“Times are bad. Children no longer obey their parents and everyone is writing a book.” –Cicero
We needed a little break from “real life” around here, so we decided to run off to St. Louis for a few days, stay in a real ritzy hotel and eat fabulous food while taking in the sights.
One of my favorite places to go is the Missouri Botanical Garden, so when we had decided we were definitely going up there, I checked out their site to see what sort of event they might have going on. What they had going on was something called the “Lantern Festival”, which sounded intriguing. Once I checked into the event site and saw the “lantern” they had at the entrance to the gardens — an illuminated dragon made of silk stretched on a wire frame that is 42 meters long (yes, REALLY, forty-two METERS) — I knew we had to go even though the entrance fee for the evening exhibit was rather dear.
This is his head, the top of which is around 20 feet above the ground. He was quite impressive.
Jim did some extensive research into restaurants, and we determined to enjoy some seafood (flown in fresh daily) at a bistro called Oceano out in Clayton (a suburb of St. Louis proper). This turned out to be an outrageously correct choice of restaurant. I have eaten seafood all over the world and the scallops I had at Oceano were by far the best ones I have ever had, perfectly prepared, delectable melt in your mouth accompanied by a delicate white truffle sauce the complemented them delightfully. The roasted vegetable platter we had on the side with our entrees was equally wonderful. I highly recommend this spot and intend to return to try something else. That is, if I can wean myself away from those scallops.
Another restaurant we thoroughly enjoyed was Giovanni’s on the Hill, a place to which we were delivered by the hotel’s limousine in rather grand style. I have to admit I sort of enjoy the Queen experience once in a while.
We also went to the St. Louis zoo, which was an interesting place if you liked to watch hordes of people with undisciplined screaming young children running rampant, with bored teen-aged boys and loud hormonally challenged teen-aged girls liberally interspersed amidst them. It was a hot day, and most of the “exhibits” were off in some quiet, shady corner of their habitat sleeping. This led Jim to opine that a zoo could put up habitats with lovely informative signs and never purchase the actual animals because people would assume they couldn’t see them because they were sleeping somewhere, which would be a quite effective cost-cutting measure in terms of veterinary care and food supplies.
As I dodged strollers the size of small cars being wheeled savagely about by super-charged super-stressed mothers, while their male counterparts were strolling about unencumbered by such trivia as exercising any discipline upon the toddlers who were not in the strollers, I wondered why so many people were at the zoo on a Friday morning. Don’t any of these people have JOBS? Oh, school was starting the next week, they probably took the day off to get the kids to the zoo before school started. Pity the poor teachers who have to deal with those unruly kiddies.
We went off to shop at the Global Market because one of Jim’s co-workers had a hankering for real German bread, which is available there. What a fun place. A grocery store where instead of being labeled “chips”, “Baking supplies”, or “Canned vegetables” the aisles are labeled “Spain”, “Thailand”, “Great Britain” and other country names. It was while I was there that I noticed that honest to goodness real British ginger nuts were available. Having been intrigued by frequent references to them by Daddy Papersurfer, I insisted we procure a package, acquisition of which was accomplished despite the terrible dilemma of having three or four brands to choose from. They did not disappoint, and I only wish I had bought more than one package.
By far the highlight of our stay was the wonderful food, followed closely by the lantern exhibit at the Botanical Gardens. I have to admit that when I read about a lantern exhibit, what popped into my head was those nice round paper constructs that one finds hanging in restaurants and the artier dens. I think the Botanical Garden used the terminology loosely, not having another word to append to these grandiose illuminated constructs they had scattered throughout their grounds.
Most of these were formed by shaping wire frames and attaching stretched silk to them, with the lights inside the silk shape. The things were limited only by the imagination of the artist.
In the plaza right outside the building where the restaurant, gift shop, offices, theatre and ticket offices are there is a large plaza that is graced by a fountain. This was the site of the first installation. The central pillar of this fountain is about thirty feet tall, a dragon wrapped around the pillar with the four corners of the fountain occupied by water dragons spouting water at the central display.
The rose garden was graced with a giant vase surrounded by pillars topped with flowers. You can get the scale if you notice the people in the dark background to the right of the vase.
The water lily ponds outside the Victorian Conservatory had been transformed into an artist version.
There was a sailing vessel which really defied photography. The silk core had been completely covered with recycled plastic water bottles. It glowed in an unearthly way.
There was a rather cartoonish grove of bamboo inhabited by pandas. Frankly, I really didn’t think this one matched the artistry of the other sets.
There was a walkway flanked by moons and stars.
Kuan Yin blessing the Buddha. This was confusing because no one could find the Buddha, because he wasn’t in that lantern but across the lawn from her in another set. I loved all the dragons on this one.
The dragon heads on this one were animated, swiveling back and forth, fixing you with their glares.
There was also a wishing tree, and a whole grove of “cherry trees” which I didn’t particularly care for.
My favorite by far was the installation in the reflecting ponds in front of the Climatron, a 200′ diameter geodesic dome that contains a rain forest exhibit. In order for you to understand the scale of this installation, you need to know that the reflecting pools where the dragons are installed are around 100′ long. The central pool contains a giant lotus with the pearl of knowledge, that part of the fountain is about 20′ tall. Look in the dark part of the image for all the people to give you scale. Notice that the dragon breathes fire… the heads also rotated while the smoke was emerging.
These dragons are constructed totally out of porcelain serving dishes and utensils, which were tied on to the metal frames with elaborate weavings of fish line.
The Botanical Gardens were not kidding around when their motto for this display was “Art by day, magic by night.”