Monday, September 24, 2012

Weekend Recap: Game Day

No fall would be officially complete without spending every Saturday watching college football. As you may know, I'm a huge University of Florida Gator fan. My grandfather went there and I believe when I was a baby I had a mobile in my cradle that played the fight song. I love game day so much that I think about it year round and get all teary and nostalgic when I see people tailgating. I have a lucky coozie, and several t-shirts that I wear only for the occasion. So If you don't see me around town or on twitter, its because I'm in the zone watching the game.

Here is my post about Game Day in Gainesville, what to wear as a professional fan, and a link to my Gatorific pinterest board, co-curated with the fabulous Tammy of A Loyal Love, just in case you are looking for some inspiration or to convert to the best team in the SEC and in the universe. ;)

Do you watch college football?

Friday, September 21, 2012

A Few Updates

doors in Dupont Circle

Happy Friday dear readers! I've been a busy writer lately. Check out my day drinking hot spots in the DMV area over on Refinery29, just in time for the fab weekend weather we will be having (or you know, go at lunch today ;)

Also, I'm making a few changes on ze blog to make it more searchable. Check out the new link Destinations: Where I've Been up on the top right column of the blog (or click here) to see all the places I've traveled to and written about and get inspired to get out yourself! I'll be adding more links to it for wardrobe, restaurant, and hotel suggestions for each place too. So stay tuned!

Hope you have a great weekend. I'll be packing for a trip to Argentina. My first time going to South America and I couldn't be more pumped!

Shoe Love?

Alice + Olivia Dorris Cheetah Haircalf Booties

I can't decide how I feel about these booties. I love the polka dots, calf hair, and general shape of the shoe. However, it's kinda weird that its like a sock inside a high heel and I'm not sure if it would hit on the ankle in a bad place. Also they are almost $400, boo.

So let's take a poll, what do you think? Is it over-designed? Do you like these or would you rather just wear heels (or anything else)?

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Exploring Wine: Sauvingnon Blanc

Decoy, Sauvingnon Blanc, Sonoma County, California, 2011 $18
My rating for this bottle? I would drink the bottle.

When I was out in Napa Valley we visited the Duckhorn winery. I was really impressed with their wines (and property and service). Each was elegant and soft on my palate. The only con is that a normal bottle is a wee bit out of my weekly price range at + $30. So I was thrilled to see their more affordable winery from Sonoma County, Decoy, available at my corner wine shop.

Maybe I was swayed by a brand I knew I would enjoy, but this hit the spot. Sauv blanc is generally very crisp, grassy, and full of flavor. This one definitely tasted crisp, but it was light and had a grapefruit taste. Not much grass though. I was kind of looking forward to that ;)

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Tips to Travel By: Combating Jet Lag

Ah, the one downside of traveling often and to far-flung locations: jet lag. What is jet lag? Simply put, its when your travel across timezones and your body is still operating in another place in the world. The sudden jump three, six, 12 hours ahead really messes up your internal clock. All things from sleeping, eating, and even your "number two" cycles get out of whack and you basically feel like crap. On top of that, if you are in a country where you don't speak the language, you are out of your mind trying to mouth and sign "Where can I find Tylenol and Imodium?" to some poor lady you grabbed off the street.

So, how do we avoid this less than glamorous travel experience? I believe complete obliteration of jet lag is impossible but here's what I do to minimize its effects and so I can start having a fun vacation, sooner.

1. Start hydrating days in advance. This is the most important thing you can do. Staying hydrated will help your body with all the extra work of adjusting. When you feel thirsty, its already too late. You should be drinking more water anyways, so get out of that chair and get your butt to the water cooler a few more times a day.

2. Drink 6-8oz of water once an hour during the flight. Keep hydrating! The plane ride dehydrates you and thats why you get a headache when you land.

3. Get up once an hour to use the restroom (you will need to from all that hydrating) and stretch your legs. Keep that blood flowing so your ankles don't swell up (kankles = yucky!).

4. No alcohol or caffeine. Now, you all know this is a tough one for me. I love indulging in these vices, especially when I'm on vacation. But both will delay your body's time zone adjustment and dehydrate you further.

5. Getting on a normal sleep cycle as soon as possible. It might be tempting to take the red-eye and then nap in those luscious, crispy clean white hotel room sheets as soon as you arrive, but do not give in! Shower, eat a big breakfast (now you can drink caffeine!), and get ready as if you would any other day. If you can usually handle an afternoon nap, sneak one in, otherwise try to stay awake until its dark out. You will be glad the next day when you feel well rested and ready to explore!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

DA+AH: Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Carriage, c. 1881, oil on wood, Philadelphia Museum of Art

Whenever I tell people I'm an art historian, they ask me, "who's your favorite artist?" That's like asking me what my favorite food is or my favorite pair of shoes, how could I decide? I like many artists and works of art, I have favorites in almost every genre and time period and get excited when I see something I haven't before.

But I do have a few all time favorites. And one is Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. You know his work too, even if you never put a name to the familiar. He's one of the greatest post-impressionist artists and painted famous images of the Moulin Rouge. You might even have a poster of his work in your home without realizing who he is or why it is important.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec was born to aristocratic parents who supported his artistic pursuits. During his formative years he suffered two leg breaks due to a medical condition caused by, well, inbreeding. This lead to his body growing to adult size but not his legs. He leaned into painting and alcoholism to deal with his physically issues, the latter eventually killed him. He hung out in the Montmartre area of Paris, much like his other artist friends at the time and received a commission to paint the posters for the newly opening Moulin Rouge in 1889. He hung out there a lot and you can see the carefully observed details of the people he spent time with in the paintings. He became famous for realistically portraying those seedy figures central to Parisian nightlife.

I love his brush strokes, colors, and lines, basically everything about his work. The brush strokes sensually touch the figures and objects they represent, as if he was just brushing the paint onto the actual figure and not a canvas. Although the perspective is often flattened and the figures simplified down to shapes, there is a lively energy to every single line and a delicate, humane sense of vulnerability in the scenes depicted. The people in his work seem disconnected and unaffected by his blatant voyeurism, perhaps they were like that real life, being performers and prostitutes. The colors keep your eye drawn in and searching even though you can't establish a relationship with the subject.

This painting, Carriage, which hangs at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, isn't what you typically think of when you think about Toulouse-Lautrec's work but it caught my eye as we walked through the gallery. Painted around 1881 (before the Moulin Rouge days) it depicts a horse-drawn carriage elegantly rushes down a dirt country road as the driver whips the horse along and its hooves and tires from the carriage kick up dust. I can't stop staring at the horse's front left hoof breaking out of the dust. What does it mean? Is Toulouse-Lautrec talking about himself breaking free or moving forward? He seems comfortable with the subject matter, but not bored. And although it isn't ground breaking, this is a beautifully executed painting that demonstrates his virtuosity. I would definitely hang it in my house.

PS - Isn' the frame awesome too?

Monday, September 17, 2012

Weekend Recap: Family Day at the CIA

This weekend I had the pleasure of attending Family Day at the CIA headquarters in Langley, VA. I was mostly excited to go because I heard they had a few fine art exhibits and a very nice spy museum. It's hard to narrow down our visit to a single highlight, but it was really special to walk in the main entrance and see the famous seal on the floor.

Fantastic programing, special exhibits, and lectures were set up throughout the day and every hallway was jam packed full of people. Families with children especially had a great time practicing their spy skills, getting their face painted, and eating lots of free candy.

I was impressed with the architecture of new building (NHB) (and generally how perfectly clean and well maintained the facilities were) with beautiful inlaid pink and white marble floors, and floor to ceiling windows that flooded every space with fresh sunlight. It seemed like a really nice place to work! The cafeteria was also impressive. I know, my priorities revolve around food. They had a Dunkin' Donuts, Starbucks, Subway, Burger King, in addition they also had a fresh salad bar, soups, pizza, cold cuts, and a hot food bar. It was better than a mall food court.

I heard that the CIA owned a contemporary art collection similar to the Corcoran Gallery of Art's so I was very curious to check it out (I was quite possibly the only person there looking for contemporary art instead of spy gear). I was expecting an art exhibit, but the painting were spread out on the walls of the corridors. I recognized a painting by Gene Davis as well as a few others from the Washington Color School. I later learned that the paintings were either donated or loaned to the CIA from a former Director of the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Vincent Melzac, and the collection is called the Melzac Art Collection (ah, it all makes sense). What lucky people who get to work there and walk by it everyday!

We did check out the spy museum and the OSS exhibit too. Unfortunately there were so many people that I couldn't stop and read about each object. The spy museum was in two parts, one exhibit dedicated to the efforts in the war in Afghanistan and another focusing on the history of spy technology. I learned that a well dressed spy lady always wears a camera broach and carries bugged cigarettes. Note to self.

In case you aren't a history buff, the OSS (Office of Strategic Services) is the WWII precursor to the CIA. The exhibition included photographs, artifacts, and communications equipment from that time including the German Enigma encryption machine. I love looking at historical objects, especially ones so important to the fate of our world, and basically drooled on all the cases as we walked through the exhibits.

This agency full of secrets can be an easy target for conspiracy theorists or critics but it was nice to see all of the employees there with their families being honored for all their hard work and dedication. I am so thankful for the chance to be there! Special thanks to the lady that made it happen. You know who you are. ;)

Friday, September 7, 2012

A Behind the Scenes Tour of Cirque du Soleil's Totem

Last night I had the incredible opportunity to go backstage of Cirque du Soleil's Totem after witnessing the show (many thanks!). Here's a little bit about the show and my experience.

Written and directed by the multidisciplinary artist Robert Lepage (also wrote and directed KÀ (2004) and has enjoyed an award winning directing career), Totem explores the evolution of human kind from an amphibious state to our desire to break the bounds of gravity and fly. Through each performance connections are made between human evolution, ancient myths, nature, and our constant ambitions to discover, explore, and reach for the moon. I've been to several shows, Alegría, Mystère, and La Nouba. Each impressive in their own ways, but Totem, being in the Grand Chapiteau ("big top") brought a sense of intimacy with the audience and innovative logistical and engineering solutions to using such a temporary space. 

During the show I just sat in awe of the acrobatic routines (and found myself gasping and jaw dropped during the Perches and Russian Bars), each one more impressive than the next. I mean let's be honest, I have a hard time doing advanced triangle pose during yoga class. These athletes are highly talented and such elegant performers (even the juggler took it to the next level in Manipulation!). In order to make everything flow flawlessly on stage, people backstage are hard at work too. 

this is the practice area for the artists

The visual environment of the stage is inspired by the natural world. The center stage is designed as a turtle, which is at the center of many ancient myths and stories. While I watched the show I was impressed with the engineering of the Scorpion Bridge and how 10,000 lbs of retractable steel could so elegantly fold back on itself (like a scorpion's tail, get it?) and the infrared images (all shot especially for Totem in locations like Hawaii, Iceland and Guatemala) projected on the stage to transform the scene from lava pit to lake to the surface of the moon. The infrared images react to the artists movements to create a rather convincing environment. Using infrared images as opposed to traditional stage sets and real water, was a creative solution to the temporary and mobile nature of having a show on the road.

It was also interesting to learn that, in addition to being performed live, the music also followed the movements and timing of the artists. The artists focus on their performance and everything else on stage - lighting, music, scenery - carefully follow their every movement. Talk about attention to detail!

I wish this wasn't so blurry! I was do excited to focus myself :)

What struck me as I watched the show is that many of the performances the artists seemed like they were wearing natural style makeup. It was the first time I saw the faces of the artists. I could tell their cultural background, their age, even their hair color. In many of the Cirque shows there is an emphasis on the mystical, in Totem the emphasis is on humanity's evolution and on the body performing of these acrobatic feats of strength, agility, and power. 

As you may know, I'm really into make-up, fashion, and shoes so going backstage to the wardrobe area was a dream come true. I was giddy with excitement to see the costumes up close. Although most people only see the big picture effects of the costumes and makeup, the attention to detail is astonishing. The Crystal Man's costume, for instance, is covered in thousands of tiny mirrors and Swarovski crystals.  Much research went into the cultural history of the costumes then inspiration taken from there. We learned about the costume and makeup process from conception to everyday maintenance. There's one person dedicated to cleaning and painting the shoes and the lifespan of a costume is every six months. 

Unlike other Cirque du Soleil shows, to conceptualize the human theme the costumes are very body conscious and the disguise, transparent. For example, the amphibians and fish costumes in the opening scene. I understood that frogs were being represented but I was completely aware of the human form within. I could tell they were humans acting like frogs. Also kind of neat, I recently saw the frog exhibit at the Smithsonian's National Zoo and recognized some of the species integrated into the costumes, who knew that would have come in handy? 

costume inspiration to realization

step by step makeup instructions for each artist

MAC makeup is the primary makeup brand used. When our guide, Francis, opened the large makeup drawers to show us the products, we all literally gasped and squealed. What was also interesting, and surprising, was that each of the artists was in charge of doing their own makeup. They have very detailed binders with step by step pictures so they don't forget. Can you guess how long it takes them to do their makeup? Not too much longer than some of us *ahem* - from 45 minutes to an hour and a half, depending on the complexity. Impressive, huh?

Also really cool is that masks are custom made for each artist to ensure they do not fall off or distract the artist during his or her performance. Each of the athletes employed has a scanned 3D image of their head. I want one!

Besides the innovative technological solutions to creative conceptions, detail oriented and fabulous costumes and makeup, the artists themselves deserve mention for their athletic prowess and impressive stage performance. Between the backstage crew and the artists on stage there are 21 countries represented and over 10 languages spoken (although English is the official language). Each of the artists are former competitive athletes, the best from each of their countries. So if you didn't get a chance to stand 10 feet from any of the Olympic events in London, you're in for a real treat.

Totem will be at the National Harbor until October 7. Click here for tickets and more details.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Art to Inspiration: Lani Trock, Hello Blue Moon

Lani Trock, Hello Blue Moon

It was a cold January night by Florida standards. We had to make an emergency run to Walmart to get warm socks and gloves. I had two wool sweaters and a pea coat to my name and wore all three to keep my teeth from chattering. Once on the road it took about 30 minutes to find the perfect spot along Highway 441. The news mentioned the best place to watch the meteor shower would be in Paynes Prairie, just outside of Gainesville and the University of Florida.

The prairie is a 22,000 acre state park preserve that is home to some of the greatest plants and animals Florida has to offer (the Everglades isn't the only natural wonder in Florida!). It's a bird watchers dream and even has wild horses. During the day one can stay very busy hiking, fishing, canoeing, biking, and horseback riding (not on the wild ones...). There are no street lights lining the highway and at night the area is empty, quiet, and pitch black. Because of this, on any given night the sky suddenly comes alive with so many stars one wouldn't think it possible. The evening of the meteor shower the highway was lined with college kids, professors, and local families with their cars pulled over and people spread out on blankets or perked on the hoods of their cars. A tailgating scene, so familiar to Gainesville, yet in complete darkness. The constant sounds of whispers and giggles relieved any concerns I had with being so close to the deep  mysteries of the grass lands only steps from our spot.

My roommates and I huddled together on a sheet and waited patiently for the stars to start falling. It took hours, we ate all our snacks, told jokes, stories, and eventually waited in silence. Dew formed on the grass beneath us and the cold wetness prevented any sort of nodding off. Finally, after hours, a shooting star burst across the sky. Then a second. Then two at time. Then three, five, ten. Magically the sky lit up with bright streaks each quicker than our eyes could process. Before we could react and say, "oh! there's one!" it would be gone. We couldn't point or communicate with each other for fear of missing the very fleeting moment and the collective gasping of individuals created a symphony of awe and delight across the highway.

As the sun crept up on the horizon, the crowds thinned and the stars disappeared. We dusted ourselves off, threw the sheet in the trunk, and with a peaceful satisfaction, headed straight to Denny's for some pancakes and eggs.

Started by the lovely Supal of Chevrons and Eclairs, Art to Inspiration is a once a month blog post inspired by a work of art. If you would like to participate in Art to Inspiration, click here to read more and sign up. 

And in case you missed it here's July's and August's Art to Inspiration.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Sip & Shop

Two weeks ago I was invited out to one of the best events I’ve attended in DC. In a collaboration between Urban Chic and Early Mountain Vineyards a bus full of bloggers were whisked away to enjoy an evening of shopping and wine tasting, Sip & Shop. How could I not like this event, seriously?

Early Mountain Vineyards is a newly opened Virginia winery located on the Monticello wine trail in Madison, VA. The owners Steve and Jean Case (you might recognize their names as former AOL executives) strive to bring the best of Virginia wine to one place. Their grand tasting room includes not just their wines but award winning wines from all of Virginia. It’s like one stop sipping. As soon as we hopped off the bus (stir crazy from sitting in traffic for 2 hours) were so impressed by the views – rolling hills, vineyards, and a little country barn – that we fanned out and immediately got to work taking pictures. We were so distracted with the scenery that we almost forgot about everything else! I know I could have sat on their back patio for hours just watching the day go by. 

Bloggers doin' what they do
 But this was a wine and shopping event, we didn’t drive out just for the views! Besides getting to browse Urban Chic’s collection of the latest fall fashions (from designers including Shoshanna, Vince, Joie, Trina Turk, Rebecca Minkoff) and beautiful jewelry, we learned about The Shirt. As I’m a huge fan of button up shirts, cotton or silk, I was intrigued to know what made this particular shirt so special. There is a hidden button to ensure that the area around the bust does not flare open. This way your shirt is always perfectly tailored and you are guaranteed to look chic (and no one will get a peek at inside-side boob, basically).

The highlight for me was the wine tasting (reasonably priced at $12). After a recent trip to Napa Valley, I was excited to try out some of the Virginia wines with California varietals fresh on my palate. I was the only dork who brought a tasting notebook, but hey, I take this drinking business seriously! I was pleasantly surprised that all of the wines I sampled were just as good, if not better, than the ones I randomly grab at the grocery store. Although I have visited several pretty good wineries in VA, I generally hear negative or dismissive opinions about the wines from this region. Not only were the wines we tasted delicious but many of them were priced at or under $20 a bottle. I particularly enjoyed the 2011 Early Mountain Vineyard Pino Gris, NV Thibaut Janisson Blanc de Chardonnay (a favorite sparkling wine at the White House!), and the 2010 King Family Vineyards Meritage. In addition, Early Mountain Vineyards has a café with locally sourced ingredients or you could bring a picnic and watch the sunset! Yes please!

That brings me to a recent frustration of mine, one which I’m glad to see the Cases are helping to change. Whenever I go to a restaurant or wine shop in D.C. they have either no Virginia wine or only very slim pickings. It’s disappointing because I feel like D.C. prides itself on locally sourced products and supporting local economy but then there are no Virginia wines on the menu. So this means without actually going from winery to winery (I have no car), it is very difficult to get to know the terroir of Virginia. I hope that by highlighting more than just one vineyard, one bottle at a time, this is a great step in making Virginia wine more accessible and familiar.

As we all piled back onto the bus, completely hyper with delight from our experience, we immediately started planning out next visit. The good news is that there will be more Sip & Shop events to come! 

Monday, September 3, 2012

That one time I went to a gay bar on ladies night

Although this isn't my normal story about travel or fashion or observations in wine and art, with new experiences, whether from travel or just opening our minds to a new way of thinking, come challenges to our culture and personal constitutions. So as a deviation from the usual, here's a story about that time I went to a gay bar on ladies night.

Drawing my own: Jamie Hurst, Torso (self-portrait), 2008, charcoal on paper

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine from out of town asked me if I’d go to a gay bar with him. Rather, he asked me if I could take him to the “good” gay bars in Dupont Circle. As if I’m an expert. We started at Larry’s Lounge on the corner of T St and 18th (across the street from Lauriol Plaza). I’ve always liked this place because happy hour consists of beers less than $5, a great patio area for people watching, and you can bring your doggie. We both enjoyed it there and I patted myself on the back for a good choice.

The only other gay bar that I know of is Level One/Cobalt which is on the corner of R St and 17th. It’s the starting line for the Dupont Drag {Queen} Race and they often have drag shows there as well. So after a tour of the ‘hood we arrived at Cobalt around midnight. Just in time for the ladies night wet t-shirt contest.

I could see the disappointment on my gay male friend’s face when we climbed three flights of stairs only to stumble into a lesbian only dance party. But since we paid a $10 cover we decided to make the best of it and dance our little hearts out. I got ballsy to the tune of outdated rap and house music and decided to take the platform for a spin, just like old times. Although one might be embarrassed to dance on a platform, one must keep in mind that you can usually feel the AC better from a higher vantage point. Besides, I always feel confident in my leopard booties. Slightly bored after a song or two, I jumped down into the parting crowd. “Please tell me you’re gay,” begged the first lady in earshot. I imagine I broke a few hearts that night, sorry about that. But the attention paid to me was momentary and fleeting as soon as the wet t-shirt contest began.

I’m not sure how familiar you are with wet t-shirt contests. I’ll assume you know nothing and that you only go to classy events and you did not participate in one in college. Wet t-shirt contests for male viewers usually consist of a number of women standing on stage who resemble the closest version “normal” women can get to professional fashion models and Playboy bunnies. These fantasy women are either hired for the event or chosen with strict standards. They are scantily clad in bathing suit bottoms (and in some cases jorts) and the t-shirt is cropped at the bottom and very tightly fitting with no bra. They are as close to naked as they can get without actually being naked. To the tune of very energizing music and a DJ encouraging the contestants, they are soaked from head to toe to ensure the t-shirt is properly drenched and breasts exposed. The contestant with the most cheering (i.e. the best breasts) wins cash or free drinks all night at the fine establishment in which they have provided entertainment. (Editor’s note: Gman observed that it sounds like I have a lot of experience participating in such contests. I do not. I have witnessed many of these events as I lived across the street from fraternity row for many years in college. His fraternity, in fact.)

The structure for a wet t-shirt contest geared towards a female audience is similar but with a few variations. At the event I attended, the contestants seemed to be randomly chosen on the street or perhaps amongst the crowd earlier that evening. These women had no professional experience on a stage nor were they trophies of stereotypical beauty. They wore whatever they came out in that night. Only their top was switched out for a baggy white t-shirt, leaving the rest of their outfit intact. They were judged one at a time, versus a row of women being hosed, as an assistant gently sprayed only the breast area with water. No one got their hair wet. The show was less energetic and many contestants wore their bras underneath their t-shirts. It was like amateur hour at a cheap strip joint. A pair of thin, young women, one blonde, one brunette, ended up winning the prize of $200.

It was the worst wet t-shirt contest I’d ever seen. My general reaction was that I could have won standing backwards on stage. I was mad that I didn’t know about it ahead of time. But then after making fun of it, I got to thinking about why it was so bad. It seemed like this women’s only wet t-shirt contest was a botched version of a male erotic fantasy. It seemed like the female gaze was defined by a male one. Only slightly adjusted to accommodate what? Convenience? Time? Budget? Less experience? I’m not sure. It did not celebrate the female body or a woman’s erotic fantasy. The tone was slightly shameful, bored, and not at all empowering. Empowered is how I would expect to feel when in the company of women who love women.

I appreciated the fact that the women were “normal” looking and from various ethnic backgrounds. But the crowd wasn’t that into it and the whole thing seemed forced. Not only that, but the winners exuded the male fantasy of two Playboy bunnies going at each other. The other contestants seemed embarrassed in comparison (with the exception of a few who were too drunk to have any sense of self-consciousness).

When the contest began my first thought was perhaps the female gaze is grounded in diversity and attainable beauty. But then as soon as the usual suspects jiggled around the stage, I was disappointed. Of course they were beautiful but did it all boil down to lesbian women having the same erotic fantasies as men about women? Was a woman’s sexuality still objectified despite attempts to ratify it? Is there a way to have erotic female entertainment for women that doesn’t play off of the male fantasy (whether or not the female fantasy is about men or women)? Or is the male perspective so engrained into our culture that it is unavoidable? And is that “bad”?

What do you think? I’d love to know.
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