Going to the Getty Museum is like visiting the home of a billionaire evil mastermind. Which makes sense, at least the billionaire part, because in 1982 it became the richest museum in the world, inheriting $1.2 billion from Getty himself (In 2011 the endowment was estimated at $5.6 billion.). At the time it was what the New York Times called a “small and mediocre collection of ancient and European art.” The museum’s windfall begged the question whether any sum of money could bring a museum coming so late to the game to a world-class standard, considering that so many of the great works of art were already claimed by other museums. Well I’m in no position to evaluate that- I’m no art expert, and I didn’t make it through the entire museum. But I can tell you it’s been lauded for its post-Renaissance decorative arts and the expanding photography selection, and complimented for its improving contemporary art collection, and I can give you a glimpse at what I saw.

To reach the Bond villain’s complex, you must first park underground and take a tram up the hill. Everything is white, which, in a pleasant surprise, serves only to provide a clean line to draw your eye to the dramatic architecture, contrasted against the background of panoramic views of the hills, ocean, and city,  instead of making it feel abrasively stark or hospital-sterile.

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When you reach the top you are greeted by volunteers happy to direct you up the stairs to the visitor’s center for a map. Both are much needed, because this place is huge and the layout is not immediately apparent.

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IMG_1594 IMG_1598The visitor’s center is an indoor-outdoor type room, with an entire wall open to the air. Walking through, you reach a courtyard ringed by the collection buildings.

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I knew what I wanted to see, so I went straight to the West Pavilion for “Art After 1800”.

The ground floor is European sculptures and decorate arts. Here I warmed up my sophisticated art evaluation skills by thinking such cultured thoughts as,

“Damn, that’s a large vase. Or is it an urn? What the hell do you call that?”

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And, “generous of this man to model on the toilet.”

IMG_1611From there I ascended and got the good stuff. Famous Degas, Renoir, Monet, Pissarro, Sisley, and Cezanne are concentrated in one room.

I was most excited to see Irises (Van Gogh). It’s always awe-inspiring to see paintings you’ve been looking at in books for years. It’s a pleasure to be able to examine them up close, see the brush stokes and all the different colors.

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Wheatstacks (Monet) was the same deal.

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IMG_1624This bather has possibly never taken a bath before…

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Been there.

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Rouen Cathedral, Facade (Morning Affect)- Monet

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More depression.

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There’s been a terrible understanding. I asked for her booty on a platter.

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Possibly more depression, possibly mean muggin.

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From the collections there are balconies from which you can admire the view. I immediately got lost trying to return to… anything recognizable, but that’s why I grabbed the map.

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From my vantage point I spied the sunken Central Garden, which I made it my next point to investigate. 

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This was a very cool set up for a ramp.

IMG_1700At garden level, I became obsessed with these flower-tree trellises.

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A stream winds down through trees to drop off a waterfall into a floating maze of azaleas. 

IMG_1711IMG_1709IMG_1705  The azalea maze is ringed by specialty gardens.  A path through them continues the maze effect. IMG_1715IMG_1717IMG_1720IMG_1724  Exhausted and in need of some sustenance (chocolate chip cookies thankfully sold on site), I climbed the stream path towards the tram out. The last notable thing I must show you is this waterfall-pool thing, which I think must give me the best impression of being inside a vase that I will ever get. IMG_1739

Day two in San Antonio started with more eating. This time we were headed to Taco Taco, a restaurant Bon Appetit had raved about as being “the best tacos in America!!” and Food & Wine Magazine had named one of of the best taco spots across the country. Their list of awards goes on and on: http://www.tacotacosa.com/awards/

From the outside, Taco Taco appeared to be a pretty unassuming place.

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But a line stretched out from the door, just like we’d heard always did. It was only a five minute wait though, really nothing at all.

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The inside was equally unassuming, just some tables, chairs, and people eating. On a small tv in the corner, the episode of Diners, Drive-Ins, & Dives that featured Taco Taco played on loop (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oqgDrZ4Sjzc). On the wall, a signed poster of Guy Fiery quietly boasted of his visit.

We ordered a Huevo a la Mexicano breakfast taco and their famous Taco Norteno. You couldn’t order it without meat, so I geared myself to eat some beef. I just feel like when I’m travelling across the country and trying to eat the best food I can, if they say the famous dish only comes with meat, I’m gonna try it for the experience.

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It was pretty good. I could see how if you were a meat fan you would be a lot more enthusiastic about the Taco Nortena. For us, we were underwhelmed. The tortilla for sure was delicious. It was warm, soft, and thicker than any tortilla I’d had before. You could tell they were hand-made in the cafe. It made me interested to try and make tortillas myself next time I cook mexican, because it was such a step above store-bought ones and noticeably elevated the quality of the taco. The beef was good, well seasoned. I’m just averse to meat, so what I look for in a taco is a lot of fresh vegetables. It only had a few bell peppers lightly sautéed and some refried beans. I was hoping for a taco bursting with vegetables and flavor, but that’s just not what I got. It definitely needed the salsa and hot sauce we added to it. The egg taco was, again, fine. It was scrambled eggs in a taco. The tortilla was the highlight.

Next we headed downtown to see the Alamo, something Rachael insisted upon. Neither of us really remembered what we were supposed to remember about the Alamo, but we got the gist that there was a big fight against Mexico there and everybody died. If you want to know more, look it up, because it really didn’t interest me. You weren’t allowed to take pictures in there, but it was a few empty rooms with some guns in glass cases and names on plaques. Instead, enjoy this picture of a horse in a silly hat.

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The best part of the Alamo was the gift shop. We had a little photoshoot with the coonskin caps and wooden guns.

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The theme of the shop seemed to be Don’t Mess With Texas. You could almost hear the chest thumping and manly grunting amongst all the bumper stickers and refrigerator magnets proclaiming that Texans were gonna kick your ass. I had trouble assimilating that attitude with the story I had just learned about Mexico completely defeating Texas’s forces at the Alamo. But I guess later there was a battle at San Jacinto where the Texian army defeated the Mexicans in all of 18 minutes, so that’s supposed to be retribution. Only 9 Texians died, while 630 Mexicans were killed, and 730 captured, which is admittedly impressive.

We were more into the candy sticks, so we got us some of those and were back out on the road…

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Patrolling around in the sunshine, sucking on our candy, we came across the largest table tennis paddle in the world. I feel like no cross-country trip is complete without seeing the largest something, so I was glad to find this strange artifact.

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There was also the world’s largest hawaiian shirt, for good measure.

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In a nearby souvenir shop we found this bizarre creature. Is that a jackalope?

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And lots of salt/pepper shakers…

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I was about to try and make two of the men shakers kiss, because I was curious on the state of gay rights in the shaker community, but I promptly dropped one and broke it. I swept it up and offered to pay, but the shopkeeper said I didn’t need to. That was my cue for a swift exit.

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In the next store we came across the oddest souvenir yet. Of course I want a water bottle that looks like a cow foreleg…image042

Next we walked through an old governor’s house, historically preserved. It was interesting in that it gave me more of a feel for past San Antonio than the Alamo had, but mostly I thought of it as the house with the cool candle-holders.

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We were off again. This time to Market Square, a mexican market area.

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Horchata and cantaloupe agua fresca were much needed after all that walking in the heat.

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Sitting on the floor to drink it, we watched a mexican band play and some couples/one homeless man dance.

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[youtube=http://http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-t2orXei6lg&feature=youtu.be]

We started back towards our car. This wheel chair man was going places.

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Rachael wanted to look in this church, but she got the evil eye at the door for wearing shorts. I consoled her saying, “Jesus don’t care, he went shirtless all the time! I’ve seen pictures.”

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Finally back to our car, we were too exhausted to possibly rent bikes to bike through the historical old house area as our hosts had suggested. Instead I drove by slowly while Rachael hung out the window taking pictures.

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And that was the end our day in San Antonio. We had aspirations of going country line dancing, but we were just too tired. Being a tourist is hard work.

Our second day in New Orleans started out dreary and storming. I woke up wondering why Rachael was typing so goddamn loud on her computer, only to realize it was the rain pounding on our roof. I wanted to go to the New Orleans Museum of Art, and we took advantage of a break in the deluge to start with the sculpture garden. In our opinion, it was the best part of the museum. The sculptures were beautifully plotted along the grounds to be shown to their best advantage and complimented by the nature.

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This one made us think of some sort of post-apocalyptic world where aliens had broken off the tip of the Washington monument and smashed it into the ground.

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Freaky monkey-human hybrids.

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This one looked an awful lot like Christ to me, but it was titled something ambiguous like “standing man”.

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The actual museum was underwhelming. They did have a few great works by Picasso, Manet, Monet, and Degas.

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But mostly it was ho-hum. The woman at the front desk said I couldn’t miss the exhibit they had on the World’s Fair when it was hosted in New Orleans in the 1930’s, so we made a tour through. The only thing I learned from the exhibit is that I never want to go to a World’s fair if it’s going to resemble that dreadfully boring collection of ugly old furniture.

We wrapped up our visit by walking a little into the park to the café Monday Call. We sat inside and watched the rain while enjoying our beignets and coffee.

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The beignets at Café du Monde were better, but Monday Call was so much quieter, and prettily situated in the park.

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It would have been lovely outdoor seating on a sunny day.

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Before you read this post, first observe the platform wedges I’m wearing in this picture. Then consider that I walked 4 miles in them. Now think to yourself, “Respect.”

From Café du Monde to Magazine/Harmony St (the bus stop from hell).

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After some solid tromping from the canal, we hit the Arts and Warehouse District. Our first stop was the welcome oasis of The Soda Shop, a cute, old-timey place connected to the WWII Museum. They make their own original sodas in-house. I got nectar; Rachael, honey-apple. Perfect for our parched traveler’s throats.

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Next we walked a block off Magazine to hit the Ogden Museum of Southern Art. http://www.ogdenmuseum.org/

It had an amazing collection. I loved this crazy rocking horse made of beads, chains, wheels, and whatever else

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Rachael and I quickly discovered we had very different tastes in art. I adored this funky cow painting and told her I’d totally hang it in my house- to which she candidly replied with gusto, “I wouldn’t let that near my house with a burning pole!” A bit of a mixed saying, but I got the message ha.

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This was more her style, but didn’t do much for me.

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But we both agreed that “Sit down shut your mouth” was a winner. Especially appropriate as it was painted on an old TV.

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I liked that this sculpture was displayed in an atrium-like area.

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We both liked this story of a broken plate painted on a cabinet door, with bits of plate used for the mother and daughter’s clothing. The vignette itself was touching, but somehow the artist’s use of those mediums made it especially evocative.

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Funky bejeweled cats and dog-

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This collage was already off-putting and severe, but the use of light and the protruding frame to cast shadows made it even more so.

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This was dumb. All the figures are from famous paintings, but now they all have cell phones. Cool…. Not.

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A great collection, but my favorite was the exhibit of Eudora Welty: Photographs from the 1930’s and 40’s. Her snapshot style really caught the life in her subjects.

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More cool folk art.

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Ogden was completely worth the visit and reasonably priced too at $8 for students. I loved it.

But our travels were just beginning. Upon exiting the museum, we first needed to add our admission stickers to this pole collection and appreciate these ridiculous biker-safety posters-

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That must have been a fun photo shoot.

We walked and walked and walked some more down Magazine, entering the Garden District. It was beautiful, the dappled light coming down through the trees to light the old antebellum houses. But there was also the murmur of conflict you could feel everywhere in the city. The cracked streets and crumbling facades evoked a quiet but distinct undercurrent of man versus nature.

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A short detour off Magazine brought us to one of the city’s famous aboveground cemeteries.

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Back on Magazine, we finally we hit the good shopping area. It was a mix of funky stores selling vintage clothes, quirky local art/jewelry, and antiques, along with cafes, bars, and restaurants.

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Angry birds.

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I like the cat that’s straight busting through a crack in the wall…

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We found some great old jazz records.

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Fun earrings.

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I was digging the dentures.

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This woman artist melted down Mardi Gras beads into lampshades and sun jujus. I liked these because they incorporated the voodoo and carnival flavor of New Orleans in a new, creative way, very different from the usual horribly tacky souvenirs.

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These lights reminded me of jellyfish!

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Sun Jujus

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There were shops specializing in calligraphy, signs, posters, and post-cards. I should note that all the shop keepers we spoke to were usually the artists themselves, and perfectly happy to tell us about their work or help us with directions. It made shopping even more fun to make a personal connection with the locals.

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There were also plenty of typical hipster items for sale, i.e. anything inexplicably decorated with a mustache. We even found temporary mustache tattoos.

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If you needed your ironic religious paraphernalia, they had that too.

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In typical hipster fashion, the shopping bag for my floral sunglasses is a cookie monster-cookie Ziploc. I liked it.

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In the middle of all that shopping there was another welcome oasis: Sucre. They’re famous for specializing in hand-made chocolates, macaroons, and gelato. We shared a salted-caramel macaroon: delish. I got the peanut butter and fudge swirl gelato; Rachael got mango and basil-coconut. Smooth cold, and creamy: the perfect treat after all that walking in the sun.

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At the end of our trek, this is where shit got real. Real fucking annoying. We waited at this bus stop for 40 minutes, watching 5 buses go by in the other direction. Take a cab.

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Then back to our house to recuperate before nighttime adventures…

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