Live theater is good medicine: a year at the Guthrie

board game

Another “brainy time” activity: trying new games at the Science Museum of Minnesota’s Social Science event in July

This week, as I wrap up my first year of season tickets to the Guthrie Theater, I find myself addicted to the music from new Broadway musical, “Hamilton.” It plays in my car and from my iPod during my short runs lately, and earworms from the musical fill various filler pockets (i.e. waiting for coffee to brew, walking the long halls at work) of my days with new vigor and/or brief meditations on history and human nature.

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Lars Lerin watercolors: Bowled over

shorebirds in watercolor by Lars Lerin

Look very closely: shorebird by Lars Lerin

How often do you walk into an art exhibit and your breathing just … stops?

So it was, a couple weeks ago when I finally managed to fit a visit to this show into my typical Saturday-in-Minneapolis morning. “The Watercolor Worlds of Lars Lerin” was about to finish its run at The American Swedish Institute and I was determined to check it out, even if my plans on the way there included a 10-mile run,  a yoga class, and a change of clothes, but no intervening shower. I knew nothing about Mr. Lerin and don’t have any particular attachment to the watercolor medium. However, every show I’ve seen at ASI has been excellent, I had read that birds are featured in several of the works (ornithology is a growing interest for me), and special Lenten Swedish treats were available at the museum’s attached restaurant, FIKA. Lent was about to end; cardamom and sugar taunted me.

Lars Lerin light study


Two things struck me as I took a few steps into the exhibit: scale and intensity. Most of the works were huge – well over four by four feet, and some filled entire walls! Large scale allows paintings to be more like sculpture to me: more immersive and rewarding from up close and also from far away. I’ve rarely seen watercolor paintings that covered such a range of darker shades: I don’t think there was much water in this watercolor.

It was a surprise to achieve such success with light play in this medium, and also such fine detail. The photo at the start of this post is a small portion, maybe about 1/4 of the full painting, of a shoreline scene showing a variety of birds, mostly puffins.



The castle (Turnblad Mansion) that is ASI’s primary housing was a perfect location for this show, as the large windows and very detailed, reflective surfaces  (carved wood and brightly-painted kakelugns are in most rooms) therein added plenty of light as well as some cultural context to these pictures of nature, and of culture juxtaposed with nature. I really did need to remind myself to breathe a few times, while spending an hour or two enjoying this show. What a delight!

Other things I can share, as I haven’t posted much lately:

  • A few nights ago we cooked a delicious meal of mahi mahi with a vanilla-mango sauce. The tangy-sweet flavor in a main dish reminded us of some of the foods we enjoyed in our SE Asia trip, two years ago.
  • So does this Creamy Turmeric Smoothie. Add some Greek yogurt! Tasty.
  • This tasted nothing like Asia but it was similarly different and sweet: Tagliatelle with Caramelized Oranges and Almonds. It was part of our Easter dinner, along with some rotisserie chicken and a salad. It was featured on a recent episode of Splendid Table in which Lynne and Josh Bell together prepared a dish that may have been contemporary with some of the composers whose works he performs. It could be served as dessert (the recipe incorporates 2/3 cup of sugar!), at least if the meal didn’t already fill your guests up on some other form of simple sugar.
  • On the same evening, we watched Cloud Atlas on DVD. It’s a pretty high-concept movie, in a good way! A sort of melding of karma, apocalyptic imagining, and open-heartedness. I enjoyed the story, costuming work, and one of the Tom Hanks characters was particularly amusing. And to think, I was wondering what Tom Tykwer was up to, lately! I’d like to read the David Mitchell book, now as I’ve heard the sequencing may be a little different, and I’m curious about how it handles the continuity of characters/souls, so to speak. I’m still thinking about this film!
  • Steve had some fun tinkering with technology with Al, last evening to help make a mostly self-running greenhouse. Read about it here!
  • I’ve got a month and a half to go before my 25k trail race up on the North Shore (of Lake Superior). Training goes well; my long trail runs are up to 18k /2.5 hours. Yesterday I ran in some new Saucony Peregrine 6 shoes (thanks for the 20% off coupon, REI!): I love my Hokah Challenger trail shoes, but am apprehensive about using such stilts on the rugged Superior single track trails of the race. I’m happy to report that my feet and body felt good during the run and also today! Plus: argyle laces. ARGYLE LACES! And they stay tied.

Big shiny things on Russian tables

copper samovar

It could be a submarine for very tiny Beatles

I think I need a samovar.

This was my thought a few hours ago, when my teacup was empty for the second time since my movie started. Running upstairs 5 times during a 1.5 hour movie to get more tea isn’t helping me achieve the goal of keeping energy expenditure to a minimum. I’ve done everything else I can think of to try and get better: I’m on day 12 of this bugger of a head cold. I’ve decided to stay home from work and I am not even attempting to work remotely. I was parked in front of a TV that was playing a wonderful comedy: perhaps the laughter will be an extra healing bonus? It would be so much better to have a large container of tea-temperature water right down there with me next to the sofa.

Ah well. Hey, I’m on a losing-weight trend, this past week. Why not boost it with a few more steps? This was not my intention, truly. (I’ll pack a thermos next time.)

tombac samovar

A samovar made of tombac: an alloy of copper and zinc.

So, a few weeks ago I went to the Museum of Russian Art to check out a show of samovars. Earlier this fall, I went to a tea ceremony, during which another fellow tea fan mentioned the show. I’m not sure what it is about samovars, but they fascinate me, even the first ones I saw, which weren’t in any way attractive: I think I was at a conference and bad hotel coffee was being served from the huge chrome cylinders in a lobby and somewhere they were labeled as samovars: such an elegant, foreign-sounding word for such an ordinary-seeming hotel appliance. It rolls off the tongue more pleasurably than “coffee urn”.

So I planned my visit to the museum, wondering a little why a coffee maker would star in an art show in a Russian institution. I vaguely understood that Russians were historically a little more into tea.

So, I was right: tea is generally the hot drink of choice in Russia and has been for awhile. I had been misled by some earnest hotel interiors stylist. These objects were wonderful! A room full of finely-crafted shiny things, displayed smartly upon colorful, homey-looking fabrics, and also surrounded by various typical dining-room textiles, tea accoutrements, and paintings that included or featured a samovar. There was even a brick of tea, which looked a lot more brick than tea, but it was molded with a beautiful design. Cyrillic may not have the sexy curls that Arabic does, but it’s still more enjoyable to look at that the Roman alphabet.

samovar spigot of mother-of-pearl

One of my favorite spigots

While there I developed a fondness for something I previously never knew existed: samovar spigot designs. There was a shape common to several of them, a sort of fleur-de-lis, cut in half and flipped back upon itself. However, several designs deviated from this, either in a adorable direction (be it a head of a goat, a serpent/dragon, or a gnome-like creature), or into a more delicate direction, using mother-of-pearl.

Having a samovar on or near your kitchen table would be a great way to linger over conversation, or your on thoughts, and to slow this way too busy life down, just a little. Why doesn’t our culture have something similar?

I remember the strange burple of the plastic hot water kettle that my college first-year roommate had; I never had seen even one of those until then. However, it would boil, and you would turn it off ad make your tea/coffee/ramen. Stop, go, stop. These gleaming “self-cookers” contained a slow-burning fire that kept a decent amount of water at tea temperature. Some of them also had a tea-brewing component.

Russian tablecloth

Stitch detail on a tablecloth

Most of the items in the show were from the 19th century. There were a few examples that were made small as event souvenirs, as well as one “traveling” version which had legs that could be detached, for packing. As elegant as I think our JetBoil is, it’ll never seem as genteel as setting one of these beauties on a picnic table in a campground in a Wyoming Canyon. But would it fit into the boot of the Mini, alongside 75 pounds of china and a crystal punchbowl and our camping gear? Perhaps not. But then, when camping you often have the option of keeping a nice, big, slow campfire. Pretty much a samovar with out that complicated (or not) tea prep.

The show is open until January 24: it’s worth a trip over to South Minneapolis if you’re in the area. If you would like to see more of my photos (I did not shoot all of the samovars), here’s an online gallery.