Category Archives: Art

Who Knew?

If, like me, you can use all the distraction you can get, you’ll enjoy this article, reprinted from

Lies We Accept As Truth

Juliet Window

How many things do we accept in life without demanding proof? There’s that old tale of the little girl asking Mommy why she cut the legs off the Thanksgiving turkey before putting it in the oven, and Mommy saying, “because that’s what my Mommy did” and it turns out that 11 generations earlier, the oven was too small for the whole bird, so the legs were cut off so it would fit. And for 11 generations, no one questioned anything, but just cut the legs off before putting the 12-pound turkey into the behemoth of a modern oven.

We do that stuff all the time, even with our favorite movies. There’s a real chance that your favorite movie scene never actually happened. No, calm down, you haven’t “slid” into a dimension where The Simpsons never happened. It’s simply our collective memory messing with us yet again. We’ve talked about this before, but we assume you’ve already forgotten about it, or got it all twisted around in your head, so here’s a brand-new batch of cultural milestones that never existed.

The Monopoly Man Never Had A Monocle

Monopoly MonocleYou know Rich Uncle Pennybags, the Monopoly man — white mustache, top hat, tuxedo, cane, monocle, unearned sense of smug superiority. He’s downright iconic. Just look at all these Monopoly men, women, and children …

But here’s the weird thing: Rich Uncle Pennybags never had a monocle. Seriously, go to your closet and dig up the Monopoly box inevitably buried near the back. And before you ask, no, his design hasn’t changed at all since he was introduced in Monopoly’s Community and Chance cards in 1936:

The most likely explanation for this widespread confusion is the existence of another popular monocle-wearing mascot who shares many traits with Pennybags (the cane, the top hat, the air of douche-ness), but has two important differences:

One, he does have a monocle, and two, he’s a mutant peanut.

You’d think that last thing would keep confusion at bay, but toss on a top hat and cane, and they’re all the same to us, anthropomorphic nuts be damned.

There’s No Balcony Scene In Romeo And Juliet

Juliet BalconyPicture a scene from William Shakespeare’s Romeo And Juliet, perhaps the least accurate teen romance ever written. (Not a single breakdancing scene! Not one!) Chances are you imagined a wistful Juliet on a balcony, wondering wherefore her beloved Romeo could be, before he reveals that he’s been right there the whole time, spying on her like a creep.

The balcony has shown up in every single movie adaptation of Shakespeare’s play, from the one with Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes to the one starring a bunch of CGI gnomes, for some reason. In fact, that scene is so embedded in our collective psyche that it has transcended art, and now there’s a type of balcony known as a “Juliet.”

Only one problem: Shakespeare never wrote a balcony scene. His script (the one they forced you to read in high school) only mentions Juliet looking out of a window, with no balconies, porches, fire escapes, or anything of the sort.

In fact, Shakespeare couldn’t have written a balcony scene in this or any play, because balconies weren’t a thing in England during his lifetime. This exotic architectural innovation didn’t make its way to the country until decades after Shakespeare’s death. Romeo may as well have rolled up in an Uber, as far as chronology is concerned.

We owe this iconic moment to plagiarism, the unsung hero of history. In 1679, Thomas Otway put on a play under the self-spoiling title of The History And Fall Of Caius Marius. A more accurate one would have been “Romeo And Juliet, Except In Ancient Rome.” One scene even features the heroine calling out, “Marius, Marius, wherefore art thou, Marius?”

But Otway did make one enormous contribution to the scene: He set it in a balcony. This struck such a chord with audiences that it began to show up in versions of Romeo And Juliet, and this never stopped. It’s like if Michael Bay borrowed a plot point from a Transmorphers movie … which is an improvement, now that we think about it.

There Isn’t A Painting Of Henry VIII Holding A Turkey Leg

Henry ViiiAnyone with a modicum of historical awareness knows Henry VIII by his trademark goofy hat, weak beard, funny-looking legs, and massive gut. And how did he get that gut? It probably had to do with the turkey leg he always had in his hand, as is seen in virtually every modern depiction of him. From children’s books, to shows like The Simpsons, to whatever a “mad magazine” is supposed to be.

Henry VIII loved his turkey almost as much as he hated wedding anniversaries. Obviously, this reputation for meat-guzzling comes from the classic painting depicting him with a turkey leg in his hand. You know, the one by … uh, give us a second … come on, Wikipedia … ah, here it is! No, wait, that’s a glove.

The shocking truth is that no such painting exists. In fact, there are no classic paintings that depict King Henry VIII with any piece of food in his hand, nor of him eating at all. Other than the unsubstantiated claim that he was the first English king to eat turkey, there’s also no evidence that Henry liked or even encountered this type of meat. As far as anyone can tell, the image of Henry as the bane of flightless birds comes from a 1933 film, which devotes a full minute and a half to him disappearing a chicken into his gut. That, or it’s a scheme by Big Turkey to promote their product as the snack of kings. It could go either way.

Hannibal Lecter Never Said “Hello, Clarice”

HannibalIt’s the single most famous moment in The Silence Of The Lambs. Clarice Starling stands in front of Hannibal Lecter’s cell, him looking at her through the bulletproof glass all creepy calm, sneering: “Hello, Clarice.”

That’s our intro to the character, and it’s a great one. Anthony Hopkins is so damn intimidating that he can turn a simple greeting into an endlessly layered threat. The scene became iconic for a reason. We can hear the words right now, their exact inflection. You read this in his voice: “Hello, Clarice.”

CommentThose two words have since become the go-to reference line, from fan fiction sites to newspapers. They made it into posters, T-shirts, and even cute animal memes. But that line doesn’t appear in the film. In fact, it can’t. In the scene you’re picturing, Hannibal is meeting Clarice for the first time, and eating people doesn’t grant you psychic powers (though that would be an interesting twist in the series). He never even says “hello.” The closest he comes to the line is at the end of the movie, when he phones Clarice about his recent escape and begins the conversation with “Well, Clarice, have the lambs stopped screaming?” Which is far more unsettling, but doesn’t fit on an image macro as well.

The Curmudgeon Chronicles: Is It Art If It Needs Subtitles?

Maybe it’s an age thing.  But it seems to me that art — be it visual, musical, literary or what have you — should stand on its own without relying on accompanying commentary.

Last night we attended a gallery opening of paintings and sculpture by two artists, one of whom is married to a colleague of a mutual friend.  The manifesto that accompanied this work was quite beautiful and actually much more interesting than the work itself, which felt derivative and rather banal. Which got me thinking….

We don’t expect margin notes on the pages of a good novel.  Or a running crawl in a film to explain what the director had in mind.  Are paintings and sculpture more compelling because of an artist’s backstory — in this case, gender identity — , even when the images have nothing to do with that struggle? 

This is ultimately the problem I have with most political art: Take away the message, and what are you left with? Picasso’s Guernica? Unfortunately, mostly not.

focus photography of sea waves

Photo by Emiliano Arano on

A Sojourn in Sicily – Part 1

Traveling to Europe from Austin is usually an adventure unto itself, and this trip was no exception.

We’d opted to fly in/out of Houston to avoid the missed or much-too-lengthy connections that occur when landing somewhere else in the US.

After a last-minute switch of hotels (note to airport travelers: do not book the Houston airport Holiday Inn, which is filthy and reeks of smoke!), we check in at the airport Marriott and have dinner at highly recommended Chez Nous in nearby Humble. I learn that the town is pronounced “umble” – perhaps to avoid the obvious jokes about pie?

The meal is excellent and we’re off to a good start.

Next morning, we check in for our flights: Houston to Newark and then on to Milan. Board the plane, settle in, and… nothing happens. After three “we’ll be slightly delayed” announcements we’re told of a “mechanical issue” (airline code for “we have no freakin’ clue what’s wrong”) and herded off the plane to scramble for new flights, as many on board are clearly going to miss their connection.

Several hours later we’re en route to Munich, where we’ll connect via Lufthansa to Milan. We arrive safely – still shivering from the insanely cold airplane – way behind schedule. Our luggage does not.

This necessitates another hour filling in paperwork while the lost luggage clerk tries to figure out whether United or Lufthansa is responsible for locating it and getting it to the hotel before we leave for our next destination.

BUT, intrepid travelers that we are, we head to our hotel, the very lovely Grand Hotel Et De Milan, and set off wandering this sophisticated and stylish city.

Day 1

Since we’re both opera fans, the main reason we’ve stopped in Milan this trip is to see a performance at La Scala the following night. Today, we head over to the opera house museum, which is pretty much a shrine to Maria Callas, patron saint of warblers worldwide. There are costumes, posters, videos, photos, portraits, you name it. Also set and costume designs from various other performances.

We scarf down a delicious dinner of trenette with pesto and cacio e pepe (here’s one recipe, though it’s even simpler and better if you use grated cacio cheese, olive oil, pasta water and freshly ground pepper) at nearby ristorante Salumiao, which we like so much we eat there the next night as well.

Day 2

Having been awakened at 1 a.m. by my dear husband (DH) who was obsessing about the missing luggage and wanting me to call someone (who in god’s name is working at that hour? but sure, why not!), I’m not as rested as I could be. Still, off we go to walk around and shop for a shirt and tie for DH to wear to La Scala in case the bags don’t arrive (it’s looking bleak).

Best discovery of the day: Museo Novecento, showcasing major art movements from 1910-1960’s, including some interesting political pieces.

After an afternoon drink at the hotel bar we return to our room to change for the opera and – mirabile dictu – bags have arrived!

At La Scala we see a silly opera (Von Weber’s Die Freischutz; about a hapless suitor, magic bullets, and the devil) with pleasant, mostly forgettable music, but we share a box with a nice couple and can now cross it off DH’s bucket list.

Days 3-6

We take the train to Florence – our 4th visit to this beautiful city, which is sadly overrun with selfie-stick-brandishing tourists even in October. Our hotel (a private palazzo nicely located near the Duomo) turns out to be lovely despite its unprepossessing exterior: ancient gate/courtyard with faint “eau de urine” from generations of animals and a dirty welcome mat in front of the battered industrial elevator which takes you upstairs to …

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Some highlights: Eating at Del Fagioli and Alla Vecchia Bettola, admiring fresh vegetables at the market and frescos at the Pitti Palace and Santa Maria Novella, and window shopping on the Ponte Vecchio,”considering” whether we need to buy the Buccellati lifelike silver crab serving dish that’s “only” 3600 euros after the VAT refund. Hey, let’s take two!

Day 7: Arrival in Sicily!

Alitalia seamlessly transfers our luggage from Florence to Rome to Palermo (take note, United!), where our Stanley Tucci lookalike driver takes us to our modern (aka no frills) hotel at 11:30 pm. I’d bought a sandwich to eat on the plane but DH has not eaten – he’s been fighting a cold and wasn’t hungry until now– and dines on minibar bottles and potato chips. Who says travel isn’t glamorous!

Next up: Palermo….

Mama’s Got a Brand New Bag – And You Should, Too!

As many of you know, I love using my small platform to introduce you to people whose work I respect. This week, I’m delighted to share the gorgeous handcrafted designs of the very talented Bernice Angelique.

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I’ve can’t remember how/where I first saw her bags — I think I was researching “genuine ostrich bags” online — but eventually we started corresponding. One thing led to another and now I have two of her beautiful (and amazingly well-priced) bags and always get compliments on their simple yet sophisticated lines. Their appeal to me is much more than skin deep because unlike a lot of designers (including most stratospheric-priced name brands) hers are lined with suede instead of fabric. Luxury through and through.

A quick note about ostrich: the quills (bumps) are where feathers are removed during the tanning process. Ostrich leather is extremely durable and softens over time, retaining both its beauty and value. Just like us!

After graduating from the London College of Fashion, Bernice launched her brand in 2011 with a focus on exotic but affordable leather in clean, architectural shapes and an absence of gimmicks.

Hand made in Cape Town, South Africa, Bernice Angelique leather goods use the highest quality ostrich leather, hardware and techniques. She’s recently changed her business model to focus solely on custom-made bags. (Below, bags in progress.)

This means not only consistent quality control but lower prices as well. Win-win!

As she notes on her website, sustainability, empowerment and a desire to support local trade are the foundations of the brand. The leather is all locally sourced, providing employment to South African artisans. And the tannery, Klein Karoo, also sells the meat – primarily exporting to France and complying with strict international standards in every aspect of their business.

I asked Bernice to share some of her experiences with us.


What has been your biggest challenge? Oh my! Just one?!? Well, I would have to say keeping the belief alive and never losing sight of my dream. It’s challenging to hold on tightly to your dreams through all the ups & downs, but my mom always told me growing up, “Slow and steady wins the race!” I remind myself of this through the challenging times and just keep persevering.

Can you share any funny stories from the “early days”? One memory I have goes way back to before I even started the business. It was during my time at London College of Fashion, and I was just being introduced to handbag crafting. The first handbag I ever made was a complete disaster…but nevertheless, I knew that this was what I wanted to do!

What are your hopes for the brand in the future? I am so fulfilled now with how I’ve been able to structure the business. I would love to continue to craft custom handbags for women around the world. My time designing and crafting in my studio is my magical escape and I find it absolutely amazing that I get to share this magic with such wonderful women from around the world.

What are the biggest rewards? My biggest reward would have to be that I feel that I live an authentic life, as I am able to fully express who I am through my work. I feel that if one loves what one does, it just filters into the rest of your life and relationships.

The newly revamped Bernice Angelique website shows most of the new styles with chain straps and embellishment. If you prefer a leather strap or a single color, as I do (I love my Temptress, below: 340 GBP/about $450) just send her a message.


Everything is bespoke, i.e. made to order and personal to you. For instance, you can have a longer strap made if you’re very tall or want the option to wear a shoulder style as a cross-body. In her own words, “I love getting to know each client and crafting a specific piece just for her. I treasure the unique.”

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And if an older style featured in the “News” section of the website catches your eye, ask about that as well; she may be able to revive something from the archives just for you.

Try getting that level of service from an ordinary store!

Bernice has generously created a special 10% discount for readers of this blog. Check out online with code BLOG10. You deserve it.

She’s now added Nile crocodile to the line, available in 60 colors with a matte or glazed (shiny) finish. Fabulous! A croc Provocatrix may be my next purchase.

xo, Alisa

(An unsponsored post, as always. Just a company I admire and believe in!)

The Five Best Things About Living With An Artist

This Father’s Day post is dedicated to my husband, who has sketched and painted all his life. Although “artist” is not his official job title, that’s fundamentally who he is. He also happens to be a wonderful father to his two daughters and a terrific stepfather to my daughter and son — an art unto itself.

Lest we get overly sentimental, I would like to point out that living with an artist is not all beer and skittles, as my mother used to say. Bear in mind that certain sacrifices are called for.

The five worst things about living with an artist:

  1. There’s at least one sink that is never clean
  2. It’s really hard to wash dry paint off someone’s clothes
  3. You have to be diplomatic if they create something you hate – and then you still have to live with it
  4. You have to learn to interpret grunts as conversation when they’re in the middle of working
  5. Painting the bathroom (or anywhere else in the house) holds no allure whatsoever

But on the plus side,

  1. You always have beautiful work around you
  2. Your partner understands the value of alone time
  3. An artist finds an aging person interesting rather than repellant
  4. An artist appreciates silence
  5. An artist is inspired by variety so he or she is never boring

Some recent work, featuring “unloved buildings”:




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Happy Father’s Day to all the inspiring men in our lives!