72 hours in Fort Worth Dallas, Texas

Is Fort Worth Dallas worth a visit? It depends if there is a familial call to do so, but to purposely go for a leisure visit, it probably does not make the cut for anyone’s top ten list. It is a spread out driving city not unlike any city its size; Orlando, Florida would be a good example for comparison except it has children attractions: like Orlando it abounds with franchise restaurants and somewhat confusing beltway traffic system. That said, a recent experience of four days and three nights which was made to coincide with the ushering of the Chinese Year of the Ram, Fort Worth became a worthwhile sojourn which proved to be educationally satisfying as well.

Milan, my wife and I flew to visit and attend the 80th birthday of one of her older sisters and this was the core point of the visit.

KIRIN COURT

The birthday celebration was held at  Kirin Court Restaurant which arguably may be the best Chinese restaurant in this part of the woods. The ambiance which is usually secondary was not, and dish courses were very good. The restaurant name is unique and to me it implies that serious thoughts went into name. It is a personal feel that when a restaurant has a distinct and imaginative name the quality of the cuisine follows. I think it is true in this case.

The word Kirin is associated generally with a popular Asian brand beer. It is of Chinese genesis from the early centuries. It represents probably one of the most confused Chinese mythological hooved chimerical creatures. The first time I became aware of this fierce looking large creature was at the Summer Palace yard in Beijing which stood guard by its entrance. Kirin or Qilin when arrives rarely, about once in a century according to Asian mythology either signifies the passing of an illustrious ruler or  leader of great historical import or it also signals good and prosperous times to come. It has features of a dragon, (which is also mythological), scales of a large fish, features of giraffe, lion, unicorn, and hooves of horses, horns of other animals. These features are integral to this creature depending on when the statue is made and in which dynasty. Thus it is one mythological creature that is both confused and confusing because it imparts no singular universal image. In contrast at least in Egyptian mythology a griffin or griffone in Italian, is conventionally half eagle and half lion and Singa Pora (Singapore) is half lion with the body and tail of a fish. (Singa is of Sanskrit origin and Pura means town in Tamil but do not appear to be connected to the creature which symbolizes the city.)

THE BANQUET

The restaurant is well-managed and has a good, attentive and not too solicitous, wait-staff; the omnipresent owner apparently makes a difference or for that matter the presence of an invested designee.

The first course of the banquet is traditionally an assortment of appetizer platter, and this one is no exception, followed by a course of soup. Now that Sharkfin soup is not only banned in many places, the genuine fins if available is overly priced and so the usual second choice considered by some as  a notch below would be birds’ nest soup which is also not easily available except again for a steep price. The best Bird’s nests come from the mountains of the island of Palawan, Philippines, and the larger ones take a time to build. The dried bird’s nest which is made up of accumulation of saliva and buccal secretions from the flight weary swallows called locally Balingsasayaw after their seasonal migration from Southeast Asia every winter season. Their migration flight is non-stop until they reach their destination, the crypts of the mountains of Palawan where they deposit their salivary and buccal secretions. The local mountain climbers harvest these nests for a living. The preparation for cooking is something else again; the desiccated nest is first be soaked overnight or more in cold or tepid water until it swells and loosens into strands and since bird feathers are invariably embedded, these are meticulously removed one at a time with tweezers and then cleaned again before cooking .

Absent of shark fins and bird’s nest the kitchen has to come up with something mimicking the birds nest soup in texture, taste and presentation when cooked; and this kitchen did, rather cleverly and with finesse. It used desiccated fish maw which is from the large and a relatively thick dried mucosal lining of the stomach and intestine of a big fish and is sold at well-stocked Chinese supermarkets. When uncooked it looks like a large white curled piece of shrimp chip or a huge piece of chicharon. To prepare this particular kind of soup the maw is first soaked in water for hours or even overnight until it is clean, soft and near gelatinous.

Some large slices of ginger maybe added during the soaking to counter any fishy smell but the ginger itself is not part of the actual cooking. The fish maw is then sliced and chopped finely before boiling it in a chicken or beef-based broth. When real crab meat (not the faux kind), and some flour or egg white to give the soup some thicker consistency. It can be magic. In fact the chef did this dish so well it mimicked the taste and texture of birds’ nest. Add a tablespoonful of red vinegar before savoring the results and waalah you have a great soup.

The large twin lobsters with ginger and scallion that followed were perfectly done. The best filet mignon cubes with just the right amount of black pepper and chopped onions was comparable to the best available and when I complimented the owner about this specific dish he was proudly thankful and underscored the fact that he buys only the best filet mignon cut for $14 a pound. The Peking Duck with the mantou (bread) and necessary garnishing is comparable to the one served at the Peking Duck House in New York City. The left over carcass which is full of meat can be mistaken for whole fried chicken minus the skin. Chicken is usually not served right after another more noble fowl dish. So all in all it was a lovely banquet .There was the cake, how can one have a birthday party without a cake and it looked very pretty before the cutting and tasted delicious after the cutting according to everyone who had a piece or two.

Towards the end of the last dish, one of the grandchildren a young little girl, the daughter of Joy and Simon sang sweetly and an encore in Mandarin, songs of celebration to her grandmother to everyone’s delight. I am sure Grandma was very touched and pleasantly surprised. Then the endless photo shots and the endless goodbyes, which is very typical of Chinese banquet celebrations, and in every other culture as well, ensued. It was indeed a delightful evening for a delighted celebrant.

OTHER PLACES TO EAT

SALT GRASS STEAK HOUSE

Memorable but negative first dinner in the neighborhood of the Marriott Inn where we checked in. Breakfast is included but the no lunch or dinner is served.

Advertised as a steak house, recommended by concierge who also acted as driver for a drop off at the restaurant, but no pick-up unless it is before 8 PM. What could go wrong? Gratuity not accepted. Could not finished an 8 ounce strip sirloin, either knife was dull or the meat was just tough. Salad served was good.

SWEET TOMATOES

The signature 55 feet long buffet of diverse salads and all sorts of greens you can conjure is the main draw and parallel to it on the opposite side is a shorter array of 8-10 different medley of soups. I opted for the corn chowder soup, which I mistook as clam chowder (which is served some other days I am told) was thick, tasty and satisfying. Owners most likely are looking into an IPO, and may probably do so if their numbers add up.

RAFEIN

The second evening the young guys invited me out to dine at RAFEIN. The name does not reflect that it is a local favorite rodizio restaurant. It bears the owner’s name. After indulging with the different cuts of skewered grilled meats, which were all tasty and tender, and which will satisfy any bonafide carnivore I visited the salad bar as is my routine in rodizios. As in most rodizios the waiters will push the sausages and the chicken wings and the likes, but the waiters also did not hold back on the better cut of well-grilled meats. Had the heart of palms (as I do routinely in this setting) and heart of bananas, which was a surprise. I use these as fillers and as my veggies. The four different kinds of deserts which may have included a brazo de Mercedes were tempting but resistance triumphed. Very good restaurant and reasonably priced at about $35 a head excluding drinks.

MODERN MUSEUM LUNCH

Perfect for museum guests who want something light for lunch. Cafeteria style, with minimal choices. Two types of soup, sandwich, salad, or a hot plate. The plates are small, medium and large (fill-up your plate style) and fixed charges attached accordingly. Soda or lemonade included. Note that the bowl of soup depending on the plate size occupies 50% of the small category, nice experience.

THE BUREAU OF ENGRAVING AND PRINTING (BEP)

This is the second BEP of the United States government established solely for the printing of paper currencies; coins are minted elsewhere in the United States Mints in Washington DC, San Francisco and Denver. The first and only BEP for a long time is in Washington D.C. It occurred to Congress (it was still a thinking, working and functioning Congress at the time) that should something untoward happen to the lone Washington D.C. Bureau building the entire US economy will come to a halt and by extension the World financial transactions will come to a jolt; business transactions with international banks will be totally paralyzed. So in its wisdom a replication of the Washington D.C. Bureau building with identical purpose was authorized by Congress in 1986 and a second BEP was built and started operation in 1990. The Fort Worth Bureau sits on 100 acres of land and 12 acres of floor space. Congress awarded the state of Texas this no cost building after Texas came up with the winning proposal. Contrast this to the BEP building in Washington DC which sits on 5 acres of land but 10 acres of floor space. In 2004 a tour facility was added to the Fort Worth BEP and this is the space that we toured at the suggestion of Sam, oldest son of the celebrant. The tour facility has strict security check similar to that executed at airports; it is a very worthwhile experience. The tour is free to the public.

Parking is free too, it is some distance from the building complex but a shuttle transport for visitors is available. A hand-held phone guide is provided each visitor along with a map to help navigate the vast area of work space viewed from above and watch the workers in their respective posts doing their designated functions. One moves at his own pace and can retrace an area of interest as needed.

OVERVIEW

The printing of paper notes started as an IOU initiative by the government; later Notes on Demand were introduced in 1861. This was to fund the cost of the Civil War. It was more expeditious and less costly to write paper notes (initially signed by 12 clerks, stamped officially and later required signatures by other persons empowered to do so) than to mint coins. The minting of gold coins was costly, takes time and impractical. .From this manually written Notes the BEP was spawned in 1874 and eventually evolved into its present form. The impetus to print more currencies continued with World War I. The rise in demand to fund the war led to the mechanical printing of paper currencies. The accelerated cost to fund World War II brought about changes which included electronic printing. The continued need to fund more recent wars the Korean, Vietnam, first and second Bush 41 and 43 Iraq and Afghanistan wars and other trouble spots in the Middle East as well as Africa has not abated. The further demand for faster printing paper currencies rose exponentially.    Somebody once said that war is good for the economy, but at what cost of lives, civilian and military, and the pains of “perfidious wrongs and immedicable woes” of mental and physical trauma that necessarily ensue. To some extent the progress of BEP parallels the wars the United States had been engaged in from the Civil War up to all current regional wars which Pope Francis collectively calls World War III.

PRINTING PROCESS CURRENT STATUS

The type of paper for printing currencies differs from that use for newspapers, magazines or other paper products which comes from wood. The paper used consists of 75% cotton and 25% linen, hence it has a thicker, coarser texture and does not disintegrate like ordinary paper when exposed to the rigors of a laundry machine. There are five interesting vignettes on this subject posted as gallery anecdotes at the tail end of the tour. The BEP has a section that replaces mutilated bills and rightful owners can receive the equivalent face value of mutilated bills without charge. I read all five but will relate two.

There was a farmer in Iowa, whose wallet was somehow gnawed and chewed by one of his cows. The cow was slaughtered and its stomach along with its contents were sent to the Mutilated Bill Department of the BEP which carefully sorted out the contents. After some meticulous undertakings the farmer received his money back. Lesson to the cow: don’t feast on your master’s wallet no matter how tasty you find it or you will be slaughtered prematurely

The second involved a woman who saved her retirement money by scissoring each bill into strands and pieces each month Into a tin box She did this for years unbeknownst to anyone. Until one day when the son was visiting witnessed what she was doing, which was absent of any logic or explanation. He then brought the large tin box to the Mutilated Bill Department of the Treasury Department and the woman was able to retire with $374,000 intact bills. Odd but true.

The general rule of thumb in the retrieval of mutilated currencies is rather liberal. If 51% of a bill is recognizable the BEP will accept and replaced it immediately, now even if is less than 51% if the bill is recognizable as such it will still be replaced by the BEP.

REJECTION OF BILLS

At the very end of the printing process, when the bills in sheets of 42 come out from the large electronic optic viewing machine they undergo further visual scrutiny by two personnel for any flaws. This final process yields a 3% rejection. The rejected sheets are saved, accounted, and documented and replacement sheets using the same identical series of numbers are printed. A red star however is added at the end of the series of numbers to identify them as true replacements. These sheets are cut and because they are rare are highly sought by collectors.

THE PROCESS OF PRINTING

The printing of paper currency is a long, methodical complex process. The BEP has to be steps ahead of counterfeiters by periodically changing designs, adding new features, by using state-of-the- art equipment. The process started with hand written notes, then hand pressed printing, then the use of hand pressed flatbed bed power press, later replaced by high pressed rotary process, and then in 1957. The addition of translucent security with threads embedded into the bills are implemented for increased security against counterfeiting. In 2003 and 2004 offset printing of subtle colors other than green and background changes are made. A few years later a larger off center portraits, along with watermarks, the embedding of security thread and concentric line printing were introduced.

INTAGLIO PRINTING

Intaglio means to cut and engrave and since its etymology is Italian the letter g is silent. Intaglio printing is core to the present printing of paper bills from the time of introduction. For the portraits that appear on bills a sculpture mold is first made, then an engraved master plate is modeled from it. From the Master Plate multiple smaller master plates are made which involves, meticulously cut and carve of dots, curls, lines that make up a portrait to be used for the actual printing. Dry ink goes into each engraved dot, curls, lines and the plate is wiped clean in preparation for printing. The use of dry ink allows both sides to be printed simultaneously in green color with the face a notch darker than the background. Offset printing is used to add the two seals, the serial numbers and the letters DC or FW to indicate the bureau of origin. These large sheets are electronically inspected by large imaging printing optic equipment (LIPO) for any flaws. Three percent of the printed bills are rejected but saved and accounted for along with the replacement sheets using the same series of numbers are reprinted but a red star is added next to the numbers. Thus these starred are rare and eagerly by collectors. The back of a 100 bill is of darker green hue than the front and this is how the term green bucks entered our lexicon.

Offset printing typographically of the serial numbers, the signature of Treasury, the origin of print, whether DC or FC and the two seals shown in each bill are the last touches of the printing process before it goes for a final optic scrutiny.

BILL DENOMINATIONS

The largest denomination printed is 100,000 dollar bill but these are used for interbank transactions and reserves only. At one time 500, 1000, 5000, 10,000 bills were available and the highest denomination still in current print is the 500 note. Once I had a 500 bill passed my hands but it was too large a sum to keep as a collection. Larger bills are no longer printed because they are easy to hoard which is inflationary. Money has to circulate.

BILLION DOLLARS

At the lobby of the BEP are neatly stacks of uncirculated 100 dollar bills that total a billion dollars. These are encased in a thick plastic rectangular shaped configuration probably 5′ in height by 8′ in length and 6′ in width. These are eyeball estimates, I did not take actual measurements. A billion dollars compressed into the smallest foot print in one location is awesome to look. Somehow it felt like viewing a modern minimalist sculpture.

Despite all the precautionary measures taken by the BEP It is said that there are a billion dollars of counterfeit US dollar bills floating around the world at any given time.

Then there is the final, final touch, the neat packaging of the bills to be allocated to the different Federal Banks which in turn will be shipped to the banks in their designated lists. These then go into circulation. This is done on a daily basis. So next time you get hold of a bill, a dollar or a hundred dollar bill and some in between take a moment to appreciate the work invested into its printing and the time it took before it traveled into your hands.

KIMBELL ART AND MODERN MUSEUMS

Pleasant surprise of surprises with the help of Stevie, my wife’s nephew and second son of the celebrant, we visited two museums which are within walking distance to each other: the Kimbell Museum that houses its permanent collections which consist of classic paintings and a sprinkling of impressionists and post-impressionist paintings. It has no admission fee while the Modern Museum charges $12.50 and half that for seniors. Neither museum is on the scale of larger museums still a full day can be spent viewing the collections and current exhibits between the two museums.

At the Kimbell Art Museum there was one small painting almost lost among the other larger classical and pre-18th century paintings that was brought to my attention by my nephew and I immediately reacted that it must be a copy because I have seen it elsewhere several years ago. The painting is no more than 18 by 14 inches in size. I gave it a closer look and I was certain I had seen it before. The elsewhere was at the Metropolitan Museum in Manhattan. The painting was modeled after an engraving made by Martin Schongauer by Michelangelo Buonaratti, (not Michelangelo Caravaggio) when he was 12 or 13 years old in the 15th century. This was The Temptation of Saint Anthony. It shows St. Anthony being dragged airborne by a crew of flying demons over a desert landscape. The pubescent Michelangelo added colors to the figures, and scales to the demons (influenced possibly by frequenting fish markets) and modified the landscape.

This painting was purchased by the original owner at auction for $2,000,000 and was sent to the Metropolitan Museum curators in 2009 for authentication where it was cleaned and restored. It was indeed the earliest and possibly the only known painting of Michelangelo. Apparently the Metropolitan Museum may have arranged to exhibit it after authenticating it before returning it to the Texan owner who later sold it to the Kimbell Art Museum for an undisclosed amount but believed to be in the $6,000,000 range. My looking into it confirmed that it was the same painting I saw in New York and that indeed it is part of Kimbell Art Museum permanent collection at Fort Worth, Texas. Arguably in my opinion this painting may be the most significant possession of the museum. There were other works by 16th and 17th century Italian and French painters, although this were of no special personal interest to me I saw names like Tintorello, Titian, and Tiopelo.

If one goes for the classics and Renaissance period viewing these samples may add to a pleasant experience.

Adjacent to these paintings is a room with sprinklings of 19th century pieces, a few impressionist and post-impressionist ones, There is an early nude Picasso in black and white, a small dark green pond piece by Monet, and two Vuillards an early vintage and a latter one, a couple of Bonnard, a Degas, and perhaps a Leger and Calder,

The museum is relatively young and the lack of thematic and continuum of any narrative of the pieces shown reflect this; it is however probably headed in the right direction and has some well-acclaimed artists to build future collections on. It has the potentials to be an important cultural center in this part of Texas particularly if it starts leaning on some of the Latin artists that are already represented at the Modern and continues to have the support of its moneyed community-minded residents.

THE MODERN MUSEUM

In front of the entrance gracing the Kimbell Art museum is a huge easily recognizable Botero sculpture. One cannot miss it as one meanders towards the Modern Museum.

The lobby of the Modern is large and impressive and to the right is a large piece that quickly catches the eye, in black and white covering the entire wall a signature painting of Anselm Kiefer. In fact there was an equally large piece probably of the same dimensions done in his equally similar style but a bit more on the gloomier side in subdued colors. A third piece was a large sculpture of what appears to be a bird of prey perched but with the prominent feathers of the its wings spread apart as if ready to attack or abscond. This was the center piece of one room. These three pieces by Anselm Kiefer may partially act as anchor to the present collection.

Notable as well is the large beautiful triptych of Marilyn Monroe by Andy Warhol that takes up an end wall of a room. In another room the extent of an entire wall is occupied by a combine work of Rauschenberg complete with a mocked door and knob, and some frames all in bright yellow color. Despite the shut door it is very inviting to open, enter. And see what is behind it.

In the photography section which was a current exhibit the large serial pictures of the four BROWN sisters taken over decades beautifully illustrate the small slow vicissitudes of ageing process. These are large close-up photographs of four beautiful sisters ageing together and taken sans the help of make-up or beauty enhancement procedures but who all look happy and graceful as they aged through time. The badge of age slowly being written into their faces again courtesy of time.

A parallel to the preceding is a young Asian couple, I think they were most likely Chinese who are building their lives together, struggling to build their home, a small house. It then showed the young woman in her pregnancy stage, the birth of their first child, with their small house as a background. The child growing up and the advent of a sibling, her subsequent birth and their growth and development that paralleled the expansion of their home and the implied growth of their own material wealth. All in all it is a silent pictorial chronicle of the years of their happy lives, a partial cycle with as yet no finality. Both exhibits are touching in their simplicity of presentation and the satisfaction and uplift they give the viewer is immense.

So, would you visit Forth Worth Dallas, Texas? Deo Volente if I am around in 10 years I would like to revisit and see what has become of the sapling museums I visited.

 

Wilfrido M. Sy, MD
February 17-20, 2015
New York, New York