Best Picture Baking Project: Chicago

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Hey! Remember when I used to do this! It’s been over a year since the last one (which you may recall involved a botched attempt at mixing, cake, alcohol, and fire), but I finally got my act together last night and made some “Frango” mint brownies in honor of Chicago, the first musical to win Best Picture since 1969 when it won in 2003 (none as won since, though for about 3 minutes in 2016, La La Land thought they had…) Anyway, focusing on an actual best picture winner:

Had I seen this one before? 

Yes. As a musical theater middle and high schooler I watched this countless times. But I don’t actually remember when I last saw it. I had a glowing memory of it as a near perfect movie in my head, and…it doesn’t quite live up to that but it is a really fun adaptation that makes Bob Fosse mainstream somehow, which I appreciate.

Top 3 observations on this viewing? 

  1. Despite what my boyfriend referred to as, “a troubling pattern of violence against men,” this song holds up:
    And see Mya there! This movie is full of cameos! Including Dominic West! And Chita Rivera! And Lucy Liu! I’m sure that I was excited about Ms. Liu at the time, but last night I was the most excited to see Chita, since she was in the original broadway cast of Chicago and it’s pretty cool that she was included here.

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2. I remember people talked a lot about Richard Gere was miscast in a musical, because he can’t sing. But Billy Flynn isn’t a hard part to sing, the issue is that he can’t dance/give himself over to the unreality of a musical number. He sounds fine, he just looks so uncomfortable.

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Look at those shoulders! He is so tense

3. Every single character in this movie is a sociopath, except Amos (John C. Reilly). I knew it was about murders, and the beginnings of a vampiric crime press, but I mean seriously these are all the worst humans. Except Amos, bless his dumb little heart. He deserves so much better than these monsters.

What did it beat? Did it deserve to win? 

Gangs of New York – I’ve never seen all of this, I’ve heard good things, and it’s Scorsese…

The Hours – I love this movie, but it is so small and quiet, this nomination feels like its win

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers  – I have attempted to watch this multiple times and fallen asleep each time. (I will eventually see it when I get to Return of the King on this list…I promise).

The Pianist – Ooomph. This one is a gut punch.

So, it was a real grab bag of a year. At the time I was thrilled for Chicago and probably I’d still give it to them today. The Pianist is probably a better film, but Chicago is a more impressive production, which is technically what the Best Picture award is for.

Bechdel Test pass? 

Yes! They may all be horrendous criminals who murder men for revenge or money but they also have names! And they talk about their ambitions and fears and crimes.

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I wanted an old timey Chicago dessert, and all I could think of was Frango mints. I found a recipe for Frango mint fudge. But longtime readers know how fudge tends to go for me. So I adapted this recipe for mint chocolate brownies (mostly by simplifying it) and invented my own version of the classic treat:

Frango Mint Brownies 

Ingredients 

  • 1 box of fudgey brownie mix
  • 2/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 8 tablespoons of butter softened to almost melted
  • 2 tablespoons of milk
  • 1.5 teaspoons mint extract
  • 6 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips

Directions 

  • Mix and bake brownies in a 9 by 13 in pan (I baked mine only 28 minutes for more of a cakey texture)
  • While they’re baking/cooling (I popped mine in the freezer) combine powdered sugar, milk, butter, and mint extract in a large bowl using a mixer
  • When brownies are cool, spread mint cream mixture evenly over the top
  • Top with a layer of chocolate chips
  • Place in fridge or freezer to cool/solidify
  • Slice and serve!

 

 

 

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Five Star Book: The Lonely City by Olivia Laing

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“What does it feel like to be lonely? It feels like being hungry: like being hungry when everyone around you is readying for a feast.” 

I had to return this book to the library this morning and I felt a real pang at giving it back. It’s been a long time since I felt that kind of connection to a borrowed book. (Everything I Never Told You a few years ago in Austin maybe?) But I’m actually really glad that I read the slightly-water-warped Queens-communal copy of this book, because it felt like exactly the kind of evidence of other people’s search for connection that the book describes.

British writer/critic Olivia Laing moved to New York City to follow a romantic partner who then promptly broke her heart. Finding herself isolated in a city filled with far too many people (my own editorializing about my own experience in this city is unavoidable here) she burrows into the rabbit hole of studying lonely New Yorkers (and one Chicagoan) who came before her and used art to try to articulate their predicament. Through the biographies and work of artists as varied as Andy Warhol, Edward Hopper, and singer Klaus Nomi, she examines loneliness not just as a feeling, but as state of existence. One that can have truly devastating consequences (like for the to-me-disturbing work of the outsider artist Henry Darger whose indigent childhood and mostly solitary adulthood worked it’s way out in twisted mythological paintings of violence towards child-like cherubs).

 

Laing’s approach, well-researched and articulated academic argument mixed with a breathtaking vulnerability about her own lonely period, drew me in from the first page and never let me go. Some of these artists I had heard of before (a few like Warhol and Nan Goldin I already loved) but her obvious affection for her subject made me want to delve into their work and lives. I especially fell in love with her depiction of the multimedia artist and activist David Wojnarowicz, and I can’t wait to delve more deeply into his work. The act of creation, according to Laing, is an attempt at connection, and though she may worry about the virtual nature of this (the last chapter is a bit of a polemic against the faux-sociability of our networked culture), I couldn’t help but feel a little less alone reading this book.

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David Wojnarowicz, Arthur Rimbaud in New York (On Subway), 1978-79.

 

Things I’ve Been Meaning to Blog About

I think at this point I should just admit that I take the month of August off from blogging and stop promising that I will write about things I do during that month. Anyway, here are some things I meant to blog about:

Call Me By Your Name by André Aciman

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Based mostly on watching this trailer about 20 times the week it came out, I went and got this book out of the library, and I loved it. Miró and I discussed on a couple of episodes of our podcast, that one of the things that we love about Rainbow Rowell’s books (which are very different from this, but stay with me), is that she captures the sense of adolescent longing incredibly well. Well if you’re into that, but you wish it were more explicit, gay, and heartbreaking? Well I have a book for you. It’s consuming, much like the central character’s obsession with his father’s graduate student, who inconveniently (or maybe conveniently?) is staying a door down from his room for the summer. I cannot wait for this movie. (Though you should all read this book.

Prince of Broadway 

Look, revues are tough, but Hal Prince’s career is so varied and spectacular that this evening didn’t drag for me until the very end. (And that wasn’t so much a function of the show as the fact that that I have no patience for The Phantom of the Opera.) You need to be the highest level of musical theater nerd to love it I think, but if you are, it’s fun.

HAIM cover of That Don’t Impress Me Much” 

And bonus:

And one more (can you tell I went down a YouTube rabbit hole with this one?):

Buffering the Vampire Slayer 

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Are you craving a fun feminist on-line community that also loves puns about vampires and making fun of cheap werewolf costumes? Well do I have the podcast for you. Obviously, you need to have watched (and probably rewatched) Buffy to get it, but c’mon, you should have watched Buffy by now.

There’s probably more that I meant to write about over the past month or so, including a trip to Chicago for my dear friend’s bachelorette party (and a Kelly Hogan show at The Hideout!) and my 28th birthday. But this is what I got right now.

Read Harder Review Catch Up

So, I sort of forgot that I was doing the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge, but I discovered my spreadsheet for it (occupational hazard, I have spreadsheets for everything) yesterday, and saw that unintentionally I’ve crossed some off the list in the past few months. Here are some mini-reviews (mostly taken from my Goodreads. Are you on Goodreads? Let’s be friends there.)

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The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood “A book that has been banned or heavily challenged in your country” 

This is a terrifying book. The timely resonance is chilling of course, and it made it harder to read than it probably would have been before the open misogyny of the current administration. It’s well written and the character is realistic, even in her weakness – this is a person not a “strong female character,” which I appreciated. But I’m not sure how I feel now that I’ve finished it. At times it felt like a chore, not because it was dull, but because it was scary. I think I’ll be processing this one for a bit

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Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston – “A classic by an author of color” 

I realized a couple of weeks ago that I could remember next to nothing about this book. I think I read it in high school, but it was a quick, beautiful read. The dialect (like all dialect) took me a little bit to get into, but I really loved the rhythm of it after a bit. Janie is an excellent central character. Knocking it a star for the bullshit (of it’s time) attitude towards domestic violence.

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No One is Coming to Save Us by Stephanie Powell Watts – “A book where all of the POV characters are of color” 

Billed as a reworking of The Great Gatsby, set in a present-day, economically depressed, African American community in the South. So not really The Great Gatsby at all. But that’s great! Watts takes the broad themes, and some of the character types, from Fitzgerald’s novel and then deeply roots them in their new context. It’s beautiful and heartbreaking and deeply humane. (So maybe not that different from Gatsby at all.)

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A People’s History of Chicago by Kevin Coval – “A book published by a micropress”

So, I’m stretching a bit to classify Haymarket Books as a micropress, but whatever. This book is amazing. It will break your heart, make you laugh, and leave you wanting to storm some barricades. If you’re me, it will also make you incredibly homesick.

Weekly Adventure: It’s A Wonderful Life at the IFC Center

A few years ago I was lucky enough to see It’s A Wonderful Life on the big screen at the Music Box in Chicago. I had always liked the movie, and associated it with Christmas time and my mom (more on that in a second), but that was about it. But something about being in the old theater in the darkness of a Chicago winter and seeing Jimmy Stewart’s face up on the big screen larger than life, made the movie sing for me in a way it hadn’t before.

I meant to make it an annual tradition to find it showing in a theater every year. And then I went to grad school. There are showings in Austin (at the Paramount I think), but I worked evenings and could never seem to make it work while I lived there. Which is I was extra excited to get my IFC Member newsletter (thanks again for my gift membership Jules!) announcing their annual showtimes of the movie.

One of the great things about living in NYC has been how close I live to my parents. If you’ve read this blog for awhile you know that while I lived in Chicago and Texas I would try to make it back east a couple of times a year and torture them by making them pose for ridiculous photos, or even better capturing candid shots of them unaware and then publishing them here. But now, I get to go on adventures with them much more frequently, and I get to include them in exploring my new city. And last night I got the extra treat of inviting my mom to see her favorite movie of all time on a big screen. (Well, I put an open invitation of Facebook, and she guilt tripped me for not inviting her directly first, but the end result is the same.)

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Always festive in her Santa hat

After meeting her at the clock at Grand Central, where she was almost recruited into a group called the “Raging Grannies,” we headed downtown. In search of quick dinner, instead we found Rocco’s, where my mom declared it “smelled like Heaven,” and we had a very nutritious pre-movie meal:

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And then of course we got popcorn at the theater to add some salt to counteract the sugar.

An added bonus to last night’s screening was the presence of Donna Reed’s daughter, Mary Owen, to introduce the movie and answer questions about her mom.

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She pointed out little details I hadn’t noticed before, like the little lasso hanging down between George and Mary in the scene where she tells him she’s pregnant. But more than trivia, she set the tone very well for the movie by talking about how powerful it was for her to see a movie about the community spirit. And how luminous her mom was:

And she really was.

I even liked the Q&A (which almost never happens). Mostly because she answered my mom’s question. (After some guy in the crowd said, “the woman in the Santa hat has a question,” which pretty much made out night.

The movie itself somehow gets better every time I see it. Or, more likely, I understand it more every time. The last time I saw it in the theater I brought my boyfriend at the time, who was highly skeptical. He didn’t like Christmas movies, and he didn’t like sentimental things. But even he came out of the theater loving George Bailey’s story. Because it earns it’s sentimental ending by showing the real hardship and frustration it takes to be a decent man. Especially when fighting against forces more powerful then you will ever be. (It’s really hard not to read Mr. Potter as analogous to certain people officially granted power yesterday.) But, as Clarence’s inscription says:

I don’t have some grand conclusion really. I just woke up today, tired but happy I got to share this night with my mom. And then motivated by seeing she had already posted about going for a run this morning, because she is insane, but I love her.

Five Star Book: The First Collection by a Living Female Rock Critic by Jessica Hopper

I know, two 5 Star book posts in as many weeks! But I couldn’t let a book that made me grab a pen and underline things as often as this one did go unrecommended.

I saw Jessica Hopper speak about this book at the Texas Book Festival last year and bought it based on her & (frankly) a sense of feminist obligation. If the title is true, which it seems to be, then we have to buy this one to ensure there will be more.

Reading it didn’t feel at all like a chore though. Hopper is insightful and witty, hard hitting when she needs to be (like in her interview with Jim DeRogatis about R.Kelly’s very disturbing [alleged] obsession with underage girls) and compassionate always (even in the sections titled “Bad Reviews”).

It’s actually sort of intimidating to even write a review of her book, because she has mastered the form. So instead here are 5 of my underlined favorite lines:

“Girls in emo songs today do not have names. We are not identified beyond our absence, our shape drawn by the pain we’ve caused. Out lives, our day-to-day-to-day does not exist, we do not get colored in.”

From “Emo: Where The Girls Aren’t” Punk Planet #56, July 2003

“It’s often uncool to be the person who gives a shit.”

This is from her conversation about R. Kelly, but it also speaks to the book as a whole. One of my favorite writers, Rob Sheffield, wrote a blurb for the back of this book that says, “She concedes nothing to the idea that it is dumb to care so much.”

“lord alive, there is not a more earnest and tenderhearted person in rock n’ roll than Eddie Vedder, in case you doubting just how sensitacho he rolls.”

I’ve always suspected this to be true. from “Vedderan: Notes on Pearl Jam’s 20th Anniversary Concert” TinyLuckyGenius, September 2011

“They stand for hope and big ideas as well as simple ones: have fun, include everyone, be positive, do good work. It’s an active rejection of adult cynicism. You could call it anti-capitalist, but there’s no indication anyone involved has given it that much thought.”

From “Will the Stink of Success Ruin the Smell?” LA Weekly, February 2009

“It’s subtler than patriotism; the abstraction is a nostalgic ruing for that old=-fashioned American freedom (not the 2012 GOP’s hijacked late-stage-capitalism-amok-in-you-uterus version), the sort that might entice a young girl to move up from Georgia with just a lamp, a chair and her guitar.”

From “Cat Power: Sun” SPIN magazine, September 2012 

I’ll probably put together a playlist sometime soon of songs this book introduced me to. But though its about music, its really about not being afraid to give a shit, to care too much about something other people call trivial, which i think you can tell from the name of this blog is a sentiment I can get behind.

Weekly Adventure: Art Therapy Edition

I’m not sure how to start this post. I spent a lot of last week in tears and I am still pretty fragile. But, despair is defeat, so I’ve picked myself up and am working on being a proactive helper to those I know the new President and his supporters either don’t care about or actively hate. But in the meantime I have to take care of myself too. And for me that means movies (I saw Loving on Friday), books (I’m reading a great one about Yeats right now), and art. So this Saturday I pulled myself out of bed and used my museum employee free admission to see some art.

Kerry James Marshall – “Mastry” at the Met Breuer 

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Still Life with Wedding Portrait, 2015

What sadly serendipitous timing for this large exhibition of work by this African American political artist. A little boy in the elevator with me told his mom that he found the paintings on the exhibition’s first floor “scary,” I had accidentally walked through the show backwards (a mistake I make a lot somehow) but was surprised. The work on the second floor was powerful & (especially given our current political moment) sad at times, but not graphically violent. (Even his portrait of Nat Turner with his master’s head was remarkably restrained in my mind.) I’m not a child obviously, but I think we all need to be willing to be scared and disturbed by the injustices that work like Marshall’s depicts.

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Our Town, 1995

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Art of Hanging Pictures, 2002

This is part of a 2002 installation depicting life where Marshall lived on the South Side of Chicago. The depictions hit me hard as a proud Chicagoan in exile. I’ve been grappling with what it means that the places I love are so segregated and only safe for some people. Just like this piece. I don’t have answers for this, but the representation helped me to articulate it.

Agnes Martin at The Guggenheim 

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I struggle a lot with minimalism, especially in contrast to the vibrancy and emotion of the Marshall show. (Yes, I know the irony of working in the Noguchi archive and having a hard time connecting to minimalism.) But I always want to support institutions that give single artist exhibitions to female artists. So, Agnes Martin. Her work is technically astounding – all those tiny straight lines! – but most of it did strike me personally as cold.

It fit really well with the Guggenheim’s architecture though! And I very much enjoyed reading about Martin’s life. A Canadian immigrant who traveled between NYC & Taos, NM she worked to create and maintain a style separate form, as one wall panel put it, “the visual and rhetorical bravado” of the Abstract Expressionists. She endeavored to create “innocent” and “happy” work that she felt was life affirming, which is an inspiring project on its own. Especially given her place as a female artist who suffered from schizophrenia in a male dominated, abelist art world.

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Friendship, 1963

Vigil for Hope & Human Kindness – Not art I know, but certainly therapeutic

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I haven’t taken to the streets since the election, I have so much love and respect for my friends & family members who have and I’m sure I will join the soon. But I, as a person, don’t do rage well. (I think most people are anger-leading people or sadness-leading people and I am the latter.) But that doesn’t mean I haven’t been craving collective action and catharsis. So I was really glad to see this event in Brooklyn pop up on my Facebook.

I didn’t know just how much needed to cry and sing and plan with other people until I got there. On my way home I kept thinking about how we make fun of 60s activists for “singing Kumbuya” in the face of oppression. And sure, that song is silly, but the need to be quiet and still and take solace together is just as real as the need to yell and stomp. (And I really mean that, we need both.)

So, here’s the way we closed the vigil (well this followed by hugs from strangers, because cliche hippie stuff actually feels really good in the darkness.):

And now that I trust we are all going to try to take to care of each other – I’ll see you at the barricades.
 

 

Weekly Adventure: Party People at The Public Theater

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Despite living very close to it all summer, before last night I had never been in the famous Public Theater. But, now that I live in the city again I have restarted my theater lotto apps. It turns out the The Public offers free tickets to the first previews of their shows by lotto. I had heard through a grapevine that Party People, a transfer from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, was supposed to be amazing, so I entered and won!

I’ve been to shows in previews before (in Chicago), but never a first preview. It was exciting to think that I was at the actual NY debut of this show. (And of course the performances were already great, it didn’t feel like I was watching anyone rehearse anything.) I’m definitely going to take advantage of this program again.

OK, not onto the show itself. Developed by the ensemble Universes, who, according to the playbill, are known for mixing genres (poetry, rap, theater, political protest) to tell stories, the play looks at the legacy of the Black Panthers and the Young Lords (a Puerto Rican nationalist group started in Chicago that I had embarrassingly never heard of until last night.

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There’s obviously a lot to unpack about the history and impact of 1960s radical revolutionary politics (I’ve took a class in grad school that spent weeks on it), and that may explain why this play feels like 3 separate shows mashed up and remixed into one. There are too many “truths” to attempt a cohesive narrative.

For the most part this strategy works, but as with any kind of collage there are parts that are more successful than others. And this is probably a personal preference, but up until the very end, I just really preferred the songs set in the sixties and seventies. They had a vibrancy and urgency and explained the history without feeling pedantic. On the other hand the frame narrative (a gallery show featuring interviews with former party members) never seemed to fully come together for me.

But, the final number, which brings together the two stories with a rousing chorus of “Give me land, bread, housing. Give me justice. Give me peace” was a powerful call to action (as in actual action rather than tweeting about the things you believe) that really resonated.

The show runs through Dec 11 in the Anspacher at The Public Theater 425 Lafayette St. 

Weekly Adventure: NU Homecoming (and Hamilton!) Edition

(Fair warning right at the top, this post is mostly selfies I took with Jules and gushing about Hamilton. If that doesn’t interest you, I understand. Come back soon for awards season movie reviews!)

This past weekend was (somehow!) my five year reunion from Northwestern. It wasn’t really on my radar to be honest, except I was already planning to be in Chicago because my friend Katelin so generously offered me her extra ticket to Hamilton(!!), which just happened to be for the Sunday night of Homecoming weekend. So, I bought a couple of commuter tickets. It was a really fun weekend of seeing some of my favorite people, and indulging a bit in pretending we were still in college. (Which in my case meant I spent almost all of it with Julia taking selfies…)

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The only picture I took at the official 2011 Class Party. Like I said, it’s just like college (except my glasses are cooler)

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Day 2: Football Game – difference from college include: we were sober when this picture was taken and the Cats won on Homecoming

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Not a selfie, but I had to document Jules getting her car out of her blocked in space by driving down the sidewalk

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They have big bean bags in Norris now and we enjoy attempting to take “Boyhood” shots

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From “Build Her a Myth” by Carrie Schumacher currently on view at the Dittmar Gallery 

I have always loved the Dittmar, it’s weirdly tucked between the student center Starbucks and the TV where people who are “studying” watch games. But they sometimes have really interesting installations. The current show is made up of these apparel pieces made out of pages torn out of romance novels. They make a statement about the stories women are told about themselves and the expectations that creates, plus they look amazing.

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OK, back to selfies. This one is practically required. (Photo Credit: Jules and her updated phone with the selfie timer.)

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Post-nap trip to Little Goat (at this point it’s a tradition when I visit).

I have to admit this is the most Cubs related thing I did even though we were eating this dinner as they were winning the pennant. I’m happy for them, but even looking at pictures of Wrigleyville that night stressed me out.

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Look we have other friends! 

In another fun coincidence, it was Noel’s birthday/housewarming celebration while I was in town so I got to see even more people whom I love.

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Including the birthday girl and her fire carriers

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BOLT!

The next day, after brunch at The Dawson, which was lovely but where I took no pictures. I ventured out to Madison and Jeison’s new apartment to meet their adorable new family member. He was shy but so tiny and fluffy! (It was also nice to his parents I suppose.)

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AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH

OK, here’s the thing. You already know everything I am about to say. We’ve all heard it a million times. “Hamilton is brilliant.” “The best show ever.” “Mindblowingly good.” Etc, etc. And to be honest I was actually a little worried walking in that it could not possibly live up to my expectations/love of the album.

But, it totally did. By halfway through the second song I knew I was seeing one of the best things I will ever see. I can’t describe why it’s so much better live. Partly it’s the choreography of course, and the thrill of live singing is always amazing, but there is something about the momentum of the show that is really impressive that I don’t quite have words for.

When I told people that I was flying to Chicago and seeing Hamilton a few out here (in typical NYC fashion) asked me if I was disappointed to not see the “real thing,” by which I have to assume they mean the original cast (which no one can see anymore…). I’ll spare you all my Chicagoan at heart rant about NYCentric thinking (especially about theater in Chicago), and instead just say that:

  1. The cast we saw was amazing. Joshua Henry literally took my breath away as Burr, and Karen Olivo was perfectly cast as Angelica. New to me Ari Afsar was fantastic as Eliza. (The whole cast was great, I can’t link to them all.)
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    Photo Credit: David Korins

    And…

  2. It was actually cool to hear the different takes these actors had on the material. I’ve gotten so used to listening to the recording that at first even the slightest rhythm change was jarring, but then I reminded myself that reinterpretation is what keeps theater alive. And don’t get me wrong there aren’t radical changes here, but  it’s a testament to how good this cast is that they aren’t just doing impressions of the original cast.

OK, I could go on and on (and on) and in person if you’re interested I will, but let me know, because I’m terrified of seeming like I’m bragging by bringing it up.

(Though not so terrified to not buy a Schuyler sister’s tee-shirt that I cannot wait to wear this weekend to IKEA to buy furniture for my new apartment. Yeah that’s right I’m moving back into the city this weekend. You might think I’m burying the lead, but the lead is still Hamilton.)

Weekly Adventure: Spring Break Getaway Edition

It’s South by Southwest time here in Austin, and like a true local, I spent most of it out of town. (This isn’t a slam on SXSW, I find people that complain about it more insufferable than festival goers, I just had other places to be.) Mainly, one of my dear friends was getting married in Chicago last weekend and because plane tickets into Austin spike in price for the festival I chose to take a detour through Dallas. And just in case you were ever in doubt about whether or not I’m a huge nerd, I spent my time there visiting a couple of presidential history museums (oh, and taking advantage of my hotel’s cable to watch Shadowhunters in real time…).

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I seemed to have brought the gray weather north with me, but nothing can ruin this view for me. It gets me every time I come around the curve on LSD.

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As previously stated, this is not a wedding blog, but I’m just so incredibly proud of Julia and my gift to the happy couple. It seems Pinterest worthy, so I’m uploading here so we can make that happen. (Basically it’s a basket full of booze for them to mark milestones in their marriage. And Jules did the bow, I have no crafting talent.)

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The happy couple at their wedding brunch at Farmhouse

 

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Jules expertly Vanna White-ing the delicious pastries

The next day, I went for a good old fashioned urban hike through a long stretch of Lincoln Park, and stumbled upon the Lincoln Park Conservatory, which is currently hosting the Chicago Spring Flower Show. I didn’t know that was a thing, but it’s right up  my alley.

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I took a million pictures, many of which you can see on my new all-flowers Instagram account.

It was one of those Chicago spring days where it can not decide if it’s gray or bright or cold or warm. But Grant looked pretty good in the afternoon light:

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My destination on the walk was the Chicago History Museum, which I had somehow never been to before. (I know, it makes no sense.) But I’m glad I went, it was a lovely mix of traditional and socially conscious, and I nerded out a lot.

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The 1893 Columbian Exposition as depicted in the diorama room. These have been on display since the 1930s.

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A suffragist in the exhibit on social protest

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They have a temporary exhibit right now called “The Secret Lives of Objects,” which is essentially a hodgepodge of intriguing things curators found in storage. Some fun and some ssurprisingly poignant. Like this lamp, it started the Iroqouis Theater Fire (which is the reason we have doors that open out in public spaces.) A really cool exhibit if you’re in Chicago.

The old part of the CHM building is gorgeous:

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In the permanent exhibit, I learned that the Harlem Globetrotters were founded in Chicago (and remained headquartered there until the 1970s but have been named after the NYC neighborhood since the 1920s, which doesn’t make sense), and saw these important historical artifacts:

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They also have a really well designed, small exhibit of some of Vivian Maier‘s street photography, which I really loved:

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What I loved about the exhibit was the way I felt surrounded by the faces of the people Maier captured. It felt like being on the street with her. Very transporting.

That night I got some post-work Bourgeois Pig with Jules and then enjoyed The Bachelor finale with the girls I started the season with. (Such a treat to see them all again so soon!) And then the next morning it was off to Dallas.

Despite the swing in temperature & humidity, it turned out to be another lovely day for a walk, and I was surprised by how pretty the part of downtown I was staying in was. And they had cool, historical photo based, public art:

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I was walking to Dealey Plaza.To pay my respects as a longtime Kennedy fanatic (I won’t go into that now, this post is long enough) and to visit the Sixth Floor Museum (which is a great mix of tribute to Kennedy’s legacy and examination of what happened on 11/22/63).

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The Plaza itself was a WPA project, and is really pretty. But it’s sort of surreal to walk around it. I’ve seen footage and photos of it so many times, and other than the models of the cars and the heights of the trees not much looks that different. It was very surreal.

Also strange, the amount of men walking around carrying strange homemade signs trying to convince you to pay them for their tour of “what really happened”

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Very high tech conspiracy HQ

They don’t let you take pictures inside the museum, but it was a moving and thought provoking experience for me. (For the record, I think Oswald did it. I’m not completely sure how to explain Jack Ruby, maybe the mob was involved, maybe not. Oliver Stone is full of shit.)

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I took the DART light-rail to get around. I found it clean and easy to navigate. I also could have rode for free the whole time, but chose to pay, because I believe in supporting public transportation.

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Across from my hotel there was a place called Thanksgiving Square, it had murals and interfaith scriptures, and this ring you were meant to pause under and give thanks. It felt sort of stuck in where it was, but I said a little prayer under the ring. (I didn’t go into the chapel, but I sort of wish I had, it looks really cool.)

On my second day in Dallas I took the train out to SMU to visit George W. Bush’s Presidential Library and Museum. I did this, because of my life goal to visit all of the President’s landmarks (see LBJ and Lincoln).

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Although, I was not and am not W’s biggest fan, I’m not going to go into a political rant here. Mostly, because most of my experience at this museum was apolitical and nice. The staff were all really lovely. They had a temporary exhibit about how campaigning has changed that included this carpet that showed all the results of every presidential election:

IMG_5128And Bill Clinton’s sunglasses:

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On loan from his library in Little Rock

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And this awesome looking board game that I am not allowing myself to look up on eBay, because I will buy it

The building itself is really beautiful:

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And, while I found myself disagreeing with the emphasis of the permanent exhibit there were some pieces that were done unquestionably well.

For instance, the 9/11 memorial, which includes a part of one of the Towers and a lot of very moving archival news footage:

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And the recreated Oval Office (one step up from LBJs because you can step in, walk around, and even take pictures at the desk!):

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There were also some nice lighter moments featuring the First Family. Hilariously, when I went searching for a statue to take a selfie with, I couldn’t find one, but these were prominently displayed:

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The only part of the whole thing that made me truly angry was the “Situation Room” simulation.

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Basically, you sit down in rows with a bunch of strangers, and vote on a screen in front of you on which “crisis” you want to tackle. (My group chose Hurricane Katrina. Other options include Saddam Hussein and The Financial Crisis). They then give you a briefing and 3 options to choose from. You can track what others in the room are thinking with a CNN-like approval line on the big screen. Then you vote on what you would do. Then they tell you what Bush did. As I was walking out of the room it felt like a cool multimedia experience, and I was surprised that I had chosen the same response that Bush did to the crisis. (I do not generally think I agree with how he handled Katrina.) And then I started to feel queasy. The flashiness and official look of the presentation makes it seem like in each of these situations, Bush had exactly 3 options, none of which were all that good and that’s why he made some of his least popular choices. Now, I do agree that being the President is an impossible job, and perfection is not an attainable goal, but I think this presentation simplifies the most important failures of my government during my lifetime to “well things are complicated, you couldn’t do any better.”

What sucks, is that this was right at the end of the exhibits, so I left with the bad taste in my mouth. As you can see from the newest addition to my Presidential Photo Collage:

Post W

Now that I’m back in town, I’ve mostly been lying around exhausted. Though I did go see Midnight Special yesterday. It’s amazing. I want to go see it again. Like I want to go pay full ticket price a second time. That’s an extremely rare feeling for me. But like, I may go see Midnight Special again tomorrow if anyone wants to join me.