No such thing as separation of kitsch and state

As I mentioned in my previous post about Gatlinburg, its tourist shops specialize in t-shirts of all sorts. Two big themes are the wearer’s love of the United States of America, and the wearer’s love of Jesus. It seems that love really is best expressed in t-shirt form.

Jesus math!

 

 

 

 

 

 

I think what they meant to say is “Welcome to America, a glorious melting pot which welcomes and celebrates all cultures”. It just came out wrong.

 

 

 

 

 

It’s air brushed. It’s an eagle with a tattoo. What’s not to love?

 

 

 

 

 

I bet Jesus would be quite tickled by this shirt, don’t you think? Actually this Reece’s-Jesus shirt was featured in the horror movie documentary Jesus Camp. I’m sure it’s a hot seller.

 

 

 

Whew, so glad to hear that someone over here has experience with this sort of thing.

 

 

 

 

 

Oh, that God – always with the snappy come-backs.

 

 

 

 

 

I need someone to make me a t-shirt which expresses my love of kitschy t-shirts.

See also: One last Gatlinburg t-shirt post

Gatlinburg: trapping tourists in style

I’ll get back to Europe soon, I promise. But in the meantime, allow me to introduce (to the uninitiated) the town of Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Nestled in the Great Smoky Mountains, Gatlinburg is easily one of the top 10 kitschiest destinations in America (and we all know how much I love kitsch). The main drag is packed with more novelty shops, restaurants, tourists and attractions than you can shake a stick at.

There’s a Guinness Book of World Records museum, a Ripley’s Believe It Or Not museum, and at least five haunted houses. The two prevailing restaurant genres are steakhouses and pancake houses, several of which offer all-you-can-eat brunches with live performances by acts whose names include words like “hillbilly” and “revival”. If you don’t have time to sit, you’ll find plenty of street food options, many of which come on sticks. There are about 100 miniature golf courses, and countless shops where you can dress up in old-timey costumes and pose for wild west wanted posters. Yeah, that kind of town. And did I mention it’s right next door to Dollywood?

But really the best part about Gatlinburg, besides the obese people watching, is the t-shirt shops.

You thought airbrush went out in the 80s? Not in Gatlinburg it didn’t.

My husband and I had a hard time deciding which of these two designs to get to commemorate our trip (and express our eternal love for each other in t-shirt form). Which one would you recommend?

More to come…

Food, Southern-style

And… I’m back in the southern US this week.


Do you think they use little tiny little milking machines to make the rat cheese?


Boiled peanuts (or berl’d p-nuts, spelled phonetically). They’re boiled for a long, long time in brine, and are soft and salty.


Okra! Mmmmm. People from other parts of the US tend to be wary of this veggie, but it’s actually quite delicious when it’s not deep-fried.


They deep-fry everything down here – chicken, candy bars, twinkies, and even sushi. Dig in, y’all.

Times Square from above and below

The steaming cup o’ soup is gone, but otherwise Times Square looks pretty much the same as it did the last time I was here.

One of those cheesy touristy things I love to do in New York is have a drink at The View, a revolving bar and restaurant on the 48th floor of the Marriott Marquis at Times Square (not to be confused with the Rosie O’Donnell talk show of the same name). The view at The View is fabulous day or night, and even the elevator ride up and down is fun.

Sure the drinks are pricey, but not outrageous by New York standards. A beer costs around $6-7 (plus tip). Sip it slowly to ensure you get to make the full circle – a revolution takes one hour. Early evening seems to be the best time to go, and I’ve luckily never had to wait to be seated. There’s a cover charge for the lounge after 9PM. I’ve never been tempted to try the food at the lounge or the restaurant… there are just too many other delicious places to eat in NYC.

Recent American culinary innovations

American grocery stores are totally overwhelming – so many food-like substances that we don’t have in Switzerland! It’s really fun to explore, but sometime I’m a little, um, disturbed by what I find. Here are some products I’ve discovered in the past couple days that I don’t think existed last time I was in this country…


Piggies ‘n’ Pancakes On a Stick, maple syrup flavor in each bite! I think I was warned about these somewhere


Candy bar breakfast cereal! Just one of the many reasons why this chart isn’t surprising (although I am surprised that Switzerland is missing from it).


Strawberry kiwi protein water. Huh? Because we just can’t be bothered to eat our protein anymore?

This, my friends, is Dirty Martini Mix. All I have to say is thank god someone finally came up with this stuff! Adding olive brine to vodka was always so gosh darn cumbersome. Now we can just add this stuff to vodka instead. And it contains that delicious artificial color that traditional dirty martinis were always lacking. Sweet.

Laughing out loud for fake news

After weeks of religiously checking The Daily Show’s website, I was able to score tickets for one of the days I was in New York.

The email from the show recommended arriving between 3:30 and 4:00. I got there around 3:45, and there was already quite a long line. A little after 4:30, they came down the line and checked names off of a list. The last 20 or so people in line were told that they had been standing next to a smelly dumpster in vain, as alas there were no more tickets left (they overbook to ensure that all the seats will be full). The rest of us slowly made our way in through security and were seated by around 5:30 or so.

The studio looked smaller in person than I expected, and there were only about 150 audience seats (which meant everyone had a good view). A third-rate comedian came out to warm up the crowd and make us do a lot of loud clapping and cheering. It was our duty as the studio audience to laugh often and loud during the taping, he told us. And then, before we knew it, Jon Stewart was there in the flesh, looking as devastatingly handsome as ever. He took a couple audience questions, made a few jokes, and then got down to business.

The taping went by quickly, and Jon didn’t miss a beat. No retakes, no extra material, nothing. It probably helped that the guest, Tim Russert from Meet the Press, was also a seasoned TV professional.

Overall it was a fun experience, except for the waiting part. You’d think there’d be a better way to get a studio audience that didn’t involve making people stand in line for two hours. What do they do when it’s raining?

Smells like New York

I escaped the Bible Belt for a few days this week and headed up to New York City, probably my favorite city in the world. I spent most of the time just walking around Manhattan, people-watching and soaking up the atmosphere. It’s so familiar and different all at once – I can’t get enough.

New York is one of those familiar places (and one of many I have called ‘home’) where it doesn’t occur to me to take pictures. This time around I had to keep reminding myself to pull out the camera, but I did manage to record some of it. Here are a couple scenes from downtown:


Brooklyn Bridge


China Town


Little Italy


Cheese!


Fountain in City Hall Park (surrounded by working gas lights)


South Street Seaport

More to come….

Chattanooga reborn

This week I find myself in Chattanooga, Tennessee, a city which is often touted as an excellent example of urban renewal. Over the past 10 years or so, the downtown area has gone from drab and unappealing to vibrant and interesting. The city invested heavily in redoing the waterfront area, creating parks and a river walk. Dozens of small businesses have popped up in the form of bars, cafes, and restaurants; the variety of food on offer is amazing compared to what existed before.

A burgeoning art district attracts artists and patrons alike. Major attractions such as the aquarium and the famed Chattanooga Choo Choo (which is actually a hotel, although I think you can sleep in a train car if you really want to) are connected by a free electric shuttle bus which regularly carries locals and tourists around the town. Luxury condos are popping up all over downtown as suburbanites give up their sprawling homes for urban life. It’s almost possible to forget you’re in the American South sometimes here (well, at least until you hear the local accents).

Spargelfest!

That’s right, boys and girls, it’s that time of year again: Spargelzeit. The celebration of asparagus is in full swing in Switzerland. Thanks to a tip from Jack at Laughing Lemon, some friends and I headed outside the city last Sunday to check out the Flaacher Spargelfest (an asparagus festival held on a family farm in the town of Flaach).

We arrived around lunch time and headed straight for the food. We sampled pretty much everything that was on offer: asparagus risotto, sauteed asparagus, cream of asparagus soup, asparagus pizza, asparagus sausage (OK, I passed on this last one). There were even asparagus-shaped desserts (which to my knowledge didn’t contain any actual asparagus).

Then it was on to the tour of the farm. This was conducted by the farmer in Swiss German, but we were still able to follow some of it. We learned that the asparagus seeds are sprouted somewhere else, and then the bundles of live roots are delivered to the farm for planting. They grow into bushes for the first two years, and then starting in the third year the asparagus can be harvested.

The farm grows three varieties of asparagus: green, white, and purple. The green and purple grow above ground, whereas the white are grown in mounds of dirt covered with tarps to keep the light out.

The farmer demonstrated how a white asparagus is harvested, all by hand:

The tour concluded with a demo of the machine which washes the asparagus and cuts each stalk to exactly 22 centimeters. This length is a standard throughout the area, and was decided upon based on the size of the pans most people have for cooking. The is supposedly a farm in Germany that makes theirs 27 centimeters; they sell extra-large pans there, too.

This guy is apparently the farm’s mascot, as he appears on all their signs and on the website. I call him ‘Spargi’. I was really disappointed that there wasn’t anyone at the festival dressed up as a giant white asparagus. At the very least they could have sold hats or dolls or something, but alas there was no merchandising of Spargi whatsoever.

Our last stop was the asparagus shop, where we picked up a couple bundles of fresh asparagus and other asparagus-related paraphernalia. Then we came home and made asparagus for dinner. I’ll spare you the details of the pee-related consequences of this particular day.

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