Category Archives: Traveling

Twenty Eighteen Renewal

Having lost track of what I wanted to do in this blogging space over the past year or so, I’ve resolved to renew emphasis on filmgoing and dramatic criticism for now, and see what may come of other experiences ahead.

Century Cinema, Corte Madera, CA

While recently back in the great state of California, I enjoyed a few filmgoing experiences. The 2017 moviegoing year ended in the same place where the 2016 moviegoing year had both ended and began: the Century Cinema in Corte Madera, CA. I’ve surely written before about how this particular cinema is the ultimate in big-screen entertainment for Marin County and possibly the entire Bay Area itself, with one single large screen and almost always featuring the latest and biggest blockbuster. Legend has it that the Cinema has always been a top commercial venue of both choice and gross for the Star Wars films, and that tradition continued with its screening of The Last Jedi, the latest installment in the Skywalker Saga.

This was my second and likely last big screen viewing of the film, and I found it more enjoyable the second time around, though not an overall tops experience .If the first viewing was about riding the crest of anticipation mixed with a dose of melancholia stemming from Carrie Fisher no longer being among the earthly realm, the second time around was a way to sit back and enjoy the ride of the story, while also staying present in the flow of the narrative and not over-anticipating elements i already knew were coming around.

The impressive marquee of the Regal Santa Cruz 9

Later in my California stay I enjoyed some moviegoing as rainy day counter-programming. The film of choice, somewhat randomly, was Molly’s Game, a new drama written and directed by Aaron Sorkin, and seeing the film brought back memories of seeing Sorkin’s The Social Network in California for the first time in 2010, which I ought to do a retrospective post about at some point. I wasn’t really aware of the story of Molly Bloom and her self-made poker empire, so that helped to keep the material fresh. Chastain, who seems to have gained a new level of confidence in her public persona within the last year or two, carries the film splendidly but never too show-ily, even letting herself blend into the background of a few scenes and letting the story focus on gender politics along with systematic challenges of business and professional identity, among others.

Unfortunately, the film takes a sharp turn into sentimentality for its final act, and thus caused me to lose interest in its overly pat resolution. Sorkin obviously loves his dialogue, delivered in trademark rapid fire style, but the material could have used some greater editing. The film narrative is one that shifts back and forth in time, making for an absorbing and immediate sensation, but I had to wonder what it would have been like as a more straightforwardly chronological story. (Most likely not as dynamic, of course.)

On a different note, the filmgoing experience for Molly’s Game (in downtown Santa Cruz) was unusual in that a person was being arrested in the lobby as I walked in for my film, and I’d be very curious to know what became of their situation.

My third California film became The Post, a very East Coast story that I had tried to see on the East Coast itself earlier in the holiday break, only to discover that showing was sold out. Related to that general East Coast feeling, my knowledge and appreciation of Martha’s Vineyard history led to an intriguing subtext while viewing this film, which features several real-life individuals – Katherine Graham, Robert McNamara, and more – all of whom summered here on Martha’s Vineyard and socialized together, concurrent with their “real lives” in Washington. The island’s storied weekly paper, The Vineyard Gazette, is even name-dropped in one brief sequence during the film.

I knew that the filmgoing experience with this film might be a bit frustrating, as I was heading to a large corporate style multiplex, but I wasn’t expecting to wait ten minutes in line due to limited staffing at their box office. As well, the film was showing in a “premium” cinema, which meant a higher ticket price, and that might have been more irritating if I hadn’t been using a gift certificate.

So I arrived a few minutes late to the film, but it puts you right in to the tense, claustrophobic atmosphere of the early 1970’s. The story eventually falls into the mechanics of leading up to One Big Event, and therein lied some of its problems for me. While undoubtedly well-told, once that Big Event is past, the film seemed to rush along to its conclusion. There’s no doubt either that Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks offer stellar work as the two main real-life characters in the story. But … Streep is obviously Streep, and i had to wonder what a lesser-known actress might have done with the part. On the other hand, Hanks seemed more at ease, and not necessarily being Tom Hanks, than in some of his other work I have seen in recent years.

The Post also lays on the contemporary allegories a bit too thickly, never in the sense of “this is happening again, ahh!” but in a bit too much of a showing the past to make your own judgements about the present. Nonetheless I feel I would still recommend the film.

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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.

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.

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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