Saturday, December 11, 2010

December 11, 2010 Blizzard

I ENDED UP NOT MAKING IT TO WORK. At about five blocks out, I decided it was too treacherous to continue on and headed back home. Glad I made the decision when I did, too, because that's exactly when work called saying they were closing early for the day.

That constant crackling noise is the snow hitting the Ziplock bag I covered my camera with. A great way to block out the wind noise! Has me thinking for future outside filming in drying conditions, I should cover my camera microphone with a piece of scotch tape!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

I Enlist in Opera Boot Camp

Angie Keeton will whip you into shape!

I GOT A CRASH COURSE IN OPERA this evening at Opera Boot Camp, hosted by Tempo, the Minnesota Opera's membership program "for both opera newbies and buffs ages 21-39." I've never had anything against opera, and usually like what I hear when I hear it, but haven't ever dived into the genre. When I saw a press release for the event I jumped at the chance to sign up for basic training.

Before the drills began, I took a tour through their costume shop, named for Gail Bakkom, former head costume designer who is now retired. It's a ship shape shop, lined with sewing stations each complete with an industrial sewing machine, a pair of scissors tied down with a long elastic strap, and other various sewing supplies. Among the rolls of fabric and labeled boxes full of scraps, were all sizes of body forms adjusted to mimic the sizes and shapes of singers or covered in muslin garments. Our tour guide, Lani, shared some great fun facts, too. Did you know that natural light is highly important for costume designers? It's the most effective way to see the true colors of the fabrics they use. It's for this reason that the costume shop is on the top floor of their building. The south-facing wall has large windows, and there are even a couple of sky lights over the sewing machines.

The tour included a walk through the scene shop -- a massive wide-open area with enough room to build vast scene elements, like life-sized brownstone building fa├žades. Like a hardware store, the shop had a wall of various bins full of nuts, bolts, screws, and nails all meticulously organized and tidy. Among various sizes of paintbrushes and a washbasin forever stained with layers of splashed paint, I saw a giant cardboard cylinder about half my size marked with letters that spelled out G-L-I-T-T-E-R. We exited the scene shop, which had that wonderful smell of freshly cut wood, and moved on to the individual practice rooms.

Aside from a couple of larger practice spaces, there are smaller practice rooms that have highly sophisticated sound-proofing. In fact, singers are able to choose various acoustics to fit their practice needs. A small black panel in each room has buttons labeled Arena, Large Recital Hall, Cathedral, just to name a couple. Here is a video of Max demonstrating the various settings:

Then came the drills. The Minnesota Opera's Teaching Artist, Angie Keeton, acted as the event's official Sergent. Her enthusiasm for all things Opera was infectious as she provided a quick history of opera and its major players. There were a couple of quick opera games, like match the name of the opera to its composer, and even some short solo performances by other singers. Opera began in the 1580s and seeing performances was a privilege of the wealthy class. But sooner or later art rebels, and so it did with opera. Composers started writing about regular people for regular people, and so the genre evolved into an artform that everyone is welcome to enjoy.

Visit the Minnesota Opera Company and follow them on Twitter.

For more fun details of the evening, here is a link to Max Sparber's column for

Friday, November 12, 2010

Meeting Austin Pendleton

DURING MY LATEST TRIP TO NEW YORK CITY I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Austin Pendleton. I was going to see a show and he was standing outside the theater with some friends. I assumed he was leaving after an earlier performance and when I spotted him, I know my jaw dropped. And he saw me see him. I looked at Max and whispered to him excitedly, "Oh my god. It's Austin Pendleton." He was with a group of friends, immersed in conversation, so I squelched my urge to go say hello.

A little background on my fascination with this actor. Mr. Pendleton is in one of my all-time favorite movies, What's Up, Doc? He even says one of my favorite lines, which is in the above clip: "Who is that dangerously unbalanced woman?"

Subconsciously I think that very line is why I didn't burst into his group standing outside the theater to tell him I'm a huge fan. Max and I walked past, picked up our tickets, and walked upstairs to see the play we were planning on seeing that night.

I sat in my chair thinking maybe I had made a mistake. Never in my life did I think I'd have the opportunity to meet Austin Pendleton, and there he was, right down stairs. I looked at Max and said, "I'm really going to be mad at myself if I don't at least say hello." So back downstairs I went. The sidewalk had cleared. My heart sank.

I started back up the stairs to the theater thinking well, at least I saw him in person. A few more steps up, I lifted my head and there he was -- Austin Pendleton was coming down the steps. We were alone in the stairwell. I didn't want to overwhelm the man, so I practically whispered, "Are you Austin Pendleton?"

"Yes, I am."

"I just have to tell you how huge a fan I am of yours. What's Up Doc is one of my favorite movies. I have it on my iPod right now." And I pointed to my purse as if I was waiting for him to say, Really? Prove it.

Of course he didn't say that. He shook my hand instead and said thank you. He asked my name. "My name is Courtney, but all of my friends call me Coco."



"Coco! I like that."

(Almost like the conversation in the above clip, beginning at 1:37.)

And we went our separate ways on the stairwell. Turns out he was there to see the same show I was there to see, too.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Alfred Hitchcock's 'Psycho' at Orchestra Hall

BY THE LATE 1950s, FILMMAKER ALFRED HITCHCOCK WAS SICK OF making big budget movies. According to IMDB, he wanted to "experiment with the more efficient, sparser style of television filmmaking. [And for Psycho] he ultimately used a crew consisting mostly of TV veterans and hired actors less well known than those he usually used."

Keeping the lower budget in mind for the soundtrack, composer Bernard Herrmann used a minimal orchestra, using only the strings without any winds, brass, or percussion. For the movie's infamous shower scene, Hitchcock instructed Herrmann not to compose anything at all; Hitchcock wanted that scene to be completely silent.

Herrmann was otherwise inspired however and it's interesting think of how the idea to go against Hitchcock's wishes might have come to him. As someone who thinks in terms of music, I imagine he thought about what instrument could physically convey the action of stabbing and would the resulting sound be appropriately threatening.

Whatever Herrmann's inspiration, he was right to trust his instincts. Hitchcock immediately changed his thoughts when he saw the footage with the music. From Orchestra Hall's program notes:

When legendary director Alfred Hitchcock advised composer Bernard Herrmann
on the specifics of scoring his thriller Psycho, he insisted that the composer not
write any music for the now-famous shower scene, in which
Janet Leigh is knifed to death by a shadowy figure at a roadside motel.
The always irascible Herrmann—who by now had already scored five Hitchcock
films, including Vertigo and North by Northwest—ignored Hitchcock’s advice and
wrote murder music anyway. While mixing the film, Herrmann played his
“backup music” for the shower scene, and Hitchcock immediately approved the
choice. “But you requested that we not add any music there,” the composer pointed
out. “Improper suggestion, my boy,” the director replied.

I had the opportunity to see the soundtrack performed live as the movie played on the big screen at Orchestra Hall on October 30, 2010. It is the 50th anniversary of Psycho and, to coincide with Halloween, Orchestra Hall celebrated by turning the stage over to the big screen and the appropriately sized orchestra -- sans percussion.

I had never seen this movie from beginning to end. Of course I knew Norman Bates had mommy issues, the status of his mommy, and I have seen in its entirety the infamous shower scene. Because I had already seen the shower scene, I focused my attention on the orchestra while it played through this scene. The movement on stage was almost as alarming as the action on screen. How exciting! The entire violin section was in motion, their bows violently bobbing into the air only to immediately thrust back down over the strings. It was quite thrilling to hear and see such a famous soundtrack performed in person.

One last note: What made the evening even more fun was the fact that the staff were all dressed as Norman Bates-as-his-mom, and the musicians were dressed in various costumes as well. Sarah Hicks, the conductor, began the evening in a shower cap and bathrobe (she made sure to put on the shower cap right before the shower scene), and after intermission she had on a gray wig and floral-print dress, just like Norman's mom. Oh, she also had a larger than life prop knife -- it looked like she was going to conduct with it, but decided to go with her wand after all.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Yves Klein: With The Void, Full Powers at the Walker Art Center

NOT ONLY DID YVES KLEIN INVENT A COLOR -- INTERNATIONAL KLEIN BLUE -- HE ALSO PAINTED WITH FIRE. His fire pieces are a stunning sight; outlines of women's bodies somehow burned into canvas. Certainly being okay with getting charred wasn't a requirement in order to work with Klein, so what was his secret? There are many films showing Klein producing his large-scale artwork, including one that divulges his technique of working with fire. Beginning October 23rd, The Walker Art Center is devoting three floors to Klein's work, including the highly entertaining footage of him using fire, in their latest exhibition, Yves Klein: With The Void, Full Powers.

I have been a fan of Yves Klein for quite a number of years, but despite this, I haven't done much research on him (hence not knowing he painted with fire). I have seen his artwork, namely the pieces featuring his namesake color, only in books and online. And at The Walker Art Center; one of my favorite pieces is the Mondo Cane Shroud, pictured above, and is part of The Walker's permanent collection. This large but wispy piece of fabric features the famous blue color, but because of the canvas, it just isn't very saturated. In order to create this piece, Klein had nude models cover their bodies with IKB and press themselves onto the fabric while a small orchestra played a single staccato note. A quick and sad story about Klein and this particular piece of art, from Max "Bunny" Sparber:

"Suaire de Mondo Cane (Mondo Cane Shroud)," Yves Klein, 1961. Exploitation documentaries from the 60s all seemed to contain a scene in which a beatnik artist applies paint to a nude model, painting abstract swirls directly onto her breasts and buttocks. These scenes, as with most of what appeared in this particularly crass form of filmmaking, were the invention of the filmmakers, and all borrowed from a single source: 1962's Mondo Cane, and Italian documentary by Gualtiero Jacopetti and Franco Prosperi. Among scenes of dogs being used as food and Italian Catholics beating themselves until bloody in a fit of religious ecstasy, there was a long scene of a tuxedo-clad man painting a group of naked women blue. These women then pressed their bodies against a cloth shroud while an orchestra played the movie's Academy Ward-winning theme song, "More." But this scene is unlike the hundreds of similar scenes in exploitation documentaries that it inspired, in that the artist, and the art, is real. The artist is, or rather was, Yves Klein, a French neo-Dadaist who liked to paint things blue, and the painting that resulted is on display at the Walker. It's also worth noting that the painting may have killed Yves Klein, or, rather, the film of the painting may have killed him. Klein believed he was participating in a serious documentary, and when he saw that his painting process had been edited for maximum titillation and was bookended by grotesque and absurd images from around the world, he had a series of heart attacks and died at age 34.

Until tonight, I had no idea just how stunning International Klein Blue really is. It's a color that eases your eyes open wide. The color almost seems to glow. The best part is just how generous he is with his doses, too. The exhibit features numerous large canvases, smooth and textured, that are so saturated I couldn't believe the pigment wasn't dripping onto the floor. Klein painted with other colors, too, all as vibrant as possible, but it's the blue that I can't get enough of. And, as if he were after my own heart, he did a relief of the surface of the moon and created plans for a pneumatic rocket. There is definitely something futuristic about Klein.

At the Walker's exhibit of Klein's work, I realized just how fascinated Klein was with trying to represent elements through color and art. The exhibit features his plans for fountains that shoot both fire and water, for example. He was a man who didn't bind himself down with one title; not only was he a painter, he "embraced sculpture, performance, photography, music, theater, film, architecture, and theoretical writing..." (exhibit program)

This is the perfect exhibit to take Minnesotans into winter. When the snow arrives, draining our surroundings of color and gray skies stretch on for days, Klein's vibrant pieces will be a welcome jolt to our senses. And suddenly the idea of painting with fire will make perfect sense.

Yves Klein: With The Void Full Powers will be at The Walker Art Center from October 23, 2010 to February 13, 2011.

This story republished at

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Attending the 10th Anniversary of the Rose Center for Earth and Space

THE ROSE CENTER FOR EARTH AND SPACE, HOME OF THE AMERICAN MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY'S HAYDEN PLANETARIUM, celebrated its 10th birthday on 10.10.10. Beginning at 10am, the center was a flurry of birthday activities. In addition to numerous activity stations including make-your-own planet and toy rocket, this grand birthday bash included cake, cookies, live music, planetarium shows, and special speakers.

I finally meet Dr. Tyson. So exciting!

I was especially excited to attend because of two speakers in particular: Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, whom I recently interviewed via Skype, and astronaut Mike Massimino. Dr. Tyson was as enjoyable as always to watch answer questions from adults and many children who were in attendance. When the controversial subject of Pluto came up (you know it's no longer classified as a planet, right?) a few children in the audience yelled their discontent at Dr. Tyson, who spearheaded the change to the center's exhibits in regards to this reclassification. It was pretty exciting. And hilarious. Dr. Tyson also discusses everything from the architecture of the Hayden Planetarium to the exhibit design to introducing associate curator Ben R. Oppenheimer and his Known Universe video. Here is some footage of Dr. Tyson speaking at the Rose Center birthday celebration:

Watch The Known Universe, a "six-minute journey from Earth to the edge of observable space and back, has surpassed five million views on YouTube since the American Museum of Natural History released the video in December 2009."

See the winning video for the contest Mr. Tyson mentions, in which participants were to describe in no more than two minutes "How Science Has Inspired You." Watch the two runners-up entries here as well. Be sure to follow the American Museum of Natural History on Twitter and check out their fun apps.

LATER, ASTRONAUT AND FRANKLIN SQUARE, NEW YORK NATIVE MIKE MASSIMINO took to the stage to talk about his experiences in space. What makes Mr. Massimino such an exciting speaker is his recounting of the physical act of getting to outer-space."You go from zero to 17,500 miles per hour in eight-and-a-half minutes," Massimino said. "So the only way I can describe this is, what was going through my mind was I had felt like some beast had grabbed me, like something out of one of these science fiction movies had grabbed me by the chest and was taking me away from home really fast and there was nothing I could do about it. The feeling of power and speed was was a lot of fun actually..." He also shared a few stories of his time spent in space. It's his heartfelt descriptions of being in space -- like his story of experiencing night and day without the protective shield of Earth's atmosphere -- that are particularly exciting to hear. The following are clips from his presentation at the Rose Center on October 10, 2010:

I was lucky enough to meet Mr. Massimino, and the experience was positively overwhelming. Astronauts are rare in this world and to actually shake the hand of someone who was in space -- who has logged 571 hours and 47 minutes in space and 30 hours and 4 minutes of spacewalking -- well, it just got the best of me. I just was never sure I'd ever have the opportunity to meet an astronaut. I had to dab my eyes for a while afterward.

Me and astronaut Mike Massimino.

If you are ever curious to know how many people are in space at any given moment, How Many People Are In Space Right Now is the perfect website. I highly recommend checking out, NASA TV, NASA's YouTube page (watching researchers make fake vomit is pretty funny), and following NASA on Twitter.

Video of Massimino returning an item to curator Ben Oppenheimer:

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

"I Will Eat Every One Of You" Debuts in New York City

THOUGH I AM A WRITER OF MANY GENRES, I NEVER CONSIDERED MYSELF A PLAYWRIGHT. The closest I've come to the playwright title is when I wrote a few sketches for my final project at the Brave New Workshop a decade ago. Though I still jot down ideas for sketches, I mainly write for this blog and freelance for other publications.

Kari Mote, a friend of mine and Max's and director/producer from the Kokopelli Theatre Co., recently organized a night of short comedic plays on the theme of cannibalism called This Tastes Funny...The Cannibal Plays Festival. As a result, I collaborated on a short monologue with Max entitled I Will Eat Every One Of You. Max and I submitted our monologue and waited to see if it would be selected.

Mote accepted our submission and for five days beginning October 6, 2010, our short monologue was performed at The Shell Theatre in New York City -- just a block off of Times Square. St. Fortune Productions also brought their talents to this event.

Max, already an accomplished playwright, has had several productions of several of his plays. I, however, have had none until now. I'm pretty excited that my first play debuted in New York City and seemed to be an audience favorite. It is an adaptation of one of Max's short stories in a series entitled I'm Just A Bad Boy: Monologues From A Life Of Lies.

Download and read the monologue here or read below:
written by Bunny Sparber and Coco Mault
June 26, 2010
Copyright (c) 2010
All Rights Reserved

Ladies and gentlemen of the press, thank you for coming, but
can I ask you to put your hand down? Put your hand down
please. You. Please. Put your hand down. I WILL NOT BE
Apologies for being so abrupt, but this is a very difficult
it's a difficult embarrassing it's well, I'd just like to
get through this as quickly as possible with a minimum of
fuss. Perhaps you can understand. I have been in the public
eye for so long and it's hard enough to have your
triumphs -- well, there hadn't been many of those. Mostly
you've just covered my tragedies. And that's your job, yes,
I know. I know when I came down from that horrible incident
in the Andes, and I was the only survivor, I know there is a
natural human instinct to be curious. It was a story of
hardship and survival, but especially of hardship, and there
were morbid details, and I can't blame anybody for being
curious, for being morbidly curious. 120 in an accident, one
survivor, and the way the remains were found ... I'd be
curious, and you were just doing your job, and you were
there for me too, when I published my book about it, I Ate
Human Flesh. And you were there, too, when I retook my
position here at Yale, as an associate professor, and you
covered the controversy, unfair though it may have been. Let
me stray from my notes a moment just to say how hard, how
very hard, those months were. I was not much older than many
of the students, and I saw them more as friends than
anything else, and we were all looking forward to our trip
to Montevideo together, and the research that we would do,
and we talked excitedly about it, and I grieve for them, I
just grieve for them. I honor their sacrifice. I wouldn't be
here today if it was not for them. I understand their
parents not wanting me back at Yale, and I know it is your
job to write about such things, and you did so with tact,
all except you, and I know you didn't write the headlines,
fuck was that, I mean --


No, let me get back to my notes. Because today I must sadly
resign my post at Yale, and I discussed it with the Dean,
and the school president, and we agreed, and they were
rather forceful about this, that a press conference would be
the best course of action, because I am already a public
figure, and because my return to Yale was so contentious, so
unnecessarily contentious, I mean, yes, I ate a few
students, but it was a survival situation. It's not like I
returned to Yale with a hunger for human flesh. You must
understand, or must try to. Perhaps you can't. Unless you
were on the mountain with me, crawling out of the wreckage,
and seeing the freezing remains, the hideous spectacle, the
horror of that day, and knowing you might starve. It was a
terrible decision I had to make, and I promised myself I
would not look back on it, but life does not allow you the
luxury of forgetting your past, does it? Especially college
life, where the climate is publish, publish, publish or
perish. And you must forgive us academics, as the search for
human knowledge requires dispassion and curiosity, and I may
have misjudged or forgotten the climate of my return. But I
am in the field of biology, god damn it, and my field of
study is predation, and the fact of the matter is, yes,
animals will hunt and kill their own kind. Yes, there is
cannibalism in the animal kingdom, and that is an aspect of
predation, and perhaps you can appreciate that because of my
experience, quite naturally because of my experience, quite
naturally this is where my research might lead. Quite
naturally this is the sort of thing I would publish,
especially since I have such unique and direct and well an
intimate knowledge of the subject. And because I am an
academic and because we can be a bit well a bit disconnected
from the shall we say the politics of these things, it
simply never occurred to me that publishing an essay on the
rendering of human fat, with explicit directions on how to
do it, and descriptions of my own experience, might generate
any controversy. I mean, for fuck's sake, the story was
accepted by Nature, and there isn't a more respected peer reviewed
journal in the world.


I have gone off my notes again. I apologize if I seemed
intemperate. You may appreciate the stress I have been
through. On the one hand, there is the push to publish, to
make your name as a researcher, and, on the other, there are
newspapers calling you a cannibal Yalie. I am aware that my
research, and my articles, might have seemed insensitive,
although I stress, and I am sure that you in the press can
appreciate this, that I DID NOT WRITE THE HEADLINES. "When
Bad Things happen to Delicious People," Journal of
Sociology, May. "Crash Course in Cannibalism," American
Journal of Physical Anthropology, June. Not my titles.
"Friends with Good Taste" -- that's a radically re-edited
version of one of my papers republished by Reader's Digest,
and, again, I did not author the headline. And I know, I
know, perhaps I could have weathered this, perhaps Yale
could have weathered it, were it not for these additional
charges, these nonsense charges, and I know you in the press
are responsible for covering the news, but, honestly,
honestly. Yes, the rescue boat that took me from the Andes
to Montevideo broke down on the Urubamba, and yes we were
forced to eat one of the crew. That was never a secret. And,
yes, there was that terrible incident in the Victoria Plaza
Hotel when I was trapped in the elevator for seven hours and
ate the bellhop. You must understand, though. It so
difficult, it's so very difficult, and embarrassing, yes,
but at the moment I was in a sort of panic. I had been
trapped before -- twice -- and in both cases had to do the
unspeakable, and instinct just took over. It's a basic
ecological interaction, and I assure you it happens millions
of times per day in the Animal Kingdom. Our instinct is to
survive, and I can assure you, were we trapped in this room
together for long enough without food or hope of rescue,
your fellow journalists would cease seeming like colleagues
and more like a buffet or perhaps a smorgasbord, I don't
know which term is most effective here ...


Where was in my notes? Oh, yes. I should not have kept the
bellboy a secret, and for that I deeply apologize. I simply
knew that it would not be understood, and when the hotel
offered to keep things quiet I simply went along, as they
did not want a scandal and they basically see bellboys as
disposable there anyway. But I should have known this news
would break, and I deeply apologize to Yale and to my
colleagues for the embarrassment I am sure it has caused
them, and I know that they could even have addressed that,
but were it not for my next actions. But as you know, I was
confronted by the father of one of my students in my office,
and he said terrible things and made terrible threats and
made absurd accusations. And I flew into a panic. And I
tried to leave, I swear to you I tried, but the lock on my
door broke, and I was trapped in the room with him. And
that's when my memory fails. The psychiatrist tells me I
went into some sort of psychotic dream state, where I was
not responsible for my actions, and that's what we will be
telling the court. But, of course, a career in Academics,
even at Yale, cannot survive such a thing. And so I met with
the Dean of my department, and the president of the school,
and it was a very emotional meeting, and there may have been
some shouting. But eventually I realized that it would now
be impossible for me to continue my research. Please, lower
your hand. I told you I would not be answering questions
yet. There will be no questions now. I don't know where the
Dean or the President are currently. I have told the police
this, and I do not intend to answer any more questions about
it on the advice of my lawyer. I am merely here to formally
make my resignation from Yale public, and leave it at that.
Please, stop shouting. I DON'T HAVE ANY ANSWERS. I WILL NOT
BE BULLIED. I know that you're just doing your jobs, but it
is a wretched job, you climb into people's lives and you
just dig and dig and you dig and you won't let up even when
somebody is trying to put their past behind them and it

(Long beat)

Ha ha ha. Went off my notes again there. It's the stress.
You may sympathize. Now, understanding that there are
certain things I will not answer, on the advice of council,
I shall be available for questions, which I will be taking
in one on one interviews at a small room reserved
specifically for that purpose. I look forward to speaking
with you, and, when you come in, please be careful, as the
door tends to stick a little.


Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Interviewing Astrophysicist Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson

"Space is anything but empty; it's a shooting gallery, actually."

Comparing meteorites with Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, 10.05.10
DR. NEIL DEGRASSE TYSON IS FREDERICK P. ROSE DIRECTOR OF THE HAYDEN PLANETARIUM at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. He is the host of Nova Science Now on PBS; and when the universe talks -- by hurling asteroids at Earth, for example -- Tyson is the go-to astrophysicist for shows like The Colbert Report and The Daily Show.

On October 5, 2010, just a few days before The Rose Center for Earth and Space celebrates its tenth anniversary,
Dr. Tyson was nice enough to answer some questions I had about him and his interests in the universe. And on his birthday, no less.

LISTEN to my interview with Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson

If you would like to hear more of Dr. Tyson's discussions about the universe, I recommend listening to
Mark Molaro's interview from 2007, episodes of Dr. Tyson's radio show StarTalk, and watching him on The Daily Show. He is also on Twitter.

If you are in New York City the evening of October 10, 2010: "Join Neil deGrasse Tyson as he hosts and moderates a panel discussion dedicated to the perennial question 'Is Earth Unique?' With what we now know about the stars in our galaxy and the planets that orbit them, we can begin to address this question with informed debate. Sunday, October 10 Buy Tickets 7:30 pm LeFrak Theater $15 ($13.50 Members, students, senior citizens)."

Monday, October 4, 2010

On The Train

I HAVE MORE FOOTAGE OF the Northstar Line, which runs from Big Lake, Minnesota to Minneapolis. So far I've only taken it to Anoka and back a few times. Thought you would enjoy this quickly edited footage in the meanwhile. I was so excited to have gotten a seat in the very front row for the very first time!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Chocolate at the Minnesota History Museum

Chocolate at the Minnesota History Museum
October 2, 2010 - January 2, 2011

THERE ARE ADDICTS WHO USE WHENEVER THEY CAN and those who claim to just use during special occasions. Statistics show that, on average, individuals in the U.S. consume 12 pounds of the stuff annually, and with that number we know there are some for whom that number is far too conservative. I’m talking, of course, about chocolate.

There are many people who have their habits down to a science. They know exactly how long it takes to rip open a Hershey Bar: no time at all. But how many of us know how long it takes for a bar of chocolate to become a scrumptious snack in the first place? In the grand scheme of things, it has taken thousands of years. And the latest exhibit at the Minnesota History Museum is ready and willing to help chocolate-lovers everywhere sort it all out. After all, it’s useful to at least understand one’s addiction even if there’s no intention of kicking it.

The exhibit, simply named Chocolate, was developed by The Field Museum in Chicago. The Field Museum is focused on science, but the exhibit is a good fit for the Minnesota History Museum, as it takes visitors back in time to the very beginnings of chocolate. Visitors enter into a Central American tropical forest where the focal point is a tree sprouting pineapple-sized, football-shaped pods full of 30-50 cacao (ka-kow) seeds (enough to make about seven milk chocolate or two dark chocolate bars). Throughout the science of it all -- like finding out about midges, the small birds that pollinate cacao -- there are facts about the Mayans. They were the first to use cacao beans to make a spicy, bitter drink for use in their ceremonies.

On display are replicas of ancient carved dishes and sculptures devoted to cacao, which demonstrates how seriously people regarded the cacao bean from its very beginnings. From there the exhibit takes off like a roller coaster, following a history full of wealth, war, chaos and luxury that is directly linked to chocolate.

FUN FACT: “The seeds were so valuable that dishonest merchants are believed to have made counterfeits.”

The exhibit is dotted with fun facts and artifacts, and the magic word throughout the exhibit is definitely the word frothy. And if the original European porcelain chocolate services doesn’t induce drooling and magnificent fantasias of rich and frothy chocolate drinks, the antique chocolate molds and wrappers most certainly will.

But chocolate’s past isn’t without tragedy. Because of the cacao’s limited growing area, the beans became valuable as a form of currency in addition to being a royal consumable. This is how it spread to other cultures, namely from the Aztecs and then Spanish. Cacao is a bitter tasting seed; it was the Spaniards who found it tasted better when mixed with sugar. As a result, sugar became more valuable. It wasn’t until a century later that chocolate, sweetened or not, made it to Europe. And, unfortunately along with chocolate’s growing popularity, there was a growing slave trade forced to harvest cacao beans and sugar cane.

As chocolate became easier to mass produce, the amount of chocolate products on the market sky-rocketed. By 1930 there were as many as 40,000 different kinds of chocolate candy bars on the market. The chocolate molds, including antiques from Hershey and Ghirardelli, are especially fun to see.

The end of the exhibit provides a fun photo opportunity, so bring your cameras. But the real treat is how the Minnesota History Museum has brought in the Minnesota element -- the sweet sweet Minnesota element. They’ve bulked out their gift shop with chocolate delicacies from local chocolatiers.

Additionally, they have fun interactive events planned including Family Day on October 2 from noon to 4pm. There will be Aztec dancing and drumming, Ecuadorian music, samples of chocolates from local chocolatiers, cooking and tasting demonstrations, take home art activity for kids and an illustrated presentation on the process of making chocolate from the bean to the bar.

Adult programs include sampler evenings, which feature wine tastings and demonstrations and samples from local chocolatiers. There will also be a two-hour workshop called DIY: Chocolate! Participants will explore the industrial secrets that transform chocolate from a hard bean to a luxurious indulgence, and even learn how to temper and mold chocolate. There will be samples to take home, along with tips and tricks for working with chocolate, and a mole recipe provided by Fabulous Catering.

Admission to Chocolate is included with regular museum admission of $10 for adults, $8 for seniors and college students, $5 for children ages 6-17; free for children age 5 and under and MNHS members. Admission is free Tuesday evenings from 5 to 8pm. Group rates available. For more information on public programs, visit

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Minnesota History Center
345 Kellogg Blvd W.
St. Paul MN 55102-1903
651-259-3000, 651-282-6073 (TTY)
800-657-3773 (toll free)

$10 adults, $8 seniors and college students, $5 children ages 6-17; free for children age 5 and under and MHS members.

Hours for Museum and Stores:
Tuesday 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. (free admission 5 to 8 p.m.)
Wednesday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Sunday noon to 5 p.m.

Closed Mondays except Monday holidays year round (open Martin Luther King Day, Presidents Day, Memorial Day and Labor Day). Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's day.

Library Hours:
Tuesday noon to 8 p.m.
Wednesday through Friday noon to 5 p.m.
Saturday 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Sunday noon to 4 p.m.

Closed Monday, Memorial Day and Labor Day Weekends, and major holidays including the day after Thanksgiving.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

My First Ride on the Cyclone!

Thanks to mom for recording this.


Sitting in the car third from the front and waiting for other riders to get seated, I remember watching and waiting for the operator to pull the giant wooden latch to release the train of cars along the old wooden track. At various points in the above video, you may be able to see me waving to the camera.

While being pulled up the first big hill, I was hit with the strong odor of old, wet lumber. Even at this moment, I could tell this was going to be the most exhilarating roller coaster ride ever. I've ridden some pretty intense roller coasters, but none with such a history behind it. It was a wild ride, indeed, but the history of the coaster contributed to my exhilaration.

Since I was the only one in the third car, I slid around quite a bit as I held on, white-knuckling the safety bar over my lap. I even had a blood blister souvenir on my palm afterward!

I was *this* close spending all my money riding the Cyclone.

Thanks to mom for recording this.

My First Ride on the Cyclone!

Thanks to mom for recording this.

Sitting in the car third from the front and waiting for other riders to get seated, I remember watching and waiting for the operator to pull the giant wooden latch to release the train of cars along the old wooden track. At various points in the above video, you may be able to see me waving to the camera.

While being pulled up the first big hill, I was hit with the strong odor of old, wet lumber. Even at this moment, I could tell this was going to be the most exhilarating roller coaster ride ever. I've ridden some pretty intense roller coasters, but none with such a history behind it. It was a wild ride, indeed, but the history of the coaster contributed to my exhilaration.

Since I was the only one in the third car, I slid around quite a bit as I held on, white-knuckling the safety bar over my lap. I even had a blood blister souvenir on my palm afterward!

I was *this* close spending all my money riding the Cyclone.

Thanks to mom for recording this.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Coco Dreams of Space

UNLIKE MANY PEOPLE WHO ARE in love with outerspace, such as Niel DeGrasse Tyson of Nova Science Now, I have trouble pinpointing exactly when my love affair with the cosmos began.

The incalculable enormity of the universe has always simultaneously calmed me into deep thought and frightened me. I would say this has been the case for me at least since grade school -- the days when we were all taught those amazing facts about the speed of light, how hot the sun really is, how big Jupiter is in relation to Earth, and weightlessness. To discuss the massive measurements of space while at the same time not being able to really comprehend it, has always been part of why the subject is so enjoyable for me.

When you get right down to it, what would it mean to be lost in space, in total silence, to float about with absolutely no mechanism to return? How strange would it be to find yourself in such a frightening circumstance and simultaneously be viewing, in person, the spectacular displays that the universe has to offer? It seems absolutely heartbreaking and fascinating all at the same time.

I compare it to learning about the human body -- we learn about it all through school, see the parts that humans are made of illustrated in books and even on screen. But until I went to the Body Worlds exhibit at the Science Museum of Minnesota and saw the minuscule hammer that bobs about in our eardrums, it just really wasn't real to me. Of course I knew about it, even knew what it looked like. But until I saw the real thing, the fragile nature of it, it just wasn't totally comprehensible. And just knowing simply that it's the real thing changed how I saw it. (I loved the Body Worlds exhibit. It was one of the most historic events I've witnessed. Just stunning.)

This is why I have such an intense desire to go into space. I want to actually feel and see outer-space for myself. In the year 2010, this is now an attainable dream thanks to Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic.

I've become a regular viewer of NASA TV and never get over the fact that I can pop open my computer and watch astronauts working on the International Space Station. I remember the first time I watched and didn't quite know what I was seeing right away. I couldn't really get my bearings, but slowly I began to see movement in the foreground and picked out an astronaut working beneath a panel, and soon, while listening to the scratchy radio communications from ground control to the astronaut, I saw the backdrop. It was Earth. I can't imagine what it must be like for an astronaut to get so involved with working on the space station, only to take a short break to stretch their shoulders and look up and see an entire planet spinning under them. I've been hooked on NASA tv ever since, and now follow several astronauts on Twitter. The future is a wonderful thing, isn't it?

Within the last couple of years, my love has grown into a bit of an obsession and it seems I don't go a day without looking up at the sky, day or night, to wonder what it's like to float in space. I would love to know the sensation of bouncing around on the moon. That may not be a realistic dream to have yet, but in the year 2010, going into space is. I wear my meteorite ring every day, but I'd like to go out and see where it came from.

I want to go into space.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Lark Toys in Kellogg, Minnesota

IN 2009 MY MINNESOTA WANDERLUST directed me to Lark Toys, located 95 miles south of Minneapolis on historic U.S. Route 61 in Kellogg, Minnesota.

After years of selling their wooden toys at craft and art fairs, Sarah and Donn Kreofsky founded the Lark Toy factory in 1983. Shortly thereafter, they opened a small store which they eventually expanded to make room for other unique toys and books, in addition to their own handcrafted wooden toys.
Unicorn prototype

Since the addition of their retail space, Lark Toys has grown into an even bigger spot for fun. There is now a toy museum, an 18-hole putt-putt course, and even a healthy dose of amusement park with a stunning one-of-a-kind carousel.

With so many items to ogle, it's difficult to pick one or two favorite elements at Lark Toys; though I was especially fond of the toy train chugging along the perimeter of the store at ceiling-height -- disappearing into tunnels and traversing various rooms. The stand-out attraction, however, is the one-of-a-kind, fully-functional carousel designed by Donn Kreofsky. According to Lark Toys' website, "In 1988, Donn began to design a carousel, 'the largest toy I could make,' he says."

For just $1, kids and adults alike are welcome to hop on a giant goldfish, chicken, otter, or even a pig (if you don't mind sharing the seat with a gnome) for a few go-arounds. Also from their website, "Over a period of nine years, Tim Monson (LARK’s head toymaker) blocked-up the wood; Bill Stark (a local artisan) carved the animals; and LARK artist Mary Eversman hand-stained them. Many visitors had the opportunity to watch the carousel in process. Finally, in 1997, it was ready to begin delighting riders from around the world."

The carousel is housed in the Lark Toys building for year-round use. It is a masterful centerpiece in a space naturally lit by large windows. There are wooden tables and chairs around the merry-go-round, too. Lark Toys has its own cafe that serves picnic fare like sandwiches, hot dogs, ice-cream, and even gourmet fudge made fresh on the spot. It's easy to spend the better half of a day here, so make time to have lunch and be merry.

WANT TO VISIT LARK TOYS? HERE are hours and directions.

Click here to see my entire Lark Toys photo set on Flickr.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Kieran's Irish Pub Moves Across Town

WHEN I ASKED KIERAN WHAT IS his favorite drink to drink at his own pub, he immediately replied: "I've been drinking for 34 years, I don't...No! 39 years! Beer, beer, beer. Since I was 15 I've been drinkin'. Smitticks [Smithwicks], Guinness."

Find out more by reading Block E Goes Brogue by Gregory J. Scott in The Downtown Journal.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Bright Lights in the Night Sky, My Chance to Use NASA's Satellite Tracker!

THE STARS AT NIGHT ARE BIG AND BRIGHT, deep in the heart of...RAMSEY, MN! It's true! I slept over at my parents' place this weekend and right before I hopped into bed the night of February 26, 2010, I looked up at the night sky. I like to do this whenever I'm out in the 'burbs because, as a city-dweller, I don't often get the chance to stargaze.

But what the heck? There was a star pulsing like all the others, but was pulsing red, blue, green, and white! I didn't immediately think UFO, but I did think it was the International Space Station (ISS) and I got very excited about that.

There were two other not-as-prominent blinkers in the sky that seemed to be pulsing red and white. But I concentrated on the brightest, most colorful spot. I zoomed my camera in as far as it would go and propped it up into a pair of binoculars so I could get the above video footage (sorry it's so shaky -- that's me, not the lights). Then I got online to find NASA's ISS tracker to see if that's what I was seeing for sure.

That colorful blinking light, sadly, was not party time on the ISS. Ok -- so what was it then? Most likely a satellite, spinning and reflecting light which made it appear to be blinking. But we live in the future now, so during my internet search, I was able to find out exactly what satellite it was -- as well as what those two other ones might be.
This neato NASA Skywatch 2.0 java applet (click the Skysearch tab) was a helpful search tool that "provides information you need to view the International Space Station, the Shuttle (when it is flying), and any of seven other satellites from wherever you are in the world."

The list gave me three sightings for that night:

One was for the FAST satellite. Because of the colorful waves eminating between Earth and the satellite in the official NASA image to the left, I tend to think this is the satellite I saw. FAST was launched on August 21, 1996. According to the website, "FAST's one year mission duration will be highlighted by this period of intense spacecraft and scientific activity. The measurements made by FAST will address a a broad range of scientific objectives in such areas as: Electron and ion acceleration by parallel E-fields, Wave heating of ions-ion conics, Electrostatic double layers, Field-aligned currents, Kilometric radiation, and General wave/particle interactions."

Another possible satellite was AJISAI (EGS). Click that link and get a load of all 318 mirrors on that disco ball. According to the link, "Ajisai is Japanese for Hydrangea. Prior to launch, the satellite was called Experimental Geodetic Satellite (EGS). The Ajisai mission has two primary objectives. The first objective, which was short term, was testing of NASDA's (now JAXA) H-I, two-stage, launch vehicle. The second and primary long term objective was to determine the exact positions of the many isolated Japanese Islands. Ajisai can also be used for directional and photometric observations, using the mirrors equipped on the surface of satellite." This is also a good candidate for what I saw because, according to Wikipedia, "There is a flash produced when the sun's reflection from one of the satellite's mirrors crosses an observer's position on the earth. Due to the satellite's rotation, and the changing geometry as the satellite moves along its orbit, EGP produces several of these flashes per second. EGP can take up to 18 minutes to cross the sky.
EGP's flashes are visible in binoculars if the observer is on the nighttime side of the planet, and the satellite is in sunlight while its orbital trajectory takes it above the observer's horizon. These conditions are often met in the hours after sunset, and the hours before sunrise. When EGP enters the earth's shadow, the stream of flashes abruptly ceases."
And the final option is a satellite named COSMOS 482 DEB. I'm pretty sure this is not the one, though perhaps it is the cause of the smaller red and white spots I saw. What's pretty interesting about this satellite is that it is no longer really a satellite. According to NASA, its status is DEBRIS, hence the DEB in its name. It was first launched March 31, 1972 and, according to The Planetary Society, COSMOS 482 was a failed Venus lander mission. "The final stage of the rocket carrying the spacecraft into orbit failed and it was unable to achieve the necessary trajectory to carry it on to Venus."

Friday, February 5, 2010

Pavek Museum of Broadcasting

Written in 2002
THERE ARE MANY HIDDEN TREASURES in Minnesota, but I was flabbergasted to find such a prize in St. Louis Park. Like most treasure chests, The Pavek Museum of Broadcasting isn’t easy to spot. Hidden among the unimpressive offices of an industrial park, The Pavek Museum mistakenly follows suit as a plain brick building. Only until you are inside and surrounded by the unique collection of television and radio memorabilia will you realize that you’ve found the X that marks the spot.

Upon entering the museum, a television camera that could hold it’s own against a German U-boat towered over me and took up most of the space in the lobby. Stephan Raymer, managing director and one of the museum’s enthusiastic tour guides, asked what brought me to the museum on such a nice day. “Sheer boredom,” I answered. Raymer started the tour by showing clips from an episode of Axel and his Dog, a children’s television show that first aired on August 5, 1954. I walked a few more feet into a hallway where a collage of Howdy Doody memorabilia crowded around a thick, cream-colored television. The Howdy Doody Show fizzled onto the screen; Clarabell teaching children, and Buffalo Bob, math with canned foods in perfect black and white. The sketch faded and I was lead into another room, slightly bigger than the lobby. Once again greeted by caricatures of today’s appliances, I was able to see how advanced the refrigerator-sized record players of the thirties really were. And how wonderful would it be to have one in my own home, to look at and listen to everyday?
Stand back,” Raymer said, as he plugged in a rotary spark-gap transmitter (telegraph machine) from 1912, not unlike the one used on the Titanic. “It’s pretty old and I don’t know how it’s going to act from time to time.” I stood back, watched him plug in a cord and hand-crank life into the giant machine and create sparks on the spider web-like antennae. My boredom had extinguished. This is the only object that I was told to stand back from, by the way. Mostly visited by children on school fieldtrips, The Pavek Museum teaches children about past technology and are also given the opportunity to make their own radio shows in the authentic 1950’s radio booths. Despite having such a rare exhibit, this is the most interesting hands-on museum I’ve been to.

There is a final giant room in the museum lined with old radios that represent the first 50 years of radio. You’ll have a chance to listen to them too, but not before winning points on the genuine quiz show television set. “Mickey, Mighty, Minnie, and Speedy Gonzales are all famous examples of…” Raymer acted as television host after I stepped up behind the quiz show podiums and viewed myself in the television monitor. I buzzed in on my buzzer, very similar to the thumb clickers on seen on Jeopardy, and answered nervously into the console microphone, “MICE!” I got twenty points for that. If the tour had been over then, I would have been completely satisfied. But I was then guided to a strange device in a corner of the museum. Upon turning on the device, my tour guide began waving his hands near the metal bars protruding from it. “It’s a Theremin,” he explained while trying to play a song. I found it was easier to make it whine like a police siren, but I felt like I was putting on a little magic show by not having to touch the instrument at all to make it work. The perfect museum object, now that I think about it.

Joseph Pavek, the man for which the museum was named, was Bing Crosby’s sound engineer, and so another rare piece the museum has is Bing Crosby’s first recorded music. Of course you are able to listen to it, on the original tape and the original machine it was recorded on. I never knew that radios from the thirties had remote controls, either. But here, of course, I was able to give one a try. The storage room of this place is not unlike the government warehouse scene at the end of Indiana Jones and the Lost Ark, which shows a never-ending room of anonymous crates. The storage room at the Pavek is likewise filled with old radios, television sets, and an old weather antenna made from the nosecone of a B-52 bomber that used to reside at the top of the Foshay Tower. The walls are covered with old signs, including rust damaged WCCO letters, and a barely used sign from TV Heaven 41. The Pavek holds a surprising amount of unique items and is a sure cure for boredom—unlike my television and radio at home.