Mexico! Part I

Reading this week:

  • Dr. No by Percival Everett

Earlier this month my and my absolutely unparalleled, intelligent, funny, charming, stunning, super amazing wife!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (we weren’t married at the time, I feel obligated to clarify, but we are now, and it is a strange new world; in falling into a relationship the transitions are gradual, the obligations fluid and sometimes ill-defined, but now due to a little bit of paperwork that as a proud government bureaucrat I find maximally romantic despite the fact that I didn’t even need to have anything to do with it because we self-officiated but the only self that needed to do any of the paperwork was my Schrödinger’s superposition of fiancée/wife I now suddenly find myself with a mother-in-law and father-in-law and sister-in-law and bolstered argument for sharing a dental plan which, I dunno, interesting little construct we have put together for ourselves as a society but it’s great I have to say) and I went to Mexico, specifically Mexico City but also Cuernavaca, which is a bit outside Mexico City. We went because our friend, who is Mexican, and works in Mexico City, was getting married, but that was only one day of a week-long adventure we put together for ourselves. This was my first international travel since Guatemala, and for my super amazing wife (!!!!!! again) it was her first fix for her passport stamp craving since even before grad school, which she attended nearly directly off the plane from a two-year stint in China as a Peace Corps volunteer. So we were excited to go!

Since in the grand tradition of this blog I want to pad this out a bit, and also start in on our adventures at the Museo Nacional de Antropología with a nice clean post, I’ll bore you with the nitty-gritty of how we got to Mexico City. First off we flew, because it was much too far to walk. Because we were both cheap and also didn’t want to land in Mexico City in the middle of the night, we flew out in the middle of the night, hopping on the metro at 11pm on a Friday. The metro took us to Dulles Airport, a journey which in a previous phase of my life represented what was then perhaps the worst day I ever had, but with the miracle of the Silver Line was rendered quiet, easy, and blissful. I am a Silver Line Extension Stan. Touring the only open airport store, I got us some snacks and we settled in for a 3:30am departure to San Salvador. San Salvador is notably not Mexico City nor even in Mexico, but flying through there did allow us to have breakfast at the tiny local traditional Salvadorian chain restaurant Papa John’s before finally landing in Mexico City at a reasonable and lovely 10am. We didn’t actually get that passport stamp we were craving, having passed through the automated immigration robot thingy, but I suppose that is progress for you.

For our time in Mexico City we stayed in a small but relentlessly chic (in a good way! it was gorgeous) apartment near the Parque México. Our Mexican friend and his now-wife described the neighborhood as hip, and yeah I think they were right. Usually when I fantasize about living outside the country it is somewhere in Africa, and for my super amazing wife it is in Asia, but after dropping off our bags and heading out to find some lunch we were quickly contemplating life in Mexico City. The neighborhood is leafy and green and everyone we interacted with was very very nice. The first of these people was the wonderful lady at the café we went to get that lunch I mentioned. My super amazing wife used to speak conversational Spanish, and in grad school for two years teachers were unfairly burdened with trying to teach me the same (Spanish being at least the third language I have been taught but have not learned). So we gamely tried to order some sandwiches and got halfway through it before the server assured us that English would be okay. The sandwich was delicious, and represented the first of at least three experiences rendered sublime by acute need, the later two being a nap and a shower, but those didn’t come until later in the afternoon. We also later got some tea at a lovely little tea shop by the park, a good omen for a good trip.

Once evening came upon us, we head out to try to cap our first half day in Mexico with tacos, only to fail at that endeavor and wind up at the Chinese food place across the street. It was however a Mexicali Chinese place, which both represented a unique and rich cultural milieu we had been heretofore been regretfully unaware, and in retrospect represented a neat connection to my super amazing wife’s most recent international travel. Also the food was really good. So fortified we head back to the apartment to settle in for the night and collapse asleep so we would be fully prepared to take in the many, many wonderous sites we were destined to behold.

Dalí Museum

Reading this week:

  • Fire-Eaters by Mwelwa C. Musambachime

In a continuing trend of writing blog posts in the reverse order of which they happened, in the morning of the very same day that we visited the Imagine Museum we also visited the Dalí Museum! I had been to the Dalí Museum, a few years back when I was trying to get some peace and quiet in the midst of a Christmas visit to the fam, but my super amazing fiancée had never been and wanted to go. She is amazing and has excellent taste in museums. The Dalí Museum is a fun place and it was a lot of fun to take my mom.

In a three-for-three string of blog posts, the Dalí Museum was also founded by some rich people. They were friends and big collectors of Dalí’s work, and like you do when you can no longer fit your huge art collection comfortably into your living room and are also fantastically wealthy, you start a museum. These people were the Morses. Anyways it is the best museum about Dalí that I have ever seen. The museum has two exhibits. The second is their changing exhibit, which changes. The first is their collection of Dalí’s paintings, which is pretty large and arranged chronologically. The last time I visited the museum, alone, I accidentally went through backwards, so I started with Dalí’s monumental works and as I progressed they went from huge and fantastical to small and realistic. I mean a huge part of Dalí’s talent is that is pictures are so realistic which makes the situations those poor clocks find themselves in so jarring, but when he was a young artist training to be an old artist he was doing stuff like painting fish:

Still Life: Fish with Red Bowl, 1923

I liked this picture because at the time I was contemplating buying a painting of a fish, so I was thinking a lot about fish paintings (I also have a history with fish). I wound up buying a fish painting, which is not particularly related to this museum trip. The painting is from Sarah Sutphin, and I am extremely glad to have it because after looking at all this art in all these museums I really wanted an oil painting, and I had been drawn to some realistic still-lifes of seafood, and she paints a mean sardine. So now there is an oil painting of a sardine hanging in the kitchen, though as of this writing my super amazing fiancée has never eaten a sardine, which she finds incongruous with the presence of the painting. We will eat sardines soon, don’t worry.

Speaking of art buying, last time I was at the Dalí Museum I bought a print of The Hallucinogenic Toreador. This is a monumental painting which I liked because at the time I think I was reading Hemmingway and thinking about bullfights. So this painting which is gigantic in real life was living in miniature on our apartment walls. This time however we saw The Average Bureaucrat, and my super amazing fiancée commented it was appropriate for us because we are both average (and proud) bureaucrats ourselves. I didn’t manage to take a picture but I suggested we buy a print but she didn’t think we needed to but I did anyways so now we have two Dalí prints decorating our apartment (the second somewhat closer to life-sized than the first), which is a pretty good number of Dalí prints, no?

Mom (center)

While my super amazing fiancée and I were debating the merits of bureaucracy, my mom (a former bureaucrat of sorts herself) was wandering around admiring the art closely. She has had a print for many many years of the succinctly named Gala Contemplating the Mediterranean Sea which at Twenty Meters Becomes the Portrait of Abraham Lincoln-Homage to Rothko (Second Version) (which is larger than our prints; I didn’t realize until this moment I great up in a Dalí household?) and was delighted to see the real version finally, though she noted she wasn’t as able to easily see Lincoln when his head was 15′ tall instead of only like 2′ tall. At the time we visited the museum also had this virtual reality exhibit thingy where you apparently got to explore Dalí’s paintings in virtual reality. We thought it was full because the sign said it was but mom went in anyways (showing her much more advanced bureaucratic instincts) and got to try it out and I think she had a lot of fun. She certainly found it interesting and it was the first time she had ever done virtual reality, so it was an educational moment.

Femme Couchée, 1926

Anyways I guess I should probably talk about Dalí? His stuff is good (hot take I know). I am deeply impressed, as I mentioned, with the realism with which he painted his fantastic landscapes. From the exhibits he seems like he might have been a bit of a bother to be around, always wanting to not be a part of whatever was going on (he dropped himself out of art school right before he graduated), but man the guy could do some work. The museum does an excellent job showing and contextualizing the progression of his work and is worth a visit. The space itself is really remarkable as well, with the building a quite the architectural comment. The one drawback of the Dalí Museum however is that it is all about Dalí, which is cool, but man sort of limits what you can put on? The second exhibit like I mentioned is a changing exhibit, and this time it was about dreams, which is a theme in Dalí’s work apparently. But the space is smaller than the first one and I gotta think the curators are working really hard to make it worthwhile.

The most interesting part of that exhibit for me this time was the fact most of the art they were displaying were just prints instead of the actual artwork. They had a sign up noting that “the loan of artworks between museums – a traditional necessity to share the cultural wealth of humanity – has become exceedingly difficult due to leaping costs for transport and insurance. As well, an intense introspection among arts institutions as to their identity and purpose has heightened the difficulty.” Sounds to me like there is some subtext there but at the very least it being more difficult for museums to loan artworks to one another seems to me like a dire situation. Somewhat caught up in the desire for more art restitution, sending say the Benin Bronzes back to Nigeria, is that in addition to that we should be doing a lot of work sending more art that way (and the other way too), so the whole world gets to see everyone’s art. If the British Museum wants to argue that the Bronzes are best in a “universal” museum, that means equally that we should send the Mona Lisa to Benin City as it does that we should send the Bronzes to London. But if you can’t ship art around these days anymore that jeopardizes that dream.

But while you contemplate that, if you are in St. Petersburg (the Florida kind), go to the Dalí Museum. It is a pretty pricey admission ticket honestly but the art is very nice, the building is beautiful, and you will be in a sunny clime.

Imagine Museum

Reading this week:

  • The Sculptors of Mapungubwe by Zakes Mda

The first joke in today’s post is that you don’t have to imagine this museum, it actually exists! That’s right over the holiday break my super amazing fiancée (!!!!!) (for anyone keeping close track she wasn’t actually my fiancée at the time but between then and me writing this she has become my fiancée! Though I gotta marry her soon because getting the accent on the e here is very annoying) and I took my mom to the Imagine Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida. It was my super amazing fiancée’s idea; she spotted their ad in the airport.

A note before we begin. The above piece of artwork is part of a series titled “Flight and Illusion” by Trish Duggan. I liked it a lot. Ms. Duggan’s work is featured fairly prominently, which seems appropriate because she founded the museum. I spoke at length in my last post about how the thing to do if you are unimaginably wealthy is to found an art museum (or two), so some extreme kudos to the then-plural Duggans here. I also made a point in the last post of not looking up what exactly those founders did for a living. But about 3/4 of our way through the museum, when it became evident that Trish Duggan’s name was popping up a lot my super amazing fiancée did some light googling and discovered that the Duggans were some of the biggest donors to Scientology (an organization Mr. Duggan credits for his riches) and since their divorce Ms. Duggan has also become a major Trump donor. So, you know, do with that information what you will!

If what you do with that information however is go to the Imagine Museum, you will be rewarded! Admission is $15 for adults (they gave me a veteran discount), so I don’t know how you feel about putting your money towards this organization but the art is phenomenal! We were all legitimately blown away and my mom especially was just absolutely floored with what these artists were doing with glass. A major item we learned was how young the Studio Glass movement was. We simply hadn’t realized because glass is something has been around for quite a long time, as the lovely display at the museum on the history of glass will let you know. But it was only in the early 1960s that Harvey Littleton invented a small furnace for individual artists. That made the art in the Imagine Museum much more contemporary than I was expecting, and it felt cool to be in the midst of a whole bunch of art that was both of a certain genre but clearly still very early in the experimentation stage of what art with glass could be!

Bijin, Karen Lamonte, 2011

Another fun thing the museum was doing that day was having a scavenger hunt. Like I said mom was floored by this museum and I thought it was extremely cute how much she got into the scavenger hunt they had going on. You were supposed to find these little glass cupcakes hidden around the art which did indeed go far in ensuring that we carefully inspected each and every one. The prize at the end was like a 5% discount in the gift shop which we did put to use. On our careful inspection however the first mind-blowing pieces were a whole series similar to the above by Karen Lamonte, who has developed a technique to carefully cast glass so that it models a fabric outfit worn by a woman with all the intricate details of the folds and even the pattern of the fabric. Extremely impressive stuff. There was another part of the series where the same outfit was cast in a variety of materials, including glass, iron, and bronze, and that was really cool.

Matrix Series: Cubism VI Double Core/Meander Construct…D, Brent Kee Young, 2017

I also really enjoyed seeing the above pieces, which are intricately sculpted from borosilicate glass which I guess is a type of glass which lets you do that. Those sphere in the middle are only suspended by a few points and man like, how do you transport this stuff? “Carefully” is probably the answer. I liked how all the different layers interlocked and were different but exposed something of each other. Surrounded by all the other intricate, creative, mesmerizing glass pieces I am honestly at a loss for words. It was all really great! But perhaps the single largest and most intriguing piece was the one pictured at the top, which use what I assume are a series of one-way mirrors to allow you to walk all around the icosahedron and look in every single way, conjuring up the wormhole from Interstellar in the way looking in seems to open up a portal to some other fantastical place. And my super amazing fiancée and I were vindicated in our taste when we finally got around to seeing Glass Onion and discovered the set designers also thought it was really cool.

Portal Icosahedron, Anthony James, 2018

But yeah that was the Imagine Museum. Never meet your heroes and never google your art museum founders, but the sheer breadth of different and phenomenal types of glass art on display will take your breath away if you have any sense in you at all. I can tell you for sure it has a ringing endorsement from my mom, who also was deeply entertained by the scavenger hunt. A wonderful afternoon in St. Petersburg!


Reading this week:

  • The Mermaid of Black Conch by Monique Roffey (beautiful)

Winterthur [“Winter-tour”] is a very nice place. I have been writing this blog post in my head for a few weeks and I have a few critical points to make but I want to be clear up top that I very much enjoyed my visit! It was a stunningly gorgeous fall day and me and my super amazing girlfriend were off to see our friend get married but it was conveniently an evening wedding and we had a few hours in the afternoon and were in the neighborhood so we went to go see Winterthur. It is apparently (so my super amazing girlfriend tells me) very big in the museum business as being a particularly thoughtful and well-run museum. This was the major draw for us. Whatever there was to actually see was somewhat secondary.

“Whatever there was to actually see” is broadly split into three major buckets at Winterthur. Bucket one is the grounds. Winterthur is the former estate of an astoundingly rich member of the du Pont family, the sort of astoundingly rich where you have “grounds” along with a whole model farming community to provide you nice views and where you can raise prize-winning dairy cows as a hobby, as opposed to you know because it’s your job. We arrived at the visitor’s center where we paid our admission fee and then hopped on a bus for a guided tour of the grounds which was extremely lovely. It is pictured above. The lady both driving the bus and giving the tour was bubbly and enthusiastic about the grounds and extremely knowledgeable.

A diversion. There is no such thing as a natural forest. That’s only a little bit of an exaggeration, and the exceptions are some parts of Africa. Worldwide, forests evolved over eons as part of an ecosystem that were inhabited by megafauna, like gigantic sloths or wooly mammoths and all sorts of gigantic creatures. The forest evolved to take these creatures into account, but then whether a coincidence or not humans started going out into large swaths of the world and all of these megafauna died off, with the exception of some of those elephants in Africa because they evolved alongside humans and knew how to handle themselves. So the forest ecosystem lost a huge part of itself in both a literal and figurative sense and exists in an unnatural state. The lack of megafauna I think was compensated for in some ways by the humans themselves however. It is a very recent development to think of anything as “nature,” that is separate from like, just the world. These days people know what you mean when you visit nature, but like 200 years ago and for the rest of human history before that you wouldn’t go into nature, it would just be another part of the landscape, where you also lived. Forests were actively managed to provide food and fuel (done better in some places and done worse in other places) and I think the felling of trees and active management but in a way that tried to sustain the forest (because you wanted to keep using it) went to some lengths to replace the megafauna. I bring this up because du Pont there practiced the tenants of The Wild Garden which, so our bubbly guide told us involved making your grounds look like a natural forest. So like, while I acknowledge that in fact all forests to more or less degree are a product of human meddling, this still feels like I dunno cultural appropriation from nature??? I didn’t know how to feel about it. The trees were lovely though and the landscape is designed so all the colors change throughout the year rewarding revisiting and careful contemplation which does indeed sound like the bees knees. Anywho.

The tour drops you off at the museum, which represents bucket two. The museum, and this du Pont himself, focused on Americana material culture. While we were there they had a big exhibition about how du Pont helped Jackie Kennedy remodel the White House. That was neat to see and was very informative because I had seen all the rooms they were talking about in the exhibit. They also had a very intriguing display of an old clockmaker’s blacksmith shop which was extremely neat. But the picture above was some even more quintessential Americana, a bunch of imported ceramics from China. I really enjoyed this display. The picture above is just a tiny fraction of all the stuff they had, including just buckets of ceramics that were centuries old and had all sorts of cool designs. Of course I like the ones with boats on them the best but they had stuff of all flavors. A chunk of the ceramics had been salvaged from old shipwrecks which is also pretty neat.

That brought us to bucket three, the house. Like I said above the du Ponts were astoundingly rich, the type of people with “grounds,” but to have grounds you typically have to have a house in the middle and boy did they ever. There was a glimpse of the outside of it in my forest picture, but that is just a tiny fraction. This house they lived in was nine stories tall and had 175 rooms! What do you do with all that space? Why do you have it? I assume you have a house that big because your rich friend has like, a 150-room house and you have to one-up him because that is how rich people measure dick size. But also you are astoundingly rich and old money to boot so you can’t be too ostentatious so you try to fit the house into the landscape so it looks like you are only living in a 50-room mansion or something. In fact they made the house into a museum during their lifetime and so to retire they built said 50-room mansion next door and called it a “cottage,” hoo boy dude I am ready to start the proletariat revolution via this here blog written by a government knowledge worker who has time to go visit rich people’s grounds. You only get to see a tiny fraction of the house, approximately the portion that Jackie Kennedy toured when du Pont was trying to convince her that she should remodel the White House using American stuff instead of French stuff. I saw a lot of similar rooms? Like they had different themes, but it seemed to be a lot of sitting rooms? I liked the bold colors, and the oil paintings of ships, these are two things I like and du Pont had that decoration style right for sure.

After the house tour it was more or less time to get glammed up and go to that wedding, which was awesome. Our friend got married and she looked so beautiful and the ceremony was beautiful and it was in an art museum and we got to see art though of course it paled in comparison to the sublime and timeless beauty that is love. Also they had a live band that exclusively covered the hits and lemme tell ya they had range. Maybe I should learn to play the bass so I can get weekend gigs playing weddings. I think that would be fun and my bass playing wouldn’t annoy my super amazing girlfriend at all. The point is like I said at the top Winterthur was quite nice and I would love to go back in the spring to see the different colors and explore the grounds a bit more. And maybe steal liberate a gilded candlestick or two.

Colorado! Part IV: Breckenridge

Reading this week:

  • The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman
  • Engineering in Plain Sight by Grady Hillhouse

Sunday, our final full day in Colorado, we headed to Breckenridge. Finally used to the new time zone we woke up a bit late and rushed over to A&A’s house, where we picked up just the one A (my super amazing girlfriend’s sister) and head out to the mountains so as to double our altitude. Our goal for the day was to go on a hike. A&A are both avid hikers and outdoor adventurists, and while my super amazing girlfriend and I have spent time outdoors we were not prepared mentally and physically for an arduous hike and were shooting for something more in the goldilocks zone.

Unfortunately, we were thwarted. We drove to the trailhead, admiring the jawdropping views that are just workaday in that part of the country only to find that no parking was allowed at that spot. There was another parking spot we could have used, but besides the fact it was apparently in the middle of a passive-aggressive (though on the aggressive side) feud between some Trump-loving locals and what they appeared to think was the personal malice of the Biden administration, it was several miles away and A found the thought of hiking up several miles of dusty road just to then begin the actual hike unappealing. Fair!

Lookin’ cute!

So we drove to another place where parking was allowed and found something that resembled a trail. It quickly morphed into a steep rock scramble, and of all the choices in the goldilocks story none of them involved rock scrambles. We instead were left to do the only sensible thing: take numerous extremely cute photos on the edge of the parking lot so it didn’t look like we were in a parking lot but had hiked to the panoramic valley we found ourselves at. No one needs to know! We did look cute too.

Unmarred by sweat, we went into Breckenridge proper, first saying hello to the troll. There is a troll just outside Breckenridge named Isak who is quite popular. He is located 400 feet down a lovely trail from a convenient parking lot, with the last 40 feet or so of the trail consisting of the line of people patiently waiting to take a photo with him. One of the guys ahead of us took a picture just of the DVD of Morbius with the troll, saying he had driven 10 hours just to do so. I admired his dedication. We too took our picture, though A was worried about the optics of hanging out in a troll’s crotch, a solution to which we never came up with. We looked cute in front of that valley though, and our cuteness was certainly not dimmed here:

From there we walked into Breckenridge proper where we enjoyed lunch and looking at various shops including, you guessed it, a used bookstore. I bought two books and might have bought more if I had dug deeper into the stacks; it is a chaotic bookstore where the treasure is buried. Seeking slightly more oxygen, however, we went back to Denver where we went straight to the Denver Cat Company, because if there is anything we can’t resist (besides yarn shops and used bookstores), it is a Cat Café! This was a lovely little chill cat café with plenty of friendly cats and we had a lovely hour hanging out with the cats. Of course the experience made all three of us yearn to be back with our own cats, and while A had only to wait for us to drive back to her place my super amazing girlfriend and I had to wait a whole day to be reunited with our sweet baby angel Tink.

And that wrapped our time in Colorado, just about. We had dinner at an Israeli place that night which was delicious (I should make hummus at home) and then next morning had a perfectly smooth time at the airport and traveling home. Colorado was a lot of fun and perhaps I should make more time to explore the American West more. I’ve been to many chunks of it, like I mentioned in the first post, but this is a big country we got and there is tons to see. It was also fantastic to hang out with A&A and spend time together. There is lots more to see in Denver and hopefully one of these days we get to go back.

Colorado! Part III: Boulder

Reading this week:

  • In Small Things Forgotten by James Deetz

Day 3 of our Colorado adventure was when we finally broke free of Denver. But not before breakfast! Since breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and we had already had a fantastic breakfast the previous day, we really needed to go all out if we were going to improve on the breakfast experience once again. So we went to Good Bread. Good Bread is the dream of every Instagram baker realized: the woman opened up a bakery. You gotta get there early because they sell out, and we managed to arrive a few minutes before they opened. There was a line and we waited patiently for it to move but we eventually got in and got our baked goods. Since both A&A and my super amazing girlfriend were talking about following this woman who opened her own bakery, and about seeing all her stuff, I had imagined that I would find one harried woman running around selling baked goods but she had a whole operation with several dudes running around baking and selling those baked goods. A whole bakery empire! It was fantastic.

Inside the teahouse.

Fueled up, we headed to Boulder. Boulder is a lovely town but the main draw for us was the Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse. It has a fantastic backstory but as far as my super amazing girlfriend is concerned, you had her at “teahouse.” She had visited a few years ago, last time she was in Colorado, and I think would have been perfectly satisfied if we had gone to Colorado only to visit this place. It is indeed gorgeous and they had pretty excellent tea and brunch to boot. The day we visited it was surrounded by a farmer’s market, where we bought a variety of items which all went into an absolutely delicious dinner that very night. After the tea house we poked around Boulder more. We checked out every place which you should at this point expected us to have checked out, including a bookstore and a yarn store. Then we did a photoshoot in the various combinations of our crowd against the stunning backdrop of the Boulder mountains in order to prove we were there and show off our smiles:

And with that we packed up and headed back to Denver, tuckered out by the sun and shopping. The ladies cooked a fantastic dinner for us and we relaxed in A&A’s lovely back garden. Tell you what though man. A&A’s friend came over to hang with us. He was fantastic. But I complained in the first of this Colorado! series that I have become an east coast liberal elite. I don’t know if anyone gatekeeps that, but I have for sure become a DC type. I didn’t know what to talk about in Colorado. I am used to a DC conversation, where everyone says hello and then you start talking politics. We solve all the world’s problems in between trivia rounds, or at least complain about them. Easy! But Colorado man. I didn’t manage to nail down what they talk about on this trip. Hiking trails maybe? How beautiful the stars are? How those poor DC saps must suffer in that humidity while all they have to do in Denver is drink massive amounts of water and continually apply lotion so they don’t shrivel up like a sun-dried tomato? Maybe I do need to get out of my bubble.

A&A’s fantastic garden, a wonderful bubble outside one’s own. The bees agree.

Colorado! Part II: Denver Art Museum

Reading this week:

  • Archaeology from Space by Sarah Parcak

Our second day in Denver dawned bright and early. This was because of timezones and such. After hanging out until a socially reasonable hour, we drove ourselves back to my super amazing girlfriend’s sister’s house. Her initial is A, and her fiancé’s initial is also A, so as shorthand I will henceforth refer to them as A&A. Anyways. The previous day they had provided us breakfast, so to appropriately thank them for their graciousness my super amazing girlfriend and I went out and got us bagels at a convenient delicatessen. These were real New York bagels, boiled in real New York water, which is what makes them New York bagels. How often do you think they change out the water, at the bagel shop in Colorado? But with that adventure over and with A&A both having to work (it was Friday), my super amazing girlfriend were on our own to explore the great city of Denver. We decided to hoof it this time since A&A live conveniently close to downtown.

During this whole trip I couldn’t quite put my finger on Denver. I think a major thing I have learned in our trip out there is that I have become quite firmly an East Coast kinda guy, potentially even an East Coast Liberal Elite type person. This is hard to admit. I was born in California and long cherished a notion that I was the bohemian type that you imagined living out there as a Maryland-raised youth. But instead, faced with the trendy stores in Denver stuck between the boarded-up store fronts, I just felt a little out of place. But maybe it was just the lack of humidity. It dried me out man. I like my air moist and my wet bulb temperatures high. This was not a popular stance in Denver.

Shaking Out the Bed by Dana Schutz, 2015

Also not a particularly popular stance, from the people we spoke to anyways, is that the Denver Art Museum is stunningly fantastic??? This is where my super amazing girlfriend and I chose to spend the majority of our Friday. I referenced it last post, but since we have the National Gallery in DC, I just assumed the Denver Art Museum would be a two-bit hokey thing focusing exclusively on cowboy pictures or something. Good thing I got out of my coastal bubble because this place was great! I spent the rest of the weekend talking up the museum only to be met with a general reaction of gentle bewilderment (super amazing girlfriend aside, because she agrees), like maybe I was a little bit off my rocker. Maybe these Denver people are too busy applying chapstick (because of the dry air, you see) to notice.

As to the museum, we were under the initial impression that the entire museum was housed in the shockingly angular building pictured at the top of the post. It certainly looks like an art museum. Woe betide the poor office worker that has to suffer in a corner office in a building like that. We were to find out that building only housed by my estimation about a third of the museum, but even that section alone would have floored me. I have held myself to only about three pictures of art in this post just to keep things reasonable. I took dozens of pictures and that was me trying to hold myself back.

The angular building contained a lot of more modern and contemporary art. I took the picture of Shaking Out the Bed, above, because I admired it size, audacity, and colors. It is like a 6- or 7-foot tall painting. The closeup on the right is me trying to take a picture of the brushstrokes. One thing I’ve come to enjoy about looking at these paintings in person is getting up close and at an angle so I can admire the brushwork that goes into them. There is nothing too crazy in Shaking, brushwork-wise (as far as I can tell), but it’s something you don’t get in the print. Though I do like how Dana clearly managed to pull off in one stroke the essence of the sprinkle or whatever covering that donut. Someday maybe I, too, will be able to paint a donut.

After getting our fill of angles and realizing there was a whole other building to the museum, we took the bridge over to the second part. Turning the corner I stopped in my tracks when we suddenly found ourselves facing down several massive totem poles. We explored this floor and then kept on going up and up and up and slowly came to terms with the scale of the museum. It is big! They have a lot of art! And a lot of different kinds of art! These sorts of art museums are the most overwhelming to me. It is one thing to go to a contemporary art museum or whatever, and get in the contemporary mindset and see a lot of that art. You can categorize it all and the mental load required for analysis isn’t taken up just with grounding yourself. But there was so much stuff and so many different kinds of art that it is taxing just to keep up. So we had a break in the lovely café they have there and my super amazing girlfriend eventually bought one of the mugs they used because she liked it so much.

Puebloan Mug, 1150-1300

Meanwhile I was admiring the above mug. One thing this museum did well was mix different ages of art when appropriate. They had a large section on indigenous art, including a huge wide range of ceramics. Pots on pots on pots man, ancient and modern. I was blown away by the above mug because it looks like something I would use. Like, I’m going to keep an eye out for it at the next art fair we go to. They should have sold it in the gift shop. But nonetheless it is at least 700 years old! Some Puebloan dude (or woman) was enjoying, um. I guess I don’t actually know. Not coffee I guess (bummer for them). Beer maybe? Anyways it is super cool. Art! This is what brings us together!

Wide Lands of the Navajo by Maynard Dixon, 1945

Earlier up at the top I mentioned how I expected this museum to just be cowboy art. Well, they did have a good chunk of cowboy art, and other western art inspired by the American west and southwest. I bought a postcard of the above picture in the gift shop. I liked the colors. But there were lots of dudes on horses and all sorts of cool looking things. But that was the very last section we looked at and by this time we were pretty pooped. So finally we left the Denver Art Museum, blinking in the sun. But our day was not over!

No, the next thing we did was the thing you gotta do when you visit Denver: we poked around the Colorado State Capitol building. This was not quite what I was expecting. You can visit the Maryland State Capitol building and it is sorta museum-like, they have displays and stuff. I was expecting the same in Denver but mostly you just have the run of the building. There are murals and a lot of brass. So that was interesting. But the most interesting part is of course outside, which is the marker that is a mile above sea level, which is important to the mile-high city. Since it is so important we took a picture next to it:

And at that point our day was in fact finally over. Not really, we went to dinner at a lovely Asian fusion restaurant and had more good times with A&A, but the touristy part of the day was over. Eventually we collapsed asleep.

Colorado! Part I

Reading this week:

  • How to be a Victorian by Ruth Goodman

My dad once sagely told me that “you can’t choose your relatives, but you can choose your in-laws.” I know what he meant but in the context of my dad being a married man with in-laws, I’m not sure what exactly he was trying to convey. Anyways this was years before I started dating my super amazing girlfriend of course. She has one sister, and her sister and her sister’s fiancé live out in Colorado. They’re absolutely great and so we went to go visit them over Labor Day weekend!

Back when I was a wee youngin’ (Middle school, specifically), my family undertook a couple of cross-country roadtrips. This means, for most any particular place in the United States, I can say I have been there, though most of the time that is about it. I don’t remember if we did anything in particular in Denver. Getting there this time around was much smoother than driving all the way from Maryland, with our flight landing 45 minutes early and an easy train ride bringing us right into downtown. My super amazing girlfriend’s sister picked us up from there, gave us some coffee, and then loaned us her car and sent us on our way because she had to work. So we went to Wings Over the Rockies.

There was no particular reason we went to Wings Over the Rockies. Perhaps you can tell from the name, it is an aviation museum. The rocket ship it has along with the display on NASA makes it more specifically an air & space museum. My super amazing girlfriend has expressed interest in looking at planes and currently works at NASA so it seemed appropriate. On the particular day we visited it was also hosting a retirement ceremony from the Space Force to lend credence to its space bonafides. It is strange that the Space Force exists and it exists in such a capacity that you can retire from it.

As an air & space museum honestly it was a lot better than I thought it would be. As will be evident in this and later posts, having grown up in easy driving distance of DC I am under the impression that the Smithsonian is the best museum there can be and other museums that cover the same topics are but shallow imitations. But Wings Over the Rockies is very robust and dedicated to its mission of explaining the history of Colorado-based aviation.

One of the particular strengths of the museum was in showcasing call signs. Unfortunately for the public at large, movies such as Top Gun have made the uninformed think that callsigns are cool. In the harsh, cold light of reality, call signs are almost invariably insulting and Wings Over the Rockies preserved them in their full glory. I guarantee LCDR “Manbag” Connor would have preferred to be called something like “Maverick,” but instead that like one time he carried around a carrier bag or whatever has been immortalized forever in this temple of Colorado aviation. I thought it was hilarious and spotting the various call signs was worth the price of admission alone.

I guess to step back for a moment the museum itself wasn’t too large but managed to pack a lot into it. It is housed inside one of two original aircraft hangers from the former Lowry Air Force Base. The main floor of the hanger is packed with a multitude of planes. My favorites tend to be the tiny ones I can imagine owning, though they also had an F-14 and some more exotic historic aircraft which was cool. They also have a series of side-rooms with more in-depth exhibits, like a room full of historic radios and another of very nice aircraft models. Discovering that it is on the home of the former Lowry Air Force Base went a long way in explaining what a giant aircraft hanger and a museum was doing in the middle of is otherwise a quiet suburban community. It also led to the appalling discovery that I was standing in the original home of the Air Force Academy, certifiably the lamest of the service academies:

Those poor zoomies. Anyways. It was a lovely museum and after carefully inspecting all the planes we went across the street to the other old airplane hanger which housed the Lowry Beer Garden. We had some drinks and some mini cheese sticks, marveled at the magic of time zones and early mornings which made us feel very tired despite it only being mid-afternoon, and wondered why all the other people at the beer garden on a Thursday afternoon weren’t at work. We basked in each other’s company and the warm glow of the Colorado landscape, and then went to a bookstore to round out the rest of the workday. Then we had a fantastic taco dinner courtesy of our hosts before checking into the Motel 6 and collapsing asleep, our first day in Colorado successfully and fruitfully completed.

Puerto Rico IX: El Final

Reading this week:

  • Ever Green by John W. Reid and Thomas E. Lovejoy

Loyal reader(s), thank you so much for going on this whole Puerto Rico journey with me. I know I’ve extended it beyond all reasonable bounds but the story reaches its thrilling conclusion here. When we last left our plucky protagonists (my super amazing girlfriend and I) we were just departing Jayuya to head to our final night’s stay.

We stayed in a tiny little lodge overlooking the Cañón Blanco. Cañón Blanco is a short stretch of Río Caonillas that our host told us was only uncovered by Hurricane Maria and has a whole variety of petroglyphs (though they are hard to spot and we didn’t wind up seeing any). I’m a little out of timeline order but although we didn’t see any petroglyphs the Cañón Blanco was still a gorgeous spot. As the name suggests it is a series of cataracts on the river carved out of white stone. It’s actually only about 10 yards off the road but despite that it feels totally cut off from the rest of the world and you can just listen to the water and the frogs and admire the valley and the mountains around you. It was only a short walk from our lodge and along the way we got to admire all the different flowers and trees that populated the valley.

As to the lodge, I just told you in the last blog post how wild I am for integrated farming. So imagine my joy after seeing Sandra Farms when I then came to this lodge which was yet another integrated farming dreamland. The lodge’s host had sculpted the area off the deck into everything I would ever want out of a yard. There were banana trees, papaya, guava, sugarcane, mango, even tomato and pumpkin. It was great and after I complimented her on it, she showed us some spots we missed, explained that she was trying to live off the land, and gave us mangos, which is an A+ garden appreciation interaction if there ever was one. There was even an aggressively friendly cat to top it all off. The night was capped off by a drive up to the top of the mountain where we ate dinner at a restaurant at the end of another ridgeline road with a deck looking down and out over these unforgettable Puerto Rican mountain landscapes. The coquí then serenaded us to sleep.

Our final day in Puerto Rico started late, since we had no reason or desire to rush out of this idyllic little valley. When we finally did get a move on it was an easy drive back to San Juan. The one thing we had missed on our first go around was the Casa del Libro, and given our passion for both books and museums, we could hardly stand to leave Puerto Rico without seeing it. On the day we visited they had an exhibit up featuring centuries of Puerto Rican maps, from the earliest depictions by the Spanish to American army maps from shortly after the Spanish-American War. We spent the last few hours we had in Puerto Rico wandering around Old San Juan one last time, getting ice cream and trying to do some last-minute souvenir shopping. Then it was off to the airport and back home to Tink.

“Vista de la bahía de San Juan,” Peter Schenk, 1625

I am really glad we visited Puerto Rico. It was not what I was expecting. There are the little stupid things, like the fact I really was not expecting there to be mountains in central Puerto Rico. Hills yes, but the mountains? Geology man. More significantly I had really expected more of a Guam vibe, since both islands in many ways have similar backgrounds, joined the US at the same time for the same reason, and are of course both currently US territories. I’m struggling to put it in a way I am comfortable with, because by definition both Puerto Rico and Guam are equally American, but Puerto Rico felt to me with my Maryland background more foreign than Guam ever did. Pontificating out of my ass here, I wonder if the difference is that Guam feels like the US liberated it after the Japanese invaded during WWII, whereas Puerto Rico has only ever seen the US continue the same political limbo it has always left it in. It was also very eye-opening to walk around Ponce and see the impact Maria had and is still having on the island. I said it at the time but I wished I could have seen Ponce even 10 years ago. It was clear before but even moreso now that the US really needs to fix its relationship to its overseas territories. Although it is up to the people in these places, I personally support statehood for all US territories (after significantly improving indigenous rights in the case of American Samoa). Puerto Rico was amazing and eye-opening and I am so glad we went.

Puerto Rico VIII: Coffee Coffee Coffee

Carmelo and a coffee plant.

Reading this week:

  • The Black Joke by A.E. Rooks (fantastic!)
  • You Have a Friend in 10A by Maggie Shipstead

Look, I know I have stretched this Puerto Rico series beyond all reasonable limits but we’re almost there. Our final full day in Puerto Rico was probably my favorite. My super amazing girlfriend had wanted, despite being a avowed tea fanatic, to see a coffee plantation. All the recommended ones were extremely difficult to actually tour due to limited times, so we wound up finding a tour at Sandra Farms Coffee and it was the best thing that could have happened.

Getting there was no easy feat. By this point we were prepared for the roads in central Puerto Rico, but that didn’t mean my super amazing girlfriend’s stomach liked them any better. We were however on the lookout for any dirt trails that Google tried to lead us down and managed to avoid them. The approach to Sandra Farms is over the windiest and hilliest road yet, but one stretch along the ridge of a mountain rewarded us with the best valley views yet with the shimmering surface of a lake far below. With the wisdom of experience we had left plenty early and thus arrived plenty early and got to poke around.

Coffee seedlings.

Much to the chagrin of my super amazing girlfriend the two things in this world that really get me hot and bothered are steam power and integrated farming. I would have gone absolutely gaga over this place in my Peace Corps days and since I’ve learned to be somewhat more demur I only went bananas. Because, you see, they had a ton of bananas and just about every other fruit and vegetable imaginable. Sandra Farms is draped over a mountain ridge, with coffee plants running down the steep incline. In and about the coffee there were the just-mentioned banana trees, and as I wandered around snapping photos I saw more and more. There was taro, dates, coconuts, tomato, passionfruit, star fruit, everything. And while we waited an extremely friendly dog trotted up to greet us and it was just perfect.

View from the farm.

And then the tour began! Capping the trend on this trip, we got the personal tour for just the two of us. Our guide was Carmelo, who ran the farm for the owners, Israel and Sandra, who are retirees. The tour didn’t cover much geographic ground, and thinking back it would have been cool to see the cacao plants, but it was nonetheless very thorough and lasted about two hours. He began with an extensive history of coffee cultivation in Puerto Rico including an explanation of the latest labor practices and trends on the island which I was very interested in. Then he took us to the coffee plants to show us what it was supposed to look like, how it was picked, and various pest control measures. We proceeded to the processing equipment for extracting the coffee bean and drying it, which on Sandra Farms will soon be solar powered. And then the tour capped off with a trip up to the house, where he showed us the roaster and then we got to sample the goods. Carmelo ground the coffee beans for us there and made us pour-over coffee so it was just perfect and then we got to sip coffee while sampling the chocolate the farm also produced while overlooking some of the most gorgeous sites we had seen yet. There was also a puppy! We then of course bought chocolate, biscotti, and turmeric they grew on the farm and extremely happy departed back down the road.

Interior of the Museo del Cemí.

The day was far from over! For our next stop we went to Jayuya, home of Casa Nemesio Canales and the Museo del Cemí. These two museums are right next to each other on the same plot in the middle of a verdant valley surrounded by mountains. We took a wrong turn on our way but got there eventually. Both museums are very small. The Casa is a museum to Nemesio Canales, a Puerto Rican writer who participated in the revolution in the 1860s. The house has displays on his life, the town, and what living in Jayuya was like at the time. The Cemí museum is shaped like a cemi stone and is also very small (big for a cemi). Inside there are some very nice displays with Taino artifacts. And uh there you go.

From there I finally took pity on my super amazing girlfriend’s stomach and we proceeded to our place for the night, which was absolutely stunningly drop-dead gorgeous and I cannot rave enough about it. But I’ll rave about it in the next and final post.

Casa Nemesio Canales