A Fascinating Invitation

Last weekend, I went to an art festival, saw some really cool pieces of blown glass and got to talk to the booth operator about my love of glass. Since then, the subject of glass blowing has come up many times in my circle of friends on social media, so for days I’ve been telling about the things I’ve seen during my travels.  As I pondered some of those things this morning, I found myself shocked that I’ve never written a travel post about one of the very best days of my life; it’s not going to compete with my wedding day or the birth of my children, but it was certainly a favorite as far as rare opportunities go.


Dale Chihuy is a name most glass enthusiasts know; I’ve seen his work in many places throughout the United States and the Bahamas,  including a little restaurant in San Diego called Saffron. The owner is a friend of Dale Chihuly’s and you can go in and see some of his creations on display.

Saffron in San Diego

I readily admit that I am a fan of Chihuly’s work, but I didn’t even get to go to the Chihuly Museum when I was in Seattle last spring. I didn’t feel too badly about missing it though because I’ve seen his work in so many other places.

See more here:
Chihuly in Tacoma

Chihuly is, however, always a good subject when talking with other artists and maybe other glass artists get tired of hearing his name, but at least they know that I’m not JUST one of those “oh isn’t that pretty” kind of people. I do pay attention to the process and this occasionally offers me the opportunity to talk more “shop talk” with them since I don’t blow glass myself.

In 2010, I met just such a glass artist when we were strolling around Balboa Park and wandered into his Spanish Village shop. It was kind of a slow day all around so we got to talk to Marty Marshall about glass blowing and also Dale Chihuly, of course; during our conversation, he gave us the heads up about Saffron.  Then, seemingly out of the blue, Marty told us that he was going to be in his hot shop later that week and invited us to come watch. I almost couldn’t believe it! We’re almost always up for an educational opportunity and took him up on his invitation. I took a lot of photos and my son video-taped most of our time there.

We saw the process, experienced the heat, and got to smell the smells. Yes, there are smells. Smells like burning wet wood mixed with essential oils.  And did I mention the HEAT??? Fortunately, we had a cool breezy day, but the furnace and the annealing oven throw off A LOT of heat! Glass blowing is HOT work –which  includes burns if you get complacent. It pays to pay attention. They also have a heck of an electric bill!!! This, clearly, is not an art form I ever want to engage in, but I still find it thrilling to watch others create.

Marty and Mike Marentic did a wonderful job narrating the steps, telling us about their tools and answering all of our many questions. We had a couple of hours of complete fascination and education; it remains one of my favorite memories of a lifetime.

See the Marshall Arts Facebook page here:

Marshall Arts Glass

See a brief video of Mike here:

Mike Marentic


New York, New York, New York

So… I’ve actually been away from New York for a few months now, but it takes a while for the shock to wear off.

…and it’s impossible to cover NYC in a single blog post. I was there for an entire year, for one thing, and can’t possibly fit everything in. For another, it’s like taking a picture of a chameleon. It’s not that it’s particularly hard, it’s just that any picture you get is going to be wrong. The place can be Brooklyn home-brew made by a guy in a baseball cap. It can be the boho-chick cruising in the Lower East Side for The Pert and Lacy Vintage Find. It can be Wall Street rushing with tourists and suits, or the subtle, thrilling ahem of Trinity Church’s bell. It can be the always-endearing smell of smog in the Bronx. It can also be the drunk guy who asks you for directions and then heads in the direction opposite from the way you pointed.

Trinity Church 20140709-004
Trinity Church, in case that wasn’t clear
New York Stock Exchange Financial District NYC '14-052
NYSE, from an angle that makes it look fat…
Hard Rock Cafe-Times Square
Hard Rock Cafe

Or maybe it’s running in Central Park. Dumplings around the Bowery. Shopping in Chinatown. Chess by Union Square. Bar-hopping in the Village. Weird conversations with complete strangers at the Met. The variety is fantastic, but part of the reason there’s so much variety is because New York is schizo. It’s a technical term: schizo. NYC is just plain huge, and if you can manage to cram one and a half million people from different cultures and backgrounds on an 34 square mile island without getting anything interesting out of them, then you deserve that particular hell. Of course there’s also the M&M in Time Square, Broadway, the Chrysler Building, Grand Central, JFK, the MOMA, stuff like that. You know, tourist-bait.

Another reason I get along with New Yorkers: they loathe tourists. I even hate tourists when I’m a tourist. So when I say I don’t think New Yorkers are rude, you should probably take that with enough salt to give you a heart attack right here and now. As far as I’m concerned, if you’ve got a fellow ‘ugly american’ standing in the middle of a crowded street — full of people with actual places to go — to take a yet another crappy picture of yet another monochrome skyscraper, you are totally entitled to bitchslap their ass.

WTC 1 20140709-005WTC 1 20140709-023

The Statue of Liberty '14-061

If they ask you how to get to the Statue of Liberty… well, it’s a matter of taste. I like to point south and say something like “It’s real big. You can’t miss it.” And the Bull? “It’s somewhere around Wall Street, right?” Or I bob my head up and down and pretend that I speak nothing but Spanish.* And don’t bother holding out hope for the occasional nice person. Basically there are people like me, and then there are the ‘mystical givers-of-direction.’ E.g. “on Tuesday take 2nd avenue down to 27th street and turn widddershins-wise three times, if an Edible Bouquet truck appears, knock on the basement door in 7/8 time, and a leprechaun will pop up to guide you into the secret compartment of the thrift shop. Or not. But only try it on a Tuesday. Otherwise you’ll be stuck in the land of Left New York.” There’s something about New York encourages this kind of superstitious mode of navigation, though I’m not sure exactly what it is.

Perhaps you’ve gathered by now that I have no tolerance for people who can’t read maps. None. The one good thing about the subway system (which is otherwise terrible and prone to delays and/or explosions) is that there are maps posted everywhere, in multiple languages. All you need to do is find a subway station, and the entirety of New York is yours for low, low price of $2.50. Read:

NYC '13 Elizabeth II Sept 11 Garden NYC '13 Financial District 100_9246NYC '13 Central Park 100_9178 NYC '13 Central Park 100_9180

Of course, I understand that if you’re a tourist, you might not even ride the metaphorical Ganges that is the subway. I wouldn’t. Not if I was there to have a good time.

B&W NYC '14 -042
The idea was to remove the never-emptied trash cans to prevent rats. Because that was a great idea.
Trash opposite the Trash is a problem sign. Seems to be working (sarcasm)
Trash opposite ‘the Trash is a problem’ sign. Seems to be working </sarcasm>

…and tourists… they don’t really understand what they’re seeing is just Manhattan. Manhattan is not New York. Most people never see New York. Mostly because everyone is still too scared to go to Brooklyn. Which is odd, because it’s already becoming the new Queens — that is, boring and gentrified — and I found everyone from Brooklyn to be really nice. It’s the ones from the Bronx you need to watch out for. Seriously. That wasn’t just a joke that fell flat. They’re scary.

I learned a couple of really interesting things from my time in New York: a) you can wear almost anything as long as you wear it with heels and while driving a Mercedes, and b) there’s actually no free WiFi in many parts of the East Village. And I have a lot of pictures. Enough to bore several future generations

.West Side Architecture New Years 2014-2015 IMG_0690

*I’m pretty white, as white girls go, but I’m told that that if I speak Spanish rapidly enough and messily enough I can pass for Puerto Rican.


EDIT: Also deserving of another mention. The Metropolitan Museum of Art is easily my favorite New York Thing. My dear old mum feels very strongly that I should tell the entire internet that admission is still free. Essentially. It’s actually pay-what-you-want and the suggested $25 ‘admission donation’ is just that, a suggestion. This means, of course, that if you tend to hang out with embarrassing people (as I do,) they will use a nickel to pay for the entire party.

The City of Neon Lights, Las Vegas Overview

It should say something about me that I was actually more excited to see the Hoover Dam than Las Vegas. I don’t know what.. but it should say something.

The best way to get to Las Vegas is by plane. If you come by car — which, if you’re coming in from the east, requires driving through hundreds of miles of gritty, sunburnt desert — you’ll be ready to put up with anything as long as it’s in the shady air conditioning. And you will, believe me, you will. Not that I speak from personal experience of course.

I’ve been to Las Vegas twice now. The first time as a little kid, more than a decade ago when Las Vegas was trying to appear family friendly. There were dolphins to pet, lion cubs to ogle, klingons to scare the crap out of you and medieval jousts to keep the more bloodthirsty of us occupied. I’m sure of course, that I was unaware of a lot of things that were going on in the Las Vegas of 2000  that eight year olds should be unaware of. Occasionally I saw a few things I probably shouldn’t have, but I don’t think was scarred for life. At least I wasn’t, and then I went back. The center of the Las Vegas Strip still looks pretty much the same:

Around a decade after my first encounter with the rhinestone in Nevada’s crown, I drove through the Chihuahuan and Mojave deserts. Very different.  I was traveling with my family and since we were going through we decided to see Las Vegas, basically just because it was there.

In hindsight, Circus Circus was nowhere near as cool as it seemed when I was nine or eight. Figures. I’m not really sure what part of Las Vegas appeals to people in my demographic (i.e mousy little white girls) But.. for a prude who doesn’t gamble –and wasn’t even able to legally drink, don’t get me started on that — Las Vegas is  a garish, tastelessly flashy, desert hell. This is not to say that it wasn’t fascinating. It’s cool to see how companies can manage to efficiently extract money from people relatively painlessly. It’s also pretty interesting to try to figure out what allows Las Vegas, a city with no obvious natural resources and little else going for it, to continue existing.

Las Vegas begins to make sense when you realize that pretty much everything exists in its local form to make money. Of course this is a statement so obvious that it’s stupid, but it’s one that is strangely difficult to keep in mind.  No one who is trying to sell you something wants you to think about how much you’re actually spending. There are all sorts of little things that make Las Vegas seem different. The tiny, relatively uncomfortable rooms  are designed to encourage you to be out gambling or.. whatever. There’s the omnipresent cheap food. The food is weird at first, especially since you’re out in the desert and everything has to travel into the city, but  it makes perfect sense because the large profits from gambling essentially subsidize the  in-casino restaurants; meals are their loss leader. Maybe if you’re not concerned about how much it costs to eat out, you might spend more gambling, but I have no way to verify this.

In short: Las Vegas is pure tourist trap, it’s what every little charming New England village and quaintly dilapidated town in the Florida keys is afraid of becoming. Well plus some lights, and hookers, and traffic. People go there to pig out, ogle and generally make fools of themselves. This is actually pretty intelligent; the nice thing about traveling is that if you act like a complete and utter idiot it is no big deal, because you’re most likely never going to see anyone again. And if you do, you can pretend you forgot. Not that I know any of this from personal experience either.

So we went to all the really  famous places:

We unanimously decided to go to the Rio (pictures here.) Mostly because it was kinda out of the way. Also, to put it kindly, if not too eloquently, we expected it to be a bust. The Rio is probably designed with a younger, more active crowd in mind. If you liked Mardi Gras but just couldn’t get a handle on the weird french stuff, you might like the Rio.

Continue reading “The City of Neon Lights, Las Vegas Overview”

The Rio and Caesar’s Palace (Las Vegas)

Map of the Strip
Map of the Strip

I’d probably better let the pictures speak for themselves.

The Rio:

Inside the Rio Hotel
Inside the Rio Hotel
The Rio - deeper into the rabbit hole
The tacky decor and Chippendales that I promised

The next day we went to Caesar’s Palace to ogle like true touristas: 

Entrance to Caesar's Palace
Entrance to Caesar’s Palace
Horse Statue - Caesar's Palace
Somewhat self-evidently, a statue of a horse
Caryatid Caesar's Palace
Caryatid Caesar’s Palace
Another Caryatid Caesar's Palace
Another Picture of the Caryatid Caesar’s Palace
Statue Caesar's Palace
Another Lobby Statue, Caesar’s Palace