Travel Thursday: Sand Gets In Your Bard

I couldn’t help but grin as I stood with the rest of the crowd to applaud; the last lines of The Comedy of Errors had pretty much encapsulated the whole work, tying it up neatly in a bow, one might say. While it wasn’t my favorite Bard yarn–not to be confused with barnyard–it was certainly more than entertaining enough to spend a few hours on an uncomfortable chair in a small theater, and unless I’d happened to run into some loose chippy earlier in the day–or one from my past–I had nothing else to do right now. . .
No, no point in thinking this way, I admonished myself. It didn’t get any better than Shakespeare, and that’s that. . . even if maybe Marlowe actually wrote it. . .
The thought of some people I know hearing those musings and going ballistic put me in an even better mood, though I wasn’t about to bring that up here; the last thing I wanted to do was have a fight in my favorite town of Vancouver. It’d been years since I’d last been to Bard on the Beach, and one of the reasons I’d taken this assignment was remembering it and checking the calendar, finding the festival coincided, plus it wasn’t one of the plays I couldn’t stand, like A Winter’s Tale or Richard III.
Talking some pleasantries with fellow Shakespeare-goers and grabbing a 7-up to go with the complimentary cheese and crackers could only keep me going so long; after a while that got boring and I headed outside into the cool Canadian air, looking off to the side and smiling wistfully as I remembered when the shows were held in a tent over the actual sand. . .
Ah well, progress and success, I sighed, heading toward the water. . . only to find the small jetty where I’d debarked closed. It hadn’t occurred to me to ask when the miniature boats, barely big enough for five people who didn’t mind getting to know each other better, would stop their runs from the north end of downtown to Vanier Park, nor did it enter my consciousness that it would be dark when the play was over. Wasn’t it supposed to stay light longer in summer? That’s how I remembered it, anyway. And I didn’t remember hearing the nine o’clock cannon blast, though Stanley Park was pretty far away. . . nah, shoulda still heard it.
Turning just in time to see the lights going out in the building, I moved to the side with the parking lot, which by now was empty, so no chance of hitching a ride or catching a cab. I could wait for the janitorial staff to finish, but who knew how long that would take, and if they claimed liability hassles I’d be stuck here anyway.
Now what. . .?
Toe power, that’s what. Checking my water supply with a sigh, I got going, hoping I’d run into a restroom if needed, rather than a tree or bush. Those tiny lights in the distance might be Grandville Island, I thought while sincerely hoping something better happened before that.
Then I told himself it was way too early to call for a cab, since I’d been berating myself about my sense of adventure, or lack of it, lately.
I’d been in Kitsilano before, but of course everything looks different at night. Since I didn’t expect much in the way of surprises coming from the water, I concentrated on the path in front of me, as always chuckling as I remembered George Carlin’s admonition: “The good thing about living at the water’s edge is you only have assholes on three sides of you. . . and if they come this way, you can hear them splash.” That got me through the next five minutes, though if I didn’t want to attract attention it was best to stop giggling as soon as possible.
A tunnel made me wonder what I was crossing under, but I couldn’t tell it was a bridge till I was pretty far away from it. Figuring it was Burrard Street, I looked around for stairs but didn’t spot any. I didn’t see a walkway to the west, nor any end to the bridge, so who knew how long it would take to climb on it that way. Sighing, I turned back, spotting Grandville Island or its doppelganger closer but not very much. To my left were small marinas with their occupants seemingly glowing in the water; in front of me was the thin thoroughfare which I took to be a bike path, a brightly-lit road under the five-story condos that turned the area into a higher-end Yuppieville, or whatever the Canadian version was.
And then I saw her. . .
She hadn’t seen me, which was obvious in the way she startled when I walked forward; for a moment she looked frightened, but quickly turned it into a nervous giggle as she saw I was grinning. With my hands by my sides and walking a route that would take me past her, she didn’t think I would attack her, but her “Hi!” was no doubt a little more squealy than she would have liked.
“Hi there. . . are you okay? The view not to your liking?”
“The view is fine,” she giggled again, this time not so nervously. “What I can see of it, anyway. Speaking of seeing, haven’t done that with you before.”
She blushed a bit, visible even in the dark. “I was trying to say I’ve never seen you before, but it came out convoluted.”
“I’ve never seen you before either. . . see how easy it is?’
“I do now, yes.” She grinned a little sheepishly, but seemed to be enjoying the inane chatter. “So why haven’t I seen you around before?”
“That’s better. Because I’m visiting, and I got stranded by those little boats, and. . .”
I made the story more dramatic than it had to be, but she didn’t seem to mind, only twice berating me mildly for not having checked the schedule. With a very easy comeback of “Then I wouldn’t have met you,” I swooped right into her good graces, or whatever she called them. Giving her a chance to figure out what she wanted from this new relationship, I took in the glittering view of downtown Vancouver, wondering what I would need to get a good photo of the skyline, other than a tripod, of course. . . well, a camera would help too.
For some reason she asked me what I thought of bacon, to which I quickly replied, “Bacon is like music to my nose and tongue!”
Thinking she could hold my geeky freakout for later teasing, if there was later between us, she told me the reason for asking by saying, “Did you know bacon has the same effect on the brain as cocaine and heroin. . .?
“So I’ve been getting high all these mornings without knowing it,” I mused.
“That’s what makes you great,” she agreed.
Marshaling my energy reserves for a few more minutes while talking to her, not expecting her to invite me to stay overnight, whether on the couch or her bed, I listened to her prattle on for a while, wondering at which point she’d remember that she hadn’t told me her name yet. She ended this particular verbal diarrhea by pronouncing I could meet her for lunch tomorrow at the observation tower downtown, flouncing away and into one of the condos before I could mention it wasn’t an actual tower, just a disk stuck onto the roof of a building.
“I’m screwed,” I muttered as I walked on, annoyed that she hadn’t thought to let me call a cab, instead going for her little drama. Would serve her right if I didn’t show up tomorrow. But at least the walk would let me burn off some frustration. . . mostly caused by not getting any bacon, now that I was salivating for it.
So I was more than a little sweaty when I finally got to Granville an hour later. Thankfully there were plenty of eateries still open, as well as taxis. By the time I got back to my hotel at the western foot of Stanley Park, I’d almost forgotten about her. . .


Netflix reviews, part 1

Rather than doing reviews of current movies–which would be useless, since Guardians of the Galaxy is the only one I’ve seen this year (4.5/5 stars), I’m gonna tell ya what I think of stuff I’ve seen on Netflix recently. You’re welcome.

Space: Unraveling the Cosmos

Did not know the moon affects the earth THAT much, to a point where life might not be possible without it. Also did not know the famous Dr. Hubble made his discovery of another galaxy at the Mt. Wilson Observatory, which I can see from my window. . . the antennas, anyway. But that’s about all I learned. Thing had tons of CGI, beautiful visuals but mostly entry-level astronomy; if you’ve seen Nova or most specials on space you know all this stuff already. Ultimately fell asleep. . . 3/5

The Croods

Excellent voicework, particularly Emma Stone. Fantastic animation; loved the colors. The plot? Not so much, but what can you really expect? It did what it was supposed to do excellently. 4/5

The Bachelorette

Note: this is not about the not-so-reality show on TV; this is a rom-com movie, at least supposedly.

The discussion of blow jobs on the plane was surreal. . . and though I knew it was coming, it was still bitchy of her to play the poor guy like that, especially with that last lie that confirmed it was all a setup. . . (that got ya thinkin’, didn’t it?)

Let’s face it, the only reason I clicked on this was because of a certain redhead named Isla Fisher. Her best moment was when she blurted, “I took French?” in high school, but I’m tired of watching her play airheads. Finally gave up less than half an hour in. . . 1.5/5

Victim of Beauty

An incredibly typical suburban mystery, with one particularly great thing at the beginning: the credit “introducing Jeri Lynn Ryan!” Yep, 7 of 9’s first work. She’s competing in a beauty pageant and singing opera! Nice. Her sister is her manager, makeup person, hair, everything; they even snark about the hula hoop girl. Everything changes when the sister is kidnapped, and that’s where the movie goes for the rest of the time.

By far the best part is watching Jeri be the opposite of 7 of 9; she even has some crying scenes, which she did well. Call it a sign of things to come. She even sings Amazing Grace at the end. But that’s it. The movie itself, it bears repeating, is incredibly typical and quite a bit dated, not really worth watching except for the novelty of a young Jeri Ryan. 2/5

Hit and Run

After the slight disappointment of the Veronica Mars movie and the huge disappointment that was The Lifeguard, here’s a Kristen Bell movie I can wholeheartedly recommend. Written, co-directed, and co-starring her partner Dax Shepherd, you also get Tom Arnold (actually pretty good here), a cameo by Jason Bateman, and for all the Marshmallows an appearance by Ryan Hansen, who does his signature backflip right before getting whaled on by the one and only Beau Bridges. Some parts are tough to deal with–Dax’s character is not the best guy ever, even if he wrote it himself–but it’s surprisingly sweet. . . and there’s a lot of fast cars. 4.5/5

The Science of Sex Appeal

I can’t trust anyone who makes sex BORING! 1/5


Very uneven story about a young guy having an affair with an older woman who’s about to get married. Not nearly as good as it thinks it is, but. . . Uma Thurman is in it, so that’s that, watch it. And once again I didn’t recognize Lee Pace, after he was the baddie in Guardians of the Galaxy. Definitely not making pies. . . 2.5/5

When We Left Earth: The NASA Missions

Space exploration at its best, only helped by Gary Sinise’s wonderful narration. Told chronologically, each episode covers a specific time and/or program, leading to the best part, the moon missions, including the infamous Apollo 13. The interviews are fantastic; on the mission before Armstrong and Aldrin finally landed on the moon, the previous flight’s assignment was to orbit the moon, and NASA had to make sure not to include a way to lift off in case those astronauts got the urge to land against orders. Hilarious. The also didn’t whitewash the three disasters, especially Challenger. 5/5

Prophets of Science Fiction

A series about some of the grand masters of science-fiction writing; as you might expect, this aired on the Sci-Fi channel, or whatever it’s calling itself this week. Gets a little silly at times, with reenactments of their younger years; having to find actors that matched some of these nerdy guys couldn’t have been easy. There’s the ones you might expect like Asimov, Heinlein, and Clarke, but you also get Mary Shelly and George Lucas among others. Most of the time is taken up by interviewing various people about today’s state of the technology those authors proposed; my favorite was Clarke’s Space Elevator, since I’d just finished rereading The Fountains of Paradise. 4/5

A Bit of Fry and Laurie

Most people probably haven’t heard of this show, but if you’re at all a Monty Python or Benny Hill fan, you’ve got to see this. Stephen Fry isn’t that well known in the States, but I’ve never seen him be anything less than hilarious, and Hugh Laurie certainly wasn’t famous here before House. The “last name: lighter dropped on counter” sketch is right up there with Dead Parrot.  5/5


Poetry Tuesday: In Santiago

By Spanish poet Lope de Vega Carpio, 1562-1635

In Santiago the green
Jealousy seized me
Night sits in the day,
I dream of vengeance.

Poplars of the thicket,
where is my love?
If she were with another
then I would die.

Clear Manzanares
Oh little river,
Empty of water,
Run full of fire.


Book Review: Death of a Spy

This thriller by Dan Maynard, from what I gather, is the fourth in a series, but not having read the previous ones didn’t really get in the way.

It amuses me that this author’s views toward Baku and Bishkek are exactly opposite of mine. He loves Baku and hates Bishkek, whereas I seriously loathe Baku and, while not exactly loving Bishkek, the countryside around it is spectacular, a million times better than the ecological devastation that takes up large swaths of Azerbaijan.

From that you might assume his places are very authentic, and you’d be right; not that I recognize most of them, but I can see them in my mind, fitting in with the city in question. The thing about tea in Azerbaijan is so true as well.

The spycraft is also excellent. The politics are current, with mention of Russia taking over the Crimea. Did not get a good sense of the geography in the final battle, though; would have liked better descriptions of the areas, both inside the hotel and out with the tanks.

There were some moments where the writing failed to engage me, seemed a bit amateurish, but those were few and far between. My only wish was for more of the wife; there’s little of her after he takes the case, but enough for me to want to read the previous stories, to see Action Girl. . . in action.

A solid 4/5


Travel Thursday: What’s in a Portsmouth?

The southern coast of England in summer felt a lot like Los Angeles in winter, I decided as I took in the view of Portsmouth. Not all that high, I could still see most of the city was on the island, though I’d never understand why people insisted on calling it Pompey. . . and sure the locals didn’t either, despite their protestations.

I really have to stop thinking about that, before it became a pet peeve.

More to the point of the view, I could make out the docks pretty clearly, especially with the telephoto lens, and while it was no longer the big military port of previous years and centuries, it was obvious from the hubbub of activity that it was still the place’s primary industry. And since I wasn’t a fan of the sea, I wondered what I was doing here.

Changing my worldview to “a lot closer,” I noticed the redeveloped area around me, which had been pretty much dock slums the last time I’d visited, though that had been quite a while ago. Like a lot of dock areas from London to Tasmania, it was now full of restaurants, clubs and bars, changing its name to the oh-so-quaintly-British moniker of Gunwharf Quays. . . and as always I forgot to pronounce that Keys, even in my head.

Shifting perspective once again, this time straight up, I took in the Spinnaker Tower. From this angle it looked a lot like the bottom of the Space Needle, a view I was well acquainted with from a photo I’d taken lying on the gum-covered ground of Seattle Center. And since this was giving me an equal sense of vertigo, I quickly looked back to horizontal, not wanting to see my lunch again after having inhaled it just a few minutes ago.

Yes, it did indeed look like a sail, just like the Burj al-Arab in Abu Dhabi, but I just couldn’t seem to get the point of it. . .

This time smart enough to look at the brochures I’d rounded up rather than straight up again, I noticed that the interiors, at least of the lower observation deck, had to be a lot bigger than they looked from here. That meant I probably could have seated myself comfortably in the middle of the Café in the Clouds without getting nauseous, but since that was on the middle observation deck I wasn’t about take the chance. And I sure as hell wasn’t about to go to the crow’s nest, as they called the highest one; I don’t know anything about sailing, but that’s gotta be as good a name as any. That one might have glass in front, but the roof was wire mesh and open to the elements, so. . .

I shuddered once again. . . and it only got worse when I read the part about the largest glass floor in Europe. . .

I don’t know what did it, but something made me remember a quote about the Crimean War, specifically the battle that inspired Tennyson’s famous poem about the noble six hundred: “England is a small country. . . made smaller by the decisions of idiots like those in charge of the Light Brigade.” to which I always added Churchill at Gallipoli first and foremost, as well as Dnieper, and even Singapore, but that was neither here nor there, but especially not here. . .

It was easy to tell Portsmouth had to do with the sea, just from the obvious name if you uncompounded it. The British Navy was a lot smaller these days, turning the harbor into more of a historical treasure than an active military port of call. Amongst all the gentrification the waterfront was full of nautical relics, well-preserved old ships, as well as being a rich area for shipwreck research, several famous ships having sunk in the area.

Spotting something that looked a lot like HMS Victory–whether the real one or a reasonable facsimile–I wondered just how cold those poor sailors of yesteryear got, with or without waterproof clothes. I would not have made a good sailor, with my aversion to hard work and more importantly being prone to seasickness, but in those days a lot of the sailors didn’t have a choice, being kidnapped and forced to work or be thrown overboard, like that Dana fella in the States. Unlike most people–and even before reading the brochures–I knew Victory hadn’t been exclusively Nelson’s boat, instead the flagship for such now-unknown naval leaders as Keppel, Howe, and Jervis. Technically it was still in commission, though of course no one would be dumb enough to go sailing in it nowadays.

I hope. . .

As usual with train of thoughts, my mind jumped to the next Pullman, this time Nelson. I don’t know if he’d been the inventor of the tactic, but he certainly was the most famous to capitalize on it: whereas in those days naval battles were fought in two long parallel lines, Nelson split his fleet into squadrons, attempting to broach the enemy’s line in certain tactical areas, literally ganging up on single ships to bust through before the unengaged enemy ships could come help out. Worked like a charm, of course: only several hours after the start of hostilities seventeen French and Spanish ships were captured and another destroyed, with all the Brit boats surviving intact. However, Nelson didn’t get to enjoy his triumph, having been killed by a French sniper during the battle, and that had to be a helluva shot, considering how poor the science of rifling was back then, as well as the bobbing of the ocean.

With the train almost reaching the station, me riding the caboose, I next thought about the following battle of that campaign, when four of the French ships that had escaped came across the Phoenix, and obviously wanting revenge, chased after it. The British craft led the French on a merry little chase. . . and right in the hands of a squadron of five ships, where after four hours all the Frenchies were forced to surrender. In a way it was like the Spanish armada all over again.

The train came to a crashing halt when I sensed Kathleen approaching behind me, seconds before she screeched, “Why didn’t you call me yesterday when you arrived?”

“When I get somewhere late, I have dinner and go for a walk, then right to bed. . . alone.”

“Considering how long you lasted, I doubt that last part. So what did you see on your walk?”

“Only thing interesting was this busker, young lady playing the violin.”

“And that answers the next question, you louse!”

“She was about twelve. If that was her mom, though. . .”

“Shut up. What’d you do, buy her CD?”

“Doesn’t have one yet. That’s what the busking is about.”

“Of course. Then what?”

“She wasn’t getting much business, so I put a five-pound note in her violin case and walked around with it through the crowd. The basic rule is if you stop to listen, you’re supposed to donate.”

“So how much did you collect?”

“Almost two hundred pounds.”

“Really? What did you do then?”

“Took my fiver back, of course.”

“Of course! You’re such a bastard. Where did this happen?”

“On the waterfront, near the tower.”

“How do you like our little local landmark?”

“Hey, you’ve gotten better at alliteration!”

“Thank you!”

Not that I didn’t notice the edge in her voice, but I still ignored it. “Kinda like the space needle, maybe Toronto’s tower. As for the shape, it’s kinda like the Burj al-Arab.”

“And you don’t like to sail!”

“Don’t like anything on water.”

“I can’t imagine why an underwater archaeologist gets along with you!”

“You really have a short-term memory. . .”

That at least made her giggle.

I insisted on having lunch on flat land, so she led me to one of the new places on Gunwharf Quays that might have something other than fish on the menu. While there I was regaled by her doctoral dissertation, where I quickly learned that Doggerland was the area that usta connect Great Britain to the rest of Europe before being swallowed up by water released from its frozen state at the end of the last Ice Age. No one bothered to explain where the name came from, but since I’d often had a hard time with British humor I didn’t sweat it, instead wondering just what kind of archaeological sites might be buried under the sea between my present location and the coast of Netherlands, and stretching all the way to Germany and Denmark. Next I pondered what kind of artifacts could have survived eight thousand years underwater, figuring those inhabitants hadn’t made marble statues or other things found in the much warmer Mediterranean.

Kathleen happily informed me that in 1931 a big fishing boat had dragged up a barbed antler point dated to when the area was tundra, followed by discoveries of mammoth and lion remains, plus tools and weapons. That made me smile as I remembered recently reading how there were still mammoths in Europe when the first Egyptian pyramids were being built.

And then she told me why it was called Doggerland, though the truth was so boring it was quite a letdown, and besides Kathleen had to go back to the university for a meeting, so that was that.

As I walked the streets, wondering where to find a taxi, I noticed–as I seemingly did in every city nowadays–how everyone was on their cell phones, most not seeing where they were going, making me think the statistics of people being run over, and more hilariously crashing into light poles, must have skyrocketed in recent years. Somehow this thought led me back to her dissertation, speculating if the people who’d lived in the now-flooded land saw it coming and moved or waited until it was too late. I guessed the former; ages-ago human had to have some smarts, otherwise they would have died out before they became old-age human, let alone medieval and modern-age human. People, no matter their size or shape or any arbitrary labels called “race,” were infinitely adaptable; sixty years ago a hand-held calculator would have seemed like magic to so-called sophisticated citizens, who nonetheless would have made use of them enthusiastically. On the other digit collection, how many people nowadays actually understood what made a computer tick, or instant replay possible? And how few of them could actually fix a modern convenience? Not many, or else there would be roving packs of unemployed repairmen wandering the streets like soccer fans. . .

Humans had a way of just accepting the workings of everyday machinery they didn’t understand, be they powered by alkaline batteries or arcane spells known as atoms. It took all kinds. . .

Finding myself outside a coffeeshop that promised wifi, I made my way in and brought a smile to the caffeinista’s face by ordering a herbal tea, then finding a table in a solitary corner while pulling out my laptop, looking for some mischief I could get into without Kathleen. . . for once. . .


Poetry Tuesday: Can It Be True That One Lives On Earth?

Some time ago I put in a poem written by an Egyptian Pharaoh. This time it’s the pre-Columbian King Nezahualcoyotl of Texcoco, who is actually better known for his writing.

Can it be true that one lives on earth?

Not forever on earth; only a little while here.

Be it jade, it shatters.

Be it gold, it breaks.

Be it a quetzal feather, it tears apart.

Not forever on earth; only a little while here.