Katie Knows What They Do To Those Chickens

April 6, 2011

I’m not sure what made me decide to read Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals. You might assume it was a way of reaffirming my own vegetarian beliefs, but I don’t think that’s the reason. For one thing, I currently have bacon in my freezer. For another, about a month ago I ordered, paid for, and ate a pulled pork barbecue sandwich. There is no definition of “vegetarian” that applies to my dietary habits over the past month or even the past two years, since I began eating fish. While still telling myself (and others) that I’m a vegetarian, I’m at best a pescatarian. Add pork to my diet and I’m just a person with weirdly limited eating habits.

Really I think the decision to read Eating Animals had more to do with the author than anything else. Not only have I read and enjoyed other works (novels) by Foer, but while reading Everything is Illuminated I developed a little bit of a weird crush on the author. The picture on the back cover with him in his white t-shirt and glasses really did it for me, I don’t know why. So I think I read his most recent because he’s an author I admire – both for his writing style and his looks.

I suppose all this is to say that I think it is by chance that almost exactly six years after I became a full-fledged vegetarian, I’m renewing my commitment to this lifestyle, decision, belief, whatever you want to call it. That means no more bacon, no more pork, no more fish, hopefully no more lusting after the fried chicken advertised in a Daily Candy email but certainly no caving in and eating it. I have no idea what I’m going to do with the bacon in my freezer, or the salmon I will be served at a wedding next month. All I know is that after reading about the atrocities that happen in the name of American tastebuds, it’s impossible not to think about what we are doing to our bodies, animals, the earth, and our humanity.

Foer began his search for answers when he became a father. He wanted to know what to tell his child when he was asked where food came from. He also wanted to figure out what the healthiest options were for his family. He was not a vegetarian when he started his research, but he was by the time he finished. It is hard to imagine that anyone who reads this book would be able to continue being an omnivore. If the descriptions of factory farms, animal (mis)treatment, and disease aren’t enough to convince you, Foer plainly lays out the logical reasons why the typical arguments in favor of eating meat just don’t hold water. The most significant point, I think, is the idea of the species barrier, which Foer explains in the most jarring, explicit way possible (you need to read it). The species barrier addresses the question: why are some animals considered fit to be food and others aren’t? These decisions are not universal, they are cultural and/or situational. If the decision to eat chickens and not cats is arbitrary, then what leg do omnivores really have to stand on? No one can honestly argue that it is healthier to eat meat. It’s been proven that it is at least as healthy if not healthier to be vegetarian.

It is everyone’s responsibility – vegetarian, omnivore, vegan – to come up with a new game plan because the current methods are unacceptable and simply should not be tolerated. The facts make it impossible to believe that anyone can stand idly by and think that this is an issue that doesn’t apply to them. Even if you are a vegetarian, the whole situation has a sort of second-hand smoke effect to it; you can’t be a non-smoker hanging out with smokers everyday and be shocked when you get lung cancer, and you can’t be a vegetarian who is shocked when, for example, you contract the pandemic that factory farming is leading us to. No matter your eating habits, we can no longer afford to ignore this issue, to continue in our apathetic ways, believing that some greater power will fix the problems we are creating.

Which leads us to God. As this is a book by Jonathan Safran Foer, you know that religion is going to be a factor. Religious beliefs, cultural practices, traditions – all of these come in to play when deciding what to eat and when and how to eat it. Oddly, my vegetarianism came about as a result of giving up meat (along with alcohol and desserts) for Lent my junior year of college. I say oddly because as a Baptist, it’s not really “required” that you give up anything, and I never had before (that I can remember), certainly not with any success. When I gave up eating meat, I had no intention of remaining a vegetarian for longer than a few months, just like I had no intention of never drinking alcohol or eating desserts again. And yet, vegetarianism stuck. Perhaps it was because I found it strangely easy not to eat meat. Sure, every once in a while I craved my mom’s fried chicken, bacon, etc. But on the whole I felt better and knew I didn’t need to eat meat. I started getting fewer colds. I started losing some of the freshmen fifteen I had gained. I just felt better. And so for the next four years, I did not (knowingly) eat any animal products besides dairy and eggs.

That parenthetical “knowingly” is a big issue, though, because at what point do you draw your vegetarian line in the sand? Does eating a marshmallow mean you’re no longer vegetarian because it has gelatin? Do you ask whether or not your meal at a restaurant contains beef or chicken broth or if it was cooked in the same pan as meat? Do you eat the ham biscuit your boss bought you for breakfast because it would be rude not to? It’s a slippery slope to make concessions in your diet. Before you know it, you’re eating fish and storing bacon in your freezer.

I hope I haven’t been preaching too much, but at the same time I hope I have. I want people to think about what the food they eat means, not just how it tastes. The consequences of what you put on your plate are bigger than just your waistline. I know that I’ve started to reconsider what I eat and don’t eat (not just meat) since reading this book. When my nephew offered me a pepperoni and I refused it, he asked me what it meant to be a vegetarian. I answered with a simple “It means I don’t eat meat” rather than what I’m sure my sister was terrified I would say: “It means I’m trying not to take part in the killing and eating of fish like Nemo, pigs like Babe and Wilbur.” Increasingly, I’m thinking it wouldn’t hurt to talk to my nephew in a more direct way about what it means to eat meat. Or at least, it wouldn’t hurt to give my sister (and everyone I love) a copy of Eating Animals.


Katie’s Book Report

November 12, 2008

The one (and probably only) good thing about having an hour plus commute to work and back on public transportation is that I have plenty of time to read.  While many of my fellow passengers are staring off into space, listening to their iPods, I have been busy solving murders in 19th-century England.  (My sister recently recommended three different authors who write novels along these lines, and I’m steadily making my way through all of them.  I’m starting to realize she might be a sucker for historical fiction…)

I’m currently reading something completely different: The Genius by Jesse Kellerman.  My background in art history makes me particularly interested in fiction that deals with art, artists, the art market, etc.  (Other good novels working with these topics include Zadie Smith’s On Beauty and Dara Horn’s The World to Come.)  The Genius is a mystery of sorts (one of my favorite genres, obviously) set in the world of art dealing.  Our protagonist, Ethan Muller, is a gallery owner who comes across drawings by an artist, Victor Cracke, who is not only unknown but apparently missing.  During the course of his search for the artist, and the uncovering of the artist’s seemingly murky past, Ethan gives us a glimpse into the world of New York commercial art galleries.

Early on in the novel, Ethan makes a point about galleries that is actually similar to one I made in an art history paper my senior year at Duke.  Ethan notes, “Without [art dealers] there would be no Modernism, no Minimalism, no movements at all.  All the contemporary legends would be painting houses or teaching adult education classes.  Museum collections would grind to a halt after the Renaissance; sculptors would still be carving pagan gods; video would be the province of pornography; graffiti a petty crime rather than the premise behind a multimillion-dollar industry.  Art, in short, would cease to thrive.  And this is because – in a post-Church, post-patronage era – dealers refine and pipeline the fuel that drives art’s engine, that has always driven it and always will: money (28).”  Basically, art galleries are at the center of the art market.  Galleries provide museums with a good indication of what the public wants to see or is interested in.  In addition, it is mostly up to galleries to “discover” new artists, get the public interested, thus inspirinig museums to collect the artists’ works as well.  While I’m sure the process is much more intricately detaile than this, and I certainly don’t claim to know everything there is to know about the relationship between galleries and museums, this is at least how I have witnessed it working during my time working at a commercial art gallery.

Ethan also develops a rather cynical view of the art market during the course of the novel.  However cynical it may be, it does strike me as rather accurate.  The truth is that selling art, while it has its positive moments, can be intensely depressing.  Your job is essentially to convince a filthy rich person to buy a painting/sculpture/photograph/drawing/other art object by an artist who is most likely struggling just to get by, living in a lower socioeconomic situation than the buyer.  The buyer and the artist can have radically different views of the art – one seeing it as an investment, as something that will make him/her appear cultured, and, in the worst cases, as a decorative object that will compliment his/her living room decor; while the other side typically has a more personal relationship with the art, thinking of it as a creation, a child, an expression of the self.  (Of course this is not how all collectors view art, but it does happen.)  As an art dealer, you have to reconcile the two conflicting sides, realizing that if you don’t sell the painting to the person who thinks it will look great with their couch, in the end you are hurting both yourself (the gallery) and the artist, even if you are trying to preserve the integrity of the work.  Essentially, you have to sell when there is a sale to be made, no matter how “undeserving” the buyer may seem.  (By the way, someone really did buy a painting from the gallery I worked at because they thought it would look good with their couch.  Painful.)

On the other hand, sometimes the dealer has to turn shit into gold, a la Piero Manzoni, selling a show that ends up being underwhelming, convincing the buyer that it is, essentially, a good investment because of the created brand name of the artist.

And this is the other point that Ethan is making in the above quote: the dealer is a creative force along the same lines as the artist.  While he seems to be boasting about the importance of the dealer, there is also a sense in his statements that it is not necessarily a good thing that the dealer has taken on this creative role.  Ethan’s own desire to create a market for Victor Crackes has resulted in his own ability to deny both the artist as human and the artist as creator.  Simply put, “A piece of art becomes a piece of art – and an artist becomes an artist – when I [the art dealer] make you take out your checkbook (29).”  This is hardly a new idea and certainly not one that artists are unfamiliar with; just take a look at the readymades (yay, Duchamp!) or the aforementioned Piero Manzoni.  It doesn’t matter what the artist creates, as along as the dealer can create a market for it.

The Genius is a really well-written book that also tells an insightful story, even if you aren’t as interested in art or the art market as this blogger.  As indicated by the title of this novel, Kellerman is really toying with the issue of what it means to have genius or what it means in our society to be considered a genius (a discussion also at the center of Smith’s On Beauty.)  Is this designation based solely on one part of a life?  Can an artistic genius do whatever else he wants in his personal life, no matter how antisocial?  Are such eccentricities perhaps even necessary to be considered a genius?  As the book jacket questions, “Is Cracke a genius?  A murderer?  Both?  Is there a difference?”  Not to wander too far off topic, I finished watching Spike Lee’s Malcolm X this morning.  There is a part near the end where Mr. X’s hotel room has been bugged, and two men are listening to his phone conversation with his wife.  One says to the other, “Compared to King, this guy’s a saint.”  And yet Martin Luther King, Jr. is the civil rights leader we learn the most about in school.  Is King any less of a role model because of his extracurricular activities?  Should we admire him any less since his philandering is in direct contrast to society’s morals?  Was Clinton any less of a great president because of Monica Lewinsky?  Obviously this is not how we approach the idea of a great “man.”  Does the personal remain personal?  How many people have to be affected by your deeds in order for it to tarnish your reputation as great or genius?

Ok, I may have gone off topic.  But I believe these questions are integral to the understanding of Kellerman’s novel.  One would assume there is a difference between murderer and genius, but can we divide a person into two entities like that?  Can we declare one part genius and one part murderer or do they inform each other?  Should a murderer be considered a genius in any realm?  Well?  What do you think??

Anyhow, I highly recommend The Genius, even though I haven’t finished it!  But don’t take my word for it…

Katie Wants to Take You to…H-Town

September 7, 2008

Ok, I’ve been remiss in my bogging duties, I know it. And what’s worse, it’s been about two months since I visited Dallas and Houston, so I’m starting to forget everything I saw there. But I promise I’ll do my best with this post. Hang in there.

The day I went to Houston was the same day that one of the many hurricanes this season hit the Texas coastline, so it was raining cats and dogs. Not fun weather to drive in, but definitely ok weather for hanging out in a museum all day. My first stop was the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Huge, absolutely huge. And it had this really weird floorplan because I think it was technically two buildings that had been linked by an underground tunnel (transformed into a Turrell piece, of course). Anyway, I wandered through pretty much all of the museum in about three or four hours, I think. There were some good shows going on, too. One was “In the Forest of Fontainebleau: Painters and Photographers from Corot to Monet” which had some really great landscapes (uh…yeah, Katie, we got that from the title), some of which even involved sheep. I like sheep. You’re just going to have to trust me when I say that my papers on art for classes don’t sound this ridiculous…Read my thesis if you don’t believe me (hint, hint, family members). So while I’m wandering around this exhibit that is a mixture of photographs and landscapes from about the same time period, mid-1800s to late-1800s, I overhear a conversation between a grandmother and her grandson, where she explains to him that there are painted landscapes because people didn’t have photography back in the day. I’m not the type to step in when someone is clearly making a mistake in the education of their children, but I was wondering how she thought the little display of a mid-nineteenth-century camera beside an easel and paints fit in with the whole exhibit. Odd, very odd. Check out the dates on those exhibition stickers, lady.

I was a little disappointed by how few paintings and sculptures the museum had from the modern to contemporary time period. They had about five or six rooms of modern art, and pretty much just the one for contemporary. Granted, they had a really fun Oldenburg in the contemporary section (ok, aren’t they all fun?), some nice Rothkos, etc, but I needed more! Especially since my two Texas museum trips clarified for me that it is not really modern art that is my first love, but contemporary. I had no idea! Seriously, during one of the Greenhill symposiums at UT, a PhD student in modern art made an ill-advised comment at the end of his presentation about how contemporary art didn’t make any sense to him and seemed superficial or something like that, and I was thinking, “Well, I wouldn’t have announced that thought to the entire art history faculty and students, but I agree.” But now, NOW, I think that I’d much rather look at a Rothko or a Jasper Johns than a Picasso. And, really, it wasn’t that big of a leap for me, since Duchamp was obviously my favorite artist, and he had a huge influence on art from the late 1950s and on to the present. Ok, back to the story…

I explored everything in the first building, ate lunch, and then walked along the little Turrell tunnel installation to the other building, which seemed to be where they kept their non-Western art and temporary exhibits. One of the exhibits on display, “End Game: British Contemporary Art from the Chaney Family Collection,” was truly morbid. Other (better) bloggers have written about the dangers of censorship, but I have to say that watching a dad hold his child up so he could see a Model Village of the Damned was a little disturbing. I mean, yes, this model included figures not unlike the little toy soldiers that boys often play with, but some of these were missing body parts, hanging in trees, covered in something that looked like blood, tiny toy vultures poking at their carcasses. There were heads on stakes. You get the idea. I had a hard time believing that I would have wanted my little, sweet, innocent nephew to see art based on such horrific, although human, situations. The show also had several Damien Hirsts, including a canvas covered in housefly bodies, a bull’s heart with a dagger through it, and a medicine cabinet.

The second part of my day in Houston involved a trip over to the Menil Collection compound. This is in a really pretty part of Houston, but don’t ask me to get specific, because Houston is a quite large city (fourth in the U.S.), and I basically only knew how to get where I was going and back out again. The Menil Collection is made up of several different buildings spread out over a small area. There is a main building, containing most of the collection, then there is the Rothko Chapel, a Cy Twombly gallery, a Flavin installation, and a Byzantine fresco chapel. I had visited the Menil Collection one other time with my icons class, so I had seen the main building, the Flavin installation, and the Byzantine chapel (of course). This time I skipped Flavin and the icons and went to the main building, the Twombly gallery, and the Rothko Chapel. The Menil might be one of my favorite museum-type-things that I’ve ever been to. It’s right up there with the Philadelphia Museum of Art and MoMA. It’s small, so you can easily spend time actually looking at things rather than feeling like you have to hurry to see everything. And it’s mainly from the modern period on up, which suits my tastes. They have an amazing Surrealist collection, more Magrittes than they know what to do with, I think. When I visited with my class, we were taken back into their storage spaces, which had walls that were just littered with fabulous paintings. It was almost shocking to look at. I mean, you hear about how much art is kept in basements or warehouses because museums simply don’t have the space to show it all, but it is just truly remarkable to see it all grouped together in one place. Really overwhelming. And that’s why you should want to work in a museum—the access!

I think my favorite part of the Houston trip was the Cy Twombly gallery. Honestly, I was a little disappointed with the Rothko Chapel. I mean, Rothko is certainly not one of my favorites, but I do like his work. I guess I just wasn’t expecting what I got. It was so dark and all of the paintings were a variation on black, really. The Twombly space felt more like a place of contemplation to me, perhaps because I got stuck in there by myself during a downpour. The hurricane weather really kicked in while I was inside, and I seriously was the only person in there, the museum employee having his own little space outside of the main gallery. So I walked around the entire space, looking at huge paintings in every room, and then finally ending up in this one, long room, with a painting that took up the entire wall. It was amazing. I just sat there, looked at great art, and listened to the rain beat down on the ceiling.

And so my trip to H-Town closed, leaving me to head out of town during rush hour with almost no gas left. Seriously, I thought I was going to get stuck on the highway, surrounded by cars, with no way of getting home. I’m really glad I don’t have to make a commute from there everyday.

Katie is Famous!

August 19, 2008

Ok, not really.  Not even close.  But I would like to take a moment and brag about myself…Check this out, I’m in a library catalog:

click click!

Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten about Houston.  That post will come sometime soon!

Katie Does Dallas…and Houston

August 10, 2008

Hmm.  Sorry about that title.  Anyway, about a week before I moved out of my apartment in Austin (that’s right, I no longer live in the lone star state), I decided to check out some of the art museums in Texas.  Austin is not known for having the best art scene (or, not in my book).  Music, yes.  Visual art, not so much.  So even though I completed my master’s in art history in Austin, there weren’t very many places in the city where I could see great works of art.  There are two “Austin Museums of Art”: one downtown and one on W 38th Street.  I never actually got around to visiting the museum on 38th, and I went to the one downtown all of once in my entire two years of living in Austin.  And that one time was during a visit prior even to moving to the city.  The downtown AMoA is a very small space that is used mainly for traveling exhibitions rather than art that is part of the permanent collection.  When I visited, a Christo and Jeanne-Claude show was up.  Unfortunately, they had not covered the museum.  Or any Austin landmark.  How great would it be if they covered UT’s football stadium??  Now that would take a lot of burnt orange fabric.


There are other places that display art in Austin.  West 6th is a decent gallery district.  Right off Barton Springs there is an outdoor sculpture garden (Umlauf Sculpture Garden) that also has different exhibits in the indoor section.  The university has the Blanton Museum of Art, which is actually a pretty great museum but somewhat on the small side.  South Congress has a few galleries, although I quit going to one of them after the woman working in it asked me if I was lost.  Uh, no.  I’m looking at art, lady.  Don’t talk to potential customers that way!  Jeez.  There is also a gallery/museum near the downtown AMoA called MexicArte or something like that.  I have been in it.  That’s about all I have to say about that.  I guess, now that I’m thinking about it, it’s not so much that Austin doesn’t have great art to look at, it’s more like the city doesn’t have art that I want to look at.  (Feel free to argue against my point of view, all you Austinites out there.)


As a result of Austin’s lack of visual art resources, I decided to travel to two other cities in Texas that have much better museums: Dallas and Houston.  Both of these cities are about a three-hour drive from Austin, so I was able to do them each in a longish one-day journey.  One Tuesday, I woke up early and hit the road for Dallas.  What are the highlights of a road trip from Austin to Dallas you might ask.  Well, you get to see Waco!  Now that is exciting.  Besides that, there are a lot of doughnut shops.  Not your commercial-variety doughnut shops, either, but homemade(-ish), Mom & Pop doughnut shops.  I didn’t actually eat any, though, so I can’t tell you what they’re like.  I’m guessing large and fatty.  And therefore delicious.


I had been to Dallas one other time, for the annual College Art Association conference in February.  During that weekend, I did get a chance to go to the Dallas Museum of Art to see a Turner exhibit (really great), but I had to cut my time short and rush back to hear Yoko Ono speak.  That’s right, Yoko Ono.  It was awesome.  But since I hadn’t really gotten to spend as much time in the museum as I would have liked, I decided that it would be my first stop in my Texas museum tour. 


The Dallas Museum of Art gives the impression of being a really huge museum, and then you start exploring it and you think “Hey, it’s not that big.”  And then you don’t finish exploring it until three and a half hours later (that includes speed-walking through the boring art, i.e. portraiture…sorry, just my opinion, people) and you think “Uh, no, it really is that big.”  There’s something about the floor plan that leads you to believe that each gallery is relatively small, but that’s not actually the case.  You can wander for hours and see art that encompasses all time periods and locations.  They had some nice Mondrians on display when I was there, and the Wendy and Emery Reeves Collection was both intriguing and frustrating.  Intriguing because it was laid out so as to look like the donors’ French Riviera villa, and frustrating because this meant that the really wonderful van Gogh, Monet, Cézanne, etc. that they owned was placed in a recreation of a living room or bedroom blocked off so you couldn’t get close enough to really look at the paintings.  While I found some parts of the Dallas Museum of Art’s collection more interesting than others, I do think that there is something for everyone.  Plus, the museum has some of the friendliest museum guards I’ve ever talked to.  They were very helpful, knowing a lot about the rooms they were walking through and what was displayed within them and also seemed really to care about making sure the art was protected.  I definitely respect that.


After the Dallas Museum of Art, I walked across the street to the Nasher Sculpture Center.  I was pretty excited about getting to go to the center because during my last year at Duke University, the school opened its new art museum, funded by and containing some of Raymond D. Nasher’s collection of sculpture.  As a part of the celebration surrounding the unveiling of the museum, I got to hear the late Mr. Nasher talk about how he had collected art over the years, and I took a class with Dr Kristine Stiles on modern and postmodern sculpture.  That class solidified my love for sculpture.  I really prefer sculpture to painting in a lot of ways, so my trip to the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas was a great opportunity.  (I should probably also mention here that the Dallas Museum of Art has a sculpture garden that was wonderful as well.)  Part of the Nasher collection is housed in a very open indoor space with plenty of natural light and hardwood floors.  A large version of Naum Gabo’s Head No. 2 sits in one corner—interesting for me because I wrote a paper about Gabo’s sculpture for an abstraction class I took during graduate school.  The basement has visiting exhibitions; on view during my visit was a Jacques Lipchitz show made up of work recently donated to the center.  The collection continues outdoors in what is now one of my favorite sculpture gardens.  The first piece I noticed was Jonathan Borofsky’s Walking to the Sky (2004).  I found this sculpture and the others by Borofsky in Dallas to be very intriguing; I wasn’t really familiar with this artist, but I think that I need to start researching his work.  Walking to the Sky consists of three figures standing on the ground, looking up a pole that points to the sky with other figures walking along it.  The figures are life-size, and every time I saw the sculpture out of the corner of my eye, I thought that the figures on the ground were real people.  Here’s what the map/brochure for the Nasher Center says about Walking to the Sky:


Walking to the Sky continues Borofsky’s ongoing exploration of human ideals, dream life, and fantasy.  The sculpture was originally inspired by a story Borofsky’s father told him as a child about a friendly giant who lived in the sky.  During each tale, father and son would imagine walking into the sky to discuss with the giant what should be done to help everyone on earth.  Soaring 100 feet into the air at a 75-degree angle, this sculpture is one of the artist’s largest and most ambitious works to date.  Seven life-size figures walk briskly up the pole, while three more on the ground watch their ascent.  They are different races, ages, and genders and seem to defy gravity, ascending to new heights under their own compelling tribute to the power of our aspirations and the resilience of the human spirit.”


The other sculpture by Borofsky at the Nasher center is entitled Hammering Man, and its blurb mentions that it “signifies both the drudgery and heroism of labor.”  Borofsky himself states, “the Hammering Man is a worker, and I idolize the worker in myself.  At the same time, it seems that the boring, monotonous repetition of the moving arm implies the fate of the mechanistic world.”  The guide goes on to say that Borofsky’s art offers “another commentary on the fate of the individual in the world of modern technology” because the artist signs his works with sequential numbers rather than his signature.


Also in the Nasher Sculpture Center’s garden is the best Turrell I have ever experienced.  Turrell’s light installations can be both fun and disorienting, but Tending (Blue) in the Nasher center is calming and uplifting.  To get into the installation, you have to first talk to people working in the gift shop.  They will inform you that you completely missed a set of doors at the end of the garden and that you have to go back out there and confidently open them.  After you do that, you walk through a very short hall/tunnel that has a sort of blue light and emerge into a square room with tan, concrete-looking walls.  There are benches connected to all four walls, and above you there is a flat ceiling with a square cut into it.  Through this square, you look up into the sky, which appears much bluer than normal either because that is the way it has been all day and you haven’t noticed because you’ve had your nose stuck in art or because of the direct comparison you have between the sky and the light-washed walls.  (Apparently the interior of the “skyspace” has lighted walls, but you don’t really notice that while you’re in there.)  Be warned, however.  The guide says that this room is air conditioned “in warmer months”, but apparently this doesn’t hold true for the extremely hot months, like July, when I visited.  It was most certainly not air-conditioned, and Dallas is a muggy, hot city.  I hope they have fixed this problem since I visited.


All in all, I would say my Dallas trip was a success.  I got to see major works of art and a major U.S. city, although the majority of my time was spent looking at the art and not at the city.  It is so important to visit museums that are near you when you can because what is on display, both from permanent and visiting collections, is constantly changing.  You never know what you are going to get a chance to see.  Most likely something wonderful. 


At the moment I am very sleepy, so the Houston part of my tale will have to wait until next time.  Auf Wiedersehen!

Katie Loves James McAvoy, But…

July 20, 2008

Wanted was a very bad movie.  Just awful.  The only thing that redeemed it in any way (besides the fact that James McAvoy was in it…YUM!) was that I saw it at the Alamo, which meant I got to have a beer while I watched.  Double yum!


Wanted tells the story of a one-thousand-year-old group of assassins called the Fraternity whose main method of killing comes in the form of quite unbelievable stunts.  And I mean laughably unbelievable.  I think the first sign that a movie is bad is if your fellow watchers in the theater are laughing at parts that were not intended to be humorous.  The time I saw First Daughter, starring Katie Holmes, in the theater comes to mind.  While watching Wanted, I became aware of the laughter that seemed to accompany a lot of the movie, despite the fact that it had a serious tone and more gore than I’ve seen in a movie in quite a while (probably because I tend to stay away from horror films).  The part I laughed the hardest at was a stunt towards the beginning of the movie that should have warned me of what was to come.  Now, I’m pretty crummy at describing things, but bear with me.  This is a stunt that took place in a parking lot.  James McAvoy (I’m going to use the actors’ names because I am really bad at remembering character names and too lazy to look them up) was running away from a man who was trying to kill him—running away because he did not yet know that he himself was a killing machine with the ability to shoot the wings off flies.  (How in the hell did Morgan Freeman find those housefly bodies after McAvoy had shot the wings off in order to show them to McAvoy and convince him of his shooting skills?  I would have assumed that they landed in the trashcan that they were flying over and that Freeman would have had to sift through all the garbage with little hope of finding tiny little wingless fly bodies, but apparently Freeman has extraordinary fly-finding powers.  Anyway, back to the stunt.)  McAvoy is running through a parking lot, he is being chased by a man driving a dog food truck, and instead of running in between the cars that were parked, McAvoy insists on running in a straight line so that his only hope to escape from the bad guy is suddenly to be able to run faster than a vehicle.  But wait!  What’s this?  Angelina Jolie’s character is coming to the rescue in some kind of sports car (I know nothing about cars, sorry.).  And here is the funniest stunt of the movie: Jolie drives straight for McAvoy’s back, but instead of hitting him, she opens the passenger side door, hits the brakes, and slides the car so that it is going perpendicular from its original path, and McAvoy miraculously lands in the passenger seat.  What makes this so absurd is that if a car came at you, even sideways, going probably 50 mph, I’m pretty sure that you would be hurt, whether or not the door was open.  Since McAvoy had no way of knowing that this car was coming up behind him, he most likely would have been struck by the footboard around his ankles and ended up underneath the car, not in it.  I laughed for probably three minutes.  Maybe you just have to see it to realize how funny it is, but please.  Wait until it comes out on video.


The most prevalent “stunt” of the movie was another shooting skill.  Freeman, Jolie, and others teach McAvoy how to curve his bullets by bringing his gun behind him and then slinging it forward as he shoots.  I have no idea whether this is possible in real life, and I would really like to know.  I’m pretty sure that there are a ton of teenaged boys out there trying to do it after having seen this movie, which sort of scares me.  Although straight shots have killed people perfectly well in previous movies, almost every shot that these assassins took required them to curve their bullets.  If I were forced to go see this movie again, I would definitely take a tally of how often it happens.  Anyway, the main point that bothered me with this one was the poorly written script that accompanied the training sequence.  McAvoy is bewildered when he is asked to curve his shot so it can go around a giant dead hog hanging from a meat hook and hit the bull’s eye on the target directly behind it.  He stammers out, “How??”  Freeman wisely replies, “It is not a question of how, it is a question of what.”  No, I’m pretty sure it’s a question of how, Morgan. 


And on to the plotline.  I have no problem with the whole idea of “Oh, Mr. McAvoy, you are the best assassin the world has ever seen, just like your estranged father, whose death you must avenge.”  My problem comes with this Fraternity and how their assassination plans work.  Located in a textile factory (yeah, why do they have animal carcasses hanging from meat hooks in a textile factory?  That wasn’t really explained…) the Fraternity is able to “read” weavings they…receive, I guess, from Fate.  (I’m not all too clear on this point because I went to use the bathroom around the time it was explained).  The weave of these weavings tells the Fraternity the name of their next target, and because it is governed by Fate, we are able to assume that the person they are supposed to kill deserves to die.  And somehow, these weavings are able to communicate this name in code.  In binary, to be exact.  What?  So confusing.  I’m just going to leave it at that. 


Oh, and we are told by Jolie that it’s ok to kill these people unquestioningly because they are killing one to save thousands, or something like that.  But then Jolie does something stupid and drives a car into the side of a train so she can get out and help McAvoy kill someone on the train, which has the disastrous effect of getting stuck on the outside of a tunnel while the train is on top of an impossibly high bridge over a ravine, so that the entire train derails and slides down into the ravine.  I’m pretty sure she killed thousands there.  Oh, yeah, and they don’t really tell you how Jolie and McAvoy are able to escape relatively unharmed after the railcar they were in gets stuck sideways in the ravine…


(Spoiler alert for the rest of this posting!  Don’t read if you actually think you would like to waste an hour and a half of your life on this ridiculous movie!)


And, finally, the climax and end of the movie.  McAvoy suddenly realizes that the Fraternity has been lying to him this whole time, his father was not actually killed by this other group of assassins.  Rather, McAvoy was taken on by the Fraternity in order to kill his father, who had become a member of the “bad” guys (Star Wars, anyone?).  And he achieves this, killing the man who he believes murdered his father only to find out that he has, in fact, just shot his father.  So wait.  The Fraternity are actually the bad guys?  Yes, that’s right!  What a twist!  Oh my gosh!  I’m stunned!  And Jolie has been given orders to shoot McAvoy!  What is going to happen next?! 


McAvoy manages to get inside the Fraternity’s compound, kill everyone in sight except for a few who hold him off in his quest to kill Freeman.  McAvoy then informs them that Freeman has been undermining Fate by not passing on orders from the textiles.  McAvoy’s father was told to kill Freeman, so Freeman had McAvoy’s father killed by McAvoy, the only man Freeman knew his father wouldn’t kill.  Hey, that sentence makes sense in my head.  Go figure it out.  Anyway, Freeman shows Jolie and all the other assassins who have formed a circle around McAvoy that their names, too, have shown up in the weave, but Freeman has protected them and not let anyone assassinate them.  So really, he was just doing them a favor.  The expected result of this revelation is that they will all turn on McAvoy and kill him.  Unfortunately, Jolie is big on fate and, it being her duty to carry out fate’s plans, she determines that if the weave thinks they should all die, then they should.  So, in one final glorious stunt, she curves a bullet so it goes around the circle, entering the brains of the people standing around McAvoy and killing them, before she straightens up and accepts the bullet into her own brains.  That’s right, everyone dies.  And McAvoy kills Freeman.  And apparently it doesn’t matter to Jolie that the weave also told her to kill McAvoy because she doesn’t shoot him before she dies.  So much for duty.  At the end of the movie you have no idea whose side you are supposed to be on.  There is a general sense that Freeman is a bad person for having McAvoy kill his own father, but then again, McAvoy is rather evil by the end and is willing to kill everyone in sight.  And what is he going to do now that the entire of the Fraternity is dead?  Is he going to keep on reading binary code from textile samples in order to find out who to kill?  I guess we can only hope for a sequel.  Then again, maybe not.

Katie Napkins: Baby-Sitter Extraordinaire

July 18, 2008

Last week I had the pleasure of baby-sitting my seven-month-old nephew.  His mom had to take him to Passways with her, the camp her church’s youth group was going to, and she asked me to watch him while she would be out doing activities with her youth.  This ended up being a good portion of the day, so I was given a great opportunity to bond with little Zeke.


Spending so much time with a baby you love is a very rewarding experience.  This is not to say that it isn’t hard work.  Within the first twenty-four hours I had a new respect for what my sister does on a daily basis.  Really I had the watered-down version because 1. I did not have to nurse him (that would have been awkward, huh?  But it would have led to some great posts on breastfeeding…), 2. I didn’t have to get up in the middle of the night with him, and 3. I wasn’t balancing a baby with a full-time job.  And, honestly, watching a baby is a full-time job, so my sister really has two!  How she has managed to remain the kind, fun, thoughtful person that she is for the past seven months is beyond me.  The only explanation I can come up with (beyond the fact that she has a husband, church, and family who love and help her when possible) is that when Zeke smiles at you or laughs, most, if not all, of the stress and fatigue that has accumulated during the day seems to melt away.  As an added bonus for my sister, Zeke definitely knows who his Mom is and immediately lights up when she comes into the room (although this can make it hard when you’re baby-sitting and the baby is well aware of the fact that you are not who he would prefer to be with).


I know that the time I spent with my nephew last week is something I will treasure forever.  Yes, it was hard to get him down for naps—there is no worse feeling than having a baby scream and cry at you for an hour because he refuses to let go and drift off to sleep.  But the rest of the day outweighed those moments for me because there is no better feeling than having a baby smile his gummy little smile at you.  We went on walks outdoors, which he loved.  Zeke seems to be the calmest and happiest when he is outdoors, exploring the world with his eyes, ears and hands (occasionally mouth, as well).  We took a blanket out one day and lay on our backs looking up at a tree.  Zeke also enjoyed scooting to the edge of the blanket so he could pluck up stems of grass.  Often, however, we played inside, out of the heat and humidity that defines a Carolina summer.  One of Zeke’s favorite toys ended up being my cell phone.  Like most things, he insisted on gnawing on it, but the way it lights up mesmerized him—a fact that definitely came in handy when I needed to calm him down.  Babies are like pets, apparently, in that their favorite toys are not the ones you bought for them but the everyday items that they discover on their own, including cell phones, door stops, and a piece of yarn.


Some of the funniest moments of the week came during feeding time.  Zeke made hilarious faces as I tried to feed him bananas and applesauce, giving me looks that seemed to say, “What are you trying to pull?  This is NOT milk!”  Nonetheless, he’d always open his mouth for more. 

I also got to take him swimming.  He was pretty tired when we went, but he seemed to enjoy splashing and watching the other kids.


During the week I began to find it easier and easier to read Zeke’s body language.  I could tell when he was tired, when he was hungry, when he was overwhelmed.  I also found many ways to entertain him: standing next to a window so he could slap it over and over again with his chubby hand, dancing and singing funny made-up songs, playing peek-a-boo.  It was a great week, and I’m so glad I had the chance to be there with him, especially since it may be harder to do once I have a job and live in Boston.  I hope there are more opportunities for us to bond in the future and that he always knows how much I care about and love him.