Travel Thursday Snapshot: We Cannot Romania, We Gotta Go, part 2

The next morning, driving into Deva gave me my first look at Romania, and it was basically like a lot of places I’d seen in Latin America. Plenty of trees on those hills, but one had to wonder how long that would last, if industry and commerce and most of all capitalism blew into this town.
Then I was told Transylvania means “Land Beyond the Forest,” so maybe there was a chance. . .
First things first: find a real place to stay. The best hotel in town—which wasn’t saying much, the elevator was tiny and kept sticking—charged us four dollars—yep, four dollars!—for three nights. Even 25 years ago. . . you just gotta lie back and let that sink in. Yep, it’s true, not lying.
Second order of business: find a local in need of cash who will do my laundry.
Finally in the afternoon—nap time after the train and lumpy overcrowded couch—I got my first glimpse of downtown, and I actually did manage to dig up a couple of old photos taken once the rain stopped. Yes, that’s me posing like someone pretending to be cool in front of a giant sign that said Romania, as well as the guy on the right over the Transilvania sign.


Other adventures included getting a haircut and shave—with a straight razor—getting stopped by a hot blonde in front of a wedding store, and being given a chance to choose the music played at the dance club that night. My selections, awesome as they were, proved to not be popular with the locals, so I had to find another way of entertaining myself those nights.
One way was chatting with one of the few people who knew English, who happened to be a friend of the hot blonde from earlier. The most memorable exchange, apart from finding out how many words in Romanian are the same in Spanish, was when he said he loved the blonde, but platonically.
“But Plato was wrong about everything!”
“This is true.”
“Maybe you love her Socratically.”
The last part that was fun was walking back to the hotel at two in the morning, with my superior night vision. People claimed they didn’t actually believe in vampires. . . but they didn’t walk alone at night either.
;o)

Poetry Tuesday: Seventy Years Are Few

By Lu Chih, China, c. 1243-1315.

I think a man’s seventy years are few!
Of his hundred years’ allotted span,
Thirty are lost.
Of his seventy years,
Ten are spent as a foolish child,
Ten are spent completely decrepit.
The fifty left divide into days and nights;
Only half have the light of day.
Wind and rain hasten one another,
The hare runs and the crow flies.
Carefully I ponder it all;
What’s better than
To be happy and at ease?

;o)

Book Reviews: This Blog Is Graphic

Sometimes a cigar is just a cancer stick.

Savage
A David Beckham-ish soccer star—he’s even moving to the States to continue his career—and his rather shrewish wife, along with their latest baby, crash on a deserted island and have to survive against—gasp!—dinosaurs! And bad humans, with access to a portal. The soccer player’s last name is Sauvage, hence the title; cute.
There’s a brief clip of the present before flashing back to original crash, which is a lot funnier than I would have thought: as the crash occurs and stuff is flying around, including the two adults, there’s a shot of the baby looking all kinds of concerned, and it’s hilarious! Later the kid looks right at the “camera,” also really funny. Not that the rest was bad, but that was such a high point I couldn’t help but feel a little let down after that.
A few complaints, such as all the British-isms, and not familiar ones at that. The way the writer got rid of one of the main characters struck me as abrupt and unnecessary. It’s interesting that while the kid grew up without any schooling or even jungle training, he’s smarter than the other semi-humans on the island. And as always, it’s not the dinosaurs that are the most dangerous.
Not so much a cliffhanger ending as a jump point for his next adventure.
Each issue has author/artist commentary at end; the first has side-by-side versions of the same page showing the first draft, the inked version, and the colored. Interesting in a DVD extra kinda way.
Some vivid colors, maybe even go as far as bright, others muted. At times the artwork was a little too realistic, as in gory, but this is probably the most detailed I’ve ever seen dinosaurs drawn (not that there’s a huge pool to wade through on that). The colorist, in the last interview, says he wanted to make the setting “alarmingly beautiful,” a character in itself, and I think he succeeded.
3.5/5

Kiss: The Elder V.1: World Without Sun
“A world without heroes is like a world without sun.” Nice tag line, and lyric.
In a dystopian future where war has destroyed the surface of the planet, four kids explore where they’re not supposed to and change the course of history (there, got the requisite cliché out of the way).
What sets this apart from most other graphics is how well written it is. You know the government is up to no good when they call the society a “collective.” But once I saw how far in the future this was set, I wondered how the author was going to get KISS to be relevant. That worked out okay, though in the end I realized they didn’t need to be there at all to make the story work, so that was a little disappointing.
There’s some cool touches, like the Sphinx wearing sunglasses; just imagine how big those things must be. The “educational” (brainwashing) videos for the citizens remind me of the FedNet from Starship Troopers. Adi was my fave of the four main characters; the way she uses her butt to open the secret door is awesome. And most of all the dystopian story and setting were well made.
A couple of nitpicks, though. The robot battle was too confusing, couldn’t tell which side was which. And there’s an oopsie medical-wise; one of the characters sprains an ankle but is running fine a little later.
The artwork was okay in the old underground city, but once the story gets to the forbidden levels it really takes off. Much brighter in the garden, for example.
Bonus starts at 116 of 154, with the first two pages being congratulatory notes from two members of KISS. After that comes the expected early designs and alternate covers.
If only they could have worked Detroit Rock City into it. . .
4/5

Battlestar Galactica: Folly of the Gods
Original Galactica, not “reimagined,” so don’t whine about getting the wrong one.
Adama’s injured getting the fleet through a black hole, and his concussed mind has him thinking about Baltar and reliving the past. In the real world the Cylons are still following the fleet until they encounter the last enemy you would expect, and then Baltar shows up for realsies; this guy’s like a thousand bad pennies! In fact, the writers brought absolutely everyone they could think of back for this. . . except Athena!
Not happy with the deus ex machina that ends it. In fact, the story wasn’t much good from plenty of perspectives. There’s a lot of borrowing from other places; there’s even some Borg overtones in these new Cylons. For someone who was a huge fan of the original series, and who’d enjoyed previous graphics, this is really disappointing.
The artwork is watercolor-y, but the humans are drawn very strangely; it’s them in the general sense, like you might recognize someone at a distance, but in the close-ups it doesn’t look anything like the actors. Apollo in particular looks horrible. Oddly enough, Iblis is the one who looks most lifelike.
About a dozen pages of variant covers.
2/5

Betty Boop
She’s listed as “The most famous female cartoon star of all!” and I don’t know if I can argue with that.
Betty is a waitress and wannabe star trying to keep her grampy from losing his house, but not doing a good job of it; perhaps grampy shouldn’t waste all his time and money buying tiny jet engines to put on turtles. Despite there being numerous stories, they all have that same plot: bad spirits want the house.
The first thing you see is the cover art, and it looks kinda surreal: her pose, her clothes. . . the fact that’s a clown behind her. . .
An orchestra made of bones seems like a good idea. Not so great when a little dog has a crush on you. The double-headed blonde is creepy. There’s a shot from behind that shows just how little Betty’s dress is, but later we see she looks better in her winter skating gear. So does Sally, for that matter.
Some fun lines:
“Ain’t that a kick in the head?”
“Mephistopheles Metamorphosis!”
“Every member of the clown’s guild is required to carry a crowbar with them at all times.”
Best moment: the clown making the nightclub owner literally smile is awesome.
20 pages of extra stuff. Mostly alternate covers, with a sketch of her on a rolling log, for some reason.
3/5

;o)

Travel Thursday Snapshot: We Cannot Romania, We Gotta Go, part 1

Having a few days before I had to be in Munich but getting a little weary of Prague, I hopped on a train to Budapest, where I always knew where to go for fun, only to sit next to a guy who I took for American—totally no accent—only to have him be Norwegian. He was going to visit his girlfriend in Deva, the capital of Transylvania, as well as invest in a nightclub, and since at that point I’d never been to Romania, I figured why not and joined him on the train that would go across Hungary.
One of my main reasons for going, besides hopefully meeting some Olympic gymnasts in their training town, was the two books I had in my backpack. I’d taken many books on the trip and bought even more—sent a whole box back home I’d bought in Germany and Netherlands—which I kept in my big backpack, but I would always have a couple in my go bag, and in this case they were Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Interview With a Vampire. If that wasn’t a sign to go to Transylvania. . .
And they were needed, as eastern Hungary has some of the most boring landscape Nature ever created: a solid hundred miles of nothing but wheat fields. Kansas has nothing on this. The only exciting thing was at the border, where I was extorted $31 for a visa. It only got better—so to speak—when darkness fell, but the train was so slow we didn’t get into town until after two in the morning, and that’s only because I asked someone where we were. Bugsy—yep, that was his name, said so on the passport—was fast asleep and had about two seconds to gather his gear. By the time we got to the door the train was in motion and, big backpack strapped on, I jumped off and tried to land on two feet, which was a stupid thing to do for someone who was a big fan of inertia. Luckily the backpack stopped me before too long, but Bugsy took much harder and numerous shots from the cement.
So then I had to grumpily sit on my backpack while he called his local contacts, only to find no one could pick us up. Luckily there was one guy—a barber or baker or something—who made extra money by meeting the trains to see if anyone needed a taxi, so only an hour later–after two stops to pour water in the radiator–I was sitting at a table in a small dining room in a small house, snacking on potatoes and who knows what else while politely fending off glasses of the local moonshine. Soon after that I was catching some shuteye on a couch next to a stranger, wondering why I wasn’t in Budapest with a beautiful girl I’d met on a previous trip. . .
Finally excitement happened the next day. . . which you can read about next week.

;o)

Book Reviews: Suns, Violins, Planets, and Song

Sunrise, Sunset
A Florida woman with balcony views shoots the sunrise and sunset. Her boyfriend and then other people add poems or words to the photos. Simple premise, elegantly done.
Enjoyed the story of each sunset being done by a famous painter, trying to figure out which one it looked like. No surprise that one went first.
“I never met a sunset I didn’t like. It means dinner’s almost ready.” Nice.
As expected, there’s a lot of rebirth and “life goes on” with the sunrise, while sunset is an opportunity to reflect. Other themes include gratitude and, of course, religion.
I’m sure most people would find these photographs great. As a professional photographer for over 25 years, I could quibble about that, but what would be the point?
Yet despite the preeeety pictures I found myself getting bored halfway through. Don’t try to read/look at this in one sitting.
3/5

Violin
Rather than a history of the violin, this is ten essays on various subjects, some a lot more fun than others.
Starts right off with how the violin was widely considered an instrument of the devil; now we know where Charlie Daniels got that idea. Another chapter talks about the violin in fiction—Sherlock Holmes made the list!—but probably because I was looking forward to it so much it didn’t live up to expectations.
Then the real problems start, with chapter 4. To understand anything that’s been said here you need a ton of knowledge about violin playing, or even music in general, particularly notation. Is this really intended for a general audience? Because I’d say there are a lot more people interested in music who don’t know anything about playing it than those who do. Because of this, entire chapters are of absolutely no interest at all. I’d just seen one of Mozart’s concertos the day before I read about it, and still had no idea what this was talking about. What should have been informative became only boring.
So there’s some interesting tidbits here, but so much of it talks in musical terms that leave us non-musicians in the metaphorical dust.
2.5/5

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do… But You Could’ve Done Better
Stories about how people broke up or were broken up with, obviously not edited, with the author including drawings to punctuate the story. That’s it. It’s like one of those Facebook links that take you to Reddit or some such.
The funniest parts were before and after the main event, like the dedication: “To that one dude, for being such an inspirational dick.” And in the blurbs, “Oh my god, you have a book!” – Hilary’s Mom.
But does she really? Other than some drawings that only highlighted the story—without adding anything original—this was all stuff sent to her. But even the stories weren’t that great. The author states in the forward that she drew a doodle in response to her own breakup, and it made her laugh and feel better; great thought, but I didn’t find much that was funny here. Sure, there were a few laughable instances, but most were either sad or simply mean.
2/5

Planet Song
An advanced long-lived race of fish base their entire civilization and economy on music, particularly sounds made by living beings. Having found the ultimate song—humpback whales—they come to Earth to take some home, in a story obviously inspired by the fourth Star Trek movie. (With a small touch of Harlan Ellison’s original draft of City on the Edge of Forever, where sound could be addicting.)
This is written on a huge scale, taking place over hundreds of years and having around thirty points of view. The main character seems to be one of the very few females of the Fahr species, who manages to work her way into a position of power and then just as quickly loses it. There’s a lot of political wrangling, both within the alien ship and the humans who finally figure out there’s trouble out there. Telescope technology is a fun running theme.
But for such a huge scope there isn’t all the much that takes place; most of it is talking. Thankfully there’s a lot of small touches of humor, and while it never gets boring I wish there could have been more to it. There’s an appendix that explains some of the aspects of the Fahr race that seemed incomprehensible while reading this book, so it might have been more helpful at the beginning.
There’s no actual ending, but since at the start it tells you this is the first of a trilogy, I didn’t mind.
3.5/5

Improper Conduct
The rich daughter of a Chicago politician runs to her first love to help her find her runaway sister. He cons her into having sex with him, not that she’s at all reluctant. In addition to that he makes her live the life of the homeless people she’s encountering—well, he cheats a bit—rather than go right out and find the sister, who’s in danger. He’s a bit of an ass, but then she’s no prize either. By the end they understand each other better, show they regret the times they acted like jerks, and come together. . . and oh yeah, remember about the sister in danger.
This was kinda bland. Can’t think of much to say about it. Actually a good story frame for the silly romance, but they spent so much time denying their feelings I got exasperated.
3/5

;o)