Monday, December 27, 2010

Sunday, December 19, 2010



last week, the bf and i decided to take an impromptu trip to virginia wine country. going into it, we both held tainted views of va wine as being overly sweet and, well, just not very good. would there be anything to change our minds?

disclaimer: no matter how much i throw around words like "finish" and "overtones," i am not a sommelier. (see: mcsweeny's "terms used by the sommelier that indicate you should order a salad") i am a wine-snob wannabe who has convinced herself that i can indeed tell the difference between a $10 and $50 bottle, though more realistically i can probably delineate between a box of franzia and, well, anything else. but the matter is, i like wine for more than just its alcohol content. and wine tasting is more than an excuse for free cheese, crackers, and booze.

low key and with over 40 varieties, horton was a good place to refresh our memories on all the types of wines that are out there. though a lot of their efforts seem to be focused on fruit and dessert wines (not my personal faves), the dionysus portuguese red was great. they also claim to be the only authentic makers of port in the state. it seems that there is some debate on the issue of what can be labelled "port" (similar to the case of champagne); in the EU, only ports from portugual may be called such, but in the US this is not so. still, it seems that some winemakers in the US choose not to call their port-like products such and choose different terms out of respect for the real deal...i did try their signature XOCO chocolate dessert wine, after having gagged seeing the very same thing in the grocery store a few weeks ago. it tasted like, you guessed it, sweet wine with chocolate syrup in it. although, the scent alone was quite nice.

one of the wine meccas of virginia, barboursville is known for its vineyards, italian vintner, and one of the best restaurants in the region. walking into the barboursville winery is how i imagine many of the napa and sonoma valley sights to be like. but it's not all for show; the wine was hand-down the best of the day. i prefer red, but their pinot grigio was nice and the signature "octagon" blend (named for the central feature of the barboursville ruins house achitecture) was my favorite. bf and i decided that dinner at palladio would have to wait for a major life event, seeing as you need reservations weeks out and about a hundred/person to lay down for 5 courses and wine pairings.

definitely a change of pace after barboursville, burnley is small and cozy. it has a mom and pop feel and is without the pomp of barboursville. though the wines weren't outstanding, we had a nice conversation with the owner and i bought a bottle nevertheless. only later would i regret this decision - i bought a different vintage of the wine i liked the best, but upon opening it, i found it vinegary and undrinkable. guess that's what i get for not buying what i tried.

my list isn't quite as extensive as the people behind virginia wine time, my vine spot, or virginia wine dogs, so if you're planning on making any vineyard visits, definitely take a look at their reviews.
virginia winemaking is different from what i expected to be. one can find a bottle that's certainly as good as many california wines and those from farther abroad, while contributing to local, more sustainable purchasing. not to mention that the state's dry dry summer was bad news to most farmers, but great news to viticulturalists. draught = smaller, more flavorful grapes, so many of the people we talked to said that 2010 will be a good year for virginia wine.

other va wine resources:

Thursday, December 16, 2010

shackleton and cutting off your own arm

it happens to most bloggers, the dreaded break. life happens and somehow writing and the blog get put on the back burner. i think mine ended up in the garbage disposal. here's the part where i apologize for my lack of posts and list various excuses as to why i've been too busy to write.


on to the post...
"ordinary people doing extraordinary things" is how tales of survival are often described, even though i'd beg to say that there is a divide in the genre; there are stories of people who found themselves accidentally in terrifying circumstances (see: shipwrecks and plane crashes) vs. those people who more or less invite the adventure upon themselves, though they may not know to what extent their adventure will take them (see: explorers, mountain climbers).

in any case, however, it seems that under dire circumstances, people are able to do things they thought were impossible. many of these stories shouldn't be called "survival" stories, as that was unfortunately not the outcome for all involved.

some of my favorites (true stories):
  • alive (piers paul morgan) - the uruguayan rugby team's plane crashes in the andes
  • into thin air (jon krakauer) -a tragic ascent of mt. everest
  • into the wild (jon krakauer) - chris mccandless goes off the grid and into the alaskan frontier (emile hirsch did a fantastic job in the film version)
  • grizzly man - less survival, more strange man vs. nature. timothy treadwell gets a little close to his passion - grizzly bears. the film is great, although some (me) may find that director werner herzog tried too hard to let you know that he is god's gift to the documentary film world

more recently:
  • 127 hours - movie version of aron ralston's story of being trapped in a canyon in utah, where he amputated his own arm in order to escape. was a little underwhelmed by danny boyle's version (probably because i really like his other films), but the story itself is pretty epic.
  • the endurance (caroline alexander) - british explorer ernest shackleton plans to be the first to cross antarctica on foot; instead the team's ship becomes trapped in ice floes only to sink, leaving them stranded. the book has beautiful black and white photos of the entire saga. there is a made for tv movie version starring kenneth branagh that might be worth watching, haven't seen it yet.
future endeavors:
  • the long walk (slavomir rawicz) - story of soldiers' escape from a russian gulag in 1939 and their trek all the way to british india
  • skeletons on the zahara (dean king) - 1815 shipwreck and landfall on the edge of the sahara desert
  • adrift (steve callahan) - story of the only person to have survived over a month alone in a life raft
  • we die alone (david howarth) - espionage and escape above the arctic circle as a norweigan soldier attempts to escape nazi capture
  • rescue dawn - i'll give herzog another chance with his film remake of a previous documentary, little deiter needs to fly. a downed pilot's makes his way to safety across and laos and vietnam during the vietnam war.
in researching popular survival books and movies, i came across this man several times: alexander selkirk, who some say is the real-life inspiration for robinson crusoe. in 1704, selkirk was marooned on an island off the coast of chile for over four years. more selkirk details here and recent discoveries on his campsite here.
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
and in case you wanted some of those excuses as to why i haven't written in the past few months...life updates:
  • have been all moved in to the new apt. for a few months now. no, it doesn't look like a swedish cottage, nor does it even look like an ikea catalog. no, i never had the housewarming party i hoped to hold. no, i still haven't found correctly-sized curtains for the bedroom. but it's home and it's cozy and the radiators are working quite well on this wintry afternoon.
  • grad school semester 1 is officially over. and yes, i still want to be a social worker.
  • have started training for the shamrock marathon in march. hello 12 miles at 8am.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

dreaming in swedish

it's that time of year again. actually, it's those times of year again. back to school, leaving a job,
moving. apparently, i've been following the dr. arnett guide to being a twenty-something as i have moved 8 times in the last 7 years (1 x per year each year in college, back home, to japan, back home, to richmond and the upcoming move will make #9) and had 5 jobs in the last 7 years (albiet i was a student for 4 of those 7).

anyhow, the next few posts will be about one of those transitions in particular - moving.

take:
  • one empty apartment in the fan
  • two 20 somethings
  • hand me down furniture from friends and family
shake vigorously for the month of september in which we will be packing up 2 places and converging on the one.

because i have not actually begun the moving process yet (i.e. i have two empty boxes in the back of my car and am terrified of taking my target desk apart for fear of never getting it back together again), for now the focus is on the anticipation.

the apt. is in an old single family home in the fan, one that has been split into 3 separate apartments. even though the reality of decorating possibilities is limited by what stuff people are willing to give us and by shallow grad school pockets, let's take a quick moment to fantasize about the possibilities:

apartment therapy has been offering volumes of images of perfectly coiffed decors, providing page after page of inspiration (and more often, crushed dreams, as one such as myself realizes that she'd have to forgo paying tuition to make rooms look remotely as good as the ones in these pictures)

still, there are many instances in which we borrow from that which inspires us and transform it into our own. take a simple concept from a runway design or from the pages of a cookbook and use what you have to imitate. the same will have to suffice for us, seeing as we're not quite up to par with this munich loft or this sotheby's rental in portugal.

even when considering what i would do given unlimited funds, given a bigger place, and given the time to plan, i am stumped. how to combine all of the styles that appeal to me without making more boiled over sloppy stew than tactfully crafted melting pot?

after researching a number of styles, the squared edges and cool look of scandinavian decor is probably the most appealing to me. the designs are simple and modern, but often have a rustic, natural sensibility.

  • design*sponge has a great collection of scandinavian interiors, not to mention it's an all-around interesting blog with design guides to tons of major cities worldwide.


  • etsy blog the storque offers how-tos on putting together different danish-inspired collections.

  • emma's deisgn blog offers the swedish perspective and lots of eye candy from a range of different swedish styles (some lovely, some too avant garde for me)


not that i'd want my place to end up looking like the inside of the latest ikea catalog either. it's important to mix in elements from other styles, especially if those things that don't necessarily "match" hold meaning to you and have stories behind them.

in any case, it's all just stuff. stuff that we'll be putting in boxes and taping up and moving across town and unpacking and placing and one day repeating the process all over again.

Friday, July 30, 2010

pet peeve of the latest lexicon

disclaimer: the following post is sexy.

as of late, i've heard a particular word being used in a wider context than ever before. hooray for artistic freedom and bending grammatical and lexical rules for creativity's sake, but boo for creating a bandwagon that removes all meaning from a word because it simply becomes trendy to use it.

sexy.

the evidence:

  • jeff goodall's incredible and disturbing article about the gulf oil spill in the latest issue of rolling stone. from the poisoning: "...BP has favored the use of chemical dispersants in the Gulf: Skimmers are slow, dull and prone to breakdown. Dispersants, on the other hand, are fast, sexy and usually delivered by specially equipped planes..." i will refrain from making a lubrication joke. the whole article is here: the poisoning

  • a ny times article on advanced degrees in statistics quotes google's chief economist hal vairan as saying, "I keep saying that the sexy job in the next 10 years will be statisticians and I’m not kidding.” lucrative? yes. rapidly developing field? indeed. sexy? umm...

  • there's a nonprofit organization called sustainability is sexy. sexy people can have sustainable lifestyles. but can sexy people put their sexy corn husks into sexy compost heaps to create stinky, nutrient rich, sexy soil?

  • an alternative energy news source declaring that "...sooner or later all automobiles are going to be either hybrid, electric, or hydrogen-powered. The one drawback...is the overall appeal of the cars. Very few models that are being put out are really all that attractive...That is about to change in a big way. BMW has recently hit the board with their prototype that is just flat out sexy." sexy like you want to have sex with the car or sexy like it reminds you of someone you want to have sex with? or both?

what is sexy anyway? sexy lingerie? strike a sexy pose? sexy sadie? obviously the most common definition has to do with exuding sex appeal, being risque, or arousing. much to my dismay, however, the dictionary lists the final definition as "excitingly appealing; glamorous," making all of the cases in point above technically (albeit still questionably) correct.

the (over)use of sexy may be closely linked to the "(non-sexual topic) porn" phenomenon. basically it extends the use of porn to describe tantalizing pictures of things that are not intended to be sexual.

examples include (and these are definitely safe for work, though i don't advise trying to search for different kinds of non-porn porn online):
i guess i can deal with a dose of non-sexual "sexiness" every now and then. amateur linguistics geeks can easily accept the fact that many words assume different meanings over time. for example, awful used to mean what it sounds like, "full of awe." the daily kos provides some theories behind how and why words change meanings over time along with a thorough list of changed words. sexy is being transformed right now, but will it lose some of its inherent allure as more and more nonsexual things are labeled as such?

Saturday, July 17, 2010

wild wild west part VII

lucky #VII - vegas to RVA

we headed into vegas on a saturday morning, making our way through traffic on the strip. the vegas mix cd made some of the traffic bearable as frank and dean steered us in the right direction. the strip loses much of its allure in the daytime and i was looking forward to dusk and the start of glittering neon vistas. i couldn't get the ocean's movies out of my head as we crawled our way past the bellagio and its famous fountains. we finally reached our hotel, the aria resort, which is part of "city center" - a new complex of hotels and an extremely high-end shopping mall, sandwiched between the bellagio and monte carlo.


the inside of the aria was stunning. in the end i much preferred our non-themed hotel/casino and its subtle yet plush interior to the over-the-top usual suspects. once we dropped off our luggage at the room, we stopped by todd english's faux-britpub to catch the second half of the US's final game against ghana in the world cup. too bad US.

we made a small loop on the strip on foot, checking out the inside of several casinos and tourist spots. neither of us are big gamblers, so we decided to wait and take our chances in the evening when the mood seemed more appropriate. excalibur was perhaps once grand in the heyday of gaudy-faux casinos, but it seemed stale and somehow a bit sleazier than the rest. new york new york and paris have true theme park feels with miniature versions of their namesakes inside. there was something about the MGM grand that i liked inside, it was dark and bold, though i didn't much care for the whole lions in a glass cage thing. dan and i both really liked the tropicana as well, as it's one of the oldest casinos on the new strip, complete with a beautiful art deco ceiling in the main area of the casino. finally, there was the obligatory stop to the bellagio to see the venetian glass ceiling sculptures.

las vegas practices what it preaches. their ad campaign of "what happens in vegas stays in vegas" comes to life every single day, as it has created a facade of reality for visitors, a disney-esque park whose themes are money and sex. it just is what it is. the facade is so blatant, however, that it's amazing how many people get so caught up in it. for all of the deconstruction of las vegas you can handle, las vegas: the social production of an all-american city is available in its entirety online.

the heat from the electricity and concrete and lack of greenery started taking its toll on me as we walked around, so we headed back to the room where i dosed up on cold meds and fever reducers. i wanted to at least be able to feel well enough to head to fremont street later that day.

after scouring our guidebooks for buffet reviews, we decided that the buffet at the main street station hotel/casino on the old strip would be the best bang for our buck. perhaps its wasn't the $35 selection of french regional cuisine available at paris, but for $15 i'd say dan and i both enjoyed ourselves making the rounds like kids in candy stores. we selected samples of mexican food next to steamed shrimp and oysters, antipasta next to spring rolls, and bread pudding next to coconut cake and soft serve ice cream. the goal was to not overdo it on any one item, as there were so many we both wanted to try, an exercise in self-control to reach an end goal of gluttony. since we've been home, there have been several times in which i've had sudden cravings for a vegas buffet. strange?

we wandered around the old strip where casinos like the gold nugget, golden gate, and four queens have withstood the test of time, and provide more character and depth than any places on the new strip. we ogled cheap souvenirs, saw people pose for photos next to showgirls, watched the light/sound show on the covered walkway of fremont street, and tried patiently to get clear photos of the old neon signs on display. i even had my palm read. we patiently watched blackjack tables, trying to work up the nerve to play, but our beginners' jitters got the best of us and we both ended up playing video poker instead. i did get lucky and won about $10, and after a few rounds, we came out $2 on top between the two of us. could've been worse.

here is a chapter from the anthropology text hosts and guests: the anthropology of tourism, which goes into great detail on gambling as a tourist attraction.

the next day we walked to caesar's palace where the plan was to watch the argentina vs. mexico game at the sportsbook, but by the time we got there, all of the seats were taken. so we settled in and watched at a cafe/bar instead.

it took over an hour to get back and get our car back from the valet at aria and we headed to another guidebook suggestion for lunch - the cafe heidelberg. believe it or not, there are plenty of choices in german food for the non-meat eater (even though i've yet to see a veg version of weinerschnitzel...richmond, i'm looking at you. though i did find a recipe). cucumber salad, spätzle (sans gravy), rye bread, among other things. unfortunately, i still wasn't feeling up to drinking, and had yet to imbibe since we left the grand canyon, so no german beer for me.

by the time we got back to the hotel, i was exhausted and hoped to feel better after a nap. not so. the rest of the day was a wash as i just didn't have it in me to go out. fortunately i had a caring travel companion who went out in search of meds and food. the flight out was early the next morning (we had to be at the airport around 5:30) and i knew i wouldn't make it past 10:00.

before we knew it, we were back in richmond by 6pm the next day, smacked in the face by the humidity upon exiting the airport. welcome to virginia!

Monday, July 12, 2010

wild wild west part VI

part IV - tusayan, az to las vegas, nv

though we hadn't decided where we'd be staying the night we left the grand canyon, we planned on making as many strange stops along the way as possible. the first was the flinstones' bedrock city, a sort of life-sized reconstruction of bedrock. though we didn't pay the admission price to get in to the actual attraction, the giant fred flinstone sign outside and flinstone-mobile was enough to sate the immediate need for roadside kitsch.

en route towards las vegas we decided to take old route 66 for as much of the trip as possible. it only passes through a handful of small towns now, but these towns thrive on the fact that passersthrough are trying to recapture the nostalgia of the old route. many of these places reached near death when the interstate bypassed them, but many are holding strong to their ability to offer a piece of almost-gone roadside americana.

the most fascinating story comes out of seligman, arizona. though we were both pretty unfamiliar with the town's history, the tale slowly unfolded through the places we visited and the people with whom we talked. perhaps you've seen a little pixar/disney film cars? we discovered that seligman was an inspiration for the story. but i'm getting ahead of myself...

many of the places in seligman and similar towns have the same outward appearance - an abundance of 50s signage, vintage gas pumps, and elvis and marilyn memorabilia. we ate at a little crazy diner called "delgadillo's sno cap," a take-out burger joint. though the vegetarian fare was sparse, and dan said the burger was just okay, the entertainment factor and the role that this place and its owners have had in the community made the visit worthwhile. the staff heartily plays jokes on customers. for example, dan asked for a straw and received a piece of hay, one employee asked if i wanted mustard and squirted a fake mustard bottle of yellow string onto my shirt, and another patron asked for a small coke and received a thimblefull of soda. the chocolate malt was delish and we would soon find out how the ower's family, the delgadillos, were perhaps known as the saviors of seligman.

we made our way down the tiny strip of souvenir shops and went into one that had a small annexed room with a solitary barber's chair inside. dan had mentioned getting a haircut and shave and after we inquired at the shop counter, a quick phone call was made and we were told to wait for a few minutes. soon enough, an older man arrived and asked around for who wanted the haircut. just before dan made his way into the room, two older japanese tourists asked to have their photograph taken with the barber. strange, we both though.

angel delgadillo's shop walls are plastered with business cards of people who have visited his shop and newspaper articles about him and seligman from all over the world. who was this witty old man who was trimming dan's scruff into a james dean-like coif? we asked him questions and he readily answered, describing his father's role in the town's commerce, following in his father's footsteps and becoming a barber, his brother juan's opening of the sno cap, and sitting down to talk with producer john lassiter about seligman's history and how it could be translated in the movie cars. the gift shop website has a great history of the family written up here and this site has a lot of good photos of the town.
after leaving seligman, we made our way west, reading burma shave signs aloud as we savored the last miles on 66 before we would turn northwest towards vegas. unfortunately that afternoon, i started feeling a little ill, so we skipped making an extra loop to check out a few ghost towns and kept going towards the hoover dam. we didn't stop to do a tour, though i did keep thinking about the griswald vegas vacation, "welcome everyone. i am your dam guide, arnie. now i'm about to take you through a fully funtional power plant, so please, no one wander off the dam tour and please take all the dam pictures you want. now are there any dam questions?"
i got my first taste of stale casino air when we stopped just inside the nevada border for a bathroom break. welcome to nevada. we decided to stay in boulder city, nevada, about 45 mins. outside of vegas for the night and found a great hotel, the boulder dam hotel. though we thought boulder city might be a bust, it turned out to have a nice little downtown. but the next day we didn't spend any time there, as it was time to make our way to the mecca of facades...

Friday, July 9, 2010

wild wild west part V

part V - the grand canyon and surrounds

i'll unfortunately have to do the last couple of posts sans personal photographs, as i haven't been able to upload pics from dan's camera yet.

from durango, colorado, it took almost all day to reach our hotel just outside of grand canyon national park. one of the major stops along the way - the four corners monument - was closed. it was a major disappointment as i had fantasized about sprawling atop the marker, legs and arms in an X, as if being drawn and quartered into four different states. instead, there are pictures of dan and i making sad faces in front of the sign stating that the monument is temporarily closed.

the landscape in northeastern arizona was quite alien, complete with mesas and jagged rocks jutting suddenly out of the red earth. we passed through several tiny towns including kayenta, where the only radio station for miles was playing reggae, and tuba city, where we visited the "explore navajo interactive museum." the museum didn't look like much so when we inquired about ticket prices and the guy at the desk said $10, we started to walk away. he said he would give us the native american ticket price, $5 each. now i can finally say that i've used that 1/32 cherokee for something...the museum was informative and included a strange, lo-fi graphics computer animated video of the navajo creation myth, which has to be one of the most strange i've ever heard, and an exhibit about the contributions of the navajo code talkers in world war II.

after leaving tuba city, it was more desert driving as we passed the painted desert to on its western side and entered grand canyon national park. fortunately, i remembered to put aaron copeland's grand canyon suite sunrise as the first song on one of the many roadtrip mix cds. though we were tired and hungry, i talked dan into pulling over to one of the first overlooks we came to and what i saw, as i'm sure many have said before me, was truly spectacular. it is true what they say - photographs simply don't do this natural wonder justice. we finally arrived at our "resort" hotel, which was in dire need of interior renovations from its early 80s decor. but hey, after long days, a clean bed is all you really need.

the next day, we got out early to do the 3 mile cedar ridge hike halfway down the south rim of the canyon. forewarned about the dangers of hiking in high temperatures, it took a while for us to gather all of the necessary hydration equipment (read: we only had 1 liter bottle of water and eventually collected another, a powerade, a gatorade, and some trail mix). the trail was hot, mostly in the sun, and is completely downhill, followed, of course, by a completely uphill second half. luckily, we both felt pretty good and were able to complete it in a couple of hours.

after listening to a very entertaining ranger talk on canyon history tales, we went back home for a rest and collected more supplies to head back into the park for a sunset picnic. our gourmet feast consisted of pb&banana sandwiches, chips and salsa, and beer, and we found a quiet overlook where we enjoyed our dinner. we almost missed the actual moment of sunset looking for a parking space at a busier overlook with better views. we parked illegally to quickly join a mass of international tourists (we were the only english speakers within earshot) to watch the orange sun cast its final shadows inside the canyon before melting into the horizon.


the next day we made our way from tuyasan, arizona westward towards las vegas without a plan for the night's stay in mind. along the way towards nowhere in particular, we found several places well worth the wandering.

not to mention...
  • in tuyasan, just outside of grand canyon national park, i saw my first elk. in spite of the yellow warning signs for mountain lions next 10 miles and all of dan's fingers being crossed for a mountain lion encounter, we never saw any of the big cats.
  • somewhere between durango and the grand canyon is a town called "mexican water." the founder must have had a clever sense of humor.
  • an interesting short history of the grand canyon here.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

wild wild west part IV

part IV - durango, co and mesa verde

as we headed out of santa fe and into southwestern colorado, the landscape again shifted from desert shrubs to alpine-like forests and mountains. we had packed a picnic but it was difficult to find a good place to stop for lunch. we ended up eating on table outside of a new mexico visitor's center and had a very windy picnic, sitting on napkins and slices of bread, cheese and tomatoes under our elbows.

between northern new mexico and southwestern colorado, the land there is ranch country, with both horse and cattle ranches (and occasional goat and sheep farms) dotting the fields along the way. chimney rock was conveniently located on our route and we stopped to take a few snapshots. it was there that i unfortunately noticed a large black blob appearing on my camera screen (as seen in the pic below). i tried cleaning the lens to no avail and thought it best to seek out the first camera store we could find.
we did find a camera store at our next stop, durango, colorado.
durango was founded in 1880 as a train depot for the mining district in which it is located. the town's railroad influenced history is still very much alive today with the famous durango-silverton narrow gauge railroad line (now a tourist train, and what many consider to be one of the most beautiful and/or terrifying rail rides in the country).

we stayed in one of the nicest hostels i've ever sojourned at, the durango hometown hostel. cheap ($24/person), clean, convenient, safe, comfortable - everything a hostel should be. our first night in durango was spent orienting ourselves, checking out the camera shop (where i reluctantly admitted that i'd have to use dan's camera for the remainder of the trip as my problem could only be fixed by sending the camera away for weeks), and eating dinner at a himalayan restaurant.

the next morning it took almost 2 hours to reach mesa verde (it normally takes 1 hour, but there was road construction inside the park that caused major delays). along the way we stopped at one of the countless "indian trading posts," this one complete with tepees and enormous arrows sticking out of the ground.


in case your middle school history is a little hazy...mesa verde is a massive community of cliff dwellings built by the anasazi people (ancestors to modern day pueblos and hopis) about 800 years ago. it takes a while to decide upon a plan of action once in the park because some of the sites are very spread out and the ranger-led tours that give you more access run on strict time/# of people limits.
we first headed to the museum, mailed some postcards, and saw one of the smaller sites, then went on a packed ranger guided tour of canyon palace, the largest and most famous dwelling in the entire park. though the national park service adamantly warns of some difficult hiking (3 ladders over 10 ft. high! narrow walkways! rocky paths!), the hike was about 1/4 mile long and not quite as treacherous as they had made it out to be. what we saw on the hike, however, was well worth it.

our ranger, wendy, did a great job of getting us lazy, advanced technology-addicted folks to imagine what life would have been like living inside the cusp of a cliff with nothing but our shared knowledge of how to use our immediate surroundings for survival. the place is considered to be sacred ground by some native peoples today and their left offerings of statues, foods, and goods served as a link between a shared past and the present.

by the time we got back to durango, the time to shower and eat had come and passed, but we pressed onward and filled ourselves at one of durango's brewpubs, steamworks brewery (where dan insists he's had one of the best hefeweizens this side of deutschland. tasted pretty good to me). the next day would be a lengthy drive from durango to the grand canyon, so it was an early night for us...

but wait, there's more...
  • the beer probably tasted just a little better at steamworks because i was trying to wash down the fact that i had discovered that afternoon, thanks to my roomie for informing me asap, that my car had been towed from outside of my house, for street cleaning.
  • towing, $95. daily rate for having the car sit, $35. hefe at steamworks brewery, $7. getting my parents to rescue the hyundai from the impound lot, priceless.
  • i need to get the pictures from the rest of the trip before the next update!

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

wild wild west part III

part III - santa fe, new mexico

early the next morning in cimarron we bid our farewells to the bsa, and i forgot to look over my shoulder as we parted ways with philmont. philmont's mountain range includes an arrow shape in the rocks, from which philmont gets its trademark arrow badge. legend has it that if you look over your shoulder as you leave and you see the arrow, you will one day return to philmont; if you don't see the arrow, you won't return. like i said, i didn't look, so who knows what the future will hold.

we made it in to santa fe just in time for lunch and we unknowingly hit up a very popular place, thomasina's, as we had a 30 minute wait to be seated. the food wasn't spectacular, but did begin to sate my immediate need for some real new mexican cuisine. i had vegetarian enchiladas and when given the new mexican choice between "green or red," i went green. the question refers to which color of hatch chile (a local variety of chile pepper roasted/simmered to a sauce) you want piled on top. green is the local's choice, or so i heard.

we stopped by our lady of guadalupe church, the new mexico history museum and governor's palace, and strolled through countless stores selling "indian goods," and turquoise/silver jewlery, (or places like kowboyz). it felt like santa fe embodied the old west spirit more than any place we had visited thus far.

after parting ways with emily and we settled into our hotel, the sage inn (which was luckily only a few blocks from downtown).
the next day we headed to loretto chapel to see its famed staircase whose properties apparently defy the laws of architectural physics (above). the previous day i spotted an ad for a scooter rental and we decided to look into this alternate mode of transport. though i was technically more experienced with scooters than dan (i was a passenger in japan and vietnam), i supposed his motorcycle license gave him a slight advantage at two-wheeled driving. we took turns at the wheel (handlebars?) and checked out some of the nicer houses just outside of town, as well as the war veteran's cemetery.

after getting back on our feet, we stopped for lunch at the blue corn cafe where we had what i thought was one of the best meals of the entire trip. huevos rancheros with green chile sauce, pinto beans, and fried potatoes. messy, cheesy, and gooey, they were serious comfort food and one plato was more than enough for the two of us.

we made our way back to the hotel, stopping in several galleries along the way. taos and santa fe both have vast art communities, though most of the art seems to be based on western nature-motifs and/or native american motifs. the works are sometimes unfortunately unintentionally cheesy, like they should be airbrushed on t-shirts and mudflaps at the mall. look hard enough though and you can find some interesting stuff, including a huge chuck jones gallery with hundreds of looney tunes cels. apparently, jones spent a lot of time in santa fe, thus the connection. random, yes, but i had recently watched the one where the coyote shrinks to 1/100th the size of roadrunner and tries toslice into his foot with a teensy knife. there was the original cel for that scene right before my eyes. it was called "the one where coyote catches roadrunner."

we continued our coyote fueled evening by dining at the coyote cafe downtown, where i had a horrible glass of wine and delicious veggie tacos and dan had a delicious chile margarita and not-so-awe inspiring cuban sandwich. we ended the night in santa fe sampling our way down the line at second street brewing company, toasting to our sunburns.

etc:
  • we stopped by r.e.i. (outdoors sports megastore) where i found revenge on the overpriced patagonia stuff in boulder. got a patagonia longsleeve pullover (i had failed to pack any jackets, forgetting that it can get cold in the desert at night) on super sale.
  • the next morning in santa fe was spent figuring out that when the hotel shuttle says "anywhere within a 2 mile radius," they didn't actually mean a radius. they meant "anywhere within 2 miles towards downtown." alas they wouldn't take us to the rental car store (and we later found out that hertz would've picked us up for free) so we took a $12 cab ride about 1.5 miles down the road. the cab ride came back to us twofold as we were upgraded from our cheapo chevy aveo to a toyota corolla for free. so white corolla, dan, and i got the heck out of new mexico...

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

wild wild west part II

part II - new mexico (cimarron, philmont, and taos)

kyle, dan and i made our way to cimarron, new mexico, home of one of the boy scouts of america's (bsa's) largest camps, philmont. kyle has worked many summers there and currently our friend emily is working there as well (yes, girls can work for the bsa!). the camp has both boy scout campers and adult training programs.
the landscape slowly started to change as we left colorado and entered new mexico, though cimarron and its surrounds were hardly the barren desert i expected. the northern part of new mexico is filled with grassy plains and dramatic mountains rising in the background. philmont's vista includes a profiles of peaks, each with their own myths, such as the tooth of time, said to guide travelers on the santa fe trail, informing them that they had reached the 2 weeks point until santa fe.

the afternoon quickly came to a close and i'm pretty sure it was around this time that dan and i realized neither of us had been drinking nearly enough water to make up for the high altitude and dryness we were experiencing. did i mention we went to a bar whose real name i have forgotten because the giant letters on the front and side of the building reading "cold beer" have renamed it such? right, water, not beer. on the way back to the camp from cold beer, i saw my first wild buffalo herd. they were just close enough to distinguish as buffalo, not rocks or shrubs, but there's something you don't see in virginia.

we also got to see emily's boyfriend eric's spectacular and weird adobe house. first, it must be one of the largest properties in the whole cimarron area, or at least it just seems to keep going on and on. the house/store is owned by an artist who is trying to sell it (it's what you'd call a real fixer-upper), but with the right touches, the place could be a museum. every room has beautiful old tile work on the walls and/or floors, two rooms have replica wood stoves, the storage space has an elevator to one of the basements (eric thinks there is another basement, but they haven't found it yet), and eric's made himself a lovely vegetable garden in the greenhouse.

not to mention, it's right next door to one of the area's most historic spots, the st. james hotel. had i known what a historical hot spot for gunfights it was, i might've stopped in and had a drink at the saloon (water, of course.)the next morning at philmont, we got to ride stallions into the back country to rescue stranded campers from a hoard of hungry grizzly bears with nothing but bowie knives! um, no.
but we did get to take a suburban ("philburban") with emily to pick up a kid who must've eaten some bad camp grub and had some tummy troubles. his group was checking out the 1920s log cabin kept as a historical artifact, complete with biscuits cooked on a wood stove, period costumes, and original game trophies mounted on the walls.

emily had to go back to work, so dan and i carjacked her subaru and headed to nearby clear creek trail to see some waterfalls. we even discussed what we would do in the (somewhat plausible) event of a bear encounter. all i kept thinking about was the scene in disney's version of white fang (you know, the one with ethan hawke?), where a grizzly chases him down and he hides under a pile of logs only to have the bear's claws dig through the wood pillars like butter.
"do we punch it in the face?" i asked. luckily, dan had it all planned out - stand on a log, make ourselves appear to be one large, scary entity and growl. didn't sound too hard, but luckily bears were nowhere to be seen.

the trail was halfway between cimarron and taos, so we moved along to the rio grande gorge bridge, a sort of appetite-whetter for the grand canyon. by the time we got back into downtown taos, parked the car, and oriented ourselves, we realized (again) that we were both well on our way to dehydration. we got lunch at the next place we saw and ordered the waiter to just keep bringing the pitchers of water. taos seemed a bit contrived to me, the downtown adobe section was clearly made up for tourists. but, we did get a chance to see some adobe truer to history at the martinez hacienda, a 200 year old home built by spanish settlers.

by the time we got back to cimarron, made dinner, and cleaned up, we were both pretty wiped out and the pull out couch was looking delightful. it would be an early morning the next day heading to santa fe with emily...that night i'm not sure if it was sunburn, a virus, or too much time spent with his girlfriend, but dan had a fever that made his skin feel like it was on fire. luckily with a new outlook on water consumption, heavy sunscreen applications, and nap time in the car en route to santa fe, he was better by the next afternoon.

miscellaneous thoughts:

  • i never knew about the new mexican accent. it sounds like blend between native american english, canadian english, and the standard midwestern american accent. interesting to hear, very hard to replicate. emily has picked it up a little bit with the expression "aye!" (pronounced less like a sailor saying "yes" and more like "aieee") used at times of pain, disbelief, or surprise.
  • the stars in new mexico were unbelievable. i've always loved stargazing and astronomy, though i can't remember much from one of my favorite college "filler" classes. i remember the first time i looked at saturn and mars and the moon through the telescope i got for my 8th birthday. they were completely different places from the ones i could see from my very nearsighted eyes. i've never lived in a place that was very conducive to getting lost in the night sky...newport news, fredericksburg, osaka, and richmond all have more than enough light pollution to block out all but the brightest orbs. it was nice to sit in the back of a pickup truck at eric's house counting the satellites passing by overhead and picking out constellations whose names we'll never know.
  • santa fe preview...

wild wild west part I

part I - boulder, colorado

it's a different experience starting a trip somewhere you've already been before. you don't get that same sense of curiosity, but rather a welcomed familiarity mixed with wonder at what new things you'll discover that you may have missed the first time around. this is how things felt for me heading into boulder, colorado almost a year ago from my initial visit.

dan and i were both glad to be visiting friends neither of us had seen in a while. we stayed with kyle, a friend from college and now a chef at jax (might sound familiar to my fellow top chef fans - season 5 winner hosea was working there when he was scouted by bravo). his apartment is conveniently located near downtown boulder and on his days off with us, kyle was more than happy to give us a full on food and booze fueled tour of the city.

because dan only gets basic tv channels and i get none at all, we were both more than happy to realize that we'd have many more chances to catch some world cup games on our trip than we would at home. so, what better way to start off fresh in the morning that with a spectacular bloody mary bar at the west end tavern.we walked off the morning's ambivalence (portugal and cote d'ivoire tied 0:0) and vodka around downtown boulder gawking at bike shops, one of the nation's exclusive tesla dealerships (sellers of high-performance electric cars and the first to use lithium-ion batteries) and sweet outdoorsy clothing that none of us could afford (i'm looking at you patagonia store).

no worries though, we chased away our inability to have buyer's remorse by heading to avery brewery, home of such creations as my personal favorite, the belgian white rascal to the wicked 15.1% abv mephistopheles stout. colorado made a beer lover out of me.

the next day we worked off the booze with a hike to the royal arch at chautauqua park, which took about 2 hours round trip. followed by lunch and more world cup at what kyle described as the locals' favorite mexican joint, pupusa's, where we had delicious homemade salsa, and of course, pupusas!

we checked out the factory tour of celestial seasonings tea, where you can drink free samples of any flavor (go for the sweet coconut thai chai), enter the wonka-esque mint room which feels like someone planted a peppermint farm inside of your sinus cavities (refreshing though), and where dan was forced to wear a beard net over his 5:00 shadow (we all had to wear hair nets but this was particularly amusing).

onward to counteract the healthful benefits of hiking and herbal teas, we went to twisted pine brewery. though the beers weren't quite as on point as those at avery, they did offer a raspberry beer and more importantly, a chili beer, which were both quite good. lots of ogling at the fantastic downtown boulder farmer's market where they had fresh fruits, veggies, meats, cheeses, baked goods, and every other organic/granola substance one could imagine.

we had dinner at jax where i had a wonderful tuna tartare-like dish over sticky rice with a spicy peanut sauce. the thing i liked best about jax? really high quality food in a relaxed atmosphere. it was all about the food, none of the stuffiness or showy nature of a lot of upscale restaurants back east. unfortunately i didn't try a custom cocktail made with their own infused liquors. it only took three days in boulder and a dull background headache to make me recognize that water, not alcohol, was the remedy to a mild case of altitude sickness.

the next morning started off with a run around the university of colorado campus in the morning before hopping in the car to make our way south to our next stop: cimmaron, new mexico and the philmont boyscouts of america training camp.

last minute thoughts:

did i mention that boulder simply has to be named the nouveau-hippie capital of the nation? though i haven't visited portland or seattle, of the places i have been, i've always thought of san francisco as the old school hippie capital of the u.s.

these were the people who went to the original woodstock, who smoked weed when it was 100% illegal, and some of whom have survived on the streets preaching free love and flower power for decades.

boulder hippies are a different breed completely. teva sandals, all organic diets, and daily yoga sessions, i'm assuming that boulder is a highly educated city, even though it didn't rank in the top 20 most educated cities (based on on what percentage of the population has a bachelor's degree or higher). however, denver and colorado springs both placed, making me wonder how commuters to and from boulder might affect those findings...anyway, boulder hippies must make enough money to buy the prana yoga clothes and to pay 4.00/bag of mesculin mix.

oh! and to pay for the prescription marijuana! it was a bit strange and amusing to see dispensaries (being from the east, they are known only in fables of those crazy states out there that have - gasp! legalized pot).

it seems like a truly enjoyable, relaxed place to live. perfect weather, beautiful scenery, healthy lifestyle, great beer...cheers boulder!

more pics @ picasa

Sunday, June 6, 2010

sweet sweaty summer


somehow the month of may came and went quickly, taking with it any legitimate springtime weather and now those of us without central AC have our fans oscillating at full speed. it seems like just yesterday we were talking about cabin fever from being snowed inside the house, now i'm wiping sweat from my brow and glowing inside and out from high doses of vitamin d.

summer vacation is just around the corner and the bf and i will be heading out west next week to visit friends, see some classic americana sights, chow down on tex-mex cuisine, and take the ever coveted photo of straddling 4 state lines at once.

i also plan on fulfilling a particular road trip fantasy of staying at at least one kitschy roadside motel. (see: the wigwam hotel in arizona as a prime example).

it seems that a lot of the classic motels (think neon signs like richmond's very own westlake shopping center sign) were demolished years ago
however, in a quest to plan a few retro encounters, the following sites are proving invaluable:

roadside america: basically allows you to search any city/locale for weird and/or vintage sightseeing.

roadside peek: allows you to view pictures of notable places and search by location and theme. for example, i started looking at arizona roadside signage, arizona roadside neon, and arizona tinpan alleys.

it's all a bit overwhelming as we are covering a vast area, so it's going to take a while to narrow down the choices. between dinosaur tracks, ghost towns, about 60 separate oversided muffler men, and atomic test sites, i don't think we'll be able to fit everything in. not to mention that las vegas is a self-proclaimed mecca of oddities (sadly, the neon museum is closed this summer).

speaking of atomic test sites, atomic tourism is not a new idea, but one that got started literally as the bombs were being detonated, as is chronicled in pbs's american experience. the "bureau of atomic tourism" provides lists of museums and testing grounds, hopefully now radiation free.

may the chronicles of a western adventure begin...

Friday, April 30, 2010

all's fair


when i think of the fair, i think of a carnivalesque erector-set of unsafe thrill rides, sketchy game-masters, every form of fried food imaginable, and occasionally beauty pageants for 9 year olds and booths of "kuntry krafts" where one can purchase such artifacts as life-sized stuffed children with their eyes hidden in a permanent game of hide and seek.

however, the world's fair, or world expo, was and is still a much different sight.

on april 30, 1939, the world exposition held it's grand opening in new york city. this was not the first world's fair (which was held in london's hyde park in 1851). it was, however, the largest world expo to date and i assume there are some artifacts in NY still marking its existence. UVA's american studies program has a pretty detailed description of the fair and its focus on the "world of tomorrow." also, this site comes from an image collector who has put together a book of images and postcards from the fair. the book looks a bit more detailed than the postcards on the site.

probably the most well-known fair-related piece of pop culture is 1944's meet me in st. louis. as of today, the blogger has not yet seen this film (for shame) and if i had a netflix cue,it would be somewhere near the top. in any case, the 1909 st. louis world expo sounds like the ideal place in which to hold a musical. there is the lesser known elvis extravaganza, it happened at the world's fair (1963), which just doesn't seem to have the same charm as vincente minnelli's and judy garland's take on the exposition.

the world's fair today doesn't get as much press or recognition as it did back in the day, perhaps because now it's so easy to trade ideas and cultures via rapid communication forms. it there a need to collect ideas in one physical place anymore? still, there is something about the magic of amassing visualizations of the future from around the world and seeing them play out in tangible forms. the closest thing i can imagine to visiting the fair would be disney's epcot center and i'm sure epcot's designers had the world expo in mind when they developed the park.

this year, the expo is being held in shanghai, and it's amazing that china was able to put it all together after the 2008 olympics in beijing (especially considering it will be the most expensive fair to date). the opening ceremony was held on april 30 and the video below shows some amazing view of the city...

Monday, April 19, 2010

wannabe

there are few people who can honestly say that they haven't had some small secret fantasy to be famous. and as far as fame fantasies go, there's nothing more commonplace than to want to be a rock star. the aura of being a successful rock musician is one that grasps many of us at some age. for me, it was during the early years of high school that i was taken by the lure of wanting to be a musician (or at least to bear a slight resemblance to one, and hopefully it wouldn't be keith richards).

this was not the aspiration i told everyone about as i was fully aware of the low probability of going from playing guitar along to cds in my bedroom to getting spike jones to direct my next music video. (which, by the way, music video director was also one of my secret "pretty much impossible but would be awesome" career options)

in honor of never making it to behind the music, today's post is for all of the wannabes.

  • Couch-ella: gawker.com's tribute to fake TV bands...don't feel bad - even the bands in TVland didn't always make it to the top (see: Jesse and the Rippers)
  • Guitar Hero and Rock Band: these games have provided musically challenged people the forum to become rock stars in their living rooms (friend's parent's basements). these games must have some impact on the number of kids (and adults) who do or don't pick up real instruments because time is spent playing the electronic versions instead. time magazine even named game creators alex rigopulos and eran egozy two of the most influential people of 2008.
  • do not like his shirt. :'-(
  • in case you want to keep the dream alive, there are camps such as toronto's league of rock and the rock'n'roll fantasy camp (in london this year) where adults (and kids...day jams and rock farm camp) can somehow learn in a few weeks how to become professional musicians. groupies and drug addictions not included.
  • and finally, in case you can't even think of a name for your band that never quite got around to practicing together, there's the band name generator. my personal favorite results: molotov loser, panama association, and almost jessica and the interference.

Monday, April 5, 2010

making do

travel is on the horizon. but sometimes to sate wanderlust, you have to make do.

without even leaving home:

steinbeck as a travel writer. i had no idea that john steinbeck wrote a travelogue, travels with charlie, chronicling his roadtrip across the u.s. in the early 1960s. less known because it was outshone by of mice and men and the grapes of wrath, travels with charley reveals the author's dilemma of finding "the real america" and offers insights like the following:

  • "A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike...We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us...In this a journey is like marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it."
  • "So much there is to see, but our morning eyes describe a different world than do our afternoon eyes, and surely our wearied evening eyes can report only a weary evening world."
  • "Perhaps we have overrated roots as a psychic need. Maybe the greater the urge, the deeper and more ancient is the need, the will, the hunger to be somewhere else."
above: rocinante, steinbeck's coach, aptly named after don quixote's beast of burden.

musical meanderings:

i noticed that i kept hitting "next" when i put the ipod on shuffle and decided it was time for some new tunes. presenting a mental map of how i went from one place to another in my quest for new tunes:

i started out knowing i really wanted the new black rebel motorcycle club single "beat the devil's tattoo"-->nico vega-->JET-->eagles of death metal-->the velvet underground-->the parlor mob-->the black keys-->wanda jackson-->etta james-->james brown
somewhere along the way, there were brief stops at the queens of the stone age, wolfmother, and the dead weather, got lost on the "trainspotting" soundtrack (took a turn at the velvet underground to the stooges-->iggy pop--> recalled how much i liked underworld's "born slippy" even though it has no place on this mix whatsoever.)

also,etta james was a badass. i'm hoping to get a copy of her autobiography, rage to survive soon.

real trip coming soon, rockies, deserts, and canyons oh my.

Monday, March 22, 2010

highbrow vs lowbrow


highbrow vs. lowbrow - a review of entertaining things

in an attempt to gain some immediate cultural relevance, i decided it was time to see "avatar." and well, hell, if you're going to pay to see it in the theater, it might as well be in 3D. and it was everything i dreamt it would be - an over-hyped science fiction/action movie with bad writing, bad acting, and impressive technology. aside from the hype and wide success of the movie, it's articles such as this one that are most disturbing: audiences experience "avatar" blues. basically, some people are reporting feeling depression after watching the movie because they desire to live in a world like that of the navi's pandora.

if it is ironic to say, "avatar" is lowbrow entertainment at its pinnacle. neal gabler's discussion of how entertainment has become the most real, influential force in america (from his book life, the movie) is realized in the "avatar" phenomena.

however, credit should be given to the movie for providing a widely appealing forum for an anti-war, pro-environmental message.

highbrow 0, lowbrow, 1

people who regularly have intellectually stimulating conversations are more likely to be happy, according to this ny times article, talk deeply, be happy.

highbrow: 1, lowbrow: 1

vanity fair's proust questionnaire... john cusack, monty python, yogi berra....and you can take
the proust questionnaire yourself.

highbrow 2, lowbrow 1

angela bassett voicing for michelle obama on the simpsons. see it here. some may argue that the simpsons have crossed over into highbrow, and while there maybe some truth to this, i'm giving the point to lowbrow due to its mass appeal, widespread recognition, and level of intellectual prowess required to "get" the show.

highbrow 2, lowbrow 2

however, i think this is a win-win for everyone:

there used to be a show on tv (it aired on a high-up in the numbers cable network called MOJO) called three sheets, hosted by comedian zane lamprey.

he
went to different countries to experience their drinking traditions and cultures.
you watched and said, "how do i get paid to travel around the world and get wasted?"

he has a book coming out now.
concept about highlighting cultural nuances and traditions - highbrow.
concept about having a stuffed monkey for a sidekick and shameless tales of drunkenness - lowbrow.

highbrow 3, lowbrow: 3

draw.

see also:
this adorably amusing chart of highbrow-lowbrow spectrums
lawrence levine's highbrow/lowbrow: the emergence of cultural hierarchy in america.





Sunday, March 7, 2010

Tiny Epiphanies

Little things that have been revealed to me over the last couple of weeks:

1. New Jersey ain't so bad. Headed to the Garden State last weekend for an engagement party to be treated with things like:

  • The best damn cannoli I have ever eaten (and probably ever will) and homemade limoncello
  • A personalized tour of Sandy Hook at Gateway National Park (including the oldest running lighthouse in the US, a slightly delapidated gun battery that resembles an insane asylum, and the most adorable 1940s officer's house completely decked out in period furniture, decor, and memorabilia)
  • Dancing. On a dance floor. At the Knights of Columbus. I needn't say more.
Part of this epiphany includes the fact that a roadtrip can and should be made out of any opportunity to cross state lines. Side trips included: Annapolis, MD, Washington, DC, and a brief session of worshiping Swedish design ingenuity at Ikea. Look at these pretty fabrics! Skol!


2. Random inspiration can be found in the strangest places...

3. "The Union Is Forever" by the White Stripes is about Citizen Kane. My brain had some trigger-like response every time I listened to the song anyway, ears perking up when they get to the "There is a man, a certain man" chant...now why does that sounds so familiar?! And it all came together one day in a glorious moment of realization that two of my most favorite things had slightly merged into one. Lovely analysis here.

4. You can't look for epiphanies, they just happen. Usually quite unexpectedly. Case in point: I watched New York, I Love You yesterday wondering if I'd be hit with some overwhelming urge to choose NYU over VCU for grad school. Didn't happen. The movie itself was just okay, not quite as good as its predecessor Paris, Je T'aime.

Monday, February 22, 2010

in time for Easter...


The closest I've ever really been to Russia was flying a mile over the Sea of Okhotsk en route to and from Japan. Seeing Okhotsk's name finally show up on the digital map in the head rest in front of me was always a welcome sign heading to Japan because it signified that the bulk of the flight time was behind us, as passengers on transpacific flights know that "Are we there yet?" is a mantra we unconsciously chant as we drift in and out of achy sleep.

However, the closest I've ever felt to Russia were during occasional trips to Richmond as a child. My family often visited the Virginia Fine Arts Museum (thankfully reopening this May) and its Feberge exhibit was always my favorite part of the trip. Until now, I didn't realize that the VMFA Faberge exhibit happens to be the largest public collection of Faberge items outside of Russia. I would make several laps through the exhibit, repeatedly trying to choose my favorite, which one I would've liked to be my Easter egg. One Christmas, I even received a tiny replica egg charm which I worn adoringly on a gold necklace for several years.

Last September, after a new company acquired the rights to the Faberge name, the company has been relaunched and is now producing super-luxurious jewelry. When I first saw a few of the pieces, especially the flower-inspired rings, I was impressed, but the more I thought about it, the more I disdain the whole idea. This is definitely a case of taking a well-known name steeped in arts and crafts history and removing it from its traditions. When is it okay to continue to have an artist or designer's name posthumously attached to products and objects that may or may not coincide with their original visions?

Part of the allure of Faberge collections is not just the incredible quality of craftsmanship and perfect materials used to create these symbols of luxury, it is the history represented, the story behind each piece. Most were gifts to and from royal family members, primarily created during the reigns of Alexander III and Nicholas II. After the Bolshevik revolution, several of the large eggs were sold by Joseph Stalin for foreign currency and according to Wikipedia,"Of the 65 known large Fabergé eggs, only 57 have survived to the present day. Ten of the Imperial Easter Eggs are displayed at the Kremlin Armoury Museum, Moscow in Russia. Of the 50 known Imperial eggs, only 42 have survived."

Who knows, maybe someday someone will have a hell of a tale for Antiques Roadshow, "I found this thing in my great aunt's attic in a box labeled "comic books" in a trunk buried under suitcases of my grandfather's old pajamas. Think it's worth anything?" (cue bearded antiquities appraiser falling dead on the spot due to a heart-attack). Everyone likes a modern-day treasure story and finding a lost imperial Faberge egg would definitely take the cake.

This little foray into a small piece of Russian history coincides perfectly with a recent library acquisition - Siberian Dawn by Jeffrey Taylor. Taylor chronicles his trek across Russia in the early 1990s.

This site also has a wealth of information about the eggs and their place in Russian royal history. And a WSJ article discusses my new library checkout/amazon purchase, Faberge's Eggs.