Belated Moody New Year… from Ice Land!

Wherein the GP hits Galveston, freezes tuchas, and talks like penguins

Ambient they call it. Nine degrees Fahrenheit – that's the ambient temperature in Ice Land, which closed Monday at Galveston's Moody Gardens. Gay Placers Kate X and Andy C (plus two boos) took to Galveston to ring in the new year while watching a penguin paint. You heard me.

New Year's in Ice Land with Bob and Jay (photo by Andy Campbell)

Before we get into all that, though: Can we just say that we had plans and schemes for New Years – most of which we enacted.

We made camp in a lovely townhome rental on the edge of Lake Como on the island's peachy, beach-housey West End. The cozy Sand N Sea-managed condo was just up the road apiece from the mysterious, abandoned (read: creepy, surely ghost-infested) Stewart Mansion. (Note to self for future visit: Pack a Proton Pack.)

The view from the townhome. All resemblance to sunny days purely coincidental… (photo courtesy of Sand N Sea)
The benefit of grey days: Mucho couch cuddling and binge TV (photo courtesy of Sand N Sea)

Nestled all snug in the lakeside digs, we watched the hard-to-find, perfectly sublime, and quite fitting Movin’ With Nancy, then got up to some NYE trouble at Galveston’s gay bars: The Pink Dolphin (soon to be the 23rd Street Station), 3rd Coast Downtown (soon to be Krave), and Robert’s Lafitte (not soon to be anything other than its wonderful dive-bar self!), where we ran into some Austin gaylebrities. Then we bought and shot off one lonesome firework west of the island's edge, under the toll bridge. It was grey and cold, but in the morn, we ate chocolate-candied pecan pancakes, visited the beloved grand dame Hotel Galvez, and listened to Kelis’ "Jerk Ribs" on repeat.

Sublime. In short, even without Moody Gardens, it was still a New Year’s to remember. But Moody made it more so.

Under the "sea" at Moody Gardens (photo by Andy Campbell)
Sanguine penguin (photo by KXM)

But oh my god, if you have not seen a penguin close-up, your life is woefully incomplete. After procuring our tickets and signing wavers for “The Public Penguin Encounter” at Moody Garden’s aquarium, we were led by a resident biologist, Allison on a brief, behind-the-scenes tour of the aquarium. Here was a pile of rocks that the penguins at Moody Gardens used as nesting materials; there was the kitchen smelling of the sweet after-fragrance that frozen blocks of fish are bound to leave. We were warned to gird our nostrils before the main event: a visit with a living, breathing (singing, gurgling) penguin.

Thug life (photo by KXM)
Mo, about to be "encountered" (photo by Andy Campbell)

For the encounter, we were led into a small irregularly shaped cinderblock room; equal parts community college break room and kindergarten art class. Allison explained that we had to stay seated and keep our hands to ourselves once she brought in the penguin. And then…

 Enter Mo – the sweetest chinstrap penguin we’ve ever met (not that we know many personally or anything). Mo, a senior penguin at 20 years old, sang and hummed, and was extremely good-natured about being in a room with 18 humans. As we watched Mo (our hearts growing three sizes in a matter of seconds), we were given a variety of Penguin facts – where they live, how they socialize and eat, and why they like to paint. 

Yes. Apparently, the penguins at Moody Garden like to paint.

Moody Gardens Penguin Encounter's Allison gently encourages penguin Mo, much to Andy and Jay's delight (photo by KXM)
The painter in her element (photo by KXM)

The staff slicks up a piece of foam rubber with non-toxic acrylic paint and guides the penguins to step in it and then onto a series of small canvasses (which, of course, they sell in the aquarium gift shop). I didn’t quite believe that this is something the penguins “liked” doing until I saw Mo with my own eyes, relishing stomping on the wet foamy pad (apparently penguins like changes in texture beneath their feet) and plodding off onto the upturned canvases. After Mo was done painting, she stood by her work, considering it and singing in approval. It felt like a minute, but after 20 minutes, Mo bid us adieu – only after each person gave her a sweet little pet. Fun fact: Penguin feathers are softsoftsoft.

The artist admiring her own work (photo by KXM)
Art history lecturer Andy Campbell with his latest procurement (photo by KXM)

Following our encounter with Mo, we headed to Ice Land, a 900-tons of ice collaboration between Moody Gardens, Nickelodeon, and dozens of ice sculptors brought in from Harbin, China. Nickelodeon because the entire exhibit featured SpongeBob Squarepants and crew. Harbin, China because there’s a super-amaze ice festival held there annually. And Moody Gardens because they were up for erecting a temporary tent – more of a temporary bunker than flimsy shelter – to hold the finished colorful sculptures at a constant low low temp. So cold was it that we were issued parkas (well, for borrowing anyway) before we entered the exhibit.

Tunnel of icy goodness (photo by Andy Campbell)

Yes, parkas. And still, we felt like we had frostbite five minutes into the exhibition. 

But: so worth it. There were the sculptures: colorful, gigantic, virtuosic; and then there was the theater of the thing. Before entering the exhibit, we were greeted with a 10-minute documentary detailing the work of all involved – the painstaking Pantone color-matching, the exquisite skill of the ice carvers. Then a sudden indoor snow shower, pick up the parkas, and go!

Christmas trees in Ice Land (photo by Andy Campbell)
Andy and Bob (photo by Jay Alcazar)

Ice Land’s beating heart center was a large slide-structure, available for visitors to slide down to their heart’s content. Lit with gaudily colored lights, the sculptural tableaux surrounding the slide felt like cartoons come to life – each plotting a course along a loose narrative involving some aliens and freeze rays. Honestly, we were too cold and enchanted to pay attention to narrative. But we kept thinking how kooky it was that the tropical waters of Bikini Bottom were rendered in their opposite – ice. Of course, SpongeBob has been long-rumored to be – and, at times, boycotted for being – one of our gente (even though his creator insists he is resolutely asexual). So the opportunity to revel in a SpongeBob winter wonderland was a little extra-special for these queers.

The booty freezer ice slide (photo by Andy Campbell)

Upon leaving Ice Land, we were bidden, via ice sculpture: Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and Happy Hannukah (the latter rendered in cut paper over ice: What gives, dudes?!?!). Moody Gardens will be hosting another crazy icestravaganza some time in the future, so keep your eyes on the website. Despite our delicate human frailties, we wished we could live in Ice Land forever! Returning a used parka never felt so final, so sad… and yet such an oddly perfect start to a new year.

Happy… wha? (photo by Andy Campbell)

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Holidays, Happy New Year, 2015, Galveston, Moody Gardens, Mo the penguin, Penguin encounter, Ice Land, SpongeBob

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