Serving Food

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As someone who gets paid to prepare coffee to persnickety expectations, I couldn’t help but watch the interactions between customer and server in restaurants and cafés. Pubs were my favorite. I admired how efficiently the bartenders took care of business. It reminded me of this little Mexican restaurant in Kirkesville, MO. In that restaurant, all of the tables were serviced by 3 Mexican men. They cleaned dishes, filled drinks, took orders, brought out food and ran the register. It was one of the most well-run places I’d ever been to. My sisters and I joked that part of what made it work was that the customers ignored the servers. Since they couldn’t tell them apart they weren’t weirded out by a medley of people approaching their table.

That is one of the icons of American food service – the aura of intimacy that the server is supposed to create for the table. By introducing themselves, filling and refilling water glasses, and repeatedly checking up on the food, the servers work to make you feel cared for. However, after eating for a month in the U.K. it became apparent that this care is nothing more than a façade; we seem to want only the façade, and that waitresses are expected to act like the mothers of two year olds.

The day after our flight got in I went with my dad and sister to The Blue Moose (a fairly classy bar and grill) for appetizers. After being seated, we were assaulted by our waitress’s smile. She was a cute girl, so it was a very nice smile, but the smile felt like a 100 watt light bulb she’d donned for work and turned on every time she walked up to the table and turned off as soon as she started walking away. I had no way of measuring her, all I could read from that face is she was willing to play the eager puppy in order to get her treat.

I know that this restaurant by no means typifies restaurants in America, but it definitely fits with the Johnson County area where restaurants survive by catering to the middle and upper class. It caters to people who like to be served. That sentence gave me the shivers. It’s scary to consider how this concept of how to run restaurants causes many of the great ideals of this country to ring hollow.

I can understand wanting to eat out because you’ve decided it’s worth paying someone to cook your food. Creating a meal is a lot of work, and it’s nice to take advantage of the variety of foods offered in restaurants. However, our country seems to also enjoy taking advantage of being catered to. We get angry when the waitress doesn’t have her light bulb smile or our water hasn’t been refilled for 10 minutes. We love being able to take a moral high ground and judge whether the server has earned $5 instead of $4.

What got me on this line of thought was the question—what results from paying servers regular wages?—that started tickling my thoughts when I discovered that you don’t tip bartenders while servers only expect 10% in the U.K. For one thing, you’re not engaging in two separate exchanges like in America; you’re not paying for the food as well as paying for the show – I mean service. Unfortunately for servers, most Americans don’t realize that they should be paying for two distinct transactions. Personally, not having to pay for two separate exchanges makes for a better restaurant experience. I loved the relaxed atmosphere in all the restaurants I attended. One of the highlights of the trip was spending almost 2 hours at dinner, poring over the newspaper. There was no subtle passive aggressive behavior trying to get me out the door while at the same time trying to get the most out of my wallet. I got checked on just enough that my meal went smoothly but was left alone to enjoy my meal in peace.

When the restaurant is paying the server to do a good job, you’re going to get a better quality of service. Their boss can keep a better tab on the server’s work, compared to the customer who judges them based on one interaction. Of course, this depends on what “better job” means, which I believe should mean the customer enjoys the experience without a heavy hand from the server. Servers shouldn’t be forced to become salespersons, trying to get the customer to spend more on food so that they can get better tips.

Richard Hamilton’s “Just What is It That Makes Today’s Homes so Different, so Appealing?”

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This piece of pop art was one of my favorite works that we discussed. I can remember the day we went to the Tate Britain. I was exhausted, filled with pent up frustration at how long the tube ride was and how long I stood outside the museum waiting for the stragglers of our group. I loved the work of the Romantics, but when the group tour was over, I wanted to get out of there.

However, on my obligatory walk through, I couldn’t help but stop in front of Hamilton’s work. I was fascinated with how he used found images to imitate a 3-dimensional space. I loved how busy and chaotic the room was; that too seemed to reflect materialist social practices. Using found images was meant to “objectify” the piece, a reaction to the surrealism of the early 19th century. I was certainly more drawn into an examination of this picture than I am of Synthetic Cubism.

The man and woman in this piece are meant to draw attention to our society’s obsession with physical perfection. The beauty of these people, unlike the beauty of Roman sculptural figures, is debased by the lollipop and the lurid, unnatural pose of the woman. The amalgam of images reveals the unnatural environment in which they live. Because these pieces come from images prevalent in the culture, we can understand that the people of that era also lived in an unnatural environment. Even though the found images aren’t what appears in current visual advertising, the fact that such images continue to surround and invade our everyday lives shows that Hamilton’s work still has relevance today.

The Art Museum and its Public

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I think that art museums should each work to fulfill its own choice of function. There should be museums that protect and preserve, museums that educate, museums that exist as a social space or as a space for reflection. Working toward a particular function helps a museum have success, but for museums as a whole to resonate with the people, they should come in the wide variety that they do in the U.K.

For museums to survive in our economic age, they will need to work with the education system. It’s important that children learn at a young age to appreciate museums. Ideally, this would become more than mass outings to museums. There needs to be smaller groups of kids interacting with the art. There needs to be adults trained to work with kids who can work with small groups at a time. It would be great if parents could be encouraged through the school system to take their kids to museums. I think that schools should help kids find an appreciation for art. If its done at an early age, then kids will be less resistant than they would be in high school.

Something else that would be fantastic would be travelling art shows. If there was a way to safely (and inexpensively) take over an elementary school’s gym and fill it with works from a museum, then kids would have an opportunity to create an emotional connection to art. I can remember being awed at the transformation of our plain white gym for parties, bowling days, and gymnastic days. I think minimally supervised museum visits, and the current method of introducing great art in high school don’t do enough to teach kids how to appreciate art.

“My Story”

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Having a first person narrative in Kidnapped caused the plot to move slower, making the story more intimate, but less interesting to me, while having Nelly tell the story in Wuthering Heights slowed the plot down and created dissonance, it added to the overall story.

In Kidnapped, David spends a lot of his journey exhausted, and there are many long paragraphs devoted to the description of his physical state:

There was no such thing possible for me. You have heard grasshoppers whirring in the grass in the summer time? Well, I had no sooner closed my eyes, than my body, and above all my head, belly, and wrists, seemed to be filled with whirring grasshoppers; and I must open my eyes again at once, and tumble and toss, and sit up and lie down’ and look at the sky which dazzled me, or at Cluny’s wild and dirty sentries, peering out over the top of the brae and chattering to each other in the Gaelic (2029).

David’s journey out of the Highlands is filled with similar paragraphs. I can understand how these drawn out metaphors impart the feeling of David’s exhaustion better than simply saying he’s exhausted over and over, but I quickly grew weary of hearing of his physical state. The first person narrative often lends a good perspective for trying to understand the Highland/lowland cultural differences, but hearing the story mediated through David’s physical and mental state. Slowing down the story with these descriptions maybe gave a more accurate impression of David’s journey, but it also fostered a disinterest in the narrator. The first person narrative of a young boy was probably chosen in part to create a feeling of intimacy, and a way in to Highlander culture for the non-native reader. However, these winding descriptions of exhaustion exhausted me. They slowed the story down too much, without giving the story something of value. I can get a sense of the difficulty of the journey without hearing David’s constant narration on the theme.

 

This harping on a theme creating a dissonance between me and the text also occurred in my reading of Wuthering Heights. I grew to dislike Nelly’s biased advice giving, which runs through the entire narrative. One of the first times she admonishes Heathcliff she tells him “They are good children, no doubt, and don’t deserve the treatment you receive, for your bad conduct” (583). Nelly quietly joins the side determined to misunderstand Heathcliff, but wants to keep her meddling fingers in all the pies. Watching this trait in Nelly throughout the story created an intense feeling of frustration, while at the same time offering a perspective on Heathcliff that is more intriguing than simply hearing his internal monologue.

 

The dissonance created within Wuthering Heights by the mediation of the story teller was much more effective than in Kidnapped. Recognizing Nelly’s character flaws helped inform a political and economic reading of the text. Listening to David describe his exhaustion, on the other hand, only weighed the text down.

 

 

 

Glasgow School of Art

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Mackintosh utilized lighting in both form and function for the Glasgow School of Art. The big windows on the north side of the school are ideal for art students to work in; they get excellent natural light throughout the day through these windows. These windows, with their iron decorations on the outside, are both beautiful and practical, just like the glass room on the top level on the west section. This room, with its one open window framing a statue on the roof, gives an excellent view of the city. Giving an excellent view does more than offer a stunning landscape for the eyes. With the cross hatched windows and desk spaces, it also offers a space for artists to practice sketching the landscape. The design of the windows offers artists segmented portions of the city to choose to work on.

The space within the GSA was much more arresting than the space within the Tate Modern. I loved every moment of being within the GSA, it offered many beautiful techniques and artistic designs to admire as I wandered through this space that students use on a daily basis. The Tate Modern, on the other hand, was designed to house pieces designed for museum spaces, and it felt more like a space where two worlds were feeding off each other to their mutual benefit. In the GSA, their was something to admire everywhere. In the Tate Modern, I happened upon a few pieces I liked, but I hated the escalators and lack of natural lighting within the building. I believe that Mackintosh successfully used the ideas of the Art Nouveau and Arts and Crafts movements. The space deserves admiration by the public as much as an piece in a museum, and it creates an excellent environment for artists to create and display their work.

Glasgow

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To Let

 

Everywhere that Mary went, Mary went, Mary went

Everywhere that Mary went,

A building was To Let.

 

Gorgeous glass creations

cavernous and hollow,

no desks and files

disturb it’s pristine heart.

 

The fleece on those stone buildings

reveal its Industrial birth.

 

Walking through Mackintosh’s

white as snow bedroom

left me gasping, but no clouds of breath

rent the air like smog in this space.

 

Glasgow may have it’s share of sheep and Marys

but its no little lamb.

Royal Botanical Gardens

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Largest Collection of Chinese plants outside of China

Do politicians, when touring their cities

proudly declare largest collection of such and such population

outside of their home nation?

 

Or do they build hedges more solid than

the 8 foot high hedge round the Queen’s Garden?

 

Alpine plant growing well in your lowland home,

do you appreciate the dedicated care gone into your survival?

 

Carefully partitioned marvels grow here,

so please stay on your partition

and don’t touch the leaves.

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