San Francisco, here we come

While we were in CA for vacation we took a trip up to San Francisco to visit with my lovely Brandy, who was there for a library conference. We took BART in and took the cable car to Pier 39. It was the girls’ first cable car experience that they can remember, and they enjoyed it greatly though they didn’t appreciate the line to get on.

I’ve been to SF tons of times, but it took being away for me to realize how much I love the look of the town.

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Two intrepid travelers.DSC03864

Two more!DSC03867

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There was a lovely layer of mist over the Golden Gate.DSC03902

The girls found a friend.DSC03914

The girls are now enamored of wax museums (YAY!) so we made a stop at Madame Tussad’s SF location to compare. DSC03925

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They have feelings about Zuckerberg. (Ok, not really, I told them to do this. But it made me laugh.)DSC03937

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They have an exhibit about how they make the wax works (there’s one in the Tokyo version as well) and Neil Patrick Harris is the model for the SF version.
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Posing on Abbey Road, which they totally recognized.DSC03943

Miss Audrey with Miss Audrey.DSC03947

This may be one of my favorite pictures ever. DSC03952

And a special picture for their daddy, looking tough with Steve McQueen. DSC03957

For this one you’re supposed to pose with Elton John.
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There was only one problem.DSC03961

Elton left! DSC03963

We went out to see the sea lions, but this little guy was all alone.
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The weight of all of our expectations tired him out.DSC03976

My sweet Brandy! It was so lovely to spend time with her and enjoy San Francisco!DSC03981

Heard Wildlife Sanctuary

I just created a new category for this blog! Now there’s a check box for Texas posts. How exciting!

When we were in McKinney to find our house, we took a day and went to Heard Wildlife Sanctuary. We hiked around for about an hour and didn’t see a 1/4 of it, and we didn’t go into the science museum either- I think repeat visits will be necessary. It’s a gorgeous place, we all loved it.

There’s a butterfly enclosure with lots of variety. There are few things I like better than getting a good picture of a butterfly.

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The hike included a bunch of different eco systems, including Texas Blackland Prairie, one of the rarest eco systems in North America.DSC03754

There was also marsh.DSC03756

And lots of wildlife!DSC03757

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The swamp might have been my favorite.DSC03762

This flower looks like electricity.DSC03763Here’s to many more adventures at Heard!

Magic at Meguro Gajoen

Today B told us that he had a surprise, and we headed into Meguro. We went to Meguro Gajoen, a really beautiful building that I’ve never been to before. Inside was the most amazing exhibit. It will be seriously difficult to describe, and anyone who lives in Tokyo should make every possible effort to go before the exhibit closes on Aug. 8. Like, move mountains to go. As I was looking at the pictures tonight I realized that it felt like a real life incarnation of Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus- full of wonder and oddity and magic. Tiny literally sobbed when it was time for us to leave. We’re going back again next week. (My camera ran out of batteries part way through and so I will post again with pictures of everything I missed this time.)

Meguro Gajoen was originally built in 1931 and functioned as a gorgeously decorated wedding complex. Only part of it still remains in its original form, and this area contains the exhibit. 100 stairs go up, and there are intricately decorated tatami floored rooms off the landings.

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The first room contained a collection of Japanese creations. Lanterns,

 

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hair accessories,DSC04125

wood cut prints, DSC04128

glassware. Beautiful, but normal enough.DSC04130

In the next room was a 3 dimensional display.DSC04141

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Details on the walls of the room.DSC04149

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The next room was stunning in its simplicity. We all wanted to stay there for a long time. It was full of wind chimes.

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There was a fan blowing so that the windchimes tinkled softly. One wall was filled with a diorama of bamboo (my picture came out blurry) and another had these cut, lighted bamboo stalks.

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The next room was my favorite, and it was at this point that things stepped up in the awesome, weird department. The room was full of these strange containers (see the third picture down) with incredible dolls inside.DSC04173

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DSC04193There were glass balls around the room in different configurations so that things reflected oddly- it was unreal.

The next room was full of gorgeously lighted leaves. I wish I could have gotten more pictures, but my camera was losing it at this point. I will take more next week.

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Then there was the washi paper lantern room. All of these are made of washi paper.DSC04208

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DSC04209The last room was full of lanterns.

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I seriously cannot describe how wonderful it all was. Each room was like a present, a lovely magic surprise. Tiny declared it her absolute favorite place we have been in Japan, and I very well might agree with her.

 

 

Books I read this week: mid June through mid July

It’s been a long while since I’ve posted about books. Since we were on vacation I didn’t have as much chance to read- which is probably backward to most people. But I did get some reading done.


West with the Night by Beryl Markham was so fascinating. Markham grew up in Africa with a horse breeding father who didn’t pay a ton of attention to her, and so she had a lot of latitude to run around the savannah , go hunting, and otherwise put herself in dangerous situations. She grew up to raise horses, became a pilot who tracked elephant herds for big game hunters, and eventually was the first person to fly solo across the Altantic from East to West. Her writing is gorgeous- even Hemingway said that she was better than any writer he knew. Some of her stories are insane- she was attacked by a lion twice in her life, almost trampled by an elephant, it’s a crazy, awesome life.

“Life is life and fun is fun, but it’s all so quiet when the goldfish die.”

It is no good telling yourself that one day you will wish you had never made that change; it is no good anticipating regrets. Every tomorrow ought not to resemble every yesterday.

Peering down from the cockpit at grazing elephant, you have the feeling that what you are beholding is wonderful, but not authentic. It is not only incongruous in the sense that animals simply are not as big as trees, but also in the sense that the twentieth century, tidy and svelte with stainless steel as it is, would not possibly permit such prehistoric monsters to wander in its garden.


Almost Famous Women: Stories by Megan Mayhew Bergman is SO good. It’s a collection of short stories about real women who, as the title suggests, were close to fame but were overshadowed by the famous person near them, or they just weren’t as well known. There’s a story about conjoined twins, members of the first racially integrated women’s swing band, Edna St. Vincent Millay’s sister, Beryl Markham (from above), and others. The writing is lovely, and I finished reading with a list of women I want to know more about. I highly recommend this one.

Now, reading her letters, I knew more about the woman I thought I loved. Or maybe I knew less. Maybe what I knew was that there was more mystery and hurt than I could have imagined. Maybe the world had been bad to its great and unusual women. Maybe there wasn’t a worthy place for the female hero to live out her golden years, to be celebrated as the men had been celebrated, to take from that celebration what she needed to survive.


Murder at the Breakers (A Gilded Newport Mystery) by Alyssa Maxwell is a twisty little mystery that takes place in a mansion in Newport, RI in the early 1900s. I happen to have a soft spot for mysteries set in a specific, evocative location and historical setting (surprise, surprise) and this one has great characters and some nice twists and turns. The main character is a poorer cousin of the Vanderbilts, and there’s a lot of excellent historical detail. Her brother is accused of a murder that happens at a grand coming out party, and she investigates the crime, all the while negotiating the ins and outs of society.

My parents were who they were, and no amount of wishing would change them. Did I even want to change them, need them to change? Even now I couldn’t answer that question.


The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler is so good. When I read the blurb I bought it immediately:

Featuring mermaids, swarms of horseshoe crabs, deadly floods, and the silent secrets of an ancient tarot deck, The Book of Speculation is split like a savory peach between the odd ventures of a traveling carnival in the late 1700s and the modern-day discovery by librarian Simon Watson of an old, handwritten volume containing his grandmother’s name.

It’s a book heavy on magical realism, full of people who can disappear, others who can hold their breaths for ten minutes under water, those who can see the future in cards, and more. Simon is a librarian living in a home on the coast that is slowly disintegrating away. His sister, his only family still alive, has run away with the circus, but the circus runs in his family. When he receives an odd, ancient book in the mail, he discovers that there is a tradition of early death that runs through the women in his family and that his sister may be at risk. It’s an excellent story and I really enjoyed it.

“I know you want to think it’s something more, but maybe it’s just that we’re sad. Maybe Mom was unbearably sad. It doesn’t have to be more than that. Being that sad is enough.”

I’m trying to decide what to read next, I may start on The Goldfinch, which is our bookclub book and is forever long.

Random thoughts

Hi!

We’re back in Japan. It’s raining and windy today, which is lovely because it’s been hot for the last few days. I love the rain. It’s not currently raining- we are in a lull- which is good because we had to run down to the bakery and the girls couldn’t whine at me that it was raining because it wasn’t. Apparently they are witches, or at least believe themselves to be, and will melt if rain hits them. Who knew?

I read 5 magazines on the plane flight back to Tokyo, and the most important thing I got out of any of them was that Tommy Hilfiger has a son who is a rapper.  This man.

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What could said rapper son look like? HAHAHAHAHAHA, I just looked him up and it’s so much better than anything you could imagine.

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Out of the 5 magazines, Oprah was the one I kept because it had articles I wanted to refer back to, and Shape was the most boring. I’ve never read Shape before, but I got it because it had an interview with Her Lady of Perpetual Pain, Jillian Michaels. The interview was interesting. The rest of the magazine wasn’t.

I also watched the 2012 version of Anna Karenina on the plane, and it is my new everything. I love it so much. The sheer choreography of it is stunning.  The costumes and sets are gorgeous, and Anna’s stupid decisions and then her complete trappedness are so believable. Jude Law as Karenin is a revelation.

I’m in the middle of reading The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler which I’ve been reading for weeks because I was distracted in CA. I’m excited to sink into it and binge read to the end now. Speaking of reading for weeks, I was telling my sister about Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell and how it took me 6 months to read it and I stopped 3 different times, and that I thought she would really enjoy it, and her response was, “You want me to read a book that took YOU 6 months to read?” It made me laugh. But it is a great book. We just finished watching the BBC version of it last night, and I thought they did an incredible job. The book really does bog down a couple of times and they kept those sections light enough to keep things moving. The humor of the footnotes was missing, in that they didn’t cover the footnotes at all, but that makes sense. I thought the casting was exquisite and the sets were gorgeous.

Over our vacation the girls and I read The Hotel Under the Sand by Kage Baker. It’s a truly lovely book, I really highly recommend it. It’s about a little girl who experiences tragedy and loss (skimmed over) and then finds new courage and family and magic when she uncovers a hotel that has been buried in the sand for 100 years. It’s such a great story. The girls loved it. Now we’re reading The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and even though the girls say it makes no sense, they also say that they love it. I’m not sure when the first time is that I heard the book (we used to listen to it on audio tape driving to Utah during the summer), but I know it made very little sense to me either, and that I loved it anyway. So the girls will get what they get from it. They’re laughing at all the right spots, so at least the humor is coming through.

I have had Locked Out of Heaven by Bruno Mars stuck in my head for the last 3 days. I wouldn’t mind except that the line ” your sex takes me to paradise” grates on my last nerve. Number one, it’s too obvious. I love Bruno Mars, but there are times his lyrics are the equivalent of Steve Carrell’s character in The 40 Year Old Virgin describing breasts as feeling like “bags of sand”.  Number two, the “cks” sounds in “sex” and “takes” back to back just bugs. He could have gone with “your love takes me to paradise” and solved both of those problems. I don’t know why he didn’t consult me first. But there are moments in that song that are sublime, so I’ll listen to it anyway. I’m sure he’s relieved.

I am currently cooking hashbrowns to eat for lunch. Don’t judge.

We had a weird experience over our vacation that inadvertently gave me the murder I was looking for for a location I had in my mind for a book. The location was perfect, but I had no idea who died there or how. And now I at least kind of know. Once we move, one of my main goals for the rest of the year is to sit down and write. And write some more. And some more. Not s’more. Though eating those is also a goal.

I hate the phrase “baby bump”. Who came up with that?

The more I see about Scream Queens, the more interested I am. Change that, I wasn’t interested at all until I saw these videos today. Now I’m totally in. I love the Heathers vibe. Although it would probably be better for everyone if Ariana Grande didn’t speak. She really does not come off well in her video at all.

Time to read!

Book I read this week: June week 3

We’ve been busy finding a house to buy this week and doing all of the things that go along with that, so I’ve had less reading time than usual. But it was very enjoyed reading time, because the one book I read this week was a superstar.

Vermilion: The Adventures of Lou Merriwether, Psychopomp by Molly Tanzer is such a fantastic book. I don’t even remember how it came to my attention, but when I read the blurb:

Gunslinging, chain smoking, Stetson-wearing Taoist psychopomp, Elouise “Lou” Merriwether might not be a normal 19-year-old, but she’s too busy keeping San Francisco safe from ghosts, shades, and geung si to care much about that. It’s an important job, though most folks consider it downright spooky. Some have even accused Lou of being more comfortable with the dead than the living, and, well… they’re not wrong.

When Lou hears that a bunch of Chinatown boys have gone missing somewhere deep in the Colorado Rockies she decides to saddle up and head into the wilderness to investigate. Lou fears her particular talents make her better suited to help placate their spirits than ensure they get home alive, but it’s the right thing to do, and she’s the only one willing to do it.

I knew it was for me. It’s part Western, part pulp novel, part I don’t even know what. The writing is a joy, the characters are well developed and interesting, the action and adventure are top notch. The world that Tanzer has created is drawn with a soft touch- there are sentient animals (mostly bears) living alongside humans, supernatural monsters are real- but those aspects are added so casually that it’s completely believable that they exist in this alternate West.

The part that I appreciated the most was the character of Lou. She’s good at what she does, she has complex feelings about her parents, she’s prideful but realistic- she’s a 19 year old. But most interesting to me: she’s ugly. She states numerous times in the beginning of the book that she’s not attractive (she dresses in men’s clothing for convenience’s sake, and often people think she’s a man). But later in the book she comes across a childhood friend who she has always had feelings for and there’s a moment when you think it’s headed toward a “what are you talking about, Lou? You’ve always been beautiful” moment, but no. She’s actually ugly. And I LOVE that so freakin’ much. By the end of the book she’s gone through things that have further messed up her face, and it doesn’t matter because she is who she is. She doesn’t have to be perfect and beautiful. The fact that she’s a woman does play into things in a minor way- there are always possible complications when you’re pretending to be a man in the Wild West, and there are a few ruminations of a romantical nature, but those have less to do with being a woman and more to do with being 19 and trying to figure out your place in the world. The major plot points and the things that happen to her and the choices she makes are the same as they would be if she was a man in a book of this genre, and I love that.

There is one section of the book that takes place in a “gentleman’s” club on the outskirts of civilization that toes the line of graphic content, but it serves to illustrate the outskirts of civilization aspect.  I just thought I’d mention it for readers sensitive to that kind of thing.

But the book is full of interesting (but never pedantic) thoughts about living as a minority and/or living between worlds- Lou is half Chinese half Caucasian and doesn’t fit into either world. The missing Chinese workers are considered disposable by authorities. Treaties with the bears are disregarded and abused. It’s really well done.

If this sounds like your type of book, I highly recommend it. I do think it would need to be your type of book- I don’t know how well it would work as a introduction to the adventure/pulp genre- but try it! What could it hurt?

Books I read this week: June week 2

Here’s what I read this week.

Buffet for Unwelcome Guests: The Best Short Mystery Stories of Christianna Brand  is so good. I’ve never read any of Christianna Brand’s mysteries before, and my goodness, is she masterful. The clues are there but she’s pointing you at something else, her characterizations are so good and complex; she’s just an excellent writer and a spectacular mystery writer. This is a collection of short stories and some are from the perspective of the detective, others from the viewpoint of the killer. There wasn’t one weak story in the bunch.

Familiar Faces: Stories of People You Know by Mary Roberts Rinehart is a collection of a completely different sort of short story. These are stories of living and loving and losing, of saying goodbye and finding things that were lost. They’re very graceful stories, and quite insightful into character. My favorites were The Philanderer’s Wife and Mr. Cohen Takes A Walk; both fully realized worlds in and of themselves.

“No, Wilmer. D0n’t be sentimental. I’m sorry for you, and you’re sorry for yourself. That makes it unanimous, but it doesn’t change anything.


American Ghost: A Family’s Haunted Past in the Desert Southwest by Hanna Nordhaus is one of those tailor made for me books. I was doing so well in my “buy no more books” resolution and then this book came up as a Kindle daily deal and the little blurb said, “The award-winning journalist and author of The Beekeeper’s Lament attempts to uncover the truth about her great-great-grandmother, Julia–whose ghost is said to haunt an elegant hotel in Santa Fe—in this spellbinding exploration of myth, family history, and the American West.”  Um, yes! Sign me up! And it did not disappoint. Nordhaus uses her journalism skills to research and investigate the life of her great great grandmother (who is believed to haunt the hotel that currently exists in her old home), and in the process illustrates why family history is so fascinating, important, and frustrating. She is able to find a lot of information about her great great grandfather, and other situations surrounding Julia, but little specifically about Julia. But the narrative that she is able to construct about her life, as well as her own experiences with various psychics as she attempts to contact Julia, is fascinating. I think anyone who is interested in family history would really enjoy this book.

If Abraham was domineering, or consumed in his work, or if he gambled and frequented bordellos or yelled at or ignored his wife, was he a villain, or simply a man of his time and place? Would Julia have thought her husband a monster and a scoundrel, or would this be how she expected husbands to behave? Is it fair to judge as villains these ordinary men of an earlier era, simply because they played by rules we no longer honor?

We flew from Tokyo to Texas in the middle of this week (I count the weeks for these posts by date not by Sun-Sat), and I knew chances were good I’d be awake for the whole flight so I needed something to read. I can’t read just anything on planes, it has to be escapist but not stressful. This time I went with two books that I knew the endings of (the first because it’s an older story so I’d heard the end, the second because it’s a mystery so it has to get solved) so a level of the stress was taken out of reading them.


The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith is one of those books that I’ve always meant to read. Then it came up 5 different times in the course of 2 days and I took that as a sign that I should read it on the airplane. It really is such a good book, and must have been groundbreaking when it was originally published. Tom Ripley (the main character) is not a good person, he does horrible, manipulative things, and yet you’re biting your nails hoping that he doesn’t get caught. He’s definitely a precursor to characters like Dexter and similar anti-heroes. The basics of the story are that Tom Ripley, (who has already run afoul of the law, even if the law doesn’t know it yet) is sent by an acquaintance’s father to go retrieve him from Italy. But when Ripley gets out there he realizes that Dickie (his charge) has a pretty good thing going, and maybe he wants in on it. And then that is threatened and he decides to kill Dickie and take over his life. It’s audacious and a bit crazy and somehow you find yourself hoping he gets away with it.


Miss Silver Comes to Stay  by Patricia Wentworth is a really solid mystery in the Agatha Christie vein. Murder victim that lots of people hate, many suspects but one really obvious one, complicated twists and great interpersonal connections. The story centers around a man returning to his childhood village after the death of his mother and how that impacts everyone in the village. He’s not very nice and riles a number of people up, and then ends up with his head bashed in. Miss Silver, who is a governess turned professional detective, is visiting a friend in the village and sets out to help the police. It’s a great read and I really enjoyed it, even though I had to go back over details because I was reading it after being awake for 23 hours. I’m excited to read more in the series- this one was number 16.

The girl was excessively pretty- really quite unnecessarily so.

Cecilia Voycey had always been told that discretion was a virtue. She would not for the world have denied or questioned it. All the same there are virtues which are very well in the abstract, but which, encountered in the flesh, can be a source of extreme irritation.

Right now I’m in the middle of Vermillion: The Adventures of Lou Merriwether, Psychopomp by Molly Tanzer and it is INSANELY good. I will post about it in the next book post. What are you reading?

Trick Photography Museum

The Trick photography Museum is set up with a bunch of optical illusions that you can pose in for pictures. The paintings on the wall have the illusion of depth, so if you pose correctly, it looks like you’re part of the scene. The girls caught on to it more as we went on, but it was pretty fun.

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The bench she is “sitting” on is painted onto the wall. DSC03399

Not a real door.DSC03404

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The mirror in this room is messed up.DSC03433

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Making a mess of a painting. DSC03478

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DSC03503I think we’ll go back with Bruce, I have the feeling he’ll be able to figure out better angles than I could. But we had a great time!

 

Madame Tussad’s Wax Museum, Tokyo

We went out to Legoland earlier this week, and they had a deal running with Madame Tussad’s which is right next door. For 500 yen more ($5) you got admission into Tussad’s, and kids paid nothing additional. None of us has been to a wax museum, and I wasn’t sure if the girls would dig it, but I figured, why not. I am SO glad we went. The girls had a blast. You could take pictures with any of the figures, and they had costumes and props you could use as well.

Johnny Depp. The girls had no idea who he was until I told them he was Willy Wonka.

DSC03289Zoe the Queen is skeptical.

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Tiny the Queen might order someone’s head off.DSC03296

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They tried to match the feeling of the figure, hence their calmness with the Dalai Lama.DSC03310

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Sit ups with a David Beckham figure that looked nothing like him.DSC03316

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All the Single Ladies, indeed.DSC03320

One of the AKB48 girls.DSC03325 And another.DSC03328

Singing backup for Elvis.DSC03332

This one is for their Grandpa- Ryoma Sakamoto.DSC03338

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The girls saw Shakespeare and literally started jumping up and down. They were so excited, you’d have thought the man himself was actually there. He was the biggest possible deal to them, and it made me super happy. They were also really excited about Da Vinci.DSC03347

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Tiny and the lady she was named for.DSC03360

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This is Matsuko Deluxe, a cross dressing columnist who hosts various TV programs. We know him as the “Hot Pepper Beauty Lady”- Hot Pepper Beauty is a free magazine full of beauty product ads, and he has been on the cover. (His cross dressing appears to be a stage persona from my research.) Anyway, Z was overjoyed that he was in the museum.DSC03384
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And I’ll end with a question for you. If you were going to commemorate Brad Pitt’s face in wax, is this the look you’d go with? DSC03388