Mastery of Merchant Ivory

In an attempt to blog more, I’m looking back at a blog post that I started just over a year ago. A bit embarrassing to realize that I never posted it, but why not do so now, with some more context added?

A year ago, the Merchant-Ivory classic film Howard’s End appeared at The Maple Theatre in Bloomfield, Michigan, for a one week re-release celebrating an impending 25th anniversary and digital restoration. Somehow I learned of the screenings, probably thanks to my regular scouting of film listings and moviegoing itself serving as a stress relief at that particular time.

I recall being retrospectively impressed by the film’s use of scale, most notably seen in the lush cinematography and music score. Most of the central cast – Emma Thompson, Anthony Hopkins, Vanessa Redgrave, Helena Bonham Carter and others – felt like they are not as active in the present day, or more selective about their projects (probably a mixture of both) and so looking back at their previous work felt especially revelatory.

The theatre itself – one of my favorites in the metro Detroit area – contributed to my enjoyment as well, where it only has three screens with carefully crafted film choices and isn’t oriented towards mass market entertainment.

Howards End

It feels a bit funny to say that The Remains of The Day was one of my favorite films as a kid … but it was. Somehow I never got to see its immediate Merchant Ivory cinematic universe predecessor Howard’s End all the way through as a whole film … until today at The Maple Theater, which is screening it as part of a special limited run re-release.

I’d forgotten how intricate the Merchant Ivory world was, with elements bursting out of the frame and suggesting a wider visual and active world beyond the story. Such depth was particularly apparent in this narrative, with three parallel stories intertwining, intersecting and then branching out into their own narratives.

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Nostalgia is Good, Until It’s Not

This afternoon i chose to indulge in some nostalgic activities (as opposed to an activity that provoked nostalgic sensations) here on Martha’s Vineyard. The island has an extensive range of memories for me spanning my whole life, as I’ve undoubtedly mentioned before, and, at this point in my life, it offers a larger array of memories than the area of Massachusetts where I officially grew up. If asked, I say I “partially grew up” here on the island, which isn’t an exaggeration.

I am noting this today because it seems that each time I intentionally go back to a particular area of the island that has a number of memories for and with my paternal side of the family, there is a gradual but noticeable curved sensation of enjoyment. Initially being in that area provokes something like a warm fuzzie: “hmm, yes, there are many memories here and I’m glad to acknowledge and recall them…” which then carries itself on with a familiar mix of past and present. That feeling gives way to one that’s more rooted in the present, like an “okay, here I am, and I’m going to stop what I’m doing and JUST BE for a few minutes, because the present moment involves what feels like lots of running around.” Or something like that. And then, there’s an abrupt shift, which could be provoked by something like a phone call or seeing another person, or it could take the form of a sudden realization, to the tune of “OK that’s enough to look back on for now. Don’t get lost in the past.

I didn’t really realize that those sensations have been chronic, but something about this particular activity today made me recognize that the cycle has played itself out before. And maybe it will again. While I will continue to think that it’s good to be respectful and acknowledging of the past, it’s possible that if the desire for nostalgia comes up in the future – as it probably will – I will be more mindful of how much time and thought I wish to spend with it.

August advances to departure

I seem to only write blog posts at or near the end of the month these days. But I would like to get back into a rhythm of writing more frequently, especially in the vein of developing a writing portfolio or platform.

With that in mind I’ll offer a slice of life snippet from island life this week:

I’ve been greatly enjoying taking my daily activities in a more “whimsical” direction that is less about having to be somewhere at a specific time and more about going with the flow and what feels right. Part of that has manifested with a desire to observe and interpret the main streets of the island.

So yesterday I was walking down one of those very main streets, and an acquaintance appeared rather suddenly who I have met once or twice before. They said something to the effect of “I love your aura, you’re meant to be here right now” and a little more than that, and you can’t ask for clearer validation from the universe.

Last Call in the Mitten (for now)

My post counter tells me that this is entry no. 313, which I think is a super coincidence, since today is move-out day from “The 313” aka Metro Detroit.

I’m certain that this is not a final goodbye from the state of Michigan, which has been a friendlier place than I could have expected over the past 4 years, and I’ve become quite loyal to in a variety of ways, such as defending Detroit itself from its national low-brow stereotype, and offering insight on the cultural differences from one part of this large state to another.

This could be the part where I get all sentimental about the journey of the last four years, and perhaps that is warranted in due course. But the main thing to remember is the process of evolution that I went through with my time in this state, where I arrived for one thing, which led to another, which led to another … all in a very natural and organic and welcoming way.

So I will close with an embrace of Michigan itself, which has the highest amount of freshwater coastline in the US and the second longest total shoreline in the country short of Alaska. There are many other perks to life here in the Great Lakes State and I feel a sense of continued appreciation and gratitude for them all.

No Longer (Never?) A Hosteler

My current lodging arrangement while visiting Switzerland is comfortable and hospitable, but it has also made me reflect on whether or not I still want to arrange hosteling, or if I was ever really into the experience of hosteling.

Part of the reason stems from how my first hosteling experience was a negative experience, where I had some things stolen that I had left in the shared room. While that was admittedly a somewhat naive choice to not keep things with me at all times, that particular hostel initially appeared to be a serviceable and welcoming environment.

A year or so later, when traveling in Europe became a more frequent activity thanks to studying in London, I segued back into the hosteling life, with the most memorable experience probably being one location that was right on a black sand beach on the renowned Greek island of Santorini. My dabbling in hostels continued over the next few years, and I recall particularly memorable destinations elsewhere in Europe, including Vienna, Helsinki and Belgrade, while other locations were not quite as memorable.

Ultimately I segued gradually into booking personal hotel rooms instead of hostels, which was initially due to increased travels with my cat and thus needing to learn the art of the “pet-friendly” accommodation. After my cat passed away I found that I’d gotten accustomed to the more personal and less communal style of lodging, and eventually came to rely solely on hotel accommodation (when needed) for a long-haul trip last year.

So all of that meant that this current hostel stint felt like a step back into an earlier era. There were some perks – such as being reminded of how seniority rises quickly, where the Thursday newcomer is the veteran by Saturday – while other moments reminded me of the less desirable aspects of communal living, such as people coming in and out at all hours of the night or using poor etiquette (lots of noise) when moving themselves out.

All of which to say I’m not sure I will be hosteling in the future, but I appreciate the memories of hostel experiences more than I realized.

Modern Day Memories

This weekend I’ve journeyed back to the Bernese Oberland region of Switzerland, where I previously spent a memorable weekend just over 10 years ago in May of 2007. The unquestionable highlight then was a somewhat spontaneous decision to go skydiving, though one could also argue that the entire experience was a literal high point of a month long Eurotrip.

When the 10th anniversary of starting that Eurotrip occurred last month, I spent some time reflecting on that experience, and how it seems surprising in the present day that I managed to travel around a wide array of Europe (15 countries, I think) for a six week period and coordinate logistics as I went along, such as lodging, transport timing, places to eat, sleep, what to see and so forth. It seems retrospectively surprising especially as it took place just before our current mobile communication era began, when the iPhone was introduced at the end of June, 2007. It’s also retrospectively impressive in that it was mostly a solo trip, with the most interactions with friends happening at the start and towards the end of the experience while in Germany and Scandinavia, respectively.

At some point around that anniversary time, I also reflected on the process of remembering a place, specifically regarding spots that I’ve visited only once. The question mainly was around whether it’s worth updating a memory with a new one or the previous (only) visit was satisfying in a way that I don’t want or need to update it.

I find those ruminations coming back to mind while here in Switzerland and updating the memories of 10 years ago. It is nice to be less “on the move” than the previous visit, which found me staying in 3 different locations over 3 consecutive nights. It’s also of some amusement to update the memories, as I did not recall until arriving here that I actually stayed at this hostel on one of those three nights in 2007, and actually in the same room.

I’ll be thinking about that “updating” again in the morning with a trip back up to the Schilthorn, the iconic mountaintop restaurant prominently featured in my favorite James Bond film, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and which itself has been updated since 2007.

Of course the main thing through it all is staying present.

The Other Side of Your Scene

We all must wonder what happens when we (you, I, me, us) leave a scene. Life goes on in all ways but we don’t see it. Or we hear about it later but don’t witness the actual action. 

I have been thinking about the other side of my/our actions recently. It started with an awkward moment while visiting Mississippi last week. A friend and I were getting take-out at a local restaurant that she and her family occasionally visit. I was obviously new to the restaurant so I didn’t know how things worked and what the specifics of their menu and operation were. I decided to order a lemonade as part of my meal, which I sipped on while we waited for the rest of her order. While I enjoyed the drink, I was also irritated that it came with a nearly complete cupful of ice, which, of course, also decreased the total amount of liquid in the cup.

So, this overabundance of ice meant that I finished the drink by the time my friend’s order was complete. The restaurant offered free refills, so I thought I was helping them by pouring my ice out into the dispensary below the soda fountain.

Except it wasn’t a dispenser, it was where they scoop out new ice for each customer.

When the clerk responded in a very slo-mo “I can’t believe that just happened” kind of way, I realized my mistake. However, as the customer, all I could do was say “sorry” with some sheepishness and leave the restaurant.

But what happened at the restaurant after we left?

Peak Filmgoing

I haven’t been to my once-regular hangout, The Redford Theatre, at all this year, and it seems unlikely that I’ll go over there before the school year concludes in a few short weeks. The likely reason for this is the lingering satisfaction – even nearly a year later – of getting to see my favorite James Bond movie On Her Majesty’s Secret Service at the Redford on the big screen last June.

After seeing the film onscreen once before – and coming close to seeing it onscreen nearly 20 years ago in 1998 at the Brattle Theatre back in Cambridge – I was still excited to see it again. Reasons were similar to why I am often drawn to reissues or revival screenings: the immediacy of the cinematic experience can’t be replicated in your home or in a lighter setting. That’s especially true with this Bond movie, which offered a level of intensity and character that was arguably unmatched until Casino Royale appeared on screens 37 years later.

The previous screening, at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, offered the excitement of 007’s 50th anniversary year and took place in October, 2012. I’d made a special trip to the city for the event, and was not disappointed – mostly – except for the fact that a key sequence of the film was completely missing from the print that they showed. Thankfully that did not happen at the Redford and the emphasis was on the quality of the experience, complete with old-style intermission as is customary with their classic film showings.

Of course another part of the appeal of this experience stemmed from having visited the primary filming location itself, as referenced in my YouTube clip below, high in the Swiss Alps. I’m currently looking in to making a return visit there, just over 10 years after when I previously went, and am hoping it will work out.

So with the peaks of an experience like that with OHMSS, why would (or how could) I top that? It’s nothing against the Redford, though, and they continue to be a strong resource and community member of Detroit.

Mocha Latte or Not

Tim Hortons, Food Court Style

Tim Hortons, Food Court Style

Living in Michigan has brought about what could be seen as my destined interest in Tim Horton’s coffee. Destined in the sense that it’s a company I’ve been aware of for seemingly all my life, thanks to my born in Montreal father who saw Tim Horton himself play hockey and then became acquainted with their distinct dark and hearty brand of coffee, becoming a big fan and even having a plastic Tim’s cup affixed in one of his car dashboards for a period of time when I was growing up. On the couple of occasions that he and I made a point of traveling to Canada, or to Northern New England where the chain had a few outposts, it was a Big Deal to visit Tim Horton’s en route or as part of the trip.

So when I first arrived in Michigan nearly four years ago, it was an “oh, yeah” moment of realizing that Tim Horton’s was both in the neighborhood and could be easily accessed over the border in Canada as well. While I initially referred to Tim’s visits as a “making good on the proximity to Canada” – and it was – at some point they became a more regular routine, possibly around my time of living in a building that had a Tim’s on the first floor and thus I came to somewhat over-rely on at times.

Since I don’t live in that building anymore, and am now more aware as to which Tim’s locations are more consistent than others, visits to Tim’s have since turned into more of a “Where’s Waldo” or by convenience based experience.

This was true today, when I found myself in an area that has multiple Tim’s in close proximity to one another. I chose the smallest of the locations, which I have visited occasionally, and found that they were having an overloaded moment. I ought to have used the backup of cars from the drive through as a sign to go elsewhere, but I was able to get a parking space and went inside.

Despite having at least five cars in the drive-through, the interior of the store was COMPLETELY EMPTY of customers. The clerk gave me a harried expression worthy of a novel (his co-workers were hurriedly attending to the drive – through customers) and took down my order. When the order arrived, it became a humorous mistake in that he gave me two sandwiches instead of one (so there’s tomorrow’s breakfast!) and forgot about my drink. When I reminded him of it, it was on the house, since I’m pretty sure I wasn’t charged for it in the first place. Knowing the menu so well at this point – and sticking to more or less the same order – has allowed me to memorize the typical price of things or what is comboed together. The clerk and I exchanged an understanding glance again worthy of a short scene, and that was that. But definitely one of my most memorable Tim’s visits in recent memory, as it veered from the routine and had an element of surprise and unpredictability.

Relatedly, my favorite Tim’s drink, a mocha latte, recently disappeared from their advertised menu and is now considered part of their “secret menu” – I guess – because it isn’t publicized and yet they still make it. (While in Canada recently I learned that some locations have changed espresso machines entirely, accounting for that switch, but the adjustment doesn’t seem to have been carried out across the whole chain.)

Some locations in this metro Detroit area appear to be more familiar with the mocha latte than others, so that contributes to part of my guessing game with the chain, and part of the fun, admittedly, of going back to that original intention of enjoying geographic proximity to our Northern Neighbor. And also making sure that I’m fully alert for the continuing rigors of a busy lifestyle.

Audiences Await World Premieres, in Michigan

It was a special treat this week to focus again on theatregoing instead of my currently more customary filmgoing. It was also intriguing and exciting to be able to see two world premiere plays right in my (relative) backyard.

img_8280First up was a trip back out to The Purple Rose Theatre in Chelsea, well-known for its founder, actor Jeff Daniels, and its role as a cornerstone of the economy in Chelsea, a small yet well-settled town that is more or less the end of the metro Detroit sprawl as one heads west towards Kalamazoo, Chicago and other south/westerly points. The “Rose” makes a point of presenting new work – their fall play which I had also seen was a first-time presentation – but this time they did things particularly well with a strong script and production. In fact, I feel this play was one of the best I’ve seen in the entirety of my nearly four years living in Michigan.

Smart Love told a relatable story of a recent widow, Sandy, who at first glance appears to be doing OK at getting on with her life following the recent death of her husband. We’re introduced to her in the midst of a night spent with new boyfriend Victor at her home, said to be in the Detroit area. Just when things seem like they’re going to continue in a pleasingly domestic manner, Sandy’s son Benji appears at the door, urgently knocking and urging his mother to let him inside, even though it’s the middle of the night and they haven’t seen each other for a number of months. Benji is a scientific researcher at MIT (coincidental for me as a Massachusetts native) and chooses to come back to Michigan as he is eager to share some new creative developments related to his career and research.

And the story unspools from there, in surprising and often thought-provoking directions. Never going too far into the provocation category, the play stays in realistic gravity thanks to Kamoo, one of this area’s finest actresses IMO, who sells every moment from surprise to tenderness to anger to contemplation and beyond. The rest of the cast holds strong with the material and the twists and turns of the story. The key dramatic questions stay grounded in humane and familial realism, which was helpful to me as an audience member.

The second show of the weekend enabled a very belated first visit to Matrix Theatre Company in southwest Detroit. This group is thoroughly grounded in the tight-knit community of the city, and I’d intended to attend one of their shows on a couple times during the past few years, but didn’t make it until now. This play, Intentions, by Abbey Fenbert, looked at a small community of residents in an intentional living house outside Chicago. I wondered at times how the drama would reveal itself, and at multiple occasions the scenarios reminded me of the on-campus housing environments at my own college, where issues of green living, creating with purpose, entanglements with housemates and questions of how to conduct oneself in the outside world are often hot topics.

A mostly youthful five person ensemble cast keeps the tables turning on each other, and the script knew how to keep things fresh without falling into tropes of just two people talking or the scene going on too long. While some story elements were fairly predictable in my eyes, there was an appealing continued emphasis on nuances and the value of relationships. Several scene transitions carried the story along in its silent moments, as well.

Overall an appealing pair of newer plays, each with their own quirks and appeal, that I’ll continue to remember and appreciate for their origins right here in Michigan.