Friday, July 11, 2014

Field Trip Report: Pittsburgh, PA

(The view from my hotel window. Click most for bigger.)

So! A mini vacation! Sparklesibling Marilyn told me several weeks ago that she was going to attend a conference in Pittsburgh. Since that's close-ish (ha ha, not really), I decided to join her there. I've always really enjoyed one-on-one time with this sister, and those times seem to get fewer and farther between these days, so it was great fun to experience a totally alien city with her.

I was dumb: I assumed I could just grab an AMTRAK to Pittsburgh, but it turns out that is not a thing one can do in DC! So I took the Megabus, which is super cheap on the one hand, but... well, buslike on the other. It took me roughly the same amount of time to get there as my sister's flight from Tucson. The trip was worth it at least for the opportunity to photograph the milk truck I posted the other day.

We stayed at the Marriot which is right in the middle of downtown, in the "Golden Triangle" created by the meeting of the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers. It's a nifty Midwest-style downtown featuring a fun mixture of Art Deco and Mid-Century Modern architecture, with just a smattering of older and newer things collaged in. Supposedly this is where the "cultural district" is as well, but I was unconvinced.

(The Golden Triangle from the north shore of the Allegheny.
The Andy Warhol Bridge is on the left.)

Or, rather, perhaps I was distracted by all the gigantic anthropomorphic creatures wandering around everywhere we went? Before you ask, no, we weren't dabbling in LSD. It turned out that we had come just in time for the big annual "furrie" convention! It took place at the (beautiful) convention center just down the street, and many of the animal sex cartoon enthusiasts were staying at our hotel! It definitely added a surreal spin on our time there, just constantly being in the presence of LOTS of people in animal costumes and ludicrous tails sticking out of their jeans EVERYWHERE you went in the area, at night and in broad daylight:

(Foxes outnumbered other animal types 5:1)

OK, OK, yes, furries are ridiculous. Let's get that out of the way. Most of it I just don't get, and some of the parts I DO get seem gross/dumb. I could go on and on, and yes, Marilyn and I shared many an incredulous glance due to the furries' antics, but you know what? Pittsburgh made me realize that I would have to be, honestly, a dick to do that. Who am I to criticize the furries? I'm pretty much a oddball, too, so go ahead with your weird selves, furries. Indeed, Anthrocon, as the event is known, had some mean receptions in other cities before being so cordially welcomed by Pittsburgh that they made the city its yearly home. I think that says good things about Pittsburgh.

Otherwise, I was surprised by the city, because I expected it to be like an East Coast metropolis, and it just isn't. It doesn't resemble Philadelphia in the slightest. It reminded me more of Milwaukee than any other place I've been. Also unlike East Coast cities, this is NOT a good one to visit without a car, so that restricted our visit somewhat (I don't drive, and Marilyn didn't rent a car). You have to call a cab ON THE PHONE.

We went to the Andy Warhol Museum, which is worth the trip alone (you can see a selfie we took here). They had an excellent special exhibition on Warhol and Halston, which included a glamorous selection of outfits and accessories which hit all the right high (Warhol's stitched-together photographs) and low (Studio 54!) notes. I was thrilled to see the mink bunny mask worn by Candice Bergen to Truman Capote's Black and White Ball, because I was missing the fiurries (see a photo of the mask here).

The Warhol's permanent collection is spotty, heavy on unsold and leftover (and unfinished!) paintings, but they have an amazing amount of his early commercial illustration work, which was a thrill to a fan of the genre like me, and an eye-opener for Marilyn, who didn't know about Warhol's beautiful early drawings. His very late work gets a good spotlight here, too, as do his underrated late 70s/early 80s commissioned portraits, which are all gorgeous, shut up.

(Heinz Ketchup/Torosaurus mashup, Market Square. A great icon for the city.)

We also went to the Carnegie Museum of Art, which came as an impressive surprise. I was expecting a collection reflecting typical, fusty, robber baron tastes, and the founding collection is certainly that. What I didn't expect was an outstanding collection of modern and contemporary art. They have a particularly good group of early modern pieces, including the best Marsden Hartleys I've ever seen, some lovely Doves, a great early Mondrian tree abstraction, and many other gems. The contemporary collection is challenging and demonstrates an almost uncanny prescience in just what to acquire and when. I really enjoyed their disturbing Mike Kelley installation, and wanted to sacrifice a swan to their royal blue Craig McCracken plank.And they have David Hockney's portrait of Divine!

And if you're at the Carnegie, you have to go to the Museum of Natural History, home of the best dinosaur displays you will ever see anywhere. It was breathtaking: exceptionally good mounted skeletons and lifelike models all displayed in cunningly created period environments. My jaw never stopped dropping, and I appreciated that they managed so well to balance the appeal to children with smart features for adults. I saw the newly-published "chicken from Hell," which was amazing and creepy and not quite like any dinosaur you've ever seen.

Eating in downtown Pittsburgh was a bit of a challenge: lots of chain "restaurants" and many lunch hour places which weren't open due to the holiday weekend. We were very lucky to have the outstanding Meat and Potatoes recommended to us, and we ate there both Saturday evening and Sunday morning for brunch. They specialize in a kind of chiced-up, but not too twee, comfort food, like pot roast done so perfectly you can't believe it. For dinner, I had the delicious Hudson Valley Duck Breast with dandelion greens and sauerkraut pirogis:

(OMG, the duck is rare and "pastrami crusted")

That cocktail was some kind of gin concoction with muddled blackberries, and was the best gin drink I've ever had. The place is superb and HIGHLY recommended, and has such an adorable staff they could throw your entrees on the floor and you would remain enamored. For brunch I had a ridiculous version of Eggs Benedict which somehow had a chicken-fried steak in between the perfectly poached eggs and the English muffins, and was SO DELICIOUS.

So a good time was had by all! Some stray observations: with only a couple of exceptions, I did not see a single well-dressed person in Pittsburgh. If you don't care for the sportsball games, it is not the city for you. If there are groovy, hip little shops and fancy boutiques in Pittsburgh, they were skillfully hidden from me (in a far-away neighborhood, I'm guessing). On Saturday evening, I had to say to my sister, "I'm an adult, single, gay man, and I have to go do gay things tonight," so I went to a gay bar  and was kind of surprised at what they let people do in it! "The Strip" is a region of street vendors and caf├ęs and it was PACKED on Saturday and was OK, I guess, if you like filth and crowds and noise (Marilyn and I hated it).



Comradde PhysioProffe said...

(1) That ducke looks fucken amazing! Is that spaetzle on the right side of the plate?

(2) No actual stories about the guy bar shenanigans?? C'mon, dude!!

Peteykins said...

Yes, the duck had a sprinkling of spaetzles!

As for the bar, ha, no.

Michael Strickland said...

Yes, Chicago, maybe my favorite American city to be a tourist.

dinthebeast said...

Excellent post, but I couldn't get the Hockney link to work.
That's quite a beard you've got going in the selfie.

-Doug in Oakland

Peteykins said...

Well spotted, anonymous, thank you.

Fearsome Beard said...

Was somehow unaware of the Carnegie, will have to keep it in mind if I find myself there one day. The Warhol Ido want to see but have not yet stopped through there to check it out. Comic will be here in San Diego in a couple weeks and so we will have our own spectacle of furries to contend with shortly. I do have to comment on your beard, looks good PSP.

Suzanne said...

I don't care where you go as long as you write it up like this! I think I'm in love with your travelog.

zingzing said...

I’m guessing you went to Lucky’s? Or one of the places on Liberty downtown… either way, frankly, the better bars are further away.

Alex said...

Yes, Pittsburgh is very much not-Philadelphia. I'm from the Philly suburbs and I went to undergrad at Penn State; the culture clash between the two ends of the state was enormous on campus. I really enjoyed the Warhol museum - when I went the major special exhibition was a great Shepard Fairey retrospective.

Speaking of other places to visit, I think that the most amazing art museum city in this hemisphere is Mexico City. There are at least half a dozen major modern art museums, plus some amazing murals scattered here and there in public buildings (including a copy of the Diego Rivera mural that was originally in Rockefeller Center but then painted over for being too communist). The public transit is quite good, though getting to Museo Dolores Olmedo (she was a major patron of Rivera and Kahlo) is a bit of a challenge. The city itself has gentrified a lot in the 21st century to the point that much of the downtown feels as safe as any North American city and the gay scene has really exploded (though it trends very young).

An art lover could easily spend a week in Mexico City and still feel like they didn't have enough time to see everything.

The Cat's Meow said...

One of the most beautiful homes I've ever been in is/was in Pittsburgh. That old steel money was pretty impressive. I spent the closing weeks of Election 1980 there. Even though things didn't turn out so good for my side, glad to hear the place is still kinda swell.

Fearsome Beard said...

Courtesy question,
I recently started my own blog and would like to add you to my blog roll, may I?

John Serdy said...

Just getting re-acquainted with your blog after a long absence. I suppose this would have been an interesting place to meet you for the first time, but I haven't gone to a furcon in a long long time. They are strange places.

Peteykins said...

Sure, Fearsome, of course!

Oh, and here's a fun fact I left out: Marilyn and my other two oldest siblings were all born in Pittsburgh in the mid to late 50s when my parents lived there, so Marilyn was actually seeing the city again, although she barely remembered it.

Peteykins said...

Oh, and I hope all is well, John!

Wig said...

I think you meant John McCracken, not Powerpuff Girls creator Craig?