Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Platform 9 3/4

When we asked DramaQueen what she wanted for her birthday, she decided on a trip to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. So that's where we spent part of Spring break.

It is awesome. Except for the insane hoards exploding out of the windy paths, its a joy to wander through. Hogsmeade is a gem, a work of art, really. Look at Hogwarts - it's fabulous.

We stayed at this fabulous, swanky resort. The sort of place you can call housekeeping and say, "I forgot deodorant," and they reply, "No problem. We'll bring some right up." I was tempted to call and ask for random things, like a pregnancy test or condoms. Or both.

Anyway, because we stayed at this posh resort practically on top of the park, we got Express Passes and early admission to the park. We heard that the best thing to do was to get there at 7 am and head strait for Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, the ride that's in Hogwarts Castle. It's the main attraction and a feat of theme park technological wizardry (he he).

It's also scary as hell. I thought it was a sort of safe for the whole family ride. Turns out it wasn't even safe for me. (I can hear some of you hardened theme park aficionados snickering at this.)

But, damn. You're bolted down in these benches - "enchanted benches" I later learned they were called - and then you move along the conveyor belt of doom while the benches pitch you about. I don't think we went upside down but I remember being flat on my back at some point and then face down. I knew going in of course that the highlight was the filmed projections that put you into the action. I was hoping for the best. I have problems processing film that is right in my face and surrounding me, and swooping visually down through the trees while being tossed about by possessed benches was very unpleasant. I gave up and closed my eyes. At some point there was a roar and a blast of hot air. I think that was a dragon. I missed the spider entirely.

If you so desire, you can get a vague sense of what it was like in this video. I enjoyed seeing what I missed from the comfort of my sofa.

It seems so short on video.

The enchanted benches 
That photo of the enchanted benches is from this Orlando Informer article devoted to the castle and ride, which includes some wonderful photos of the various sets and props you pass through on your way to the ride. There's also a link to a "behind the scenes" video that shows the mechanics of how the ride works. If I had seen that before going, perhaps I wouldn't have been so unsettled.

Sadly, only the outside of Olivanders. Don't you love the fake snow?
The other highlight was our visit to Olivanders wand shop. You stand in line for an hour or two and are ushered in in groups of 20 or so. One child is picked from the crowd to be "the chosen one" who will demonstrate how the wand chooses the wizard. Of course DramaQueen wanted to be picked. I didn't have much hope of it, but by golly she was! The show was delightful. The actor playing the wizard was having a fine time creating an atmosphere of awe and mystery. It was also so dim I didn't move for fear of walking into someone. So no photos in there. A flash would have destroyed the effect. Yes I still feel guilty for not memorializing the moment.

Some young wizards and witches stopped by while we were waiting in line for Olivanders. I am quite sad that we missed the toad chorus.

You could tell these witches were enjoying their work.

You can't go to Hogsmeade without trying the Butterbeer. Happily, it was recently reformulated to be both dairy-free and gluten-free, so I was able to partake. It tastes like cream soda with foamy, vaguely buttery fluff on top.
DramaQueen sampling the Butterbeer at the Hogshead.

Firecracker is still recovering from the Forbidden Journey ride.

There is talk of creating a Hogwarts train ride, which would be so awesome. It could be Universal's monorail.
At Platform 9 3/4
I love the luggage. Note the owl cage.

The village is full of fun details. I ran across a placard for Gringott's Bank - it was next to an ATM. Most of the buildings were facade's only - you couldn't go in. But the window displays were charming and artful, with references to items in the book series.

Details like this moving wanted post of Sirius Black make the park special.
The hapless Ford Anglia.
A squealing mandrake root.
Can you see the wands and post boxes?

The window displays were outstanding.

I really wanted to capture this window display with all Lockhart's books and the moving photos, but I just couldn't do it justice.


Dervish & Banges is the main gift shop, and it was specially designed to be impossible to navigate, partly because the Owl Post feeds into it, and Olivanders exits into the Owl Post, which is about the width of a train corridor and the main place to purchase your wand, which are stacked up along all the walls. And DramaQueen had to open them all before choosing her wand. A checkout counter, looking like an authentic postal counter, is bang in the middle of the Owl Post. After a while you feel like clocking someone. That's a good time to find another mug of Butterbeer.
The Monstrous Book of Monsters. It snarls and snaps.

Somehow I didn't get any photos of Zonko's Joke Shop or Duke's Sweetshop. I think by that time the crowds were at their height. DramaQueen bought a screaming yo-yo, a golden snitch and a chocolate frog.

This box houses a chocolate frog. Or it did.

Now Firecracker is not the biggest HP fan, and she was traumatized by the Forbidden Journey ride. So we had to spend some time in the Dr. Suess area.

She rode Red Fish Blue Fish three times. I rode it twice. We got soaked.

Did I mention we had Express Passes? So worth it.

The next day we went to the Universal Studios side. We were too exhausted to do much.

At the Curious George Waterpark

Well, Dear Husband and I were, but Abby did just fine. 

"New York"

DramaQueen loves the I Love Lucy show. She bought a Vitameatavegimin magnet.

And that's all. I'm winding this up not exactly because that's all I have to say but because this post has been hanging around for days and it's irritating me.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Everything Bad Is Good

I'm reading this right now. Dear Husband complains that I never read nonfiction. So I checked out nonfiction. I have a dozen books on various TV shows and philosophy. Didn't know there were series like that, books with easily digestible bits of popcultural goodness and a dollop of Socrates and Lacan.

This book I picked up because I like the contrarian view that TV and video games are good for you because the complexity forces particular kinds of thought processes that are beneficial (there are two "becauses" in that sentence but I just can't deal). God knows TV is a lot better than the One Day at a Time and Love Boat that I grew up with. I don't have a lot of experience with video games, but I worked my way through Myst (remember that?), and it was HARD. I remember drawing a friggin map of the subway, for pete's sake. I took notes.

I also don't think our ability to socialize will be degraded by Facebook, or that we will all forget how to spell because of texting. I don't worry about e-books usurping printed books. Speaking of that, I wonder if anyone boo-hooed the loss of illuminated manuscripts when the printing press arrived. Because of the printing press, hardly anyone knows how to write entire books of intricate calligraphy and decorative marginalia.

But now I'm off to watch some TV.

Friday, March 02, 2012

Musician of the Week: Andrew Bird

I had heard of Andrew Bird at some point when I was reading about Owen Pallett. I had never bothered investigating until I recently heard a song on Pandora called Imitosis. Sort of jazzy, a little folksy, a dash of something else. As so often happens, once I started paying attention I ran across mention of him quite a lot. I even found out that he was playing in town later this month. I love this video, the colorful bejeweled mechanical insects, and Bird himself, looking like he escaped from the local college's department of mathematics.

And then there's the impressively titled "A Nervous Tic Motion of the Head to the Left."

He seems to specialize in odd titles. Here's one called "Fake Palindromes." No idea what the connection is, but I keep thinking I hear a sitar.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

A Night at the Opera

Dear Husband. Those gold cords and tassel? He graduated with Distinction.
This past weekend Dear Husband graduated with his Master’s degree. See, here’s a photo of him in his gown. He looks adorable. As an aside, I don’t understand the hoods on these gowns. It came with some incomprehensible instructions about how to fold it so the colors show. And the hood is vestigial - imagine someone actually pulling it over their head. The doctoral gown looks so much easier to deal with, and it comes with a jaunty little squishy velvet cap you can actually wear. Not that I want to encourage Dear Husband to get a Ph.D. He says he’s bored now that he doesn’t have school, so I encouraged him to take up knitting. 

As part of the Grand Celebration his mom and one of his brothers came to town, and we even stayed in a hotel close to the graduation site. The girls really liked that, because kids love staying in hotels, whereas adults tend to think of what they would find if they had a black light. 

Dear Husband’s brother, hereafter referred to as Cool Hip Brother (CHB), offered to take us out to some clubs. I haven’t been to a club since 1988, I think, and I usually went to somewhat sceevy gay clubs that played the Smiths nonstop, wearing questionable clothes I found at Goodwill. Everyone danced around as if they were removing cobwebs from the rafters and tried to maintain an expression of general disdain. You're never going to hear a Smith’s song these days, unless it’s sampled.

CHB with DramaQueen and Firecracker
CHB is one of those People Who Know People. I always wanted to tag along with someone like that. The first place we went you had to go up an elevator and through some walkways and you were blindfolded for part of the journey. Just kidding. This wasn’t a club, really. More of a glorified bar. Actually, I think it looked like someone had turned off the lights in a giant corporate boardroom, with all the employees still there. The men were in suits. Suits. But CHB gave his name to someone, who passed it along to someone, who swiftly descended upon CHB to talk about whatever People Who Know People talk about. I was fascinated with the couples sitting near us. They all looked pretty bored, even the woman trying to give her date a lap dance. The lap dance struck me as a bit tacky, but the bar served really good mojitos. CHB seemed a little surprised that I stuck to mojitos, which makes me wonder if I’m out of the cool drink loop and ordered something that is just so hopelessly last decade.

But the best part is next, because we went to Opera, a nightclub that looks like - an opera! At least inside. A huge crystal chandelier hangs from the ceiling and the ceiling and some part of the architecture that I don’t know the name of are painted with cute little rococo medallion's and gold flourishes. Anyway, a really popular house dance dj/producer called Alesso was playing (or dj-ing or officiating or whatever) so the place was packed and there was a line down the block. We didn’t have to wait in the line because CHB  said something to a guy with a clipboard and earpiece, and we walked right in. I was very impressed and felt all Hollywood. 

Opera. That blurry mess at the bottom is a crowd of people.
I had been worried about dressing wrong and looking out of place and way old, but it didn’t really matter. I think I may have been invisible, which was fine with me. There was so much cigarette smoke you could practically walk on it, and now and then billowing streams of dry ice smoke blasted across the space. Alesso was doing his thing, which was a pretty awesome thing I have to admit. I gather there’s a particular flow to house music, a buildup (crowd recognizes song; much jumping up and down), breakdown (crowd teeters on silence), climax (and the crowd goes wild!).  Just like sex! The climax part included lots of flashing lights - which was the only time you could actually see anything on the floor. Otherwise most of the illumination came from the multicolored light sticks people waved around. We stayed up in the balconies, where you could actually move. Which I did. I probably looked epileptic, but since most everyone looked ridiculous anyway (to the side a circle of drunk guys had carved out some space to practice clogging, I think, or perhaps Irish step dancing), I was okay with that. And really, that kind of music gets in your head and manipulates you if you let it, and I’m not sure why you wouldn’t let it. 

Alesso. I'm too cool and Swedish to have a last name.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Angels, Magicians, Monsters, Ghosts and Pretty Boys

I was reading a book today that encouraged you to let your freak flag fly, to find your obsession and go with it, because that's how you find your true calling. Nice as that sounds, I don't think that my tenacity at Googling photos of really good looking people can be leveraged into a job. But I'm open to suggestions. I'm also not sure that I have a freak flag, exactly. Maybe a shoelace.

But I do have my obsessions.

American Horror Story
Ghosts with Garters
I thought this series was fantastic. It delivered the big scares as well as a more diffuse and  disturbing creepiness. I don't usually watch or read horror - I'm too susceptible. I can't even look in a mirror in the dark, a fear that was the subject of one episode that now has me worried whenever I see a closed shower curtain. Horror holds up our fears and scares us with them all over again, and for some reason we really like that. American Horror Story delivered: home invasions, high school mass murders, rape, death, dark corners and spooky noises,  deformity, suicide, ghosts that CAN hurt you, sociopaths and the devil's spawn. And then there are the horrors that are more corrosive than scary, like infidelity, depression, and neglect. The ghosts in American Horror Story can’t escape the house where they died, a house with layer on layer of guilt, rage, and fear. The horror house is the collective American psyche, and we’re all, innocent and guilty alike, stuck in it. Meanwhile, I give you one of the high points of the series: Alexandra Breckinridge in her slutty maid’s outfit. She didn't wash the floors or climb ladders nearly enough.

A Madness of Angels, The Midnight Mayor and The Neon Court
I found this series by accident, attracted to the cover of the third book, The Neon Court. I love urban paranormal noir.  I’m a fan of the Harry Dresden and Sandman Slim books, both about gumshoe wizards. They keep going and the trouble keeps piling up faster than they can dig but that doesn’t keep them from maintaining a constant witty and droll patter. A Madness of Angels, though, is all that plus a new level of gorgeous. Each book is almost giddy with a love of the London cityscape, from which the wizard Matthew Swift draws his magic. The author’s descriptions of spells woven from the subways, bus shelters and litter are full of energy, wit, and lively imagination. The Angels, specifically the Blue Electric Angels, slid from the mouthpiece of a phone receiver into his dying body and now inhabit his brain in an uneasy alliance with his own personality (he isn't entirely certain he still has his own personality).  Matthew sometimes refers to himself as “we”. I think it’s a sign of how good the writing is that although I noticed the shift it didn’t drive me up the wall but just went with it.

The Magicians and The Magician King
I’ve heard this called Harry Potter for grownups, which I think does everyone a disservice. If Harry Potter were Dickens, I suppose The Magicians would be Trollope. I’m not even going to try to explain that, but it makes sense somewhere in the muddled recesses of my mind.  There’s a gifted teenager, Quentin, who finds himself (through an odd sequence of events) sitting a very strange exam at Brakebills, a school of magic. Thus begins his education (which rather reminded me of Arthur’s education in The Sword and the Stone) in magic, friendship, love, and betrayal.  He also happens to be obsessed with a series of children’s books that sound an awful lot like the Narnia stories, set in a world called Fillory. He discovers that Fillory is a real place, one that he and his magician friends can visit. It’s a pretty dark coming of age story - dark as in true to the reality of how many screw ups you make on your way to adulthood.  It takes an awful long time to develop any sort of true maturity. Near the end of The Magician King one of the characters in Fillory says something like this: “The hero isn’t the one who gains  the reward. The hero is the one who pays the price.” I thought that together the books were about the journey to that painful revelation.

I’ve blathered on about this before, but I adore the BBC adaptation. I think they did a brilliant job of modernizing the stories, and Benedict C and Martin Freeman are excellent.  I feel faint just listening to their line delivery. And now I'm waiting for the next installment. And I still want that coat.

Being Human (the British version)
I'm a Brooding Vampire
I know - this has been out forever in the UK. But it hasn’t been streaming on Netflix for very long.  I think we usually mangle British shows when we import them. I tried to watch the American version of Being Human, and I just couldn’t. The characters on the American series lack the nuances and quirks of the British ones. We have taken the Vampire Diaries and smushed it into the basic Being Human framework. It’s slick and shallow and as far as I can tell is primarily about sex.  The British version, however, actually seems to be about figuring out what it means to be human. How do you transform the predatory and the invisible? I mean, their problems are ours writ large - selfish and greedy desire, addiction, timidity, fear, cowardice, rage, our animal nature. And THEN it's about sex. And Aidan Turner is just a better vampire. What sort of credible vampire looks like he goes to the gym everyday? Aidan looks more like he's shooting up in an alley somewhere.

Love the crooked smile.
I love this show about the fairy tale creatures that live among us. Nick, played by David Giuntoli, is just beautiful. I like watching him shoot things. A descendant of the original brothers Grimm - who are hunters, not just story collectors - he is  The One Who Can See the Truth. He has a trailer full of weird weaponry and Encyclopedias of Hideous Monsters that he inherited from his aunt, and he's kind of playing it by ear because his aunt died before he could go through basic training. He’s also a cop, so it’s a bit like CSI in the Enchanted Forest. I love his friendship with the lovable werewolf Monroe, his go-to guy for all things supernatural. And his cop partner is great, too, even if he's unaware of exactly what's going on. That’s pretty much it, I think. Not a lot of depth, perhaps, but updating the stories of Red Riding Hood and Rapunzel and so forth really gives you a sense of the role fairy tales play in dealing with a dark and often frightening world.

White Collar
Those eyes could break a million hearts.
Why haven’t I watched this before? I’m catching up on Netflix and loving it. The conman/forger/thief Neal Caffrey is so exuberantly charming you want to smile and wear a fedora. An actor could easily flub it and come off as smarmy and crass. Instead he’s rather sweet, one of those bad guys who’s decent at heart. His developing friendship with the FBI agent responsible for him is fun to watch, as they try to figure out how far to trust each other. And his old friend and partner in crime is adorable - always there for him, ready to come through in a crisis and help him concoct ridiculous schemes, always ready to offer a conspiracy theory and a boot-kick to authority. The actor playing Nick, Matt Bomer, has stunning blue eyes, the kind of eyes that make you catch your breath when they hit you full-force. There are a lot of pretty people, but only a few have eyes that give me butterflies.

Richard Armitage. Sigh. Crooked smile
AND startling eyes.

(Richard Armitage is another example. I’ll take any opportunity to talk about Richard Armitage. Like... he’s going to be in the Hobbit movie with just about every other sexy British actor, including the two from Sherlock and the vampire from Being Human). I supposed they have what are called “bedroom eyes,” but their gaze seems more existential than that, as if they’ve bored down to your essence. (If I were really clever I could now insert something about Lacan and “the gaze.” But philosophers have a way of reducing what seems to be a nifty insight into utter boredom. Or not reduce - philosophers never reduce anything; they expand endlessly.)

Someday this Pain Will Be Useful to You
If only this book were around when I was a teenager. It’s compared with Catcher in the Rye, which is inevitable, but I was never all that fond of Holden Caufield.  I love James Svek, though. He’s a teenager in love with words, who feels wildly out of place. He's obsessed with looking up houses for sale in the Midwest and wants to move there (you get a sense of why later in the story). He has a dark sense of humor and a keen sense of the absurdity around him. Here’s a snippet of conversation with his father:

“You should have ordered a steak or something,” my father said. “You should never order pasta as a main course. It isn’t manly.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” I said.
“No, you won’t,” said my father. “And listen, while we’re talking about this, let me ask you something.”
“Are you gay?
“What?” I asked. “Why would you ask me that?”
“Why? Why not? I just want to know.”
“Why? Do you get to take an extra deduction on your taxes or something.?”
“Very funny, James. No. It’s just that we’ve never talked about your sexuality, and if you are gay I want to be properly supportive. It’s fine with me if you’re gay, I just want you to know.”
“You wouldn’t be supportive if I were straight?”

He’s precocious and clever, defiantly alone at the same time that he tries awkwardly (and disastrously) to connect. The descriptions of his emotional state are finely nuanced: “I ... just let everything go, turned the net of myself inside out and let all the worried desperate fish swim away.” How beautiful is that? You learn indirectly that he witnessed the attack on the Twin Towers, and the stories of those lost, particularly those who were missing but no one noticed at first, have contributed to his fear of never making the leap from loneliness to companionship.

So that's how I've been spending my time. Or at least when I'm not looking up funny cat videos on YouTube.