wilde’s grave. I dragged my friend Gena through the Père Lachaise twice (we couldn’t find his plot before closing time the first day) to be able to kiss the stone: 

12208553_10205897716466950_2345579836879588338_n

Apparently you aren’t allowed to do this anymore, which from a preservation perspective is smart, but still makes me sad.

I can’t really articulate why this felt important, but it did. And it made me rethink my stance on graveyards a bit. I still sometimes find them creepy, and a fresh grave will always make me feel like I’m imposing on someone else’s grief, even if they aren’t there. But these are public places for a reason, and they are set up for people to come pay homage in their own ways.

This is all a long way of introducing the fact that my museums professor had us go to the Texas State Cemetery this week. At first, this seemed weird, but then I got there, and it was like a mini-Texas version of the Arlington National Cemetery, which is of course meant to be a public institution, to commemorate heroes and teach visitors about their importance.

IMG_4123

This part honestly could be a picture of Arlington

IMG_4125

But some parts are pretty distinctly Texan

The cemetery is really well laid out and doesn’t feel claustrophobic to stroll through (an issue I have in the old New England ones my mother prefers). But it did take me a little while to find the stone I felt compelled to pay homage to:

IMG_4154

Wise words from Governor Ann Richards that our current leaders could stand to listen to

 

Advertisements

Weekly Adventure: Elisabet Ney Museum

IMG_4042 A couple of weeks ago Miró and I were driving out of a café in Hyde Park (a delightful neighborhood just north of me here in Austin, not one of the other 6 Hyde Parks I can think of off of the top of my head) and saw this castle through some trees. I was delighted to learn that it was the Elisabet Ney Museum, because I knew I had to visit it for my museums class this week.

For those of you who don’t know (and that included me until this semester) Ney was a sculptor who emigrated to Texas from Germany (with stops along the way), who made busts of important Texans that are now on display at the State and National Capitol Buildings. Basically, she was kind of a big deal, which makes sense because her work was pretty great:

IMG_4045

King Ludwig II of Bavaria

A collection of Texas statesmen

A collection of Texas statesmen

Most of the works at the museum are plaster casts that Ney used as models, because the marbles and bronzes were given to whoever commissioned them, but they are still really impressive in their detail.

I think this was one of Sam Houston's children.

I think this was one of Sam Houston’s children. (You can also see the strange effect of her models for different extremities that are just sort of littered around.)

This castle was her studio and acted as her “town home” while she lived in Texas. (She and her husband also had a ranch that looked lovely out in what I would think of as the hinterlands.) And while I liked looking at the art, I was utterly charmed by the image the museum paints of Ney and her husband Dr. Edmund Montgomery (who has quite a life story of his own) who seemed to be genuinely well matched and in love. Their story is told well and I loved the little traces of their quirkiness throughout the history. Like this bookcase that she apparently acquired by saving up Grape Nuts box tops

IMG_4073 My favorite place in the museum though, was the little nook of a third floor, which requires a trip up this truly harrowing staircase I was sure I was going to fall off

IMG_4075 But up here you see the hook on the wall where Elisabet would hang her hammock in the cross breeze and the little desk where Edmund would go to write his philosophy, quotes from which decorate the walls.

IMG_4076 The museum has the best old-school interactivity set up, an electric typewriter where visitors can leave notes for Elisabet, and though it could have been hokey, I was in the right mood so it felt like a lovely romantic gesture into the past. (Which is one of the things history museums should facilitate I think, it’s why I love house museums so much.)

IMG_4079

The museum is located at 304 East 44th Street and you should really go

I mean, it's free, and you get to walk through this beautiful gate

I mean, it’s free, and you get to walk through this beautiful gate

Thing I Love: Master of None

It’s been awhile since I wrote to urge you all to watch a TV show. (Tellingly it was also a Netflix Original Comedy). (Also I dropped the ball on not writing a post about Catastrophe, you guys should all go watch that one too. It’s on Amazon Prime. It’s awesome.) But Master of None is so great that I broke out of both my paper writing cave, and my much more dangerous. The Challenge craving. (If you’re wondering why I’m watching a lot of insane people compete in strange obstacle courses – so am I, you can listen to Miró and I try to figure it out on the latest episode of Method to the Madness. OK self-promotion over.)

Until I got an e-mail from Netflix last week saying it had arrived, I had somehow not heard (or forgotten) about the fact that Aziz Ansari (whom I love from Parks and Rec and this bit about his cousin Harris) had his own series. I’m not sure how I missed that, I guess I should leave my caves more often.

Anyway, the show is pretty great. I binge watched it. And then I watched a couple of episodes again. Because they’re amazing. I was going to go through episode by episode and list one thing I liked about each one, but I don’t want to ruin any fun surprises for anyone. Instead I’ll say that you should watch it if you enjoy:

Truly diverse casts:

 And not just racially, but age and gender and sexuality and life experience wise. It’s pretty great how much Ansari and co-creator Alan Yang are able to cram into 10 episodes. And while it veers dangerously close to “after school special” territory when discussing the immigrant experience and feminism it always pulls back with either a joke or an actual human moment of anger and gets great again.

Feminism that’s funny!:

Ansari has been vocal over the past couple of years about his girlfriend opening his eyes to the fact that he is a feminist, and the show takes this story line and runs with it. (I will discuss this more with Miró on the podcast, but I think it’s handled in a really honest way, where he doesn’t just make himself the savior of women, which I appreciated.)

Also, the women in the main cast, Noel Wells, who I didn’t recognize but apparently used to be on SNL, and Lena Waithe, who apprently used to be a producer for The Real World according to her IMDB page, are both hilarious and I want to be friends with their characters.

Romantic comedies!:

 Because that’s a lot of what this is at it’s heart. And I love that. Or I guess, it’s really a look at relationships of all kinds and how they change as you go through your 20s. It covers how friendships shift when people have kids, how weird and awesome and awful and great dating is. And most poignantly, how heartwrenching it can be to realize what your parents have done for you over the years. (Because you can’t pay them back, and for so much of the time we were all awful and selfish and well, just watch the show, and look at this post from Aziz’s Instagram and try not to cry.

Weekly Adventure: Aida from Austin Opera

 You may all remember that last January, I began to get over my anti-opera prejudice, by attending Austin Opera’s production of Charles Gounod’s Romeo & Juliet. Based on this very positive experience Miró and I decided to return this weekend to see their production of Verdi’s Aida. Which I knew to be very famous, and the source material for the Elton John/Tim Rice musical of the same name. I have to admit that I know the John/Rice score almost by heart, but had never heard any of the Verdi until Saturday night. (But that’s because for the most part, I like music I can sing along to, and that’s just never going to be opera.)

I thought I knew the story going in, but despite the central conflict being the same, enough changes were made that I got confused. Aida is an Ethiopian princess enslaved as a handmaiden to the princess of Egypt, Amneris, but she’s in love with Radames, who is supposed to marry Amneris…it gets complicated. Because then there’s also a war and Aida’s father convinces her to help her people by forcing Radames to commit treason…and well, it’s an opera so…some people get walled up in a tomb to die. (Though they waste a lot of their precious oxygen singing about it.)

Convoluted plot aside, I found a lot of the show very moving. Particularly Karen Slack‘s power performance in the title role and her counterpart Issachah Savage as Radames. They both had a lovely depth to their voice that I really loved listening to. For a lot of the show I was hating on Amneris, played the exceptional Tuija Knihtilä, because I felt like her character is actually given more dimension in the Broadway version, but then in the last act she has an incredibly long soliloquy where she laments her mistakes and it was beautifully heartbreaking.

Also, the sets, designed by Robert Oswald, were gorgeous and just as grand as you would want for an operatic tragedy.

A couple of quibbles – please don’t have one act that is 86 min. and then 2 that are 30, there are better ways to break that up. And – if you’re going to bring your whole family to watch your daughter dance in her first opera, it’s OK to be excited when she enters. It’s not OK to then talk throughout the entire sequence, and then mention that your contacts are dry, and then snap at my friend when she asks you to be quiet. (But thank you to the wonderful house staff at the Long Center for letting us switch seats in the first intermission. We had a lovely time the rest of the night!)

The show has two more performances this Thursday at 7:30 and Sunday at 3:00 at the Long Center 701 West Riverside Drive

Best Picture Baking Project: Braveheart

IMG_4028   I have big paper draft due this evening, so naturally I spent a few hours this weekend rewatching Braveheart, and attempting to make something called a Scottish butter tablet. (The paper is sort of almost done now so it worked out…though the dessert didn’t especially.)

Had I seen this one before?

Yes. This is probably the first on my Best Picture Baking List that I can’t really be objective about. I’ve seen it many times. It is listed in my favorite movies on OKCupid. It speaks to my Celtic soul.

Top 3 observations on this viewing?

  1. Somehow, despite all of this, I can never remember the actual plot details of this film. I always skip from the beautiful Celtic handfasting secret wedding to the war (skipping the horrific death of Wallace’s wife). I always think the “They can take our lives” speech comes closer to the end (it’s actually at the dead middle), and the crazy plot turn which tries to imply that William Wallace fathers King Edward III, always slips my mind. Probably because it makes absolutely no sense. But the speech is stirring:

2. Hamish (Brendan Gleeson) and Stephen aka the Mad Irishman (David O’Hara) are great sidekicks. They aren’t given enough to say of course (this isn’t really a very talky movie despite it being famous for its rousing speeches, it’s mostly blood and grunting), but their expressions are priceless.

3. Mel Gibson is actually an incredibly talented actor. It’s too bad he’s a horrific person.

Also, those eyes….

What did it beat? Did it deserve to win?

Apollo 13 – I know I saw this as a child, I remember the montage at the end, I’m pretty sure it made both me and my mom cry.

Babe – I also haven’t seen this since I was little, but I just love that there was a time when a children’s film about a pig was nominated for multiple Academy Awards.

Il Postino: The Postman  – Never seen it, am not sure what it is.

Sense and Sensibility – Oooh, this is tough. I love and adore this movie and could probably recite parts of it. (I actually used to rent it every other week when I was a kid.) And Emma Thompson is one of my heroes.

Wow, what a stacked year! I guess Braveheart is the epic choice the Academy always seems to choose. I get more comfort from Sense and Sensibility, but in terms of Oscars I would choose Braveheart. 

Bechdel Test Pass?

Nope, there are 2 named ladies, who each fall in love with William. (There may be 3, the lady in waiting may have a name, but she doesn’t really have a personality so it doesn’t count.) And when the two women do talk to each other it is always about the powerful men jockeying for position around them.

Also, as homophobia is sexism adjacent, I couldn’t have given this movie a pass anyway because of the ridiculous portrayal of Prince Edward’s lover. Edward II may have been ineffectual but it was not because he sometimes slept with men.

In case you’ve never seen the film, this is the charming sequence where Edward’s father throws his lover out of a window

Scottish Butter Tablet

Ingredients 

  • 14oz can of sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 cup cream
  • 4 1/2 cups white sugar
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, chilled and cut into cubes
  • 1 dash of salt

Directions 

  • Generously butter a 13×18 in. baking pan
  • Stir together condensed milk, cream, sugar, salt, and butter in a large saucepan.
  • Place over medium heat, and bring to a boil, stirring constantly.
  • When the mixture has reached a boil, turn heat to low
  • Continue cooking and stirring, until a candy thermometer reaches between 234 and 240 degrees F
  • Remove from heat, and beat vigorously with a wooden spoon until the mixture cools and thickens. Stop beating when you can feel the mixture turn from smooth to grainy (*Stir for longer than you think, like seriously, if you think “Hey, I’ve been doing this for way too long,” then stir for like 10 more minutes.)
  • Pour into the prepared pan. (Don’t scrape any crystallized bits from the bottom of the pan, or it may cause the whole batch to crystallize.)
  • While still warm, score the tablet into 2-inch squares with the tip of a paring knife.
  • Allow to cool 6 hours to overnight until set.
  • Cut into squares with a serrated knife. (If it didn’t set, put it in the freezer, they won’t be squares, but they’ll still taste really good.)

Weekly Adventure: LBJ Presidential Library & Museum

IMG_3890

This post is a little bit late, I actually visited the LBJ Presidential Library & Museum on Halloween, but I was hungover, and then recording with Miró, and then the week started and I realized that I still hadn’t written about my experience, so here you go. A slightly belated reaction – thought I don’t think the museum has changed in the last 4 days, so it’ll probably be OK.

I’ve written before about my love of Presidential Museums (and my fool’s errand goal to visit each President’s Official landmark in my life.) Which actually all started with a trip to this very concrete block of a memorial to a very complicated man. Between that initial visit (over 7 years ago now!) the LBJ has been redesigned, and well, it’s very up to date and flashy now, but I’m not sure if that makes it better. (I’ll get to that in a bit.)

First, they have a visiting exhibit (from the Grammy Museum) on The Beatles, and it’s pretty cool:

IMG_3893 (It also includes cool stuff about the musicians that influenced The Beatles, and a lot of fun music playing. Worth a walk through if you’re in town.)

When you leave the temporary exhibit space you are in the main foyer of the building, which I have to admit is visually impressive:

IMG_3899

I’m a sucker for the literal glorification of archives obviously

That black pillar you can see at the top of the stairs there is engraved with LBJ’s greatest rhetorical moments. I especially liked this one:

IMG_3905Then you walk into the permanent exhibit, which has a lot of fun interactive things, like where you can listen to the recordings of his voice (like at his ranch):

IMG_3915

And there’s really well done multimedia presentations about pop culture and world events that help to contextualize his career both before and during his presidency. There’s (as there should be) a lot of emphasis on his efforts in the Great Society to help lift Americans out of poverty, improve public education and broadcasting, and a really moving section on his contributions to Civil Rights. This was all lovely, and especially interesting to me now that I have the background from seeing both Selma and All the Way last year.

IMG_3916

And now we come to why I was disappointed. I have been talking for years about how refreshing the LBJ Museum’s take on Vietnam was. Rather than shying away from his involvement in the conflict, they faced it head on and acknowledged the blemish that it was on his legacy. They did this in an emotional way, using photos of slain soldiers and descriptions of atrocities. In this new exhibit, they address the complicated political position he was in but there isn’t as much of an acknowledgement of the emotional toll it took on the country.

This may not be the place for a discussion of that, and it’s possible that’s why the curators decided to temper the narrative in the redesign, but I think the museum is slightly less interesting for it.

But they still have the 1/8 size Oval Office:

IMG_3920 And (cooler in my opinion), Lady Bird’s office that she actually used for years, because it has the best view of Austin:

IMG_3923 It’s worth a trip if you’ve never been, and this revisit gave me a chance to update my Presidential Visit photo collage (because I am the biggest dork in the world):

collage-2015-11-04 (1)