Hamarikyu: The Secret Garden of Japan

Photo from Fast Japan

We live in a world of opposites. Rural and Urban. Extroverts and Introverts. Light and Dark. There’s something so intriging about these opposites coming together. Eli Siegel, poet and founder of Aesthetic Realism, said, “All beauty is a making one of opposites, and the making one of opposites is what we are going after ourselves.” Paula Abdul put it more simply, “Opposites attract.”

Hamarikyu Gardens is an example of how there can be beauty in opposites. The traditional Japanese gardens would be gorgeous on its own, but being surrounded by Tokyo’s skyscrapers gives it a unique beautiful view.

The garden was created in 1654 by Matsudaira Tsunashige, a feudal lord who wanted a family villa on the tidal pond. The traditional Japanese design made the garden popular with the elite class. Tsunashige’s son, Ienobu became Japan’s 6th shogun and the gardens became the property of the Tokugawa family. The Tokugawa’s named the gardens “Hama Goden” (Beach Palace). The garden continued exchanging hands within the family, each owner making various renovations to the gardens.

After the Meiji Restoration in 1868 (for those unfamiliar with Japanese political history and don’t want to do a Google search, the Meiji Restoration was the fall of the Tokugawa military shogunate. Emperor Meiji took control of Japan and brought social and political change, including modernization of the country. There was a whole coup involved; it was a big deal), the gardens changed hands again, this time to the Imperial family. Unfortunately, in 1923 The Great Kanto Earthquake resulted in significant damage in the park. The earthquake was soon followed by World War II. Bombing left the beautiful park unrecognizable. The Imperial Family gave the city of Tokyo the park in 1945, and a year later, the park was opened to the public for the first time. Now deemed a historical sight, visitors can wander the 62 acres, enjoy the view, and drink matcha tea.

Hamarikyu Gardens is in the Shiodome district, beside the Sumida River which leads into the Tokyo Bay. It’s an easy walk from the train station. There’s a ferry landing for boat trips along the river and around the bay. The tidal pond in the garden is one of a kind. It’s the only remaining sea pond in Japan, getting its salt water from Tokyo Bay. You can take a boat tour around the bay after exploring the gardens.

There is a charge to enter the gardens, but it’s inexpensive. The plants are beautiful all year round. With 800 different types of flowers planted in the garden, it was designed to have something blooming no matter the season. Spring time is a great time to visit, with Februrary through April having the most flowers (and Japanese cherry blossoms). I visited in the summer. There weren’t as many flowers, but the view was wonderfully green! When you visit, keep an eye out for the 300 year old pine tree. It’s supported by other branches, like a dozen large walking sticks for the ancient tree.

Duck hunting hideaway

While wondering the gardens, you’ll find evidence of its past. The royalty that used to own the gardens passed their time duck hunting. Moats were built around the gardens and camouflaged lookouts were built from stone to hunt for the ducks swimming in them.

When visiting Tokyo, definitely make plans to visit Hamarikyu. Your visit won’t take a whole day. The walk around the park is about 60-90 minutes. In the summer heat, the shade of the trees feels amazing, and afterwards you can rest at the teahouse on the pond. With half your day spent in the gardens, you still have time to explore the city outside. I recommend stopping at the Tsukiji Fish Market for delicious (seriously, so good) fresh sashimi!

One of my favorite parts from my trip to Japan was how green everything was. Visiting the Hamarikyu gardens, with all its foliage, was refreshing in the middle of Tokyo.

Reservior Dogs: Was that as Good for you as it was for me?

It’s hard not to enjoy a good heist movie. There’s the Ocean’s series with the most recent female version, Ocean’s 8 (2018). You also have Baby Driver (2017) and The Usual Suspects (1995). Finally, going to the silver screen there is Asphalt Jungle (1950). The list can go on and on. Moviegoers love watching the rich get robbed.

Quentin Tarantino did his own rendition of a heist movie in a very Tarantino way. Reservoir Dogs (1992) was Tarantino’s directorial debut, not a huge hit in theaters at the time, due to violence and racial slurs, but it did well on video, gaining a cult following.

Reservoir Dogs contains many of the Tarantino troupes. There’s the character’s aliases, Mr. Blonde, Orange, etc, and the scene shot from a trunk. Tarantino played a character in the movie, the unfortunate Mr. Brown, and of course the Mexican standoff (which just reminded me of the parody done on The Office. Hands down, one of my favorite scenes from that show). This is one of those movies that I think everyone else has seen except me. Boyfriend had seen it before as well as my roommate who walked in, saw three seconds of the movie, praised it, and continued on his way.

For those that haven’t seen it, or those who haven’t seen it in a long time (it is a 27 year old movie), I’ll give a very brief summary without too many spoilers (I hope). A gang of criminals are brought together by a man named Joe Cabot. They work under aliases to commit a robbery, but the robbery goes wrong. A rat in the group tipped off police. The movie moves back and forth in the timeline to reveal what really happened during the robbery, ending in the infamous Mexican standoff. It’s quirky and violent (Wow, two words I never thought I would pair together).

The Sundance Film Festival film was a patchwork quilt of movies like The Killing (1956) and City of Fire (1987). Tarantino didn’t have any formal film schooling before writing the script of Reservoir Dogs, not even graduating high school. He dropped out to attend acting classes. So, Tarantino was educated by the screen. He was a devot movie lover from a young age, always thinking outside of the box. As a child, he wrote his mother sad stories for Mothers Day, some involving Tarantino killing his mother and then feeling the effects of her loss afterwards. His mother said they brought tears to her eyes (I would have bought locks for my bedroom door, worried about my child’s murder thoughts, but to each their own…) An opportunity came up for Tarantino to receive formal schooling while making Reservoir Dogs, but he was already a natural born talent (a unique one, which I think worked out great for him!)

There are some critiques about the movie, though. One is about the characters. Roger Ebert called them an outline. I liked them, but I see what he meant. This is a plot driven movie. The robbery went wrong. The criminals are running around like chickens with their heads chopped off as they try to decide what they should do next. Should they wait for Joe Cabot (Lawrence Tierney), or take the loot they were able to get and run? Who tipped off the police? What if the rat is still with them?

A few of the characters were flushed out. Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen) is a smooth talking psychopath who enjoyed torturing the cop tied to a chair. Mr. White (Harvey Keitel) really cared about Orange, showing his compassionate nature despite the line of business he was in. Tarantino could have done deeper with the character development of characters like Joe Cabot and Mr. Orange (Tim Roth). Even Mr. Pink (Steve Buscemi) could have been developed more, though the scene where he refuses to tip paired with the little temper tantrum he threw over being named Mr. Pink were great. I wonder, though, if developing the characters would add anything to the plot. I think what captured the attention of film viewers at film festival was Tarantino’s non-linear plot and action packed story. The characters are caricatures of criminals. They’re not meant to be flushed out.

Quentin Tarantino has inspired many other films of cinematic mayhem. Reservoir Dogs was his first. It’s violent and entertaining, exactly what I expected from a Tarantino movie. The characters weren’t fully developed, but they were dynamic, keeping the plot interesting until the end. And when it was over, I wanted a taco.

The next movie on the list was a scary prediction of our future. When does AI go to far?

Photo from Medium

Pantos: A Very British Holiday

Photo from QDos Entertainment

In 2013, Anchorman 2 played in a foreign movie theater in small town England. This tiny theater couldn’t have seated more than fifteen people on couches instead of rows and columns of theater chairs. My sister and I sat in a love seat at the front, ready to laugh. It was about halfway through the movie that I realized we were the only ones laughing in the theater. A peak behind us confirmed that we weren’t in fact the only people watching the movie, but we were the only two laughing out loud (we were always the loudest everywhere we went in England. Darn Americans! No volume control!) The patrons might have enjoyed the movie, but the jokes were not taken the same in England as it did for at least two students from California.

From Giphy

We experienced the English side of watching Anchorman 2 on the same trip. The visit was in Janurary so we were within the window of pantomime season. I hadn’t heard of pantomimes before getting invited to see one by some friends in England. Going into the theater, I knew I was seeing a version of Peter Pan, something silly with audience participation. I have to make assumptions about how the rest of the theater felt about Anchorman 2 (I guess I could’ve asked…) I assume at least some of the audience felt the movie was entertaining, just not worthy of a belly laugh. At least, that was what I thought of the pantomime.

From claquers” who would cheer on the performers in exchange for a free ticket. Performers were also extorted by booers, forced to pay them off to stop yelling and throwing things on stage during the show.

You would think this sort of audience would be in the past, but just five years ago a Russian man named Roman Abramov practiced paying audience members to either clap or even emot a distracting cough to cause a dancer to fall at the Bolshoi Theater. What started as a generous offer of free theater tickets turned into manipulating the ballet.

From Carnevalehttp://www.carnevale.venezia.it/le-10-maschere-piu-famose-della-commedia-dellarte/

Overall, though, manipulation from the audience faded from theater. The audience continued to stay on the performers mind of course. One form of Italian theater, Commedia dell’arte, relied on the audience to guide their performance. The actors would start with a set and basic plot, typically a well-known story, and improvise dialogue throughout the performance (unfortunately, there was no video recording then, so you can’t enjoy the various versions of dialogue like you would in the outtakes of a Steve Carell movie).

From Gifer

The plot of Commedia dell-arte plays followed a pattern typically involving young lovers with obstacles in their way of happiness in the form of an overprotective guardian or jealous ex-lover. The play ends happily, with everyone leaving with a smile on their face (hopefully). The actors had the freedom to tailor the performance to the audience and slip in pop culture or political references of the time. It was a light comedy with colorful characters and probably more than a few crude jokes.

From Thoughtco

Pantomime follows a similar structure, a combination of Commedia dell’arte and the British Music Hall (that means there’s comedy, music, and dancing!) Like Commedia dell’arte, the plot follows a common thread. The male lead (typically played by a woman) is performing alongside a mother or other older female (typically played by a man called the Dame). The two actors dressed in drag are joined by a sidekick, the character who talks to the audience and encourages participation, and an animal (in the case of the play I saw, it was the dog Nana, a person dressed as a dog. Yes, they crawled). The show is a rendition of well known children’s stories (because this is a family event), like Peter Pan and Cinderella, but with a light and comedic twist (and audience participation).

Photo from Newark Advertisers

What would you do as an audience member at a panto? There are phrases that are common for the audience to shout like “It’s behind you!”, “Oh yes it is!”, and “Booooo!”, taking us back to the dried fig slinging days of theater.

Celebrities have joined in on the fun of pantomimes. David Hasselhoff played Hook in a performance of Peter Pan and Pamela Anderson played the Genie in Aladdin. Celebrities performing in pantomimes has been going on for over a hundred years. I imagine it’s a great ticket seller!

Pantomimes are a unique English excursion (I got lucky having friends who took me to see one). They’re a must see when visiting England. At least, if you are making a winter visit. These plays are a Christmas experience, starting a few weeks before Christmas and running through February. When the plays do go on, though, they are everywhere! Small towns and cities put together a Pantomime to celebrate the holiday season.

Amélie: Every Shy Young Woman in the World

“I know [true love still exists]. After 30 years behind a bar, I’m an expert. I’ll even give you the recipe. Take two regulars, mix them together, and let them stew. It never fails.”

Photo from Film Streams

Amélie took the world by storm over a decade ago, making $174 million worldwide, earning  five Oscar nominations, and winning four Césars (French film award). It’s a modern fairytale that sweeps you off your feet and takes you through the life of Amélie Poulain (played by Audrey Tautou, who also co-starred in The Da Vinci Code with the wonderful Tom Hanks).

Photo from Chamelle Photography

The movie was filmed on location in Paris. You can see familiar sights, like Montmartre and Notre-Dame. The film put a few other spots on the map, a must see now for fans. The grocery store Amélie frequents by her apartment is called “Chez Ali” instead of “Maison Collignon”, but it sells fruits and vegetables as well as Amélie souvenirs. All they may be missing is Lucien and his infamous boss.

Photo by Edwin van Eede

The cafe Amélie works at exists as well. Georgette’s tobacco stand is no longer there, but you can buy a cremé brulee named after the movie’s star and enjoy the ambiance with other fans. I did not visit Amélie’s neighborhood, so don’t take my word for it. There are quite a few articles on taking a walk through the film that would be a great guide when planning your Amélie trip.

Photo from Film Grab

When you go on your walk, though, you may have a hard time really imagining yourself in the film. This is because of director Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s alterations to the romantic city. Jeunet prefers to film in a studio, allowing him full control of the set and no need to worry about the sun (or lack thereof). Recreating the Montmartre proved to be beyond the film’s budget, though, so Jeunet was forced to film on location. He still managed to maintain control of his set. Before filming, he had cars removed and graffiti painted over.

Photos from Evan Richards
The top is a screenshot from the film and below is an unedited version. Just an example of Jeunet’s alteration post production

Further changes were made post production, one most notably being the warming of the footage. Reds, yellows, and oranges take over the screen, giving the film a fantastically retro feel. Blues are almost unheard of and just used to contrast the warm colors. Jeunet was creative with his camera use and placement as well, pulling the audience into Amélie’s world (to be honest, pretty much all the film talk went WAY over my head. I’m not even going to attempt to explain it. If you are interested, Jeunet’s filming is a popular topic of discussion. There are plenty of posts and articles) Jeunet’s filming was met with some criticism, critics saying that Jeunet wasn’t filming the real Paris, but a cartoon version. Still, others fell in love with his Paris, believing that Jeunet brought the magic of Paris alive in the film.

Photo from Screen Musing

Jeunet is not the first person in France to try something new in entertainment. France is the location for the first photograph of a human ever taken on a daguerrotype camera. Louis Daguerre took a photo of Boulevard du Temple, a busy street in France, using the daugerrotype of photography he created. In the photo, the street looks empty because the moving traffic wasn’t captured, but if you look at the bottom left corner, you can see a man getting his shoes shined. The man was never identified, but he stayed still long enough and became the first person every photographed.


France took it a step further and created the first film as well. You may be aware of the 50 second film of a train arriving; the one that, according to legend, sent the audience running from the theater because they feared the train would burst from the screen. That silent film was created in a coastal town of France named La Ciotat, but it wasn’t the first film.

The first film was created by French inventor Louis Le Prince in 1888. He films a group of people in a garden, the video being less than three seconds. It is still considered a movie and is considered the oldest surviving film. I’d like to think Jeunet was inspired by these revolutionary Frenchmen when he filmed Amélie.

I would compare Amélie to another movie on the movie bucket list, The Grand Budapest Hotel. Jeunet and Anderson each told a whimsical story, following the characters more than a plot. Amélie is more plotless than The Grand Budapest Hotel, but the main characters in both are equally captivating. Amélie was a lonely child who grew up to be a shy adult. She is a learned observer, and events following a news report on Princess Diana’s death resulted in Amélie discovering how good it feels to be a part of people’s lives instead of just a bystander. The scene of her discovery is a whirlwind of her feelings as she guides a blind man through the busy streets and describes everything around them. She goes on to help others, including her co-worker (though, I do have to question her judgement when she sets her up with a guy already stalking another woman)

From Giphy

Following the fairytale feel, Amélie does find love in a quirky man who hangs out around photo booths. You watch her struggle with her fear of being vulnerable and her desire to talk to the man (probably the most relatable part of the film). Amélie’s confidence grows through her new found friendships and you, as the audience, are cheering her on along the way.

Photo from Cinematheia

The film is well-loved. It’s a romance not centered on the romance (if that makes any sense at all), quirky and weird. Boyfriend enjoyed the strange character development. It made the plot difficult to predict, a fun ride.

Next movie up on the list is Boyfriend’s pick. I have heard of the film, but don’t know anything about it, so there’s no telling what’s going to happen! In the meantime…

From Giphy

Tea Time With the Forgotten Queen

You have crossed the pond, so it time to do what the British do (kind of). When the clock strikes four, put on you best blazer or your finest spring dress. Look sharp because it is time for tea.

Picture from History of Royal Women
This website gives a brief summary of Catherine’s life outside of tea. Check it out if your are interested in the forgotten queen.

King Charles II’s wife, Catherine, introduced tea to England in 1662. The dried herbs and leaves were an exotic treasure. Originally from Portugal, Catherine arrived in London with a large chest of tea as part of her dowry (I would’ve arrived with a large chest of coffee). Drinking tea started out as a closeted affair. The kettles and cups weren’t kept in the kitchens, but in the women’s private chambers (pretty much their closet) where they would invite their friends to join them for a cup of tea. I know this probably wasn’t the case, but I’m just picturing two Victorian women sitting in a small walk-in closet, surrounded by overstuffed shelves and curtains of clothes, dressed in their finest while sipping tea and gossiping.

I googled tea in closet. I wasn’t disappointed.

For a while, tea was enjoyed just by the aristocracy. It was an exotic drink from India, difficult to come by (and buy). When trading ships improved, more tea was brought to England, making it available across the whole population by the 1800s.

Picture from Hear a Tale

Tea was expensive, but it still loved in England. A politician (and poet) named Edmund Waller wrote a poem honoring Queen Catherine for her birthday, celebrating her and the fact that she made tea fashionable among the upper class:

“Venus her Myrtle, Phoebus has his bays;

Tea both excels, which she vouchsafes (gives) to praise.

The best of Queens, the best of herbs, we owe

To that bold nation which the way did show

To the fair region where the sun doth rise,

Whose rich productions we so justly prize.

The Muse’s friend, tea does our fancy aid,

Regress those vapours which the head invade,

And keep the palace of the soul serene,

Fit on her birthday to salute the Queen”

A very English poem for a very English topic. I think Waller succeeded in exactly what he set out to do. Praise the queen and tea!

The story behind the afternoon tea you may endulge in (you might enjoy afternoon tea a few times if your trip was like mine) while visiting England is actually a legend supposedly taking place in 1840. It’s the story of Anna, Russell the seventh Duchess of Bedford.

Picture from High Tea

Anna was hungry. The problem was it was four in the afternoon, and dinner wasn’t set until eight (I can relate). Instead of waiting hours to eat, Anna asked for a snack to be brought to her (I know you are all on the edge of your seat at this point. Tensions are high here). So Anna sat down to enjoy a cup of tea, small sandwiches, and perhaps a scone or cake to finish off the late afternoon meal. She enjoyed her early evening snack so much, that she began inviting friends to join her. By the 1880’s, Anna’s grumbling stomach turned into a fashionable event. Around four or five in the evening, men and women got all dressed up and went to afternoon tea.

Photo from EnglishHeritage.org

In the late 1800s Queen Victoria took the event outside. She also introduced adding a lemon wedge to a cup of tea, something she picked up in Russia (don’t we all pick up habits in Russia? Oh the aristocratic life). By the end of Queen Victoria’s reign, afternoon tea became a national pastime.

Meat Pie anyone?
Picture from The Chirurgeons Apprentice

Another tea time origin story points to the lower class as the original afternoon tea-ers. The hardworking lower class didn’t tend to have time to take a lunch break, so when they finished their work around four or five in the evening, they were starving (probably a bit more hungry than Anna). They would take high tea (named after the high tables they sat at, as opposed to low tea tables. Real stretch for the name there…). This looked different than Anna’s afternoon tea. Instead of a light snack of sandwiches and scones, the lower class would sit down to hardy meat pies, cheese, vegetables and a hot mug of tea. Sounds like the perfect way to satiate their hunger.


Traditional tea includes the following: crustless finger sandwiches, including cucumber sandwiches (Yum!), scones with cream and preserves, cakes, and tea brewed in silver tea pots and served in bone china cups.

Are your stomachs growling yet?

You can find traditional afternoon teas at fine hotels and tea rooms. Afternoon tea is served there, though they can be mistakenly called high tea. High tea is traditionally the heavier food break taken by the lower class after work. Afternoon tea is the tea Anna made popular with her fancy snacks. The difference is subtle, I understand why they are easily mixed up.

It’s mad! Get it?

Today, those who enjoy a daily afternoon tea, aren’t setting up the large spread of traditional tea every time. An average afternoon tea would be a little less glamorous, usually consisting of a biscuit or cake and tea brewed with a tea bag (Blasphemy!)

Still, traditional afternoon teas look different from Anna’s early evening snack. Anna’s tea time was practiced until World War I. During the two World Wars, the tradition slowed down quite a bit because of food rations. After, the English fell in love with coffee (I can relate). Afternoon tea became a tourist attraction, not practiced much by residents. It was the turn of the 21st century that brought back the custom. Afternoon tea became the social event it used to be, but instead of just light snackings, tea time is a meal and a half. If you are planning on going to an afternoon tea, there is no need for lunch and possibly dinner.

Photo from Cooking4Noobs

The British didn’t stop at afternoon tea time . The 20th century brought Middle Earth’s elevenses to England. Late morning breaks of muffins or scones and coffee or tea became a “vital element of our traditional way of life,” according to an article from Telegraph. It’s like morning recess in elementary school. I’m not hating the practice!

In 2009, Court Services at Kent planned to take away the late morning refreshments from magistrates. This led to outrage. Judges and other court employees could not believe that Court Services was taking away their late morning snacks. They claimed to be unable to make it through the day, that the break is needed to do their best work. And Kent is not the only place in Europe to take their tea time seriously. The European Commission’s Working Time Derivative have laws in place protecting tea breaks. I wouldn’t take away the magistrate’s caffeine and sugar fix, especially if I needed to go to court to fight a speeding ticket.

Photo from Tea Time Tutorial

Despite the images of afternoon tea you may see on television, like Downton Abbey, tea time is supposed to be relaxing. All these rules are thrown around: The women must be seated before the men enter the room. The men take their gloves off before sitting down, but women have to take them off after sitting down. Your napkin must be folded in half, placed on your lap, with the folded side closest to you body. Tea MUST go in before the milk. Never stir your tea, just move your spoon back and forth from the 6 o’clock and 12 o’clock positions. I could keep going, but I’ll stop.

In reality, as long as your napkin is on your lap and you are using basic manners (not being the loudest one in the room would be at the top of my list….), you’ll be fine. One quick fun fact about the pouring the milk before the tea, though. Servants used to have tea cups made of clay, so pouring in the hot tea first would crack their cup. The milk went in first to act as a coolant. Today, it’s just a matter of preference. There isn’t a correct or incorrect way.

Finally, here are some tea terms and tips to ensure that you have the afternoon tea you are looking for:

Cream Tea: tea and scones with cream and preserves

Afternoon Tea: tea, sandwiches, scones, and cakes

Royal Tea: A glass of champagne served with tea for a special occasion (I think a visit to England is a special occasion all on its own. I pick the Royal Tea!)

How long do you let your tea brew? 3 to 6 minutes

Pinky up? No, it looks silly and pretentious, a common faux pas.

Have you ever been to an afternoon tea? Let me know what you think in the comments below!


12 Angry Men: Is it 1957 or 2019?

Photo from: Talk Film Society

The courtroom (or jury room) drama, 12 Angry Men (1957), is not only a window into 1950’s United States, but is also a timeless story that has remained relevant through time and across countries.  The screenplay was originally written by Reginald Rose for television in 1954. Rose was inspired when he was on jury duty. He saw the drama of the courtroom and noticed that most television and movies focused on the courtroom and never showed jury deliberation. When proposed as a movie, many producers were reluctant to take on a film whose setting was only a jury room (a very boring looking jury room). Henry Fonda (juror number 8) took the risk with Rose and produced the movie.

Being made so long ago, I didn’t expect to recognize any of the actors. There were a few faces I knew though! Juror number one was Detective Alborgast from Psycho.

And juror number seven played Saul in While You Were Sleeping.

Photo from Bustle

The rest of the actors had other roles, but there was something else that drew my attention when I first saw the twelve jurors on screen; they were all middle-aged white men. Talk about a window into the 1950s! (from what I understand, an all white jury was unlikely even in the 1950’s, but the film was meant to be symbolic. I get the message they were intending.)

Photo from Carolina Theater

The cast was small (I mean, if you think about it, you can only fit so many people into one room). The only actors credited in the film were the twelve jurors. The accused wasn’t even in the credits! I think that is what makes this movie relatable over sixty years later. The original vote for guilty was driven by prejudices (racial, gender, and every other kind of perjudice there is). By not shining a light on the accused (there were hints that the accused murder was Hispanic, but that wasn’t clear), the audience was forced to rely on the juror’s words to picture the defendant. He was a “common ignorant slob” from the slums. The race could be filled in to suit the audience. In fact, the film was remade forty years later, directed by William Friedkin (I didn’t recognize his name until I looked him up on IMDB. He just directed a little film, The Exorcist). It was also redone in Germany (1963), Norway (1982), India (1986), Japan (1991), Russia (2007), France (2010), and China (2014). I think it’s safe to say that this movies message is universal.

Not only does the message come across time and space (throwing in some sci-fi for you there), it’s done so well. Producers were hesitant taking on a film with twelve cast members and one room, but the drama was so strong. It had me hooked through the whole movie.

Photo from Letterboxd

The scene is set when the jury is excused to the jury room to deliberate. Juror number one does his job as the jury foreman and asks the other jurors to participate in setting routines and ground rules for their discussion. They start with a vote. All vote guilty except one. The men are frustrated and hot (because there is a tropical storm going through New York and the fan in the room is broken. No central air conditioning either. Sounds rough). So the men just talk. It doesn’t sound like much on paper, but the actors do a great job!

Photo from Tiff

There are some tropes among the jurors. There’s the guy who wants to vote whichever way gets him to his ball game fastest. There’s one who is so racists that the rest of the men tell him to just stop talking and he stands in the corner shunned by everyone (that was a good scene). Then there’s the heart broken father who just sees his son in the defendant. There were so many reasons the men voted guilty the first time, whether it was prejudice, past experience, or peer pressure, but none of it was because the evidence proved the boy was guilty. Juror eight, the only one to state not guilty imparted wisdom throughout the movie:

“Well, there were eleven votes for guilty. It’s not easy to raise my hand and send a boy off to die without talking about it first.”

Photo from Movie House Memories

The bottom line being that our justice system is based on the honest efforts of the twelve jurors. The stakes can be at their highest and the system is fragile. It’s a scary thing. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor was inspired to go into law because of the film. I can see why.

Photo from Decider

I was surprised by the dry humor in the script. Tension is high throughout the whole film, but there were characters continually sticking their foot in their mouths (mostly because they were wrong, but too stubborn to admit it. I have no idea what that’s like….). It was a relief chuckling at the snarky remarks towards the horribly racists comments.

“Juror #10: Bright? He’s a common ignorant slob. He don’t even speak good English.

Juror #11: [who has a foreign accent] He *doesn’t* speak good English.”

The grammar teacher in me was cheering on the sidelines.

Photo from The Ace Black Blog

Drama was all in the conversation between the jurors. I loved it, but I do have to point out that visually, there wasn’t much going on. I was untangling yarn while watching this movie which helped keep my eyes busy so I could focus on the deliberation. The actors do a great job expressing there frustration and anger in their voices as well as their body language and faces. It goes to show just how good the script and cast were to have a movie that was visually stagnant, but still so nicely made. That’s why the movie has been remade around the world, The conflict is strong without obvious action.

After such a heavy topic in this movie, I’m going to pick something lighter from the list next time. I think it’s time for a drink and a good laugh!

From Giphy

Notre-Dame De Paris: From Pagans to Tourists

I was very excited to visit the Notre-Dame de Paris. My sister was my travel partner for this trip and we are both Victor Hugo fans. We embraced that nerdy side of us and visited the Victor Hugo Museum, the underground sewage system that Jean Val Jean escaped through in Les Miserables, and finally, Notre-Dame. The angsty teenager in me couldn’t get enough of Hugo in Paris!

The home of Victor Hugo, ladies and gentlemen

The cathedral is the most popular tourist attraction in Paris (beating out the Eiffel Tower). The church was built in the gothic design between 1163 and 1345 (talk about construction lasting forever!). It’s one of the largest religious buildings in the world and still a functioning Catholic Church. In 1905, it was decided that France State owns the building, but the Catholic Church retains the right to use it forever.

Before Notre-Dame

The site of Notre-Dame has a long spiritual history. Archaeologists digging in the 1960’s and 70’s discovered the remains of an ancient temple beneath Notre-Dame. The temple was built in the pagan city of Lutetia honoring Jupiter before Christianity existed in France. This piece of history could have been lost forever under the streets of Paris.

Lutetia was the capital city of Parisii, a tribe in what was then Gual. Based on the three baths unearthed (baths were all over Europe) it was believed to be a larger city, but you could walk the town in an hour.


One woman in particular came out of the city of Lutetia. Between 420 and 502 Genovefa, better known as Saint Genevieve, protected the city. She was appointed as deaconess by bishop Germanus, and lived as a nun, and her faith made her the Mother Teresa of her time. When Atilla and his Huns were to attack Lutetia, Genovefa convinced the townspeople to stay with her power of foresight. Through her prayer, she saved the city; Atilla attacked the town of Cenabum instead. When Lutetia found themselves under siege by Childeric, king of the Franks, Genovefa was part of the group bringing in food. She also went to Childeric and convinced him to take better care of the prisoners of war. The king also granted her permission to build a monastery in enemy territory. When she passed, she became a patron saint of the city.

Napolean’s Reign of Terror

The Letutian temple was forgotten for many years. Notre-Dame itself  may never have been a symbol of France, if it wasn’t for Napoleon and Victor Hugo. Napoleon Bonaparte decided to crown Pope Pius VII as emperor in Notre-Dame in 1804 (if this sounds like something Napoleon would never do, hang tight. I’ll get there). The church was rundown at this point. It wasn’t just that it was an old building (built with a lot of wood, material not known for lasting centuries. In fact, the cathedral contains the oldest timber frames, made from 52 acres of forest cut down in the 12th century. Each beam was made from an individual tree, giving the woodwork the nickname “the Forest”).

Notre Dame was also vandalized during the French Revolution. Revolutionist pulled down statues of French kings and decapitated them. The original bells were removed from the towers and melted down into cannons. After the revolution, Napoleon invited the Pope to be crowned emperor in the beautifully decrepit Notre-Dame. At the last minutes, though, he snatched the crown from the Pope’s hands and crowns himself as emperor (there’s the Napoleon I know).


Hugo Takes a Crack at It

“[Quasimodo] therefore turned to mankind only with regret. His cathedral was enough for him. It was peopled with marble figures of kings, saints and bishops who at least did not laugh in his face and looked at him with only tranquillity and benevolence. The other statues, those of monsters and demons, had no hatred for him – he resembled them too closely for that. It was rather the rest of mankind that they jeered at. ”

-Victor Hugo

The coronation in Notre-Dame didn’t fix the structural deterioration, though. It wasn’t until Victor Hugo wrote his novel, Notre-Dame de Paris, that the building was brought back to its former glory. The translated title of the novel is The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, but Hugo didn’t intend for Quasimodo, Frodo, or Esmeralda to be the star of the show. The church was to take the limelight. The book was a success and the restoration of the book’s star was underway.

The Visit

Today, Notre Dame is 115 feet (35 meters) tall with the towers standing at 223 feet (68 meters). The towers aren’t identical. The north tower is slightly bigger than the south tower due to the amount of time it took to build the cathedral. The whole building is a culmination of many artists’ work.

The church is free to enter, but a tour of the towers is 10 euros. The view alone is worth the price of the ticket. The gargoyles and other statues were amazing to see up close as well.

The monsters guarding Notre Dame are actually more modern than I expected. They were added in the 19th century (between 1843 and 1864). The architect in charge of restoring the church, Eugene Viollet-le-Duc, was so inspired by Hugo’s description of the gargoyles that he added them in the restoration. Unfortunately, the monsters are starting to decay now, some needing to be removed entirely.

While admiring the view of Paris from Notre Dame’s rooftop, keep an eye out for bees. A small hive of Buckfast bees was installed in 2013. This strain, developed by a monk named Brother Adam, is known for their gentleness. They get their nectar in gardens nearby and the sweet honey is given away to the poor.

Photo by Messy Nessy

Speaking of gardens, there is one I plan to visit the next time I find myself standing in front of Notre-Dame. If you look at the cathedral’s facade, a small blue door can be found to the left. The door is marked “Entrée”. Behind the door, you will find Paris’s oldest hospital, Hôtel Dieu. The once overcrowded disease ridden hospital, now is a quiet escape away from fellow tourists. You can explore the empty halls, described as the perfect set for a zombie movie by Messy Nessy, and then take a break, eat your lunch, and enjoy your view.

Why not check out some vendors while waiting in line?

The streets outside of Notre Dame are just as memorable and beautiful as the church itself. Street vendors take advantage of the tourist trap, so it is a great place to shop for souvenirs. I ended up with a print of the church to remember my visit by. Watch the sidewalks while you are shopping too. There is an eight point star installed in 1924 with the words Point zére de routes de France printed on it. Cities were measured from this point for the distance from France.

There are so many other pieces of history at Notre-Dame. I didn’t even mention the crown of thorns or the organ! The ancient landmark really is a must see during your trip to Paris. Be sure to read Hugo’s novel too. It’s great for that gloomy day where all you want to do is curl up on the couch with a blanket and maybe a pet to keep you company.

Alien: Not just a parody on family guy

If I didn’t absolutely adore Sigourney Weaver before, I’m in love after watching her play Ripley in Alien (1979). Written by Dan O’Bannon  and Ronald Shusett (who also wrote Total Recall (1990). Highly recommend if you haven’t seen that one. They remade the movie in 2012, starring Ryan Reynolds. I’m going to have to check it out!), Alien rode the sci fi wave created by Star Wars. But instead of just hanging out, it improved it as a popular genre.


Alien won an Oscar for visual effects (before there was CGI, so that’s cool. In fact, they were forced to have a man in costume play the alien, instead of using effects because effects would have turned out cheesy. To keep the alien from looking too human production hired Bolaji Badejo, a six foot ten inch Kenyan discovered in a bar in London. He was studying graphic designm but took the part. He was sent to take lessons in mime and Tai Chi to learn how to move slowly. That must have been fun to put on his resume after finishing graphic desing school).


The movie won an award for its effects, but the story and characters were great too. The studio intentionally sought out a diverse cast. In the imagined future the movie was set it, the corporation would want and have the ability to hire the most qualified crew, despite race or location. So they casted a crew that was African American and British, as well as male and female (because that is all the diversity there is in the world, ladies and gents. I’m reminding myself it was 1979 and am moving on).


The captain, Dallas, was a nothing special (I’ll get more into him later), but there were some distinct personalities among the rest of the crew. Kane and Brett had fun banter, worrying constantly (and annoyingly!) about their share in the job. They were buddies who must have been the life of the party when going for a beer after work. Ash was the academic, constantly observing (and, in hindsight, very robotic). Lambert was not my favorite. She gave me flashbacks of Dakota Fanning in War of the Worlds, just there to whine and scream.


Ripley made up for Lamberts weak character, though. Fox studio head Alan Ladd made the decision to make Ripley’s character female. The director, Ridley Scott (not to be confused with the star character Ripley), agreed, believing the change in gender would distinguish the movie from so many with heroes. Ripley became a heroine by casting alone. Nothing in her character was changed beside her gender to avoid any gender stereotyping.


I think it worked out wonderfully! Ripley was quick on her feet and tough. She had this RBF and confident attitude that kept her in charge on a ship full of men (even before the captain was killed and she became officially in charge). I felt an inner feminist I didn’t even know existed inside of me come out during this movie. I was infuriated when the men didn’t listen to her. Especially Ash. I really didn’t like him (and it turns out that was how I was supposed to feel). Even Dallas sided with the scientist over Ripley’s warranted caution. She was right on all counts (except when she sent Brett off by himself to look for the cat. Come on! Rule number one in a horror movie: stick together!).


I heard Sigourney Weaver’s character in Holes the whole time. When Ash opened the ship doors to let Kane in with the alien stuck to his face, I wanted Ripley to put her hand on her hip, lower her sunglasses (because space is so bright) and say with all her attitude, “Excuse me?” In short, I loved Ripley. I want to be her best friend.


The setting and premise of the film was great too. As a nerdy, sci fi fan, I loved that the ship was just a run of the mill transport vehicle. I admit, I had to look this up because I couldn’t remember what they were transporting, but the crew picked up 20 million tons of ore. The ore obviously came from somewhere far, far away from Earth because after collecting the ore, the crew went into those pods that seemed to freeze them as is, keeping them from aging or needing to eat during the long journey.


This all happens before the movie starts, so you just have to pick all that up while they are trying to figure out why the ship woke them early. Mike McGranaghan puts it perfectly in his article for Screen Rant. They were the truckers of the future, the embodiment of average joes (and janes). I wouldn’t have been surprised if Brett ran into the Doctor (from Doctor Who, in case you don’t get my reference) while searching for Jonesy, the cat, and David Tennant ran around with his trench coat billowing behind him while pointing his sonic screwdriver at the mess the alien left behind (but I digress).


If the Doctor did show up, Ripley probably wouldn’t have been the only survivor (and Jonesy! That was a sweet addition). Movie reviewer Roger Ebert (great reviews by the way. Check him out), compared the premise of the movie to the 1940’s magazine Astounding Science Fiction (Did read Ebert’s review and then go to ebay and buy an anthology of the magazine? Maybe…) This isn’t a story of space explorers or adventurers; it’s the story of future working men and women caught in the twisted agenda of a corporation. What’s not to love?


Fun fact! The scene where Dallas’s fate was revealed was re-added in 2003. It was originally a deleted scene because director Scott believed it broke the tension of Ripley running for her life. The fact that Dallas was killed was a great twist for the time. The leading man was killed off, leaving Ripley to be the heroine. I thought it was poetic justice. The fact that he kept disregarding all of Ripley’s ideas and suggestions (the right ideas and suggestions) was so frustrating!


For a movie boasting of forward thinking in casting and story, James Cameron made a point of criticizing Ripley’s strip scene towards the end of the movie. This was the scene where Ripley had made it onto the escape pod and began to peel off her gear until she was only wearing her underwear and a tank top. The scene was criticized for sexualizing Weaver in a film that supposedly empowered women. Weaver argues for the scene. She disregarded the criticism saying, “Are you kidding me? After five days of blood and guts, and fear and sweat and urine, do you think Ripley wouldn’t take off her clothes?” That left me thinking about my routine after work and how quickly my pants come off when getting home. I have to agree with Sigourney on this one. Rancid sweat soaked clothes would be off me as soon as I could!


Back in 1979, the movie was a hit. Early screeners were mortified by the alien bursting out of Kane’s stomach (the graphic nature of the scene wasn’t even revealed to the actors in an attempt to get a genuine reaction out them. The scene was done in just one take, so I think Scott achieved the reaction he was looking for). The movie made a total of $60 million dollars. Today that would be $272 million. It’s not up there with today’s high grossing movies like Avatar and Jurassic World, but still pretty good. I wonder how it would compare to those movies when it came to how much it cost versus how much it made. If anyone has an answer to that, let me know.


I asked Boyfriend what he thought of the movie. He didn’t like how Ripley defeated the alien, thought it wasn’t exciting enough. He wanted a full on fight scene. I point out that the alien is supposed to be this perfect weapon. It has no weakness (except for open space apparently), so any fight it were to have with Ripley it would win. We decided to agree to disagree before it turned into an argument. Other than the ending, he enjoyed the movie.


What did you think? Should there be a final battle between alien and Ripley? Should there have been an alien strip tease instead of Ripley’s? I read that the quality of the sequels are lacking. Are they worth a watch anyway? Let me know what you thought of Alien in the comments below!

Next movie up is another blast from the past, about twenty years earlier than Alien. Who knows, maybe I’ll be inspired to go to law school after this one (probably not…)


Bath England

Photo Credit: J. F. Penn 
Check out her article on Bath!

Visiting a hot spring and soaking in the warm water is my kind of vacation. It would be a dream to book a whole spa mini-vacation and make a weekend of it. I got so close to achieving this dream when I visited Bath, England. I was only about 2,000 years too late.

Print by Thalia Took

Bath was named after the only hot springs in England. Why is the water hot, you ask? Well, the city sits on lava (duh!). It sits on the mouth of an extinct volcano, so there are no eruptions and the water is warmed for a pleasant dip in the pool. Win win! The springs were originally used by the Celts. A shrine was built honoring the goddess Sulis, a sun goddess worshipped for her seer abilities and healing powers. The mineral-rich water from the hot springs itself was believed to have healing elements. The goddess had the power to heal as well as punish wrong doorers. Archaeologists found “curse tablets” around the springs asking for Sulis’s aid. When the Romans occupied Britain, Sulis was renamed Sulis Minerva, connecting her to the Roman goddess. They named the town Aquae Sulis.  

Under Roman rule, the shrines replaced by baths. A temple was built honoring Sulis Minerva and the hot springs became an ancient spa. The temple was started 60-70 AD and was added on for the next 300 years. Through leaded pipes, the Romans guided the heated water through several chambers. The water is still naturally heated to about 114.8℉ (46℃). Three hundred and nine thousand gallons (1,170,000 L) rise from the ground everyday. This allowed the Romans to build the main bath (5.2 feet or 1.6 meters deep), now an open space, but back then covered by a vaulted roof, and smaller hot rooms. There was also one cold bath available to patrons. In the 12th century, further construction was done to the bath to include a King’s Bath at the northwest corner of the baths.

Baths were not new to the Romans. There were many created back in Italy, their main purpose being cleanliness. The second purpose was socializing. Entrance fees were low enough to allow most citizens in (with some free days thrown in by a politician or emperor), so people would go to the baths, clean off the grime of ancient city life and hang out. Men and women didn’t bathe together (no shocker there). Depending on the bath, they would either bathe at different times or in different rooms. A typical Roman bath had a room for changing, a large warm bath in the middle where people would meet and socialize, a steam room, a room with a cold bath, and gym for bathers to exercise. Essentially, Roman baths were ancient 24 Hour Fitnesses (though, I’m not too keen on getting into a large warm pool with a bunch of other people that haven’t bathed in who knows how long. The largest known bath is the Baths of Diocletian built in 306 AD. Those baths could hold 3,000 people. I don’t want to stew with 3,000 people…)

Be like the Romans, go to the gym

England’s Roman bath tends to be more well known today. It was rediscovered in 1727 when workers were digging a sewer trench (ew) and discovered the gilded head of Minerva. Further excavation was done over the next fifty years. The sight were surprisingly intact and the warm mineral water still flowed into the baths. The building and temple were lost when the Romans left Britain. Silt from a river nearby eventually covered the whole site, hiding it until the 18th century. The site was reopened then, the baths made popular since bathing was in fashion (I hope it continues to stay in fashion). You can see evidence of this in literature. Jane Austen lived in Bath for a while. Two of her novels, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, were set in the city (Side note. I’ve read Persuasion. Good book, but it can be summarized quickly. Boy likes girl, girl thinks boy is too poor and rejects him. Boy goes off and becomes ruggedly sexy. Boy returns and girl changes her mind. Boy rejects her. They separate again, both damaged by unrequited love, and finally meet again one last time and get together. By the end of the book I just wanted to knock both Boy and Girl over the head). Mary Shelley was inspired by the city and finished her novel, Frankenstein. Finally, Charles Dickens was also a frequent visitor of Bath, staying in the city’s oldest pub, The Saracen’s Head.

Today, Bath, England is a globally recognized heritage site (the whole city, the only one in the UK). The city meets three criteria for to be designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. These criterion include: (i) human creative genius (for its architecture), (ii) interchange of values (for the additions made on the baths in the 18th century), and (iv) significance in human history (for contributions in Roman and Georgian society). The takeaway? It’s a great place to visit. Bath is historically significant. You can see the baths and a museum with Minerva’s gilded head and other artifacts. The building is what you would expect from the Romans. The main bath is surrounded above by stone guards and ladies. Pillars enclose the baths below. We arrived as the sun was setting, giving the baths a beautiful glow by torchlight.

You can’t go into the original baths anymore because of the lead pipes the Romans used. You can experience the waters at spas in the area though. Thermae Spa is one that opened in 2004. The metallic mildew smell of the ancient baths might not exactly make you excited to try the healing powers of the mineral water yourself, but you also have the option to visit the Pump Room. This room overlooks the baths. The upper class visited the room to drink the water for their healing power. You can visit the Pump Room today, now a restaurant, and try the water too (for a price). I didn’t get a chance to do this, but I’m not shocked to hear that the water doesn’t taste good.

Bath is visited by millions each year, a great example of history meeting present day. I feel like I have just scratched the surface on Bath. I’d need another visit to see it all!

Monty Python’s Life of Brian

Photo Credit: The Australian

“Always look on the bright side of life.”


It was the song the crucifix victims sang, tapping their tied up feet and waiting for death and it will be the song running through my head as I write this post. Long story short, Boyfriend and I (at least we agree this time!) didn’t like Monty Python’s Life of Brian. It took us three different sittings to get through it (one of us, or both of us kept falling asleep). I could see where the movie was going, where it was supposed to be funny (Fun Fact! We watching this one on Netflix and Netflix has a “see this again button” for the scenes that are extra funny), but we couldn’t get into it. I laughed more at Boyfriend getting sick of watching men’s butts than the movie (Another Fun Fact! Brian, the star of the movie, is a Jewish man who would have been circumcised. Graham Chapman, the actor playing Brian is not circumcised. So when shooting the full frontal nudity scene, they had a problem. According to Chapman, the problem was fixed with a rubber band. Ouch.)


Life of Brian was conceived in Amsterdam, planned in Barbados, and filmed in Tunisia (the same deserts Star Wars was filmed). The cast and crew knew the film would be controversial since it was a satire of organized religion. Brian spells out the message of the movie when begging his cult-like fans to stop following him.

“Look, you’ve got it all wrong! You don’t NEED to follow ME, You don’t NEED to follow ANYBODY! You’ve got to think for yourselves! You’re ALL individuals!”

When it was time for the movie to be released, the Monty Python comedy troupe decided to premier the movie in the United States, despite the fact that their act originated and was much more popular in England. They did this because the US didn’t have any blasphemy laws. Around the same time Monty Python was made, blasphemy laws were being used in England over an erotic poem about Jesus. The comedy group was worried their movie would be banned, so they opened in the United States. Turns out they were correct to worry. Every religious group opposed the movie because of its anti-religion sentiment. I think these groups just come off as having no sense of humor, though. The movie is based in a time period where religion played a huge role in society, but apart from a few jokes (there was a religious official stoned for proclaiming the lord’s name. That was one of the scenes you could rewatch), most of the conflict had to do with the Romans.


To summarize the movie, Brian lived a life parallel to Jesus. He was born in a manger right next to Jesus. The three wise men actually mistakenly visited Brian and presented their gifts. We see Jesus one more time, preaching to his followers, two of them being Brian and his mom (a man dressed in drag, by the way). Brian has the “cheap seats” though and can’t really hear what Jesus is saying. So he moves on with no real passion. It isn’t until he runs into the People’s Front of Judea (not the Judean People’s Front. “Wankers!”) and Brian finds a purpose in life: freedom from the Romans.


One scene I did enjoy was when Reg was rallying up the members of the People’s Front of Judea, demanding to know what the Romans had done for them. He was going for nothing, to prove his point that the Romans need to be kicked out of Jerusalem, but the members are all able to come up with something great the Romans gave them. They made roads, sanitized the streets, provided education, and brought wine. This list ended with someone suggesting peace, completely derailing Reg’s point. Probably didn’t come out well in writing, watch it below. It’s comical.

Brian joins the People’s Front of Judea and gets in trouble graffiting incorrect latin conjugations on Roman walls and breaking into the palace. So he’s now a wanted man. While he is running, he finds himself standing in front of a market, on a pedestal next to other men who are preaching nonsense to an uninterested crown.


Brian does the same to hide in plain sight from the centurions (anybody else think about Doctor Who anytime centurions are mentioned, or that just me being nerdy?), but the people in the market actually listen to Brian.


They follow him, demanding more. They worship his sandal and his gourd. Brian became a reluctant messiah. When he is eventually caught by the Romans and sentenced to crucifixion (could be worse), the group deems him a martyr and leaves him tied to the crucifix as a sacrifice to their cause. Naturally, the others being crucified break into song, ending the bizarre story. There was a crash landing of an alien spaceship thrown in there as well. The first time we attempted to watch the movie I dozed off and woke up to the alien eyeball held in place by a hand. It was a WTF moment.


Religious sects may have banned the movie, but the general population loved the comedy. It wasn’t as good as The Holy Grail, but many people enjoyed the dry witty humor. I can see why it was popular. Boyfriend and I understood most of the jokes, but the satire wasn’t for us.


What did you think of Life of Brian. Am I way off? Do you think we needed to understand the history more? Or do we just have no sense of humor (I hope that’s not true!)? Let me know what you thought in the comments below.

Next week is a movie that I am a little disappointed in myself for never having seen before. There were only two on this bucket list that I dropped the movie watching ball on (more on the second one later!). You should all shame me.

By the way, happy Valentine’s Day!