Adventures abroad: Museum of Islamic Art, Doha

There are not that many places to check out in Qatar, at least in 2014. (There was a lot of development going on in preparation for the World Cup, though, so there might be more things to check out nowadays.) There’s the souk, which was definitely made for tourists and probably not a place that locals hang out much at all. Great restaurants, though. There’s The Pearl, Doha’s artificial island that was probably spurred on by those crazy island-making developments down in Dubai.

And then there’s the Islamic Museum. The exhibits aren’t that exceptional, to be honest. I much preferred the smaller museums in Kuwait and Oman. The real attraction, though, is the building. The museum was built on an artificial island and designed by superstar architect I. M. Pei (he of the pyramid in the middle of the Louvre). It’s got a very modern look, with flat clean surfaces and a building-block aesthetic.

However, the materials and the arches make the building unmistakably Middle Eastern. The overall design discipline of Middle Eastern artwork — with its clean lines, repeating patterns and complimentary colors — to me already looks contemporary.  Now it’s simplified further to break the design down to the most basic of elements.  (Wikipedia says that I. M. Pei took inspiration from an ancient 9th Century structure: the Mosque of Ibn Tulun in Egypt.)

The best part is that the faces of the building are angled in such a way that the light casts different shadows on its surfaces different times of the day. At night, it’s lit up, and the gradients between light and darkness remind me of  something Picasso would’ve painted in his Cubist phase.

The island surrounding it is a lovely park filled with greenery … which I imagine has a heck of an irrigation system underneath. From there, the museum looks like a blocky pyramid — an update to its brethren in Egypt and Mexico.

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Adventures domestic: Funko HQ

Traveling is fun, but sometimes it’s great to see what’s in one’s own backyard.  Toy company Funko has always been in Everett, WA, but recently they relocated their office park space to the recently closed Lutheran school downtown.  The entire first floor is their flagship store, and let me tell you… it’s got goofiness ratcheted up to 11.

It’s more like a pop culture shrine.  In one corner are fiberglass statues devoted to the Adam West Batman TV show.  Across the hall is a Funko version of Hoth from Empire Strikes Back.  Stan Lee looks over his creations and Willy Wonka looms in a cafe.  Outside, a Funko Spider-Man is perched over an old walkway.

I’ve always thought Everett to be an underrated city, and downtown especially needed some attractions.  I gotta say, it’s a great sight seeing families strolling the streets to check out the Funko store.

Adventures abroad: The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

There is a thrill in seeing worship sites from antiquity.  Most modern Western religions emphasize humility, so it’s often a treat to see cathedrals that were built in olden days.  We love the grandness of the architecture, the magnificent paintings, and the rich materials used to make the marble shine, the gold sparkle, and the other precious metals glint with riches more opulent than one can imagine.  These are done not for earthly billionaires but for the glory of a higher power.

Few modern places of worship can compare, which is why the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi is such a treat.  This mosque is huge.  It is a crown jewel in a region full of spectacular mosques.  The white domes and minarets with inlaid precious stones are the perfect match for the surrounding desert landscape.  It’s both an amazing exercise in modern minimalism and a throwback to ancient history.  It is, unmistakably, Arabian.

Inside is the world’s largest carpet, a 35 ton behemoth made from wool cultivated in New Zealand and Iran.  Seven chandeliers hang from the ceiling made of Swarovski crystals.  Columns are inlaid with marble and mother of pearl.  Outside, a pool of the bluest blue surrounds the buiding.  There is something transcendent about the combination of dark blue, marble white, and gold that just speaks the purity of the sand dunes.  It’s so clean, so crisp, so beautiful.  It may be the grandest place of worship that I have ever seen in my life.

Modern, yes, but an instant icon.  It’s such a wonderful building that it earned the world’s second favorite landmark this year according to Trip Advisor.  The only one it was behind?  Angkor Wat.  That is amazingly high praise.

10 Tips to Traveling the Gen-X way!

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An article at Forbes commented on how the travel business has been pivoting towards Millennials.  The article, I think, correctly surmises that this means that travel companies are targeting younger travellers.  “Because we know you only get one life, one shot. So you better make it count,” says one travel outfit.  Which means they have tapped into the Millennial zeitgeist, at least from what I’ve seen.  So… good job, you travel marketing people.

This is fine… but it also means that they’re narrowing focus on one set of people and cutting down on diversity.  What about Gen-X?  You know… you know, that generation that literally all marketers totally ignore?

So, in response to all those thinkpieces like How To Travel Like A Millennial on HuffPo, here’s my awesome guide on how to travel like a Gen-X’er.

Continue reading “10 Tips to Traveling the Gen-X way!”

Rumination: Harper Valley PTA

If you look up Apple Music, “Harper Valley PTA” by Jeannie C. Riley shows up on a playlist entitled “Essential Feminism Songs.”  It’s listed alongside other great girl power standards as “Express Yourself” by Madonna, “Sisters Are Doin’ It for Themselves” by the Eurythmics… and “Shake It Off” by Taylor Swift.  Understandable, since it marks a great musical milestone for a female artist. Riley was the first woman to top both the Billboard Hot 100 and the US Hot Country Singles with the same song in 1968.  The song also won Riley a Grammy.  It’s been covered by Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, Martina McBride, and Billy Ray Cyrus of all people.

I rather hate the song.

Not the whole context of a woman standing up for herself.  But… well, what set her off really?  The secretary of the Harper Valley PTA sends her a note saying that her miniskirt is inappropriate wear for dropping off her daughter at school.  YES, the secretary may have overstepped her bounds by implying that the protagonist, Mrs. Johnson, was a slut.  That was uncalled for.  But I imagine that the secretary must have sent Mrs. Johnson several notes to no avail, and was getting so fed up that by the time this letter went through she was resorting to some nasty name-calling.

Do you know what was uncalled for?  Mrs. Johnson’s retaliation.  She goes to the PTA meeting, and she decides to air out everyone’s dirty laundry in that room… calling everyone a hypocrite when they’re all having affairs and drinking booze behind everyone’s backs.  I get that… but seriously your only beef is with the secretary.  Why are you you lashing out at everyone in the room for?

The song is peppered with slang that shows that Mrs. Johnson is “cool” and “with it”.  She refers to “Peyton Place”, a TV show about a small town scandal, and her daughter is all “my momma socked it” to the PTA, which was some modern slang.  Look… there’s nothing less cool than a mom of a teenage daughter being referred to in the slang of the day.

Anyway, Mrs. Johnson is portrayed as a hero for defending to wear her right to wear a miniskirt while dropping off her daughter at school.   She shames everyone around her whether they criticized her or not.  You know what that sounds like?  A Facebook argument that I never want to be involved in ever.

Do you know who also felt that way?

Singer Jeannie C. Riley herself.

In the 1970’s, she became a Born-again Christian, and the lyrics of the song just didn’t seem to set right with her after.    When she sang it, she was probably the young woman who thought fighting for the right to wear a miniskirt was sticking it to the man.  Now she’s an older woman, and finding the entire outburst embarrassing.

In fact, she released a sequel song in 1984 called “Return to Harper Valley”.  There, Mrs. Johnson wears a full length dress.  She realizes that times have changed.  She’s actually made peace with the people she called out in that PTA meeting.Her daughter now has two kids going to school, and now they’re surrounded by drug users.  IN fear, she wants to get her gun from home, but rather she prays and hopes the PTA will sort things out.

“Return to Harper Valley” wasn’t a hit, because teen rebellion sells way more songs than one about regrets over the consequences.

Adventures abroad: the Absolut Ice Bar


Do you know what’s ridiculously touristy?  The Absolut Ice Bar.  We were actually checking into Hotel C Stockholm, which houses the original Ice Bar, and we had to push our way through tourists just to get through to the front desk to check in.

You know what’s really yummy, though?  Drinking vodka out of a glass made of ice.  Mmmmm…. such flavor.

Also, sitting on the ice throne was dang awesome.