Larnach Castle (Larnachs Castle, Otago, NZ)

This is the story of New Zealand’s only castle, built in 1871 by William Larnach, a merchant and politician. Everyone in this story hated each other and also the castle.

Money can buy you a lot, including colossal family mess.

That’s a slight exaggeration, but very slight. The castle is some distance from the city of Dunedin and has some very impressive grounds and views. It was fairly remote in the 1870s-80s, which is why the family ladies didn’t really like living there to begin with. William Larnach himself was not home much, as far as I can tell, so its deficiency as a residence for people who depended on social calls to avoid going insane with boredom probably escaped him. He didn’t escape much else though!

Drama awaits.

Briefly, the story of the castle and the Larnach family goes like this: William built it for his first wife (whatever that means, exactly), sparing no expense. Of course, we now know what sort of harbinger that is because we’ve all seen “Jurassic Park.” William, unfortunately, pre-dated that morality tale.

That view tho.
I always feel like old nurseries are made pre-haunted.

First wife Eliza had six children, but died at 38. William then married his wife’s sister, Mary, which the castle’s history room helpfully tells us was legal due to “The Deceased Wife’s Sister Marriage Act” of 1880. The fact that a whole-ass law had to be passed to make this sort of thing permissible also indicates that a lot of people thought it was gross. Some people who definitely thought it was gross were William’s children. There was some serious inheritance at stake. We’ve also all seen “Hamlet.”

The disapproving kids didn’t kill Mary or Polonius or anything like that, but they did also didn’t stick around. Neither did William, who was in Wellington for politician stuff for months on end. Mary was left with a big ol’ house and a drinking problem. She also died at 38, five years later.

One of the bedrooms, just sitting there not being someone a desperately lonely woman could talk to.

Various properties and holdings had been put in Mary’s name because William’s business was going south, and Mary left the children everything, as she had agreed to. This was probably fine with them but it sure suddenly sounded like a terrible idea to William, who did not have control over his own assets anymore. What does a reasonable man do in this situation? He forces his adult children to sign some papers without letting them see what the papers say, naturally. These papers were an agreement to relinquish their newly-inherited stuff. Family dinners were probably really great.

The castle was very European in design but had a lot of the native land in it (not unlike the mansions of Manaus in Brazil). This china features Māori design.

William married a much younger woman next, Constance (we see you, tired cliche). His business deals went wholly belly-up and there were rumors that Constance was sleeping with his youngest son. Ruined and humiliated, William killed himself in a Parliament building in 1898. The surviving family fractured itself further fighting over his will, illustrating that once again, family fortunes mainly get inherited by lawyers.

The castle does still retain some of William’s personal effects.

The castle fell into ruins and went through several owners before the current ones, who’ve spent years restoring the place. The castle now has guest quarters, a cafe, and gift and garden shops. It operates as a museum and hosts events and is a fine way to spend an afternoon.

There was a children’s quiz and bears to spot when I visited, which is a fun way to keep little ones engaged throughout the self-guided tour. Should you find the bears too adorable to leave behind, they’re available in the gift shop.

Obviously.

The whole thing is interesting enough and the grounds really are lovely. I was rather puzzled by one particular room’s presentation, though. All the other rooms were restored to something like how they would have been in their time of use, in line with the numerous other old houses and palaces I’ve been to. Except Constance’s.

I was not entirely sure what to expect when faced with this doorway.

Contance’s room–or boudoir, if we must–does contain a number of personal effects, such as clothing. But then some parasols are just floating around:

?

And also there’s a ghost?

…are you okay

And an old lady?

Who the hell are you even supposed to be

As far as I know, Constance didn’t grow old in the castle–she was much younger than William and the family sold it in 1906. So what is happening here? If there was an explanation anywhere, I missed it. It’s just so tonally different from the rest of the house. It’s wild.

Anyway, you can have a pleasant walk around the gardens, and the food in the cafe was very good. The views really are something else, especially from the tower.

Finally, I have no idea which room this book was in but I really loved it.

First edition of the Spiderwick Chronicles

Larnach Castle is a nice place to visit and have lunch or tea (and presumably also stay overnight). It’s open 365 days a year and relatively pricey to go, so do take your time and get your money’s worth. Check the website for all sorts of availability, reservations, and pricing.

The House of Shrek [Tarras, New Zealand]

Gather ’round, children, and hear the tale of Shrek.

You were not, I hope, expecting an ogre.

New Zealand celebrity Shrek the sheep was a wily Merino sheep belonging to Bendigo Station, near Tarras on the South Island, that evaded shearing for six years, apparently by hiding in caves. After his capture, he was shorn on live TV by New Zealand’s top shearers, giving up a 60 lb (27 kg) fleece, which the linked article helpfully quantifies as enough for 20 large men’s suits. I am not saying that Shrek is the most famous and beloved native son of this country, but I am saying that Taika Waititi does not have his own museum.

Stop by the tiny town of Tarras and walk down this alley and you’ll find the House of Shrek, a two-room temple dedicated to this blessed icon of New Zealand industry. Here you will discover that Shrek’s massive fleece was not in fact turned into 20 men’s suits, but limited-edition sweaters auctioned off for charity by garment-maker Icebreaker. Icebreaker also made a coat for Shrek out of that fleece which sounds both reasonable and terribly weird for some reason.

The famous sweater in question.

Now why would a sheep need a sweater of its own? And why does Shrek appear to be taking an over-ocean helicopter ride in the first photo of this entry? Well, in 2006, small icebergs had drifted curiously close to the Otago coast, causing something of a sensation. Shrek was already raising money for Cure Kids via NZ$10,000 corporate appearances (he visited children and old folks’ homes for free). But there were other heights to scale. It was time for Shrek to get his second stunt shearing.

This shearing was done by another champion shearer, Jim Barnett, shown above not wearing a coat while standing on a damned iceberg, proving that shearers are just a different kind of people than the rest of us mortals.

Now you might think that custom coat of his own fleece was the best accessory possible for Shrek on this visit to an iceberg, but I assure you it is not. The best accessory was the teeny crampons he had to wear to walk on the ice.

You can view part of this fleece at the House of Shrek, and if you are ever in Otago, I insist you do so.

Do it.

Shrek’s charity work went beyond the hefty amount he raised for Cure Kids; he also raised money to save the local school. It was about to close in 2006, when the children wrote a book about Shrek as a fundraiser. That book was so successful that a second book was published the following year. Conquering the world of publishing was added to Shrek’s list of enviable achievements, and the school received over $100,000 and remained open. Shrek was very chill and excellent with children. One of his many photo ops with children is included in the House’s own photo op for visitors, where you might sit next to a pre-sheared Shrek in his cave.

Hero.

The House has many artistic tributes done by children on display, and it is very sweet.

Shrek lived to age 16, and his passing was international news. He lives on in our hearts, however, and in the books written by the Tarras School students (available, along with postcards, at the wool store across the alley) as well as a biography, Shrek: The Story of a Kiwi Icon. The House of Shrek is free and open while the surrounding businesses are I assume (I don’t recall seeing a sign and it doesn’t have a website–just drive through Tarras during normal working hours and walk right in). At a minimum, everyone you know needs to receive a Shrek postcard.

As you leave the House and Tarras, try to remember to live in the spirit of Shrek: be kind to children, be charitable, hideout in caves to avoid anything you don’t want to do, and always look as unbothered as possible, even if you’re floating on a tiny iceberg.

Wellington Museum [Wellington, NZ]

Do you know what is generally incomparably delightful? A well-done city museum.

I know of what I speak.

We saw it in the wonderful Manaus museum in Brazil, and we see it again in the Wellington Museum. During my visit, I carefully selected my photo choices, ending up with a discerningly curated 50 or so. I, uh, will not be using all of them.

In the late 1800s, the museum’s building was the Bond Store, a warehouse for bonded cargo. I do have a video of the little holographic rat that runs around the storage room display, but WordPress issues require a workaround to post it and I’m not prepared to put that energy into it today. Use your imagination.

The first floor, Telling Tales, recounts the history of Wellington in the 20th century in vignettes and related artifacts.

Having just crossed the Cook Straight myself, I can confirm there was no sign of Pelorus Jack.

The little displays cover things like establishing libraries, local lawmaking, and social issues–including the banishment of a Chinese immigrant diagnosed with leprosy to a tiny island in Wellington Harbour in 1903, where he lived in a cave until his death the following year. His food was delivered by boat or by flying fox, and whether that was a zipline or actual giant bat is not clarified.

Time for labour rights struggles!

The general strike that year–following a broken miners’ strike the year before–nearly led to civil war, according to the display, with the striking workers ultimately on the beaten end of street brawls with the better-armed cops. The strike lasted a week.

The Turnbull Library is now a division of the National Library.

During World War II, the country had its own internment location on Matiu/Somes Island in the city’s harbour. Some internees were out-and-loud Nazi sympathizers. Some were just people with German names. The island’s prisoner population ended up including Jews, Pacific Islanders, Italians, Japanese, and actual Nazis all together. Shockingly, this led to some “tension and strife.”

Some prisoner art from the island internment camp.

And so on, around the room to the present day, as this blurry-ass photo somewhat illustrates.

Squinting won’t help.

That’s most of the ground floor. Next floor is devoted to the maritime history of Wellington.

Throughout, the museum has little interactive elements and multimedia displays, which of course I appreciate, and which I thought I’d mention here because I hadn’t yet, even though it doesn’t have anything to do with the photos.

“By the Sea We Live”

Part of the floor is devoted to the sinking of the Wahine ferry in the Wellington Harbour (Cook Straight has seen many shipwrecks) in 1968. Two storms–Cyclone Giselle moving south and another moving north from Antarctica–merged over Wellington as the ferry came out of the straight, in just about the worst possible case scenario. Fifty-three of the 734 people on board died.

Several items from the ship are on display.

A short film is shown in the Wahine area.

This man recounts how his friend and he each grabbed a child before going overboard. He lost his grip on the child and couldn’t locate his friend after he reached land. The friend’s name is on the victims list to the right.

The storm was truly a disaster; it also killed nearly 200 albatrosses in the Wellington area–birds that do not readily succumb to harsh sea conditions.

It’s the nature of history-focused museums to have some pretty emotionally difficult sections to them, and hopefully the physical space of the building is used to help ease the visitor back into the collections. In this case, the Wahine disaster is at the end furthest from the staircase, and so you do have the walk back to it to decompress a bit before ascending to the next floor.

The Ngā Heke floor houses a beautiful work of Māori art, Te Whanganui a Tara, and other works of contemporary Māori artists, and it also presents objects with imaginary histories “as a way to think about what history is and whose voice tells it.” Visitors can take tokens to choose which story they prefer for the objects.

Don’t mind the cat there; he had his own exhibit and appeared throughout the museum. More on him later.
Choose your own history with the tokens.

There was a Māori stories exhibit on this floor that was closed for a booked group when I was there, so I look forward to returning to see that.

Instead of making this just crazy long, I am going to Tiny Tour the Attic, which definitely has its own vibe, as well as the temporary exhibit on Mittens, noted Wellington cat. In the meantime, you can find the Wellington Museum on the city’s waterfront, being generally awesome from 10am to 5pm, seven days a week. Entry is free, so hit that amazing gift shop on the way out.

The Cemetery Series: Karori Cemetery (Wellington, NZ)

It’s the first Cemetery Series entry outside of Argentina!

Like most of the Wellington area, it could be described as “frequently windswept”

I’d like to start by thanking the Friends of Karori Cemetery, who (in addition to researching its history) organize tours of cemetery, and led us around during our visit. That visit occurred on Suffrage Day, so the tour was focused on a few of the women who in life signed the 1893 women’s suffrage petition. You can read more about how New Zealand was the first self-governing nation to grant women the right to vote, if you want to get deep in your feels about the deficiency of your own home country, a depth I think many of us have some solid recent experience with. But I digress.

Karori Cemetery was opened in 1891, following the stuffing-to-the-seams of the cemeteries closer to the center of the town. Karori at the time was still rural, and so the first burial, that of premature infant Frederick Fish, remained alone on a windy, bare hill for six months, when the next burial took place.

Freddie didn’t have a marker until the Friends got him one, but he does have a lot of neighbors now.

Karori Cemetery is the second largest in the country, and has about 83000 burials (and counting). Being so big, I didn’t see all, or even most, of it–but broadly, the big sections are the Catholic, Anglican, Jewish, and public sections.

I happened to park near the Jewish section, near the cemetery shelter.

There is also a Servicemen’s cemetery (established in 1916 for obvious reasons), as well as a few dozen victims of the SS Penguin shipwreck. The dead of the 1918 Influenza pandemic are marked with white crosses. Boy, the 20th century sure was something!

Also, earthquakes.

Naturally, as I took photos, I assumed that I would remember at least the basics of the people mentioned. I assume this every time I take photos on a tour, and I am wrong 100% of the time, but hope springs eternal, along with wildly unearned optimism.

Annie Liez was a widow who signed the petition and lived to 94.
Christina Archibald was a signer, one of thousands of women who were asserting to the government what they already knew–a penis is not required.
Susan Hoar signed the petition, but did not live long enough to participate in an election.

Let’s take a look at some of the grave symbolism, a thing that modern graves are often woefully short on (although I did not upload any photos of stones inscribed with the disconcerting euphemism of “fell asleep on” such-and-such date).

Broken chain, symbolizing the broken chain of life. This headstone has been professionally cleaned, which makes a crazy difference.
The anchor refers to the man’s profession.

I haven’t been in New Zealand long enough to know much about Maori symbolism, but here’s a couple of graves I passed that include some.

The koru symbolizes new beginnings, as in the Maori proverb, “As one fern frond dies – one is born to take it’s place.”

Let’s look at the inside of the chapel and crematorium, since I did not get a photo of the outside for some reason. It was built in 1909, which you know because that’s the large number chiseled on the wall.

The walls are lined with…I dunno the term. Ash cubbies?

The glass windows were commissioned to memorialize members of William Ferguson’s family, including 8-year-old daughter Louisa (I know, but you can’t talk about cemeteries without mentioning some real raging bummers). They came from the Irish workshop An Túr Gloine, world renowned glass artists. “Faith,” shown below, is one of two created by Wilhemina Geddes, noted glass bad-ass.

This is “Wisdom” by Michael Healy, commemorating William Ferguson himself.

The windows held to be real gems of stained glass art by those who are into that sort of thing, and having done a tiny bit of stained glass work in my teens, I can vouch for its hardcoreness, in terms of blood shed.

Before wrapping this entry up, let’s have a peek at a couple more gravey vistas.

Memory garden near the entrance. I’ll be honest; this was a drive-by photographing and I do not have any deets on this one.

The Karori Cemetery is open every day, and I believe you may go in even at night, although the road gates are closed at dusk. There are a couple of self-guided tours (linked above, for soldiers and the SS Penguin victims), and the Friends offer themed tours on the reg, so consult their page for information.

The Wool Shed: New Zealand’s Museum of Sheep and Shearing [Masterton]

WHAT’S UP MOFOOOOOOOOOOOOS

Ok, so, like probably everyone, I’ve been doomscrolling various social media feeds as a primary activity. It’s not great! But despite all the hot garbage everywhere, I managed to find a job, and now here I am, trying to find my blogging rhythm again. I don’t know how readable the post will be, but I’m opting to dig into a museum that was a very sweet visit for my little knitter’s heart.

IMG_20200704_145049.jpg
You know, I generally have a good time in little museums that look like houses.

 

This is the Wool Shed, and here you will learn about the wool industry and its history in New Zealand. Two old, authentic wool sheds are packed with sheep- and wool-related artifacts, as well as vaguely unsettling mannequins, yet another museum feature that is near and dear to my heart.

IMG_20200704_153206.jpg

IMG_20200704_145529.jpg
Do not ever, ever change these mannequins.

Sheep and sheep products used to be a seriously critical aspect of the New Zealand economy, and even today, there are 27 million sheep here–almost 6 sheep for every person.

IMG_20200704_150013.jpg

The town of Masterton hosts The Golden Shears, an International Shearing and Wool Handling competition, which describes itself as “three days of non-stop action and entertainment,” a claim I have no reason to doubt. I had no idea it existed before I visited The Wool Shed, and it is now on my bucket list. Sure, you can see it on TV, but as the website says, “you can’t beat the excitement of being there to witness history being made and to soak up the lanolin infused atmosphere as the sweat drips off competitors brows.”

Footage of the competition is shown at the museum, and it is indeed a richly lanolin-infused atmosphere. I deeply regret not capturing on video the part where the announcer says a competitor is “having the shear of his life.”

I’m gonna go some day, mark my words.

But back to the museum!

IMG_20200704_145857.jpg
an old-timey wool shed, but probably smelling better these days

The displays in the wool sheds show how the sheep were penned and various tools of the wool trade. Also, yes, that is an insane rat up there on that post. Having apparently just had a litter and munching on a weta.

IMG_20200704_152516.jpg
but why

But nevermind that! There are historic shears! Including this pair of left-handed ones, which as a lefty, I very much appreciate.

IMG_20200704_150440.jpg

You’ll also read some history related to labor issues for shed workers:

IMG_20200704_150936.jpg

As well as many examples of shed vocabulary and terminology.

IMG_20200704_151129.jpg
Absolutely sure the code “69” had no in-joke connotation whatsoever and would never besmirch the honor of early 20th century shed workers by suggesting otherwise.

As regular readers know, I also approve of interactive displays in museums, so I was of course very pleased to see this:

IMG_20200704_151919.jpg
An excellent teaching resource, where just about every single person can learn that they do not want to be a sheep shearer prior to electric clippers.

But maybe you’d rather familiarize yourself with some of the grimmer aspects of animal husbandry. No worries; the Wool Shed gotchu.

IMG_20200704_150141.jpg
Well off the top of my head, can’t think of many more traumatic ways to lose testicles.

One room of the museum houses this old hut along with examples of historic machinery and old wool presses. In the hut, you can select the oral histories of several people involved in the wool trade…

IMG_20200704_151441.jpg

…while simultaneously viewing more unsettling mannequins.

IMG_20200704_151530.jpg

IMG_20200704_151605.jpg

HAHA OK THEN SO WHAT ELSE IS THERE

Well how about some fiber education!

 

IMG_20200704_151055.jpg

IMG_20200704_150047.jpg

Any knitter will tell you, merino is some very nice stuff.

IMG_20200704_145630.jpg
*wolf whistle*

Suzy the feral sheep got her maiden shearing done at the museum by world record shearer Peter Casserly, losing about 15 kg of wool right before summer.

IMG_20200704_152126.jpg
the only mandatory summer weight loss

The museum also hosts spinning and weaving demonstrations and has a lovely collection of spinning wheels.

IMG_20200704_151237.jpg

But sheep are not only good for wool, of course.

IMG_20200704_152208.jpg

Finally, let’s have a look at some wool-related art, because this little place truly has it all.

IMG_20200704_145521.jpg

IMG_20200704_153105.jpg
“The Golden Fleece” by Paul Jenson, 1994. Created for the World of Wearable Art event.

Obligatory Lord of the Rings entry:

IMG_20200704_150717.jpg
I mean, will I be going to the shop? Obviously.

So there you have it! Wonderful museum, chock-full of information and artifacts, good-sized shop full of wool swag. Open all week, 10am-4pm, $10 for adults, $3 for children under 15, $20 for families (two adults & four children). Children under 5 are free. Of course, if you just wanna shop or see the Golden Shears Wall of Fame, those areas are free.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Update! I am still here I SWEAR

So, we relocated. To New Zealand.

If you’ve ever made an international move, you know that it’s entirely reasonable to spend the prior few months in a frenzy and the following month in a coma. This is what happened.

I still have a couple of Brazilian museums to write up and I’ve already been to a few in New Zealand, so as soon as I shake off the coma, I’ll be back. Pinky swear.

Manaus, Brazil: Museu da Cidade – Paço da Liberdade [City Museum – Palace of Liberty]

Hoho, what do we have here?  A third country?!  YES!  It is time to visit some museums in an ENTIRELY. DIFFERENT. BIOME.

The city of Manaus, in northern Brazil, is called “The Gateway to the Amazon” because it is smack in the middle of the Amazon rainforest.  Its boom age was the late 19th/early 20th century, when it was at the center of the rubber industry.  The rubber barons brought a lot of European sensibilities to the city as well as opulent displays of insane wealth.  It feels a little weird, looking around Manaus, as it does sort of give the impression that several shiny European buildings were plopped in the middle of the jungle.  Which, fair, I guess.

IMG_20191004_104652.jpg
Neoclassical!

The City Museum is housed in the old city hall building, constructed in 1879.  And it’s frickin’ neat.  The museum is tech-heavy, at least tech-heavier than I’m used to in a history museum, and it’s done really well.  You don’t even have to take my word for it:  The museum has an app.  You can go download it now (it’s called Museu da Cidade de Manaus).  It’s got an English setting.

If you’re actually at the museum, you’re definitely going to want the app.  If you don’t have it in advance, the museum has free WiFi, in addition to museum-grade air conditioning (yaaasssssssssss).

IMG_20191004_105301.jpg
One thing you really notice in the rubber boom era architecture and decor is that it is all aggressively Euro-jungle.

This is the ceiling of the Mayors Room, which displays the portraits of Manaus’s civic leaders through the years.  The app will have the biographical data on these guys, but it is sadly thin for this one:

IMG_20191004_105528.jpg
And entirely devoid of mention of his personal style.

Next up, the room of Growth Rings!

IMG_20191004_105605.jpg
SYMBOLISM

This is an interactive display about the growth of the city of Manaus.  You can trigger the projection of the history images by moving your hand over the tree rings where the maps are projected.  You can see the relationship between the city’s growth and deforestation.  If this all sounds very informative and you are wishing you could read more about it and see the projections yourself, you totally can because the museum has them on Youtube and the app links right to it.

Next up is the room of Flying Rivers.  Yes, all the rooms sound like they’re in Hogwarts.

IMG_20191004_105855.jpg
SCIENCE

See how the Amazon rainforest fits into the water and carbon cycles (including the impact of Manaus’s pollution).  The forest’s role in water circulation is known as the “flying rivers,” according to the museum.  I do love it when some good poetic turn of phrase is applied to science stuff.  Again, the room’s video is linked in the app.

Time for archaeology!

IMG_20191004_110042.jpg
This is the floor of the room, exposing the dig site from 2003 that uncovered funeral urns from the 7th to 12th centuries.  And, uh, that’s my toe.

The area around Manaus has been occupied for at least 11,000 years.  There’s been a lot of research in the region, and this room lets you take a peek, not only through the glass floor but also through VR headsets.

IMG_20191004_110359.jpg
VR stands for VERY RAD

The video is introduced and narrated by a Brazilian university professor with a pretty good speaking voice, which is great for Spanish speakers as it makes him easier for them to understand.  For non-Portuguese or Spanish speakers, you’re a bit out of luck, as the VR has no translation.  But it is still a very rad (heh) look at the sites and artifacts.  You can see the introduction portion, with English subtitles, through the app.

There’s a room with an art exhibit in it related to Brazilian poet Thiago de Mello–art inspired by him–and I’m tossing it in here because I really like this one.

img_20191004_111857.jpg
WEEEEEEE

And now, my second favorite room: the market!

IMG_20191004_112315.jpg
Can’t really do better than the app’s description: “The marketplace is where the cultural identity of a community manifests itself best–full of life, flavors, aromas, words, and sounds.”

IMG_20191004_113017.jpg
The herbarium, which is what I’m calling my spice rack from now on.

You can scan, with your phone, many of the plant labels for recipes and folk stories (also guess what ALL THERE IN THE APP YOU CAN DOWNLOAD RIGHT NOW), although the folk story animations also play in the bottom of this barrel:

Which sounds kind of weird but actually really works.

Wandering back over to the other side of museum there is my favorite room, Affluent Rivers.

IMG_20191004_113332.jpg
A representation of the rivers around Manaus, principally the Rio Negro and the Solimões (they join at the Meeting of the Waters to make the Amazon River).

IMG_20191004_113400.jpg

As you move along the water, the history of Manaus is projected onto the surface.  Once again, I can’t do better than the app:  “A timeline is like a river: flowing uninterruptedly, carrying different layers of time, which sometimes overlap, sometimes become separated and then reconnect.”

Again, the images are interactive, and can be triggered by the visitor’s hand movements.  It is such a clever and gorgeous concept, which makes it my favorite room.

Finally, I’m going to mention briefly the Bath of Origins room, which was too difficult to photograph, but you stand in the middle of several screens with projections of locals, who give their stories in turn.  They are all standing at the river’s edge, and after they talk, they dive in, and then you see them swimming on the floor you’re standing on.  The affect is cool, but there are no English subtitles.  HOWEVER, you can see the videos with English subtitles through the power of your imagination.  Just kidding, you can totally see them through the app, too.

The City Museum is amazingly well done.  The interactive elements are creative and well designed.  I can’t speak highly enough of the museum’s app–it’s the best museum app I have ever seen.  The museum has clearly been heavily invested in, and I hope it continues to be.  If the shop had been open, I would have bought a lot of swag because the museum frickin’ earned it.

The City Museum is free (FREE!), open from 9am to 430pm Monday through Friday, 9am to 1230pm on Saturday, and the second Sunday of every month from 5pm to 9pm.

 

Some of My Favorite Trees in Buenos Aires

Feliz Primavera!

It seems like a good time to make a post about trees.

Not that there’s a bad time to post about trees, honestly.

First off, though, this is not a comprehensive list of every rad tree in the city.  In fact, one very rad tree is absent, although I will add it whenever I make it to Recoleta and photograph the famous 200-year-old Grand Gomero.  The following trees aren’t so well known; they labor in obscurity, providing shade and bird housing and sometimes even brilliant floral displays.

Please note–I am not great at identifying tree species, but I’ll do my best where I can.

IMG_20190912_120517.jpg
If you thought I was bad at photographing small things in museums, wait til you see me try to fit huge trees into frame.

This stately guy here gets to go first because the Supreme Court building is in the background and this is the last landmark you’re going to see in this post.  This tree lives in the Plaza Lavalle, and if you’re visiting the city, you have a good chance of seeing it.  It’s one block over from the back of the Teatro Colon, right on the D subway line, so if you’re seeing any of the sights of the area, stop by and tell it that it’s doing a great job.  I haven’t the foggiest idea what kind of tree it is.

LOOK AT THIS ABSOLUTE UNIT.

img_20190923_164646-1.jpg

 

img_20190923_164730.jpg

This chunky beast is an ombú.  I think.  Shading several chess tables and then some, this expansive benevolent overlord stands at one end of the Barrancas de Belgrano, a large park that slopes a bit and therefore earned the name of “Barrancas” (cliffs) because people have given a slight incline far too much consideration.

As a bonus, these two are at the other end of Barrancas and I like them because it looks like a tree and its pet tree.

IMG_20190401_132958.jpg

Speaking of residing in Belgrano, here are two trees in Barrio Chino, very close to Barrancas, that might only be noticed in the spring.

img_20190923_164137.jpg
Kinda lied about the Supreme Court building being the only landmark; that’s the arch at the entry to Barrio Chino there on the right.

These sweet little things bear white and red flowers and are practically hugging, so it looks like one tree with two colors.

IMG_20190923_164148.jpg

I guess that’s sort of cheating but this is my list and I can do what I want.

IMG_20190916_141820.jpg
A tree of high comedy.

This is a monkey puzzle, which wins best name for a tree species.  It looks like a twirling weirdo, and therefore I empathize with it strongly.  This particular monkey puzzle provides a home for roughly a jillion monk parakeets in the Parque Centenario.

IMG_20190408_153106.jpg
speaking of comedy trees

There are a lot of palo borracho trees in the city, but damn if this one (on the grounds of the Museo Historico del Regimiento Granaderos a Caballo General San Martín) isn’t just extra.  “Palo borracho” means “drunken stick,” but the more dignified name for the species is the silk floss tree.  There’s a lot more to this tree than its sexy curves.  The flowers are big and bright pink and the fruits are eight inch long capsules filled with cottony floofy fluff.  There’s just a lot going on there.

img_20190917_120650.jpg

I don’t know anything about this situation, but I find it utterly delightful.

Finally, I give you this little unassuming guy.

img_20190903_115031.jpg

This is a young jacaranda, and it is not shown in all its glory.  There are also many far grander jacarandas in the city.  But this one is right outside the window of a burger joint in Microcentro that I often find myself in when I need a quick bite before hopping on the subway.  I usually sit next to that window, and I’m looking forward to watching my small tree friend bloom in the next month, even if the burgers are decidedly subpar.

So there you have it.  A collection of my favorite trees in the city.  I’ll add the Grand Gomero at the end when I can, but for now, here’s the sign for a shop that combines two things I love most about this city: the trees and the book shops.

img_20190408_160402.jpg

 

Museo Casa de Yrurtia [Yrurtia House Museum]

HELLO HI

I AM BACK

And for today I have the long-closed-for-renovations-but-now-open Casa de Yrurtia!  And it is looking pretty nice after years of closure.

IMG_20190913_164343.jpg
Quaint!

Rogelio Yrurtia was an important Argentine sculptor in the early 20th century.  As a talented young man in 1899, he was awarded a scholarship, on which he traveled to Paris.  He would spend his career moving between Paris and Buenos Aires, where he would be known for his large scale, public works.

IMG_20190913_162856.jpg
The man’s own tools, and a really nifty table about the sculpting process that visitors can put their grubby fingers all over.

The museum is in the home of Yrurtia and his wife, the also very important artist Lía Correa Morales.  The couple donated the house to the country to establish as a museum.  It opened to the public in 1949; Yrurtia died the following year. Lía Correa Morales then served as the museum’s director.

 

IMG_20190913_160116.jpg
The house side. 

The house rooms include the some of the couple’s own art collection, which I guess is a big plus to having a lot of artist friends.

IMG_20190913_160254.jpg
Yeah well *I* have a bunch of pretty cool postcards.

The collection on display isn’t really extensive, but it is really interesting and frequently huge.  Stands to reason; Yrurtia was a big deal in public and monument art.  Maybe you think it’s kind of a juvenile assessment, being stuck on the size, but that’s probably because you haven’t been in the same small room as stuff that was designed to be viewed from far away.

IMG_20190913_162044.jpg
That is a normal-sized doorway.

At a certain point, the size is kind of an overwhelming feature.

IMG_20190913_162326.jpg
A study for a big Moses.

Yrurtia created a monument to Manuel Dorrego, who had (stay with me here, Argentine history is kind of dramatic) opposed the government of the first president, Bernardino Rivadavia, and was named governor of Buenos Aires province following Rivadavia’s resignation.  Dorrego himself was not long after overthrown and executed in 1828.

img_20190913_161723.jpg
He’s interred in Recoleta cemetery.  And so is the guy who executed him.  And Founding Father José de San Martín, who had been in Europe, took one look at the whole mess, declined to get involved and went back to Europe.

Incidentally, Yrurtia also sculpted the tomb of Bernardino Rivadavia, which is in Plaza Miserere.

img_20190918_110341.jpg
He specifically asked that his body not be returned to Buenos Aires after he died (in Spain), but alas.

And here is a Justice (commissioned by super rich guy Carlos Delcasse for his tomb and copied in bronze for the national Supreme Court), depicted non-traditionally, without scales or blindfold.

IMG_20190913_162348.jpg
But also kind of like she’s going to strangle you?

The museum also shows how the sausage is made, sculpture-ly speaking, which I recall reading somewhere was part of the point of the museum’s creation (as the house was also his workshop) but now I can’t find the source for that.

IMG_20190913_162818.jpg
How to get a “head” in sculpture lololol

IMG_20190913_162754.jpg
These are videos of the process.

img_20190913_162341.jpg

The museum does have a room about Lía Correa Morales, which it should, as she was also an important artist and doesn’t even get her name on the museum itself.

IMG_20190913_162006.jpg

Finally, the house has a sweet garden, in which stands one of Yrurtia’s last works, The Boxers.

IMG_20190913_161039.jpg
Uh, it’s in the back there.

Like most (all?) of the small, state- or city-run museums, this one also hosts workshops and events.  The staff is very nice!  There wasn’t any English material on hand, so they printed out some translations for us.  The museum is in Belgrano, not terribly far from the D subway line, and open Wednesday through Friday from 10am to 6pm and Saturday and Sunday from 11am to 6pm.

 

El Museo Argentino de Ciencias Naturales Bernardino Rivadavia [The Bernardino Rivadavia Argentine Museum of Natural Sciences]

It’s been an eventful few weeks here in Argentina.  The presidential primaries happened, and also the value of the peso plummeted.  Good times!

But before all that happened, I went to one of my favorite buildings in Buenos Aires, which happens to house the Rivadavia Natural Sciences Museum.

img_20190801_125018.jpg
So, ya like spiders?

The museum opened in 1826, owing to the work and advocacy of Bernardino Rivadavia.  It was the first natural sciences museum in South America, and kind of a big deal.  The current building, in the slightly-out-of-the-way-for-tourists Caballito neighborhood, was inaugurated in 1937.  It’s got SO MANY ANIMALS.

img_20190801_125025.jpg
OWLGOYLE

img_20190801_150837.jpg
INTERIOR CEILING BAT

There’s more, and I recommend walking around the inside and outside of the museum squealing in delight when you spot them.

When I visited, it was the winter break for the local schools, and the place was full of excited, noisy children. There was a line out the door and around the gate to get in when I was leaving around lunchtime.  It was glorious.  The children were even exclaiming over the minerals.

IMG_20190801_152026.jpg
To be fair, there was some pretty great fluorite and stuff that grows in distinctive shapes.

img_20190801_152055.jpg

There is more than awesome rocks to see, of course.  The museum does boast a large collection of native specimens, but it’s not limited to them.  And who doesn’t love dioramas of successful hunts and dramatic battles for food and survival?

IMG_20190801_131559.jpg

IMG_20190801_131606.jpg
This warthog, I guess, is not all that thrilled with dioramas of successful hunts and dramatic battles for survival.

Giraffes aren’t the only ones who like to nibble trees.

IMG_20190801_131628.jpg
Gerenuks do too, and are actually also called “giraffe gazelles,” which I didn’t even notice until I looked it up just now.

Although you might know the species better as that “popcorn eating gazelle” meme.

This is a pretty photo-heavy entry, you guys, because I appreciate and value artistry.

img_20190801_131411.jpg
“NEEDS MORE BLOOD”

There is a very nice hall of bird specimens, including some in dioramas of Argentina’s environs.  This was my favorite one, because it happens to depict a park very near my house.

IMG_20190801_140257.jpg
A good place for birding and Pokemon Go.

I especially loved the little riff on a fairly common stencil graffiti motif.

img_20190801_140317.jpg
Look I’m never gonna be good at taking photos but most importantly why doesn’t the MACN have this on a t-shirt

The bird wing (haha) is actually really good.

IMG_20190801_141855.jpg

 

IMG_20190801_132737.jpg

 

IMG_20190801_142357.jpg
Andean condors have great personalities.

You might know, if you are into dinosaurs (you are, because everyone everywhere always is into dinosaurs), that Argentina is pretty rich in dinosaur fossils.

IMG_20190801_151247.jpg
TA DA

It’s no Sue, but it’s not at all shabby!  There’s plenty of other native megafauna, too, which is great because ancient megafauna are so frickin’ weird.

IMG_20190801_151034.jpg
HUG ME

IMG_20190801_131316.jpg
SKELETON DRAMA

IMG_20190801_151041.jpg

IMG_20190801_150944.jpg
Not a boulder hunt; those are glyptodons.

 

IMG_20190801_151127.jpg
And some Glyptodon tails were BANANAS.

There’s also a section of the building that covers the museum’s history.

IMG_20190801_130756.jpg
I’m starting to feel real bad about the terrible photos. The MACN doesn’t deserve this.

IMG_20190801_150726.jpg
Guess what dictatorships aren’t fond of.

At the start of the military dictatorship (no not that one) of 1966, faculties of the University of Buenos Aires were occupied by students, professors, and graduates in protest of the military’s overthrowing of the government. The protesters were violently removed, beaten, and arrested during La Noche de los Bastones Largos. The military ended university autonomy, hundreds of professors left the country, and research was quashed.  It was an enormous setback for academia in Argentina.  This is your pointed reminder that there’s no such thing as “sticking to science” because everything is political and education is the enemy of oppressors.  So, study hard and fight evil.

Anyway, that’s a pretty big bummer, so how about a preserved giant squid’s eye as a palate cleanser.

img_20190801_151633-1.jpg
The best part is the museum’s snack area is right around here too, so Squidward here can watch you eat.

The only objection I have to the Natural Sciences Museum is the aquarium hall (no photos were allowed).  It’s very small, which is fine, but the tanks all look like the worst aquarium store that would be allowed to legally operate.  The fish are in bare, small tanks with nearly no features aside from a layer of gravel.  The lone piranha, sad enough because they are a schooling fish, had only a small plastic plant to hide behind, which it was trying to do the whole time I was in the hall.  I really hope they improve the conditions for the fish soon.

The MACN is a really a lovely visit overall.  It’s set in the Parque Centenario, a huge park with a small lake.  Like all the bigger parks in the city, it’s a nice spot for bird watching (the tiny museum shop sells a guide to the park’s birds).  Entry to the museum is a very reasonable 100 pesos (about $2 US, and as always subject to change).  It’s open every day except holidays from 2pm to 7pm and easy to get to by bus and the B subway line.  Check the website for up to day admissions, closures, and guided tour info.