Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Original Hoarders

I recently visited the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana for an exhibit called “Warriors, Tombs, and Temples: China’s Enduring Legacy.” I was excited about the visit for two reasons; first, I kind of forget the Bowers Museum exists, since I usually head to the Getty when I’m in a museum-going mood, and whenever I do go, I am always reminded of what a wonderful museum it is (although too expensive to visit often). And second, I really don’t know anything about Chinese history or culture and was excited to learn some new things from the exhibit.

What drew me there were the famous life-size terra cotta warriors, but other than that I wasn’t sure what to see or expect. The exhibit was organized chronologically and walked visitors through three of China’s most important dynasties—the Qin, Han, and Tang dynasties—and it did this through the treasures found in imperial tombs and temples.

I liked that the exhibit started with the terra cotta warriors from the Qin Dynasty because I was eager to see them first. Over 8,000 soldiers have been excavated in the pits, but only a few were on display (obvi). They are from the mausoleum complex of China’s first emperor, Qin Shihuangdi, which is regarded as the eighth wonder of the world. When I looked closely, I could still see some of the ancient paint on the warriors’ faces and garments. Every single warrior was painted and looked unique; studies show that eight face molds were used and then clay was added to provide individualized facial features. There were also kneeling archers on display—so intricately created that I could see details of their braids, clothing, fingernails, and even the tread on their shoes. There was also a life-size horse that was originally attached to a chariot, looking ready for battle. I was struck by how well-preserved these ancient figures were. Can you imagine what this army must have looked like in antiquity? Wow…

As we walked through the Qin Dynasty into the Han Dynasty, I noticed a marked difference in the terra cotta warriors from the tomb compound of the Han emperors (Gaozu and Jingdi)—they were smiling! They’re also about 1/3 life-size, so they were very cute, especially compared to the macho life-size mean-looking Qin Dynasty warriors. Did you know that women were known to dress as male warriors in the Han army? Mulan was the most famous—she took the place of her aging father and became a war hero after 12 years of service. Other objects from the Han tombs included figures of a dancer and an attendant. The figures were so detailed and in antiquity would have worn silk and hemp clothing. Great care was taken to make them as authentic as possible to be effective protectors and companions in the afterlife. The objects from the Han Dynasty painted a vivid picture of the peace and prosperity of the time.

Lastly, the exhibit leads to tomb treasures from the Tang Dynasty, a rich time in Chinese history because of the wealth brought into China from the Silk Road. The Tang Dynasty marked a golden age of poetry and the arts in China. There were a lot of interesting artifacts in this section of the exhibit, including a mural depicting a polo match, which struck me as being so odd. I thought polo was just western prepster nonsense. But apparently the ancient Chinese courts fancied it as well, after it was imported from Persia. There were also gold, silver, and jeweled treasures from the treasure-crypt of the Famen Monastery, a Buddhist site that was sealed in 874 and rediscovered in 1987. The site was founded with the historical Buddha’s finger bone, and the reliquaries are on display. By the way, did you know that Buddhism was imported to China from India?!

So, why did the Chinese stuff their mausoleums with so many things? Why did they hoard all this amazing treasure in their tombs and stuff it in with their dead? These objects were meant for protection, companionship, and entertainment for those in the next life. They ensured a comfortable, safe, and extravagant afterlife. It’s amazing how much insight we can gather from looking at these artifacts about ancient China—how they fought, what they wore, how they entertained, what they valued, their religious beliefs, even their humor.

The Chinese believed in ancestor worship and that people still existed even after death and needed to be buried with objects they'd need for the afterlife. Reverence was expressed by burying them with proper rituals and symbols and objects to attract good fortune. I wonder what I would want buried with me if I believed as they did…

I wish I had taken pictures, but you'll have to just go yourself to experience the exhibit, which runs through March 4th…get your tickets here.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Books: A Memoir

I just finished a book called Books: A Memoir, that I bought last spring at The Strand in New York City...a book about books, actually. The author is superfamous but not well-known—Larry McMurtry. He's written nearly thirty books, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning Lonesome Dove. He also co-authored Brokeback Mountain, for which he received an Oscar. But that's not what the book is about.

The book is about McMurtry's lifelong obsession with books, starting from his childhood. His parents never read to him and for a while, he was confused that stories could actually be made up. He had a hard time grasping the concepts of fantasy, story, and invention until his cousin gave him a gift that changed his life—a box of nineteen books.

That gift quickly made McMurtry realize that reading was what he was meant to do; it was “probably the cheapest and most stable pleasure in my life. Sometimes books excite me, sometimes they sustain me, but rarely do they disappoint me...” In his mid-twenties, McMurtry decided he wanted to become an antiquarian book seller, and has been one for about fifty years.

McMurtry first started selling books simply to finance his voracious reading habits. His book collection started with any books he could find. He'd steal from the library, find books in abandoned farmhouses, pick them up at charity stores, or find them in junk shops. For the first twenty years of his book hunting career, he actually read nearly every book he found. “I think sometimes that I'm angry with my library because I know that I can't reread it all.”

McMurtry has handled at least a million books in his life, and is still buying books, old and new. He talks about the intellectual and tactile pleasures of bookselling, his weird fascination with French literature (“I just liked the foreignness of it.”) and affinity for English travel books (“The English have always gone everywhere, and written about it.”), how he gets irrationally competitive at auctions, his fascination with the “silent migration” of books, and his uncanny ability to find volumes inscribed by his friend and fellow bookman Franklin Gilliam; Gilliam often inscribed racy notes to girlfriends in his books. One day he moseyed into McMurtry's bookshop, found one of his books on the shelf, opened and read the inscription, and fled the store, embarrassed. McMurtry never saw him again.

The book gave me a great picture of the crazy, intriguing, romantic world of bookselling—about how there are famous book scouts that the general public doesn't know anything about, about how tricky it is to estimate the cost of an entire library and bid for it, about the eccentricities of bookmen. McMurtry also talks about some of the interesting oddities he's picked up over the years living in a world of traders, including a Sumatran village drum, a Maori war club, and a “fine skull collection.”

Underlying the decades of adventures in book hunting was one motive—McMurtry just never wanted to be without books he wanted to read.

If you love books—not just reading, but actual books—if you like being around them, picking them up, how they feel in your hand, their weight, texture, smell, type, binding,'ll enjoy this memoir. It speaks to those of us who will always retain an affection for books, even in a world that values things more practical—for those of us who love books apart from what's in them.

Monday, November 21, 2011


A week ago today marked the official start of the holiday season at Disneyland, so Nate and I went last weekend on Sunday since we knew all the decorations were already up (yep, we cheated). Main Street was resplendent in bright garlands, wreaths, and lights and greeted us with its giant Christmas tree, with pretty presents and smiling people surrounding it. After a couple days of gloom and rain, we spent a lovely afternoon going on ride after ride without a grown-up care in the world. We went on It’s a Small World Holiday, all decked out in a million twinkling lights. We twirled around in the teacups, screamed on Space Mountain (well, I did, anyway), and took the train around the park. Nate bought me cheetah-print Mickey ears in Adventureland. Holding hands, we watched the parade, and I bounced around just as giddy as any eight-year-old that was there, waving to the princesses and singing along. We walked under the pretty garlands and beads and ornaments hung in New Orleans Square. We overate delicious Mexican food under glowing glass star lanterns. We saw Santa’s real reindeer at Santa’s Round-Up and walked to Sleeping Beauty’s castle, crowned with glittery icicles and gleaming snow. And after we ate our ice cream cones as we watched the holiday fireworks show, it started “snowing.” Magical Disney Christmas snow. And tears of joy streamed down my face.

I know it’s silly and childish, and I almost felt embarrassed for being so excited. But you know what? I hope I never lose that childlike awe, for Disneyland or anything else. No matter how many times I go, it never gets old. The promise of enchantment and adventure as I enter through the front gates never leaves me wanting. I’ve been an annual passholder since middle school…and I still just can’t wait to go back.

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Wish List Is Here!

It's tradition: time for the annual wish list. And since my birthday and Christmas are coming, I've made sure it's a substantial one. I'm thoughtful like that. (You're welcome!) Here it is:Anthropologie gift card. Every December 26th I head to my favorite Anthro store in L.A. and hit the sales. Help my shopping endeavors? Bedhead After Party. This product makes your hair smooth, shiny and smell delicious. Like candy, seriously. It's kind of magical. I'm just saying. Find it at Target for about $20.

In the past, my wish lists have consisted almost exclusively of books. But I actually have so many books now that I don't have room for many more! I want this book though--Common Sense by Thomas Paine. I've never read it, have wanted to for a long time, and don't own it. Paperback, please.

J'adore by Dior. I love perfume and wear it every day. But I have fickle olfactory issues and don't usually stick to one scent for very long. However, this is the one perfume that I have consistently adored (get it?) for the longest time. I get so many compliments when I wear it. I'm out and need another bottle. Find it at department stores.Is this not the cutest ornament you've ever seen?! I found this on my friend Erin's list and definitely had to add it to mine. (We are both macaron connoisseurs.) Find it online at Sur la Table for $9.95. (Pink, please.)

Oh, goodness. Isn't this Marc by Marc Jacobs bag beautiful? I try not to rub my face on it when I see it at Nordstrom. It's the Classic Q--Natasha Crossbody Flap Bag in faded aluminum. Oh, and it's $368. (Womp, womp...)

This is Lancome Hypnose Doll Lash Mascara. I'm obsessed with mascara and unlike every other makeup product, I retain no loyalty to mascara and am always trying new ones. This looks great. Find it at Nordstrom or Sephora for $25.Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Night moisturizer. Okay, don't laugh at me. I'm almost 30, and while the impending threat of wrinkles is real, I actually read that this product reduces redness and splotchiness, which is why I really want it. My bare skin is not cute. I ran into a friend at Target once and she asked me if I was sick. No, no, I was not. I just was not wearing makeup. Find it at Target or Neutrogena's website for about $20.Starbucks gift cards...because those nonfat 2-pump vanilla lattes don't pay for themselves, do they?

Tiffany & Co. silver anchor necklace. How cute would this go with a striped top and the Sperrys I'm supposed to not know that Nathan is getting me for Christmas?! Find it at Tiffany's for $200.

There you have it! What do you want for Christmas?