Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Tutankhamun: The Golden King and the Great Pharaohs

On Saturday I spent a while meandering through dimly lit rooms viewing ancient Egyptian artifacts at the Science Museum of Minnesota's latest exhibit, Tutankhamun: The Golden King and the Great Pharaohs. There were brighter lights dotting each room in order to highlight the artifacts, one of which was an honest-to-goodness ancient toilet seat. I gazed at it for a moment, seeing similarities in shape to our modern version and thought, "Yes. Yes, I suppose that would work just fine."

Suddenly I was picturing scantily clad Egyptians trying to maneuver going to the bathroom wearing their heavy gold accessories. Why wasn't there an ancient toilet paper holder? Didn't they have to wipe? Maybe they WERE aliens! My mom sometimes comes to the conclusion that they were aliens, but aliens wouldn't think a giant scarab beetle pushed the sun up from the underworld every day now would would they? I don't know about you, but I've never exactly pictured people of an advanced ancient culture having to take time out of their day to go potty. But here I was, staring at the actual device they used. Don't you love museums?

Tutankhamun is filled with amazing artifacts -- 100 to be exact -- found in Howard Carter's 1922 excavation of King Tut's tomb. There are masterful sculptures that I envisioned flappers looking at for fashion ideas, finely crafted beaded and gold jewelry, and even the boy king's smallish white bed and throne. There's something about staring at an object while knowing it is THE object Tut used that is just so exciting. Kind of like when I saw the actual B3 organ used in the song Green Onions when I went to the Stacks museum in Memphis.

There were many pieces on display that caused me to shake my head, or drop my jaw, or otherwise spasm in wonder. Including one piece that has never traveled outside of Egypt until now. Think of that! Or the little coffinette in which Tut's stomach was enclosed. Of course the bejeweled coffinete is now empty and so is on display slightly opened. I recall there being a drippy smudge inside of it and can't help but think it's some sort of result of the acid in Tutankhamun's stomach.

And then there's the exact replica of Tut's mummified remains, printed from a 3D printer based on actual CAT scan measurements of the body. In some ways I think that is even more impressive than the actual remains of Tut.

There are mysteries surrounding Tut's death and the exhibit does a nice job of presenting what those mysteries are along with the realities of what could have been the cause. There are conjectures as to his death being the result of malaria, or a bone disease that was showing signs in his foot, but there is nothing definitive. In fact, the ancient culture tried its best to erase Tut from history, which is fascinating, considering King Tut is the first thing people think of, besides the pyramids, when the subject of Egypt comes up today.

As you will see in the care of this exhibit, Tut's posessions -- and I imagine the actual mummified Tut -- are still being treated like royalty 3,000 years after his death. It makes you think, however briefly, that maybe the Egyptians were on to something when taking such care in preparing for the after-life.

Visit the Science Museum of Minnesota.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Spectacular! Spectacular! Party with the Minnesota Opera and Tempo

 The Minnesota Opera's Tempo program is perfecting parties. Tonight they transformed The Varsity into a Hollywood Bohemian dream-scape in conjunction with their upcoming opera, La traviata -- the very opera that inspired the movie Moulin Rouge. It was a cold and windy night and the Varsity had a line around the block, but everyone who made it in was welcomed with a cozy, candle-lit atmosphere complete with fortune tellers, burlesque dancers, and Tango performers. And that was just to get the evening started.

Bunny had a short numerology session and before grabbing drinks and hors d'oeuvres and settling into one of the horseshoe-shaped booths, we got our photo taken by a lady from FairShadow Photography who had set up a theme booth. Music by Cafe Accordian Orchestra played a lively set, then red and black-clad Tango dancers took over the stage and showed off their intricate moves before two be-feathered showgirls escorted Joshua Dorothy, the Tempo board chair, onto the stage to speak a bit on the details of the organization.

"They expect me to talk now," Joshua said, short of breath. "But I don't know how I can after that." It's always fun to watch what happens to Josh when he takes the stage. At the last Tempo Party, dubbed Opera Bootcamp, the host demanded he do push-ups. I suspect that his breathlessness tonight was much more pleasant. Tenor Brad Benoit, who was accompanied by pianist Jeremy Reger, captivated the audience with a couple of songs from La traviata.

Foxy Tann, the Boss of Burlesque MCd the event, taking the stage at intervals throughout the evening in a jeweled dress and her signature giant hairdo. At around 10pm she introduced the screening of Moulin Rouge -- the version starring Nicole Kidman and Ewen McGregor. I had never seen this movie before and was delighted at how absolutely bonkers it is. Suddenly the psychelic lights on the wall made more sense. Bunny ran out to the corner store and bought a bag of popcorn while I replenished our cocktails.

From our vantage point, we could see peoples' fingers, elbows, and arms dripping over the crowded balcony as the movie began. Chandeliers and disco balls twinkled from the ceiling and soon, not surprisingly for a music-based party, people in the audience were swaying in time or singing along with the movie's soundtrack. During a few of the scenes, dancers came out and performed before the big screen.

When the movie ended, Foxy Tann again took the stage. "Are you crying?" she asked, wiping a tear from her face. She quickly made sure to let us know that the evening was not over, but in fact was just getting started. The movie screen rolled back up into the ceiling and Chrissy & Shawn, who make up the "booty-shakin' jams" DJing duo, DJ Unicorns. And I can confirm that, indeed, booties promptly began to shake.

Tomorrow I'm off to the Tut exhibit at the Minnesota Science Museum. Stay tuned.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Happy Hour at Sea Change

 TODAY BEGAN WITH HAPPY HOUR. Perfect, no? After rumors were confirmed that indeed John Waters was just a few blocks away at the Walker Art Center, Bunny and I immediately plotted what dive bars we should scope out in the hopes of catching a glimpse of him. But the blips on our radar -- Twitter -- went silent before we even began our trek. So instead we sipped scotch and nibbled on some olives and cheese at D'Amico in the Chambers Hotel. Then we wandered over to Kieran's Irish Pub for some champ before our brisk walk to the Guthrie's restaurant Sea Change to continue making the hours happy. So much for dive bars.

Sea Change has recently instigated a brand new happy hour with an earlier starting time and it's sure to be a hit. From Sundays through Thursdays from 8:00pm to 11:00pm, Sea Change happy hour specials include $5 Absolut or Jameson cocktails, $5 red or white wine, $3 Grain Belt Premium Beer and $5 burgers and fish sandwiches. There were quite a few journalists who made it out to this happy hour sampler, too, and I made an observation that local restaurateurs may like to know: Twin Cities' journalists are oyster fiends. Erik Anderson, the chef at Sea Change, couldn't replenish the iced critters fast enough. After finding out that he is currently among the nominees for Food & Wine's The People's Best New Chef Award, I couldn't wait to taste the other samples he had planned for the evening.

My favorite was the fish sandwich; the breaded fish patty was delicious and simple in its presentation on a fluffy white bun with a pickle and sauce. The burger has much more action between the buns, as it were, with cheese, bacon, and caramelized onions. Since this was a sampler night, the burgers and fish sandwiches were miniature. I was told they will be bigger for the actual happy hour.

But, as Tallulah says, I never eat on an empty stomach.

Although Sea Change's special happy hour cocktails are not classics, they are well-crafted with a choice of either a vodka or whiskey base. Because of the ginger beer and mint that makes up their Jameson cocktail, it tastes a bit like a Moscow Mule jumped into an herb garden. I'm curious about what gives this drink its pretty pink color.

The vodka-based drink was much more of a citrus-flavored drink, like a very stiff Absolut lemonade with an alcoholic-bite -- something to make the back of your jaw tingle. This drink made everyone think of summer and we glanced outside, dreaming about the weather that will soon permit outdoor seating. Instead, only the colossal image of Arthur Miller peered back at us from the frigid outdoors. One attractive lady and I ended up exchanging our When-I-Met-Arthur-Miller stories, and it turns out his eyes were very much focused at the same angle whenever he was around a lady.

Our reminiscing was cut short when one wild-haired guest broke a glass full of white wine. Everyone knew it wasn't because the drink was bad, but it did seem to signal that the party was a success. (A broken glass of Jameson, on the other hand, would have been something to cry over.) Another round of oysters appeared on the counter top and distracted everyone from the matter altogether.

Not ones to quit partying when a good party comes to an end, Bunny and I found some playwright friends enjoying a late night bite in Sea Change after the happy hour sampler came to an end. The place was rather busy at this time, as Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, one of the shows currently playing at the Guthrie, had just let out. I was lucky enough to meet a couple of the leading men in the cast at this time, too. James T. Alfred, who plays the character Levee, and Penumbra founding member Abdul Salaam El Razzac, who plays Toledo, were nice enough to sit and share jokes and stories over champagne until the lights in Sea Change came on full blast, letting the four of us know this after-party party was over. And a note to James: I hope your invite for port still stands.

Opera party tomorrow. Stay tuned.