Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Taking A Leap For Leap Year (Literally)

I blame it on Montreal. Roaming through  the streets of La Belle Ville means encountering all manner of circus arts, from stilt walkers in front of stores to aerialists on the streets. It's not the home of Cirque Du Soleil for nothing. I think such close encounters with high flying performers lodged a lot of curiosity in my mind. So when the notion of doing something unusual for Leap Year arrived what did I do? I signed up for flying trapeze class. I don't think this sort of learning environment would have seemed fun to me before Montreal.  I have not thought fully about all the details, I've just decided to do it.  After all, Chicago Trapeze School's  motto is "Forget fear. Worry about the addiction."  Right. So have your travels inspired you to do anything you wouldn't ordinarily do?

Sunday, February 26, 2012

A Hawaiian Hello

I was greeted with a variety of expressions when I visited Kaua'i. Besides the famous Aloha, which claims many layers of meaning, from hello to love, I learned that Hawaiians pour a lot of thought into saying hello. It's all about the Aloha spirit, which literally translates to sharing breath and being present in the essence of life. From younger Hawaiians, I heard, Pehea 'oe? which means how are you or what's up?  I was also  honored with a traditional greeting of  gently pressing foreheads together, which threw me off guard initially. Now I understand that according to traditional Hawaiian beliefs, words and bones contain mana or energy and spiritual power. The frontal bone of the forehead represents the true self and pressing your forehead against some else's opens the true self to each other. Most memorably, I was instructed in the Hawaiian "Shaka" greeting by the imitable Dickie Chang, above.  Dickie is a popular TV show host and a member of the Kaua'i County Council. He's also an expert on all things Hawaiian , which includes the "Shaka". I vaguely recognized it as a surfer "Hang Ten" symbol but Dickie explained that the pinkie and thumb salute is the original Hawaiian signal for hanging loose and everything being alright. Shaking your pinkie and thumb and adding the phrase, "Shaka, brah!" means you are a totally cool Hawaiian, as President Obama demonstrates, below. Have you picked up any unusual greeting during your travels?

Friday, February 24, 2012

A Tea Tasting Trip

So I love tea. I won't have anything to do with coffee but tea? I have a special cabinet crammed with dozens of boxes and I never pass up a chance to sample a new flavor.  When the opportunity to explore a tea tasting trip arrived, you know I was there. A handful of countries  are noted for excellent tea. No, I didn't visit India, China or Japan, this trip unfolded on a frosty winter day in Chicago, at the Loose Leaf Lounge.

I've experienced all sorts of tastings, from chocolate to conch but I never tried a tea tasting. There were many categories to choose from, including tea for health, unusual teas and intro to teas but I couldn't pass up dessert teas.  Just look at the teas we sampled above. I don't know about you but names like Chocolate Indulgence and Almond joi  are tempting just from the names alone.

Our guide was the genial Lester, owner of the Loose Leaf Lounge. He informed us that his original idea was for a Kool Aid Cafe but I'm glad he got over that. He started us off by letting us smell the tea and savor the aroma of the different leaves and fruits. Lester told us a Japanese legend about a monk discovering tea after tearing his eyeballs out but I suspect that's a story that developed from over caffeinated tea masters.

Lester brewed our teas in a see- through kettle and I learned that 90% of tea flavor comes from the water, which is why steeping is important. 205 degrees is the temperature water boils at but you're not supposed to let the kettle start whistling. That's definitely news to me, I'm afraid that I've burned up quite a few kettles by letting the water over boil and dry up.

Lester displayed a chart illustrating the drying process for black, white and green teas.  I only drink white, green and herbal teas because I'm sensitive to caffeine but it was fun sipping a range of tea flavors. Can you guess which one I picked as my sample to take home?

Gaze at that gorgeous rose color above, the flavor was just as vivid.  That's Almond Joi, it tastes sweet and coconutty and I'm sipping a cup of it right now. I also bought a canister of Pina Colada tea because you can never have too much coconut anything.  Do you have any favorite flavors ?

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Jean Paul Gaultier in Montreal

One of the most memorable experiences that I had in Montreal wasn't the Jazz Fest (sorry Cubano) or the impressive art and foodie scenes. I was actually blown away by "The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From The Sidewalk to the Catwalk" at the Montreal Museum of Fine Art.  I expected to spend a few hours browsing through this traveling exhibit but I ended up devoting six straight hours to this exhaustive, multimedia, display of  the art of fashion.  Walking up the black carpeted steps with Jean Paul Gaultier's name in lights, I didn't  quite know what to expect. This didn't look like any museum exhibit I had ever witnessed.

How right I was. This was clearly unlike any museum show, fashion or otherwise. I was greeted by a talking mannequin of Jean Paul himself, shown above. He spoke in his own voice, in French, English and Spanish. The mannequin's face flashed with expressions and movements. It was eerie but fascinating all the same.

The exhibit showcases 130 ensembles and accessories designed by Gaultier from 1976-2010. Even if you've never heard of Gaultier or know nothing about fashion, many of the designs will be familiar. His cultural impact is so broad that pieces like his cone bras popularized by Madonna, or the corsets that are now hot again, cross all sorts of social and categorical boundaries.  The sailor dress above, is from his "Odyssey of Jean Paul Gaultier" section.

Gaultier is known for dipping into religious as well as cultural iconography so the crowns and altarpiece tapestries weren't surprising.  The head covering on the mannequin above appeared even creepier by the eye movements that it made.

This is another example of Gaultier's religious mining, with a modified halo. Photos were only allowed in the first section, so I didn't get pix for the "Boudoir" section, which was filled with corsets, cone bras and lots of bondage symbolism that represented his reinterpretation of the "imprisoned female body."  There was also a catwalk with rotating outfits, a display of his fashion illustrations, and a film section showing clips of movies that Gaultier designed costumes for including "The Fifth Element," Bad Education" and "The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and His Lover". (I highly recommend all.)  There was even a showcase of Gaultier's childhood teddy bear and the cone bra that he fashioned for it out of newspaper.

Famous for pushing boundaries, Gaultier designs provocative pieces for women and men. The sailor designs above are tame enough but the designer was the first to put men in skirts, below.

There was so much to absorb in this exhibit that I can't begin to cover half of it.  I left with aching feet and a mind exploding with colors, shapes and analysis. The exhibit is in Dallas now and will move to San Francisco in March before heading to Spain, The Netherlands and Sweden.  Don't miss it if you have any opportunity to see it, it is not just for fashion lovers.  Here's a video that gives a glimpse of what it covers: