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.

Honoring Women in many forms

The three films I’ve seen so far this year, as I maybe/maybe not get back into the “one film per week” routine, all focus strongly on the feminine experience, which feels appropriate and important as the Trump era begins in US government. (As we clearly saw yesterday with the widespread women’s marches around the country.)

Going in reverse chronological order, last night’s film of choice was the new 20th Century Women, which I caught back at the Devonshire Mall cinema, a place that would be my favorite local cinema if it wasn’t over a country border that requires often irritating logistics, not to mention a toll both ways. Anyway, I continue to appreciate the times that I do get over there, and this was the first time in awhile, probably over a year, although I had been to the mall – and not the cinema – at more recent times.

cineplex-devonshire

So the film of choice was 20th Century Women, an ensemble piece that has arrived with some “buzz” into a semi-wide release, although I’m guessing it may be overlooked when the all-important Academy Award nominations are announced on Tuesday morning. A small ensemble cast – Annette Bening, Greta Gerwig, Elle Fanning, Billy Crudup and Lucas Zellman – anchors the film in a surprisingly robust way.

20th-century-womenThe film seemed unusual to me in that it built my interest in the characters, as opposed to starting early with a lot of information and then losing interest as the narrative goes on. Related to that, the characters seemed to exist in and out of the story, thanks to the use of voice-over, with several individuals offering audio perspective from later in their lives as the “immediate” visual played on the screen.

I was pleased to see the Santa Barbara area of California, a region I’m quite familiar with, be represented in the story, and a few visual shout-outs to locations in the area I’ve passed by numerous times. As well, the heart of the story seemed to be one that focused on the nuances of life and art of communication between individuals, which made it more relatable in some ways than your average film about misfits, which all of the characters clearly were.

goodnight, 2016

and so a notorious year ends. It hasn’t been all bad for me personally, and if anything, I’m grateful to have turned around what could have been a bad year, more or less starting with an injury, into something more adventurous and ultimately optimistic.

It’s been particularly nice to end the year back here in “The California Homeland” of Marin County for the third consecutive year. It’s a good example of how time changes – five years ago I wouldn’t have said this winter visit would become a tradition – and maybe it sets a goal for 2017 of the past becoming the present again.

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The Unseen Best Actress

This week I had the pleasure of seeing one of my favorite actresses – and probably my favorite who is my own age – Rebecca Hall appear in a new film where she finally takes the leading role, after many films in high supporting or co-lead parts.

Hall dazzles in the titular role of Christine, starring as a determined reporter working her way up at a Sarasota, Florida news station in the summer of 1974. Christine openly and fiercely advocates for the professional positions she believes in, such as human interest stories and the actual art of the interview being something that is detailed and not brief, but she is constantly rebuffed by the male upper management of her station. It is hinted that Christine also suffers from an unspecified mental instability, which manifests itself in the paradox of her professional successes contrasting with her at-home life living with her mother and lack of additional social life.

The specificity of the story shines through choices in lighting, costuming, cinematography and sound design, all evoking a lurid (in retrospect) period of browns, muddy hues and too long or too straight hair. We also see a subtle but strong emphasis on gender politics and what the men in charge think the women (ranked below them) are capable of doing, vs. what the women actually want to do.

Through it all Hall carries the film strongly on her shoulders, with many specific character choices such as a lumbering walk, flat American accent, and shading the nuance between Christine’s tenacious professional ambition and interior hesitancy and tentativeness. The strands unify towards the end of the film as it leads to a shocking (but true to the real life story) conclusion.

Hall gives the strongest actress performance I’ve seen this year, though sadly I’m sure it will be overlooked come Oscar time.

Theatre, community and audience engagement

Community and audience engagement are intrinsically linked. The community supports audience engagement, while the audience engagement creates community and further involvement in other pursuits. In the theatre, the audience engagement sets the stage for the performance or event to be unique, distinctive and valuable to the community at large.

For me, the community and audience engagement are some of the most exciting aspects to theatrical life. There are opportunities to have great products and inside the theatre experiences, and they can be memorable, but they all have to begin with successful community and audience engagement. Crucially, those qualities generate response and create conversation, amongst audience members, staff, featured artists, and even passerby who may be unfamiliar with the company or specific show.

Community and audience engagement brings results and experiences for the theatrical venue. The qualities also create lasting memories and continued engagement for the patrons and artists. For the company itself, there is an opportunity to be more than just “that building on that street” or “that theatre I’ve never been to.” With solid community and audience engagement, the relationships become reciprocated. The venue gives back to its community and the community supports the venue in multiple ways, not just through philanthropy or attending specific productions.

In the theatre as a whole, community and audience engagement are the keys to continued satisfaction and enrichment on all fronts. It is important to not forget about how the audience reacts to the theatre. Most importantly, the theatre is the nexus of community and audience engagement, and all crucial developments generate from that hub.