Saturday, December 27, 2008

Day 80/365 - Arty Smarty

The Phillips Collection is by far my favorite art museum in DC. It's one of the few museums or galleries I've been to that has it's own palpable personality, which probably comes from the fact that it's largely just one really rich guy's personal art collection that he turned into a museum. Plus it's housed in his former home (and the townhomes of his former neighbors). As the collection expanded, they bought the adjacent buildings, connected them all, and turned it into one really cool art salon. The Phillips Collection pre-dates both the National Gallery of Art in DC and the MOMA in NYC and focuses on the field of Modern Art as that term has varyingly been defined since the late 1800s.

The Phillips' most famous objet d'art is Renoir's Luncheon of the Boating Party, which now always makes me think of the movie 'Amelie.' My favorite works in the Phillips Collection though are Matisse's Studio, Quai St. Michel and Marjorie Phillips' Night Baseball. The Phillips has also hosted my favorite exhibit since I've been in DC, namely the Modigliani retrospective they did a few years back (although I also really like the National Gallery of Art's Edward Hopper exhibit and the Corcoran Gallery of Art's Modernism show).

So anyway, the reason the photo above is of me in front of a sign for the Phillips Collection is that I went there today. I'm a member now so I get in for free (well, not counting the membership dues that is). I really love going to art museums. It's always one of the factors I take into account when planning a vacation. Going to an art museum or gallery gives me a similar feeling to sitting beside the sea -- both settings provide me with a sense of peace, grace, majesty, mystery, and the presence of something bigger than myself. Plus contemplating art is a bit like Pop Rocks for the soul -- it wakes you up and lets you know there is more to life than just an endless string of mental factory-work.

My taste in art has certainly changed over time. Initially I didn't have any appreciation or understanding of art that was even remotely abstract. If it didn't look like it was supposed to look then I didn't like it. As I've gotten older though I've begun to appreciate art that doesn't just look like a form of photograph. I suppose it has something to do with coming to realize that few things are as they seem to be and that much of life is ambiguous and unclear. Despite that, though, I still really like 'calendar' artists such as Gustav Klimt and Norman Rockwell. I guess a bit of reassurance is always a welcome thing.

(Taken with my Nikon Coolpix S200)

Friday, December 26, 2008

Day 79/365 - Jour de Luxe

Today was a pretty self-indulgent day (so not that different really from all my other days). I hadn't done a photo walk in a while and it wasn't too terribly cold out today, so I decided to make a little outing to Bethesda, Maryland. I ambled about for a bit taking pictures of various things (including a mural that I really love and keep meaning to have my portrait taken in front of) and then I wandered over to Cafe Deluxe for lunch.

It's not really all that 'luxe', but it is pretty good. I sat in a booth and read a back-issue of Conde Nast Traveler while I ate a salad of mixed greens and goat cheese with a cup of roasted tomato soup, followed by a crab cake entree with a corn and asparagus medley on the side and washed down with three cups of coffee. After lunch, I headed to the arthouse movie theater at Bethesda Row to catch a showing of 'Slumdog Millionaire.'

It's an excellent movie and I loved it. It's very dramatic and romantic and powerful, and I came close to getting a bit 'misty' at the ending. It's been talked up for an Oscar and it's certainly deserving of that honor, unlike a lot of movie industry hype. It's directed by Danny Boyle, the same guy who made the movie 'Millions,' and it shares a lot of common thematic elements with that earlier film. Both films focused on a pair of brothers confronted by a threat from the criminal world and dealt with the idea that great money equals great success and great happiness.

I'm not sure whether that precept is true or not, but I wouldn't mind having the opportunity to find out for myself. Given that I was feeling particularly self-indulgent today, after the movie I swung by La Madeleine, a little bakery and cafe, and treated myself to a sacher torte and an Orangina. The torte wasn't quite as good as the ones they serve at the Hotel Sacher in Vienna, but it was still pretty darn good. It had been a while since I'd had an Orangina. I love the little beaker shaped bottles they come in. Drinking one always makes me feel a bit like a mad scientist quaffing some experimental potion.

Far as I know though I didn't turn invisible or morph into Mr. Hyde after drinking it.

(Taken with my Nikon D80)

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Day 78/365 - Merry Christmas!

Here's this year's Christmas haul of gifts and cards from my family and friends basking in the glow of the tv Yule Log. My parents and my brother got me Starbucks gift cards (yay, more chai and gingersnap lattes for me!) and one of my sisters got me a set of funky martini glasses, margarita salt, and a cool bartending guide (yay, 1000 drink recipes to try out!). My present from my other sister will probably come next week. She's usually a little behind the curve in getting stuff ordered, but she always gets me cool stuff from my wish list.

I think my favorite Christmas present I've ever gotten was the Star Wars Death Star playset I got when I was a kid. It was awesome! It had a trash compactor with foam 'trash' that actually compacted (and that I later turned into spiked death trap for my Indiana Jones action figures), a moving elevator, and a blaster cannon that you could make blow up to simulate a hit from an attacking X-Wing fighter. It kicked ass.

I was always the first one up on Christmas day. One year I got up around 2:00 in the morning and was playing with the toys Santa left for me by flashlight so as to be sneaky and not wake anyone up. Didn't work. My parents heard me having fun and sent me back to bed and told me not to get up again until daylight. Spoilsports.

Merry Christmas to everyone, everywhere "and on Earth, peace -- goodwill toward men [and women]." I still think Linus says it better than anyone:

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Day 77/365 - 'Twas the Night Before Christmas...

...and I was nestled all snug in my bed, but it wasn't visions of sugarplums I saw -- it was the Christmas Story marathon on TBS instead!

Merry Christmas to all, and to all, a good night!

(Taken with my Nikon D80)

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Day 76/365 - Tag, I'm It

For this week's self-portrait I decided to get in the Christmas spirit and shoot my reflection in one of the ornaments on the tree in the lobby of my apartment complex. Also, because I was tagged on Flickr by Picture Prefect, it's now my turn to reveal sixteen random facts about myself and this seemed like a good occasion to do so.

And so here they are:

1. I was once hoisted up into a helicopter that was hovering fifty feet above the deck of a ship at sea.
2. I used to have two earrings and a body piercing, but I quit wearing them about a year ago.
3. I took fencing and bowling classes for PE credit in college and sucked at both.
4. I love musicals.
5. I once had dinner at a restaurant one table over from Condoleeza Rice and totally eavesdropped on her conversations.
6. I've been through the Panama Canal.
7. My driver's license expired about eight years ago and I never bothered to get it renewed (obviously I don't drive).
8. I once chewed the same piece of blueberry Hubba Bubba bubblegum for three days straight (it turned white eventually).
9. I've skydived and bungee jumped, but social situations scare the hell outta me.
10. Until I was halfway through college, I thought the word 'pseudo' was pronounced 'puh-sway-do'
11. I sat three rows in front of Colin Powell for opening night of 'Mamma Mia' at the National Theatre and didn't realize it until I got up to leave at the end.
12. I'm terrified of dancing but secretly wish I knew how.
13. I used to write short stories for fun in high school and college but stopped (I still think up ideas for stories but never actually do anything with them).
14. I'm really good at building a fire (both fireplace and camp fire).
15. I once stepped on the end of a hoe and the handle swung up and whacked me in the face just like in cartoons and Three Stooges shorts and I wound up having to get stitches in my eyebrow.
16. I'm ridiculously over-organized (you have no idea how much time I put into compiling and revising this list).

(Taken with my Nikon D80)

Monday, December 22, 2008

Day 75/365 - Lunch at Central

I met my friend VerĂ³nica at Michel Richard's Central for lunch today. Both of us had been wanting to try out the food there for a while. It had been some time since we'd gotten together. She had been away at a really prestigious fellowship program at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, but now she's back in DC. We'd been trying to meet up for lunch for a couple weeks now but kept running into scheduling issues until today.

I'd been to Michel Richard's Citronelle once before and loved it, so I was really looking forward to dining at Central. Michel Richard is the top chef in DC and he's famous for his culinary masquerades. He'll make a dish that looks like it's one thing, and then you taste it and find out it's something else entirely. My favorite example of this is the lobster cole slaw at Citronelle. It looks just like regular cole slaw, but it's actually made with shredded lobster meat rather than shredded cabbage and it's ludicrously delicious.

Central is the casual counterpart to the more upscale Citronelle. It's a rather smallish space, but it doesn't feel cramped or crowded. It's well-appointed and has the perfect level of noisiness so you can talk without having to raise your voice, but still you don't feel as though the people at the table next to you are going to hear everything you say. And the food is like diamonds from heaven.

For my appetizer today I went with the mushroom risotto, only it wasn't really risotto. It was actually made with pasta pearls as opposed to arborio rice. It tasted like cheesy mushroom tapioca and it was heavenly, absolutely perfect on a cold day like today. Then for my entree I had the fried chicken, which actually was fried chicken. It wasn't like the standard conception of fried chicken, however. This was the fried chicken of the gods. The breading was very light and crisp and it was served over mashed potatoes with a mustard cream sauce and a small mixed green salad on the side. This was comfort food as Michelangelo would have made it had he been a chef rather than a painter.

VerĂ³nica opted for the French onion soup as a starter. They brought it out in a little pot and it was bubbling like a vat of magma. It was good, but extremely hot and somewhat difficult to eat. For her entree she ordered the lobster burger, which came with fries on the side. It was very yummy and the fries were perfectly done.

We were both too stuffed for dessert, but that's okay. Now I have an excuse to go back just for dessert and coffee.

(Taken with my Nikon Coolpix S200)

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Twice on Sunday Bonus Photo - Merry Christmas

This week's bonus photo from my archives is a shot of a Christmas tree in the waiting room of the 30th Street train station in Philadelphia. I took this picture when I went up to Philly for the Army-Navy game in 2004. Merry Christmas!

(Taken with my old Canon PowerShot S400)

Day 74/365 - Nicholas, Patron Saint of Shopping Malls

It's kind of odd when you think about it that we erect shrines to a saint in shopping malls across the country once a year, yet it's done for almost entirely secular reasons. Poor Saint Nicholas -- stuck with cheesy temporary shrines and crying, snot-nosed, greedy little pilgrims. He definitely got the fuzzy end of the lollipop when it comes to the saint business.

I hadn't really thought of it much, but I do miss the excitement of going to the mall and sitting on Santa's lap and telling him what I want for Christmas. That was always a lot of fun as a kid. I'd pester my mom by asking her when we were going to see Santa and then I'd try to figure out what I wanted to ask for and then hope I didn't forget it when he asked me.

This is the atrium at the Pentagon City shopping mall in Arlington, VA. All my Christmas shopping has been done for a while now (gift cards as usual), but today I swung by the mall to grab lunch at Johnny Rockets and pick up an arm band for my iPod in the hopes that maybe that will motivate me to pry my slovenly butt up off the couch and go to the gym in my apartment complex. We'll see.

BTW, I really hate the way the Apple stores are set up. I hate the whole 'no check out line' and roving sales staff thing. When I go there it's just to grab an accessory. All I want to do is pay for it and go, but I'm stuck trolling about the store trying to find someone to take my money. Usually they are all chatting with an endless parade of clueless customers and I wind up ping ponging around trying to find one that is almost done answering questions.

I guess it's great if you actually do have questions, but when I just want to buy an armband or a case I don't need to ask any questions or get any explanations. 'Here's what I want, here's my money, bye'! I wish they had one sales person who was always in the same corner of the store instead of floating about and who was just there to ring things up and not to answer any questions. That would make me happy. It shouldn't be that hard to give someone your money. Bah, humbug!

(Taken with my Nikon Coolpix S200)