Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Things to do in DC: Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum

I've always been fascinated by wax museums; there's something undeniably neat yet creepy about them. It feeds my voyeuristic tendencies, without actually requiring that I get up close and personal with famous people. So I feel naughty, but haven't really done anything wrong.

The only problem with going to Madame Tussaud's in DC is that it is ridiculously expensive. For $18 I would expect a personally guided tour with my own personal wax figure to take home as a parting gift. Fortunately, Madame Tussaud's is having a winter sale (or as I like to call it, a "dear god please come in before we have to close due to this shitty economy" sale) and the cost of an adult ticket is only $10. So on a chilly Friday after Christmas, Carly, Rachel, Rachel's sister, and I took off to enjoy us some wax figures. '

First off, it's worth noting that some of the wax people are more realistic than others. The Beyonce figure looked almost nothing like her, while I freaked myself out in the hall of Presidents by constantly thinking the wax figures were real people. In my defense, they were positioned around the room such that they could have been fellow tourists. When I saw them out of the corner of my eye, there was always a moment of confusion before the brain kicked in an realized they were just wax.

Also, while the price was greatly reduced, the Madame Tussaud's experience comes down to walking around a couple rooms and staring at wax mannequins of famous people. We were through the whole thing in approximately 20 minutes, and if I had paid $18 for that I would have been kinda pissed. So, in conclusion, it was fun, but probably not worth the money. But good thing I had my camera to document our hijinks!

Rachel shaking hands with Thomas Jefferson.

Carly getting fresh with Robert E. Lee.

Rachel attending the theater with Abraham Lincoln (sidenote: this set-up was actually really creepy since they had you sitting right next to Lincoln right before he got assassinated. It felt kind of...wrong).

My championing civil rights alongside Martin Luther King, Jr.

Me being interrogated by J. Edgar Hoover. I didn't do it, I swear! Communism was just a red herring!

Carly and I gaze adoringly at President-Elect Obama.

President Margaret and Chief of Staff Carly.

Carly gets fresh with Johnny Depp.

Me and George. Look, we're holding hands!

I help Tiger line up his next shot.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Year of teh Suck

Dear God, will this year never end? I think I can say without using too much hyperbole that this has been a crappy year all around. Mom's heart attack, Mom's abdominal cyst, my Aunt's thyroid cancer, my Grandmother not feeling well as a remnant of last winter's colon cancer, the looming possibility of my brother becoming unemployed (he works for GM, natch), and the various things that have decided to break in my condo this year have all combined to render this a sucky year overall.

And while everyone has pretty much recovered from their various health crises, and with the auto bailout deal it appears my brother will not become unemployed, and all appliances that broke have been replaced, let me just say that I will not be sorry to see this year end.

In fact, for the first time ever, I have decided to celebrate the new year by doing nothing at all. It's not a secret that I hate the holiday New Years, but usually I suck it up and go out and have some fun. But this year, I intend to have a quiet night. Dinner with my Dad and Grandmother and then coming home and going to bed. The plan is to wake up to 2009 feeling refreshed and hangover-free.

Not to say that this year did not have it's bright spots. My vacation/cruise was definitely the highlight, and the usual fun with friends and family was had, but honestly, this year needs to end. I don't know what it is about a simple flipping over of the calendar page, but it really does seem to make a difference with our mental well-being.

Oh, but before I get to the real point of this post (posting some of my holiday pictures), I thought I would share one anecdote. As I neared the end of the year, I began to see the light at the end of the tunnel, but leave it to 2008 to find one last way to screw me over. As you might remember, this year began with a knock on my front door at 2 in the morning on New Year's Day. My downstairs neighbor had come to inform me that water was leaking from his ceiling in the bathroom. This was because the wax seal on my toilet had broken. I got it repaired and paid for the replastering of his ceiling and all seemed well.

Until Saturday morning when I woke to discover water pooled on my bathroom floor from the ginormous crack in the base of my toilet (to which my mother of course commented, "you must sit on it too hard." Like, WTF, Mom?) So almost a year to the date when it had previously broken, the toilet and 2008 decided to have one last laugh. I scurried off to Home Depot to purchase a new toilet, conned a friend to help me carry me up to my apartment, and had a plumber come out to install it. $400 later, I have a bold-looking (it's Kohler!) new toilet. Swell.

Ok, enough negative stuff! Let's get to the good stuff. Fun holiday happenings!

My Dad's dog, Lumpy, decided it would be a good idea to sit on a big stack of presents. Bonus dog hair with your gift!

Dad's telling Bill on the phone how much he enjoys his gift: a new gun. *sigh*

My Grandmother is not one for big shows of emotion. So trust me when I tell you that this half-smile when she unwrapped her lighthouse magnet was pretty effusive.

Here's me with a big bow on my head. So just your typical Thursday night then.

Mom seems really happy to get that new knife. What is it with my family and gifting weapons? In a side note, I just want to assure everyone that while I was pretty depressed that my brother would not be home for Christmas this year (for the first time ever...he had to go see the in-laws), my Mom and I ended up having a great day. And while we missed Bill, we made our own fun! Such as going out to dinner at the Chart House; I was so not going to cook.

Mom was really surprised by the Spode Christmas ornament I gave her. Either that or she is very perplexed.

My big gift from Mom was a gold pineapple (the Virginia symbol for hospitality) pendant. You can kind of see it here.

Here's Mom showing off her new scarf (from Bill and Amanda), and her new pants (from me). What a fashion plate!

Here's me at the little Christmas tree at the Old Town waterfront (by the Chart House).

And here's Mom with the tree wearing her Russian hat. Well, that's what I like to call it, since it's fur and all.

The day after Christmas, my old roommate Jennifer and her husband Mike drove up for some Friday night karaoke. Since they have a one year old, they needed some adult fun time! Which of course means booze, dancing, and drunk singing. Woot!

King Street in Old Town Alexandria at night.

Me and Carly.

Carly, Rosslyn, Me, and Jen on the dance floor!

Roommates reunited!

Sultry Jen and Mike!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Acropolis and the Parthenon

The big highlight of Athens is the Acropolis and the Parthenon. Our bus dropped us off at the base of the large hill and we hiked up, although, to be honest, it didn't seem that steep. Good design perhaps? It was built by those crazy architecture loving ancient Greeks.

Under the cultural significance heading of the wikipedia entry it states: every four years the Athenians held a festival called the Panathenaea that rivaled the Olympic Games in popularity. During the festival, a procession moved through Athens up to the Acropolis and into the Parthenon (as depicted in the frieze on the inside of the Parthenon). There, a vast robe of woven wool was ceremoniously placed on Phidias' massive ivory and gold statue of Athena.

So basically, the Acropolis was where the ancient Greeks would party-down.

As you begin to climb higher on a stone path lined by trees, gaps in the brush allows glimpses of the spectacular view to come.

After a few minutes, you break through the trees, and on your right is the Odeon of Herodes Atticus. Which is best known to me as the setting of Elton John's Live! From the Acropolis! concert. And of course, John Tesh's Acropolis concert. Random? Yes.

If you look over the Theatre, you get amazing views of Athens.

In 437 BC construction started on the Propylaea, monumental gates with columns of Pentelic marble, partly built upon the old propylaea of Pisistratus. These colonnades were almost finished in the year 432 BC and had two wings, the northern one serving as picture gallery.

Here is what remains of the Propylaea today. As you can see, a huge restoration project in underway, and unfortunately, the scaffolding obscures a lot of the view.

Here's another view of the Propylaea.

At the same time, south of the propylaea, building of the small Ionic Temple of Athena Nike was commenced. After an interruption caused by the Peloponnesian War, the temple was finished in the time of Nicias' peace, between 421 BC and 415 BC.

Far away view of the Temple of Athena Nike....

And extreme close-up view!

The big draw of the Acropolis, is of course, the Parthenon. From wiki: a temple of the Greek goddess Athena, built in the 5th century BC on the Athenian Acropolis. It is the most important surviving building of Classical Greece, generally considered to be the culmination of the development of the Doric Order. Its decorative sculptures are considered one of the high points of Greek art. The Parthenon is regarded as an enduring symbol of ancient Greece and of Athenian democracy, and one of the world's greatest cultural monuments.

The Parthenon replaced an older temple of Athena, called the Pre-Parthenon or Older Parthenon, that was destroyed in the Persian Invasion of 480 BC. Like most Greek temples, the Parthenon was used as a treasury. In the 6th century AD, the Parthenon was converted into a Christian Church dedicated to the Virgin. After the Ottoman Conquest, it was converted into a mosque in the early 1460s, and it even had a minaret. On 26 September 1687 an Ottoman ammunition dump inside the building was ignited by Venetian bombardment. The resulting explosion severely damaged the Parthenon and its sculptures.

The Parthenon.

Detail of the Parthenon's engravings

To the left of the Parthenon is the Erechtheum.

The temple as seen today was built between 421 and 407 BCE. It derived its name from a shrine dedicated to the legendary Greek hero, Erichthonius. It is believed to have been a replacement for an older temple destroyed by the Persians in 480 BCE.

On the north side, there is another large porch with columns, and on the south, the famous "Porch of the Maidens", with six draped female figures (caryatids) as supporting columns, each sculpted in a manner different from the rest and engineered in such a way that their slenderest part, the neck, is capable of supporting the weight of the porch roof whilst remaining graceful and feminine. The porch was built to conceal the giant 15-ft beam needed to support the southwest corner over the metropolis, after the building was drastically reduced in size and budget following the onset of the Peloponnesian War.

Looking to the right of the Parthenon, you look over the edge of the Acropolis and down towards the Theatre of Dionysus Eleuthereus.

And if you look waaaaaaaay to the distance you can see the remains of the Temple of Zeus.

The Temple of Zeus at Olympia, built in 470-456 BCE, was the ancient Greek temple in dedicated to the chief of the gods, Zeus. It was the very model of the fully-developed classical Greek temple of the Doric order. The temple stood in the most famous sanctuary of Greece, which had been dedicated to local and Pan-Hellenic deities and had probably been established towards the end of the Mycenaean period. The Altis, the enclosure with its sacred grove, open-air altars was first formed during the tenth and ninth centuries BCE, when the cult of Zeus joined the established cult of Hera. (PS: I love it when wiki has things like, "the very model of." People are so cute)

Close-up Temple of Zeus.

And now for some random pics:

Athens from the Acropolis.

This is the radical thing about Greece. Anywhere you look you come across a random ancient temple. Here is another one dedicated to Athena.

Our awesome tour group!

Greek flag on the Acropolis.

Looking back at the Parthenon

Me and Whitney, who, along with her husband, Andrew, Chris, Kent, and I, made friends with on the ship and come to find out they live just down the road here in Alexandria!

Kent, me, and Chris at the Acropolis.

A flower amidst the broken stones.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Things to do in DC: The Washington Ballet

When I was younger, I loved ballet. I even took a class for about a year when I was around 7. Obviously, I didn't stick with it, but I always loved the idea of it. When I got old enough to actually attend ballet performances, the shine had worn off, and I realized that most ballet is actually kind of boring. Case in point: my friend Dorilyn and I went to see Swan Lake earlier this year performed by a visiting Russian ballet company at George Mason, and while it was beautiful, it was very traditional, lasted approximately 3 hours, and was kinda boring. The dancers were wonderful, the costumes beautiful but it was just....boring.

Cut to yesterday when my Mom and I attended the Washington Ballet's annual production of The Nutcracker, and I'm ready to take it all back. This wasn't boring; this was thrilling, funny, touching, and beautiful. But The Nutcracker, and the Washington Ballet's staging of it, has a few things going for it that make it better than your usual ballet.

First of all, it's very Washington specific, and since I love the city, I appreciate the little touches. The party at Clara's home takes place in an 1882 Georgetown mansion, and features appearances from a Civil War veteran, the head of a posh DC school, and Frederick Douglass, a DC resident at the time. When Clara sees the battle between the mice and toy soldiers under the Christmas tree, it turns into a battle between the red coats and the colonials, and the Rat King appears as King George III and the Nutcracker Prince is George Washington. In Act II, the Divertissement numbers are performed in the land of Springtime in the Tidal Basin under the blooming cheery blossoms, and instead of the dance of the Sugar Plum fairies, it's the dance of the cherry blossoms. Finally, the slow Divertissement for coffee (the Arab dance) was a simmering sensual number performed by two Anacostian Indians that wasn't overtly racy, but was danced with such passion, I worried about the kids in the audience ("Mommy, why is that buff shirtless Indian guy putting his hands there?").

Another thing that separates The Nutcracker from other ballets, is its incorporation of younger dancers. The Washington Ballet uses dancers from its school in The Nutcracker and they play the roles of Clara, the Nutcracker Prince, teens and children at the Act I party, and various animals, clowns, etc. in Act II. The kids (especially the really young ones) are adorable and precious and make me remember when I dreamed I had a future as a ballet dancer. They are genuinely joyful and their enthusiasm easily spreads to the audience.

Also making a point in favor of The Nutcracker is the music. While Tchaikovsky stated that it was his least favorite of all his ballets, it is without a doubt, his most well known. Which means that I was familiar with almost all 2 hours of the music; from television, Disney's Fantasia, and my Christmas CDs which include most of the numbers. I can't speak for others, but I find ballet more engaging when I know the music and can focus on the interpretation provided by the dance.

And finally, if I can just gush for a moment, the staging of this ballet is fantastic. The choreography is new and interesting (except perhaps the Pas Des Deux performed by the Dew Drop Fairy and her Prince near the end which is very "traditional" ballet) and was done by Septime Webre, whose other work I would love to check out. The costumes are amazing from the nineteenth century party guests, to the snowflakes (pictured), the cardinals, the frontiersman, the toy soldiers, the cherry blossoms, etc. etc. etc. Oh, and the kids outfits were all freaking adorable! And the sets were beautiful. During Act II the spring-time Tidal Basin was like a dream, and the stage literally dripped with delicate cherry blossoms. After the battle under the Christmas Tree, Clara and the Nutcracker Prince enter a snowy wonderland where snow falls from above the stage for at least 20 minutes during the dancing and really helps transport the audience.

See the snow falling?! And how pretty the costumes are for the snowflakes?! And how pretty and elegant they all are?! Sorry, gushing again.

Anyway, I think this show might have to become a yearly tradition, because I absolutely loved it. And if they continue to offer $30 orchestra seats, I am definitely on board!