Category Archives: places

Less Disaster Than I Anticipated: New Orleans

I had in my head, thanks to history books and too many movies, an image of a place a lot like Philly, having an old colonial feel topped off by a few decades of industrial decay, just with more of a swing than a beat- and wrought iron balconies. Maybe I was just seeing what I wanted to see, but I wasn’t completely wrong. I would have been all the way right if I hadn’t overestimated New Orleans’s ability to deliver filth. With everything I had heard about Katrina and Bourbon Street, combined with what I experienced in Philly, I expected a little bit more disaster than I got.  While there was plenty of graffiti accented by dead palm fronds, there were no piles of trash blowing down the sidewalk. Philly keeps its filthiest title.

Despite it being a Wednesday. I had to weave and squeeze my way around revelers and wanderers down the blocks around Jackson Square. In full disclosure the streets are quite narrow so they aren’t the hardest thing to fill, but the rows of second story balconies packed with people give those streets a gauntlet quality that could be either exciting or terrifying depending on the person, or people. I suppose if you consider both the walkers and the balconers it is either a multi level party or a 3D assault waiting to happen. I enjoyed it.

It is a place that feels like a place.img_9281

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Norton Simon Museum: ballet will hunt me down and find me

The grandstands for the Tournament of Roses Parade are set up on Colorado Blvd in Pasadena, CA right in front of a building with the name Norton Simon on the wall. That unremarkable building is full of remarkable art.

VanGogh,  Matisse, Monet, Picasso, Rembrandt, old, new (ish), Europe, Asia, and American.

But mostly they have Degas.

I’ve seen the Little Dancer Aged 14 many times in several places, but I hadn’t previously seen her with all of her class, instructors, the corps de ballet and a bunch of ladies in bathtubs. The Norton Simon Museum has three rooms of Degas and ballet.

I didn’t know they had these there.

I often joke that I spend the majority of my life driving and the majority of that driving is to ballet classes. I don’t dance, but I have a little dancer not yet aged 14, and even when I left her home, I cannot escape.

So to balance out the lady dancey dance I ventured out on a personal quest to find artistic depictions of true manliness.

The European artists had quite the offering in every period and across several genre but when it comes to athletic fopishness and swagger, the Asian artists were the clear winners.

The French did not take the loss well.

But in my search for artistic manliness, meaning a little bit of stylish swagger expertly and intentionally executed in oil marble or ink, I found a little extra bit of manliness that wasn’t so pretty.

Like how the painting below done in the 1500s features two older men plotting the “seduction” (word on the placard) of a younger woman and after failing, accuse her of adultery for which she is condemned to death, only to be saved at the last moment.

Then, in another room, where I see Adam and Eve portrayed as the original man and women together, I turn around and see the natural next step where the man is sexually assaulting a woman.

There were additional depictions of assault that I have chosen not to post.

I will add that the Asian artists scupltures while much more explicit also appeared much more consenting.

But most of this art was old- from the past, and art museums aren’t just about what is on the walls.img_4326

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Petersen Automotive Museum: the art of the auto

Most museums are categorized or divided by type: art, history, geography, industry etc, and knowing this I expected the Petersen Automotive Museum to simply be a building full of car varieties. Ford, Chevy, Honda, Lamborghini, and so on and so forth. I expected old through new and broad representation. I went to the car museum the same way I go to the symphony- rarely, and expecting to appreciate but not necessarily enjoy it.

But I loved it.

It was all the types of museum mixed into one. It was history, it was an educational explanation of an industry, it was a celebration of of a culture, and what I loved the most, was art.

Bugatti is art. When I look at a Picasso the little placard could read something like “Portrait of Woman, cubist genre in the medium of oil.” A Bugatti could read, “Rolling Wave, art deco era, in the medium of car”.

Ferrari, a name I first learned from Magnum P.I., is the perfect marriage between art and function. No, that’s not quite right. Ferrari is art and adventure, style and unreasonable speed. Ferrari is as if the Italian sprinters showed up at the Olympic starting line wearing suits and ball gowns then promptly won every race.

I guess today’s children would appreciate seeing Lightning McQueen (he’s in the museum) the child in me appreciated seeing Herbie the Love Bug, Magnum P.I.’s Ferrari, Marty McFly’s Delorean, and the Batmobile all in a row. I suspect Kit from Nightrider is kept in the basement in order to prevent visitors like me from having a heart attack. That being said, I do consider it an oversight to not include Cameron’s father’s wrecked Ferrari from the movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off in the Ferrari room.

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It isn’t my Family’s First Time in Town

Five generations ago Charles and Louisa Booth lived in India. He was an English officer and she claimed to be a native of Manila. They met missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and joined them. In those days becoming Mormon meant moving to America and the Booths sold everything they owned, which by their account was a lot, and prepared to move.

They boarded a ship and sailed to San Francisco. Once there they traveled south and joined an oddly multi racial and multi national group of Mormons who had settled in San Bernardino. They thought this was the final stop but in 1857 when The United States declared war on the Mormons, Brigham Young called all the Saints to gather in Utah. The Booths sold everything again, and walked up through Las Vegas, to a place called Beaver. IMG_1968

Beaver has grown quite a bit since then and still, it can at best be described as a town.

I paid a visit to the San Bernardino historical Society to see if I could find any records of where exactly in town my great-great-great- grandparents lived. The didn’t know. All we found was a tax assessor’s record showing they paid taxes on a plot of land and one horse. I imagine it was a mangy flea-bitten horse.IMG_73431

By the time all those generations filtered down to me, there was, or isn’t, at least not than any of us are aware, any inheritance or property to pass along. They left all that in India. All that they left to their descendants, was the Mormonism.IMG_1958

And that amuses me just a little.

I find it funny because it isn’t a thing I can own and while I can in many ways inherit it, gaining it, my Mormonism, strictly that way would make it kind of worthless. Beliefs held simply because those before held the same, aren’t inherently valuable. Or true. Plenty of generations are gifted traditions that oppress or misguide, so to simply assume that those gifted me are better than the rest is at best- dangerous.IMG_1969

But I am still very much what they were. Five generations and I’m still Mormon.

Because I choose to be. I understand all the reasons one might not, and to be quite frank, I really dislike a lot of the reasons many choose to stay. No tradition remains unchanged over hundreds of years and despite the things I hold as truths, there is other junk in there too. I despise those things and I will work on those things and while I see those things- here I am.IMG_1965

Because I think I have found what the Booths found. They found it in India. I found it somewhere between third and fourth grade. And while I couldn’t find the place they lived exactly, there is a common ground.IMG_1966

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When You Realize Your College is a TV Sitcom

When I was a kid there were television shows that portrayed college. They were bright, shiny, and had laugh tracks. Where I came from college was just part of growing up, it was a natural next step. So it made sense that Denise from the Cosby show went off to college after high school, it was natural that the kids from Saved by the Bell would all do the same, and thanks to a lack of cable- I watched both those shows. Being a teenage heterosexual white male meant I felt myself expert in pretty much everything, and as I watched those shows with my finely tuned critical thinking mind, I knew that what I was watching, was ridiculous.Image result for A Different World

I saw students living in dorms where professors and influential alumni frequently engaged in teaching moments punctuated by one-liners and every now and then, there would be a song and dance number that was supposed to somehow appear normal. I always chalked it up to lack of casting budget when the school’s quarterback would also star in the school play with a confused pre-med major doing everything she could to impress the dean. I knew college wasn’t really like that.Image result for saved by the bell college years

I knew this because my parents had both graduated college, so had all the parents of my friends. So I was confident in knowing that above all else college was: harder than high school, expensive, and that athletes did not go to class let alone star in plays. Those shows with all that good natured life lesson fraternizing and goofy situations, were nothing more than B level showbiz lies.

Then came last week.

I work at a small liberal arts college in Southern California and we have a live bulldog as a mascot. His doghouse is a miniature version of the school’s main administration building, complete with Greek columns and terra cotta roof tiles. He was recently diagnosed with a terminal illness and so just last week, the president of the university, the provost, and hundreds of students and administrators all gathered in the amphitheater to watch the bulldog, dressed in cap and gown, receive his diploma and be sincerely praised over the podium while everyone cheered. We graduated the dog.Image result for thurber graduates

It was surreal. It was almost as if Freddy from a Different World, the bi-racial adopter of whatever social movement was in vogue, the meddler attempting to solve a roommate’s generational family drama, the silly one, had taken it upon herself to honor the ailing symbol of our school’s pride. Except Freddy is fictional and I was there in real life.Image result for freddie different world

This alone would have just been cute, but two weeks before that was homecoming. A few hours before the big homecoming football game I sat in the memorial chapel and watched as the music majors played polka music and a crowd of students and professors danced on stage in lederhosen singing a song about study abroad in Vienna. After that number was over the president of the university did an actual song and dance to introduce an alumni, whose name is on several of our buildings, who then came up on stage and announced a fund raising campaign. It was almost as if Zack Morris had gotten Mr. Belding to participate in a half-baked scheme to save the library. Except Zack isn’t real and the tubas in that chapel definitely were.Image result for redlands forever yours

It made me question my entire upbringing.

All this time I thought those shows were not only fake but ridiculously preposterous. I thought college kids, including myself when I was one, were mostly cynical and isolated. I recall being an undergrad not knowing the name of any adult on campus who wasn’t my professor, and absolutely none of those professors knew me. I remember college being just like my teachers and parents had told me; harder than high school, expensive, and mostly about football games. Fraternities were not inclusive bands of brothers but rather exclusionary bastions of alcoholism and sexual abuse. I found my place on the rugby team but no one ever came to watch our games. We had to pitch in to buy our own uniforms and the administration was always reluctant to let us use the field. I regularly had to skip important games because my part time job had inflexible hours.

There is a useful lesson here. Almost the kind of lesson a wise old cafeteria cook would teach a disappointed freshman after failing a test. The lesson is that college can be exactly like I thought it would be, or, to my surprise, it could be exactly like TV. Both exist. Both are right, or depending on where you end up, either could be wrong. But I didn’t learn this lesson till long into adulthood and I mostly learned it by mistake. Over the years I have traveled across America and visited hundreds of college campuses. I have studied college types, different educational models, and counseled hundreds of aspiring college students. And what I tell those kids, and as often as possible try to tell their parents, is that college isn’t one thing. It can be all sorts of different things. Sometimes it is like Hillman College with singing and dancing pre-med majors, and at other times it is State University with power forwards courting the NBA. It isn’t really about which one is or isn’t real, it is more about what sort of experience you want to have. What is even more relevant is that all of these different types of experiences lead to different results depending on what kind of kid you are. These experiences vary so much, that when thinking about college it makes sense to ignore the question, or even more, ignore the advice of others, regarding what college is like, but rather consider more the qualities and needs of the kid in question.

But so many of the people I know don’t do this. Not only don’t they do this, but they ignore me, and others like me, when we give advice about what college can be (see what I did there?). Most people prefer their personal anecdotes and experiences and then pass those along to the next generation as universal truth. We all think we know best because we were there. And sure, you were in fact there, but you weren’t everywhere. You can surely say how it was for you, at that place, in that time, but that is all you can say. Because everywhere, and everyone, are not all the same. And because not every person is the same, if we want each person to grow and thrive, we should start by realizing that maybe not everyone should go to the same place we did or do the same things. Maybe, if we didn’t like our college experience, it shouldn’t cause us to condemn the whole concept of college, but rather it is possible we weren’t well matched to our institution. Or, then again if we loved college, we may need to consider the idea that our school might not be best for everyone else.

I think most of us get this, but only when it comes to rooting interests or US News & World Report rankings. When thinking of colleges outside our own experience we think good better best, as in who is ranked higher or who won which bowl. That isn’t what I mean.

What I mean is that at some places you are 1 of 100,000 other fans in the Rose Bowl, and at others you do song and dance numbers with the provost.

I still can’t believe we graduated the dog.

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Foundation Room: worth the dry cleaning

Every now and again​ Yelp serves up more than you expect. I picked the Foundation Room because it was the closest thing to my location with an acceptable number of stars.  What I got was almost enough to inspire an arson laden revolution against Olive Gardens world wide. But do not fear, as I think your endless bread sticks are at least one Yelp dollar sign into safety. I don’t think I could rile up the masses for anything past 2.​

The Foundation Room is the restaurant lounge attached to the back of Houston’s House of Blues. I guess this makes it a chain establishment, which should offend me, but it didn’t. The decor could be best described as South Asian rock n roll in red and orange, the service was casually attentive, and the food was the best I’ve had in Texas. I would need to investigate the locations in Vegas, Chicago, or New Orleans to see if the ambiance is dictatorially scripted, but after testing Texas I might be up for finding out.

I chose to eat in the lounge with the live music, versus the back room with booths, making it my own fault that the table was at knee level. Moving sauce covered chops from plate to mouth without dripping on your suit is hard with a table that low. My scientific testing says it is impossible.

But whoever that no-name, or maybe not-yet-name was, up there singing Jill Scott and D’angelo covers, made the suit splatters worth it.

 

 

Yelp didn’t tell me I would hang out way past my bedtime, or long after the check was paid, just because I liked being there. I’m not sure I have ever loitered past paying at an Olive Garden.img_1069

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Texas Toast: and brisket

When asked about food I easily fall into an oft repeated diatribe against chain restaurants. Occasionally I wonder if I am being unfair. But then I remember that I have not once, not ever, seen a pickup unloading stacks and stacks of mesquite logs at a Chili’s, or T.G.I. Friday’s, or any other of those other places that list “smokehouse” items on their menus.

So when I recently visited Texas I did not eat at Texas Roadhouse, but rather my brother took me to an actual Texas roadhouse.

Ribs and brisket, side of slaw, potato salad. The food was great, the company was even better (because it was my brother), and while we comfortably ate outside in November, two guys were adding mesquite logs to the stacks that surrounded the building. At the Pit Room in Houston, the wood decor isn’t decor, it is fuel for the fire. No shtick, just barbecue.

So moving forward, should you want to know how I feel about eating out, just know that I no longer have any reservations about my explicit, overt, stated-up-front, bias against those share-holder liable staples of mall parking lots nation wide with their dispassionate standardized menus and liquid smoke injected ribs.

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