Tuesday, May 27, 2008

My Weekend in Coventry



(sans Martin Luther King Jr. and George Washington)


Never in a million years would I have guessed that Kate Nash and I would be standing two feet away from each other in the bathroom of a UK-based chain restaurant that serves Portuguese-spiced chicken in quarters, halves, and wholes.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Conceptualism is Cool

I've been going to a lot of art exhibitions recently. In London, all of the museums are free. Jenny's homestay mother, when asked why the museums were free, said, "The museums hold the people's national treasures. Why should we be charged to see our own national treasures?"

My new favorite artist is Sol LeWitt.

Ever since I saw a series of his work at the MUMOK in Vienna, he has been popping up everywhere. At the Tate Modern, he painted a room entirely black and then covered it with vertical lines of chalk from floor to ceiling, cutting some lines with horizontal or diagonal ones to make shapes, which looked like windows that the viewer could look through to see other worlds of lines. On display at the Victoria and Albert was a book he illustrated of Borges' short stories. While out one night, I met a Londoner with a thick book of interviews with artists in his backpack. Sol LeWitt was featured on the back cover.

I love LeWitt's glorification of simple lines and shapes. It is organized, clean, planned, and executed with precision and detail. I can't say the same thing about my life at the moment, but I liked it that way. I can get my routine fix by looking at LeWitt's perfect hexagons.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

How Do YOU Make Art?

Below is John Baldessari's video "I Am Making Art" we saw at the MUMOK Museum of Modern Art.

Inspired, we made our own art.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Ich Bekommen Spargel

Jenny and I caught a very early flight to Vienna from Paris. We slept for some of the shortshort flight. I woke up to see the Alps below.

When we first arrived, our conversations took on a theme:

"We should have Wikipedia'd Vienna."

"Too late now!"

"We should have grabbed a map of their public transportation."

"Too late now!"

"We should have learned a little German."

"Too late now!"

We rode the train from the Vienna Airport to the center of town. The sun was shining as we zoomed past fields of yellow flowers, quaint towns, and a giant, never-ending cemetery that reminded me just how old the country is.

The goal in Vienna was to experience the city. Of course, everything exceeded expectations (mostly because we didn't have any, and because we found out that our host had met Kanye West before he exploded). The first day we explored the city on foot, passing government buildings, old churches, break-dancing lessons conducted in German. The names of the buildings didn't matter. What mattered was being absorbed into a culture I had absolutely no preconceived notions about, finding it to be quite lovely.

That night, Jenny and I continued our hobby of talking American politics with people from other countries. This time, we expanded to a more comparative forum, comparing and contrasting different electoral systems. Alex, our host, was a wealth of information, being from Germany, having lived in the States and Vienna and majoring in political science. We pointed out the flaws and benefits in each, fantasized about the way we would ant it all to be. I felt a moment of gratitude for being able to discuss issues with people who were not from my own country and could give me a different perspective. It's amazing what one can learn if you shut up and listen.

The next day we explored the two art museums at the Museumquartiers. We wandered through the modern art one first, and saw pieces such as:

We moved to the Leopold museum after, which houses all of the national treasures from the last two-hundred or so years. Klimt's Death and Life was displayed in its stoic and yet transcendental glory on the far wall in a room, surrounded by pieces by Kolomon Moser. I sat in front of the piece for a good five minutes, trying to count all of the figures and distinguish where one ended and another began. Suddenly, I heard someone running up behind me. I assumed it was some excited Klimt fan running to see the piece. I heard angry German, and Jenny whispered in my ear, "I think that guy is sitting on the art." I turned to see a man lounging on a velvet green couch that Moser designed for Lina Hellmann in 1904. The security guard was running up to him and shouting in German, "You can't sit there! The seating is over there! That is art!"

My continual conquest of eating the whole of a country's food supply during my stay continued. No amount of schnitzel, coffee, Viennese truffle, strudel, kebab, gelato or Camembert sandwich was safe. But again, we walked anywhere and everywhere. On one excursion, we ended up at one of castles in Vienna, and saw this amazing view.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Two Days in Paris

A highly recommended film, by the way.

When we returned to Paris, Jenny and I ventured that night to the Champs-Élysées. It, of course, started to rain. We followed a red neon sign that said Bar off the Champs-Élysées. We took cover inside. They started playing Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit". You can take girls out of Seattle, but you can't take Seattle out of the girls. Instead, you can smother them with Seattle iconography like Kurt Cobain and rain.

The next day we zoomed around Paris yet again. Jenny and I walked along the Seine and met Chris at a bridge at which a pivotal scene in Angel-A took place.

And then both Chris and Jenny pulled a fast one on me.

"It's on the left, Nichole."

"What's on the left?"

"Oh yes...that one monument..."

That afternoon, Jenny decided she wanted ratatouille for dinner. So Chris googled "ratatouille". We went to a restaurant called Ratatouille. We searched on the menu in vain for ratatouille. They did not have ratatouille. We asked the waitress if they had ratatouille. She said it came with the meal as an aperitif. What she served was not ratatouille, but rather resembled salsa without the spices.

The other dishes were excellent, though, and very prettily prepared:

We capped our night off with the French-dubbed reunion episode of "A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila". That's class.

June 6, 1944

While in Normandy, we visited the World War II museum. Once inside, the halls took through a Eurocentric version of the war. Displays of Nazi and Ally uniforms, propaganda posters, and even eating utensils were uplit, as if to suggest that this second "war to end all wars (this time we really mean it)" was bigger and beyond me, that the soldiers that fought in it were heroes of the past and present, and I would never be able to comprehend the hardships endured by entire world as it threw itself off its axis.

My grandfather stormed the beaches of Normandy. We sat in a theatre and watched film clips of the invasion. We watched as the little dots on the beach scrambled to safety or death (whichever came first), scored by piece resembling "William Tell". I couldn't help but think that my grandfather could have been any one of those little anonymous dots on the beach. He couldn't have known that his third-eldest granddaughter, sixty-four years later, would be watching him in a darkened theatre with two Frenchmen and a Korean-American girl at a giant museum heralding his efforts.

We visited the American Memorial Garden after watching the film. Displayed behind a waterfall were plaques from each state in the union (even Hawaii, which wasn't technically a state until after the War). Ohio most definately had one of the more boring plaques, but I still had to take a picture of it.

My grandfather survived D-Day. He made his way to Paris. There he met a young model and actress named Micheline. They were soon married. Their wedding portrait is of my grandfather in his uniform, and my grandmother in what looks like a neatly tailored Dior.

I think their story would make a good movie.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Fou de Fa Fa

If I had my own memoir of self-discovery, it would be called Eat, Eat, Eat. During my ten-day break abroad to Paris, Normandy, and Vienna, days were centered around meals. In Paris, I searched for the perfect macaron. In Normandy, I ate mussels on the beach. In Vienna, I conquered schnitzel and strudel in one day.

However, I did a lot of walking. I walked up cliffs and on beaches and down alleys and followed the Seine. Thus, no matter how many days started with pain au chocolat and ended with pasta, I walked all of it off and never felt too full. I felt satisfied. Walking is also my favorite form of exercise (I don't run unless something is chasing me) and it is the best way to see the cities you are staying in.

I have learned that walking around Paris with a French man is either a) taking your life into your hands, or b) feeling like somehow your walking pace is sub-par to his. As Chris took/dragged Jenny and I around Paris, I tried to soak in as much Parisian thisnthat without feeling overwhelmed, which was futile, because I felt way overwhelmed. About halfway through our day, Chris turns around and says, "Okay, prepare yourself Nichole, it's on the left".

"What's on the left?"

"Oh....oh that old thing...."

The rest of day commenced like this, stopping every two hours or so for delicious food and/or coffee and/or pastries.

J'étais contente.

After a day in Paris, we drove to Normandy. We drove into the beach town, swerving to avoid tourists, and checked into our hotel overlooking the beach.
That night, we all changed into smashing outfits (I wore a dress I found at a vintage market for 5 pound) and went to explore before going to the casino. Down by the beach, I rushed into a restaurant and asked the barkeep, "Avez-vous une salle de bain?" Literal translation: "Do you have a bathroom?" By bathroom, "salle de bain" means the works: toilet, shower, bathtub, etc. Confused, two of the waitstaff and the barkeep went "Quoi?!" Flustered and embarrassed, I stammered, "Uh, um, bathroom?" in perfect English.

As the sun set over the beach, we played mini golf. In our suits and dresses. It felt like a poor man's Great Gatsby, or some other piece that could possibly have rich people playing golf on a beach before going to the casino.

Jenny and I were denied access to the casino because we didn't have our passports. This did not deter us from having a good night, however. Instead, we ate more food. Between us, we polished off a vegetarian pizza with aubergine, mushrooms, onions, garlic, and sundried tomatoes, and pasta with mussels and shrimp. Yeah, the boys may have won around 150 euro at craps, but I think Jenny and I hit the jackpot. Ah. Ha. Ha.

The next day we explored more of Normandy, and saw sights like these:

We ate pastries, baguette and saucisson for dinner. God decided to join us.

That night, we discussed politics and social stigmas. Who could or could not beat McCain, how homosexuals are treated in America and in France, recent legislation, and taxes. The debate grew somewhat heated but remained amiable. As it drew to a close, we heard shots from outside. As we ran onto the terrace, fireworks popped above our heads, sending brilliant colors into the sky and sending us into silence.