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!

Narusawa Ice caves

Layer up because it is about to get cold in here! All around the world, ice is glimmering underground, some of it year round. I recently visited the Narusawa Ice Cave in Japan, but before I get to that, here are a few honorable mentions of other feats of ice.

photo credit:

Iceland has a few ice adventures available for tourists and residents. They make it clear that visitors understand the difference between glacier caves and ice caves because the country has both. Ice caves are caverns formed in rocks that maintain a cool enough temperature to contain frozen water either through winter or year round. Glacier caves are caves formed by ice (ground breaking stuff here, I know). This creates a beautiful crystal-like sight that can be white, blue, or even black, a real Winter Wonderland. Pictures have convinced me to add Iceland’s glacier caves to my travel bucket list (but let’s be honest, I don’t need much convincing).

The United States doesn’t have glacier caves, but there are a couple ice caves to visit in Washington and Wisconsin. The Washington ice cave is created when avalanches drop snow and ice down the north face of the Big Four Mountains. The run off of snow and water creates caverns. These are not caverns that you can enter, though. It can been seen between August and October (before the trails are closed) and cave ins are common. There are very serious instructions given: no walking on top of or in the caverns. It’s a see, don’t touch ice cave.

The ice cave on Lake Superior plays hard to get as well. Over the winter of 2013 to 2014 tens of thousands of visitors flocked across the frozen lake to see the Apostle Island Ice Caves. The ice looks beautiful besides the colorful cave walls.

Five years ago it was a sight to see. Unfortunately, since then, the lake conditions have not been safe for travel. The hike is 1.1 miles across the lake and park rangers regularly check the condition of the ice. The ice needs to be 10 to 12 inches thick and spread from land to land, meaning there isn’t a breakage that had since frozen over. Strong wind often breaks the ice, making it too weak for people to cross safely. Even when the lake is safe cross, the hike is difficult. Park rangers recommend visitors to wear good winter boots, bring ice picks (and know how to use them), a first aid kit, and your cell phone so you can call 911 if there is an emergency. You are also not supposed to stand under the ice for too long because the ice will break off and fall (preferably not on top of you). So who’s ready to go to the Apostle Island Ice Caves??

t3.17.18 Bob King — 031818.N.DNT.ICEc1 — Pushed by a gentle southwesterly wind, a thin sheet of ice on Lake Superior break into thousands of individual “puzzle pieces” or plates along the beach just north of the Lester River Saturday morning. Bob King /

If you are touring the United States, but don’t want to go on a possibly dangerous hike to see some ice, you can always visit the Minus5 Ice Experience in Las Vegas. Not only can you sit on the ice, you can take comfort in knowing that no ice will break off and fall on your head while sipping a chilled cocktail (because it is a bar. Shocker, right?!) Unfortunately, the bar located in the Mandalay Bay shops has a strict no picture policy. I got to see on the ice version of the throne of swords (always happy to make a Game of Thrones reference) , so there were no complaints on my end. The price of the bar was worth the experience! Coats, gloves, and hats are provided because it’s cold!

Luckily, the Narusawa Ice Cave didn’t come with many safety warnings. We were required to wear helmets because the ceiling is low (at one point you had to walk crouched down), but otherwise you could treat the cave like stairs while it’s raining.

We’re ready to explore the caves!

The cave is around the base of Mt. Fuji on the edge of the infamous “suicide forest”. It was formed by a volcanic eruption in 864. The molten lava melted caverns in the rock where the temperatures stay around 0 degrees celsius (32 degrees fahrenheit) all year round.

They were used as a natural refrigerator before there were refrigerators in the world. To demonstrate this, the ice is stacked in blocks along the trail.

It’s an easy visit by tour bus, and the location on the edge of the forest is beautiful. You’ll have time to take a hike too, because the cave is small. The whole visit took twenty minutes, tops.

The Goonies: There’s no such thing as too much Sean Astin

“Goonies never say die!”

The 80’s cult classic always brings with it this sort of comfort that only comes from 80’s movies. Admittedly, I didn’t live through the 80’s, but there’s something about the fashion, lose language, and ludacris storylines that is strangely comforting. And The Goonies didn’t scare the bejeezus out of my as a kid, unlike Gremlins.

The Goonies was directed by Richard Donner, but other big names like Christopher Columbus and Steven Spielberg (supposedly Spielberg directed the pipe and well scenes). were also involved in the creation of the movie. The movie was filmed in about five months on location (minues the pirate ship scenes) in Astoria, Oregon. It was shot entirely in sequence and only one scene was cut. Check out the terrifying (at least for this move) octopus attack. It doesn’t add anything to the film and its just another scene of Stef and Mouth bickering (more on that later), but the anamantronic octopus is cool.

The movie didn’t win any big awards, but its cult following more than makes up for that. Even today the film is being screened in theaters across the country, and a website is dedicated to the movie. You can check out an interview with Ke Huy Quan (Data) given by original goonie, Andy Petrou.

We’re going with a “then and now” theme with the pictures. I thought it’d be fun.

And what’s not to love as you follow this oddball group of kids on a pirate treasure hunt? Sean Astin is the adorable hero (and he does not wear netted t-shirts and drink protein shakes in this movie!)

Boyfriend was excited to see Josh Brolin’s name in the credits (which I respond by looking up the actor. Really the only other film I have seen him in was Infinity Wars. Big shocker there when I didn’t recognize him…).

Watching Chunk in the age of political correctness was a bit cringe worthy, but his friendship with Sloth is my favorite part of the movie! Fun fact: Sloth was played by a football star. He wears an Oakland Raiders t-shirt in honor of his football team. The Superman t-shirt is a shout out to Donner’s big break, the 1978 Superman film.

5 hours of makeup right there. Not surprise.

And if you love Sloth, you also can’t help caring for his family, despite their murderous intentions. The villains are very Home Alone like, with one brother singing opera (Robert Davi really is an opera singer) and the other constantly losing his toupee while still claiming he doesn’t wear a toupee.

The only character I didn’t like in the movie was Andy’s friend, Stef (played by Martha Plimpton). She whines through the entire movie! And if she isn’t whining, then she is yelling at Mouth. Then there’s this weird sexual tension between Mouth and Stef that is wildly inappropriate. A bit of a segue, but it connects, I swear. I’m actually listening to Gillian Flynn’s Dark Places right now, and there is a similar scenario. In the novel the crush is between an older boy and younger girl, and the families involved rightfully freak out! Big difference between a Gillian Flynn novel and an 80’s movie (in case you didn’t already know that).

Boyfriend enjoyed seeing the actors in the movie really young. He compared it to Sandlot. Both are entertaining movies about a group of boys going on an adventure, whether it is against a giant English Mastiff or a one-eyes pirate named Willy. Speaking of willys (my not so suave transition here …*cringe*), one of Boyfriend’s favorite scenes was when the boys broke the mini naked man statue and end up gluing his member back on upside down (may I remind you that this movie has a PG rating). Does anyone else completely forget about that scene until you see it again?

Recent TV, like Stranger Things, brings back the nostalgia of being a child in the 80’s (and guess who is a character on the Netflix show!), it is still fun to go back and watch the movies from the decade. The kids are innocent (despite the language they use) and there is a happy ending you can count on while still sitting on the edge of your seat wondering if the kids will make it down the fireplace before the Fratelli’s get back. Or if they will fall into the giant pit because Andy didn’t practice piano enough. Who didn’t dream of going on an adventure like the goonies when they were kids?

Next movie will be one I’m going into cold. I have heard of the comedy series and I actually saw The Holy Grail on stage when I was in middle school. I still don’t know what to expect, but Boyfriend and I are ready for some British humor!

Mt. Fuji: Ancient Beauty

In the Pacific Ocean, there is a mountain that is revered by a country as the bringer of life and death.  Mt. Fuji is a physical and spiritual symbol of Japan. In 2013, it was recognized as an important symbol around the world when it earned its place on the UNESCO World Heritage list, joining other landmarks like Stonehenge and Yosemite. This means that Mt. Fuji is legally protected by international treaties (so no Iwo Jima like battles on this mountain). It stands 12,380 feet (3,776 meters) tall. The base of the mountain is  78 miles (175 km) around and sits on the junction of three tectonic plates, making it an active volcano. The last time Mt. Fuji erupted was in 1707. Despite its three hundred year nap, Japan still has an evacuation plan for the hundreds of thousands of citizens who live around the base of the volcano.

Mountain of Destruction

This has recently become a more serious concern. The 8.9 earthquake that hit Japan in 2011 caused devastation. The earthquake shook the island country for five minutes (beyond terrifying!) and was followed by numerous aftershocks (over 100). Japan’s building codes kept the high rise buildings upright, but they swayed as the ground shook and continued swaying long after the shaking stopped. Japanese citizens could not relax after the earth stopped shaking because the shift of the tectonic plates caused a destructive tsunami and whirlpool along the east coast of the island. Japan’s countryside was wiped out by the rush of water. Power was cut at the Fukishima Daiichi nuclear power plant. The backup generators couldn’t keep the core of the plant cool and an explosion followed. This has left the plant and the surrounding area a wasteland of radiation poisoning. Even today the area is unsafe for humans and remains abandoned. The Netflix show Dark Tourist has a fascinating episode where Farrier, the show’s host, takes a tour of the abandoned towns. It’s eerie.

If the repercussions of the earthquake weren’t enough for Japan, then geologists have another possible disaster to add to the list. The earthquake spread along the island, shaking the Mt. Fuji area and increasing the pressure under the mountain. The last eruption in 1707 was triggered by an 8.6 magnitude earthquake. The eruption wiped out shrines and towns at the base of the mountain and the ash and debris spread as far as Tokyo (called Edo then). The ash was so thick that people had to use candles to light their way during the day. On top of the deaths caused by the lava flow, the eruption caused famine for a decade. After the 8.9 magnitude earthquake in 2011, Japanese officials have come up with an evacuation plan that would displace 750,000 residents from areas where lava would flow and an additional 470,000 people living in areas where ash would make the air unsafe. Water and food supplies would be contaminated. Airports, trains, and highways would have shut down. It is estimated that an eruption of Mt. Fuji would cost $21 billion. Geologists continue to monitor the volcano, ready to sound the alarm is tremors exceed a safe size.

The Beauty of the Mountain

As I said earlier, Japan recognizes this amazing landmark as a source of life and death. There are many theories about the origin of the name Fuji, one of them being “fire”. However, Japan also recognizes the fertile soil and beauty of the mountain. Farms of all sizes can be found around the base of the volcano. The green views are breathtaking. I couldn’t get enough of the sites and you can’t beat a lakeside view for lunch! So it is no surprise that despite the destructive nature of the mountain, the Chinese ideogram used to write Fuji gives the name a sense of good fortune and well being.

Religion and Origins

The spiritual relevance of the mountain has been around as long as the country. Buddhism, Confucianism, Shinto, and other religious sects worshipped and continue to worship the beauty of Fuji. The Shinto tend to be the most present religion around and on top of Mt. Fuji. Their shrines sprinkle the mountain, believing that the mountain represents the gods. Monks and other worshippers make pilgrimages up the mountain. Interesting fact, women were not allowed on these pilgrimages until 1945 because they were believed impure (curse you Aunt Flow!).

One Japanese fairytale explains how Mt. Fuji became a volcano. The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter  (I’m just going to summarize it here. Click the link if you’d like to read the full story) is said to be the world’s first science fiction story (love it!). In the story a bamboo farmer finds a girl in the fields. She is only three inches tall. He takes the child home and raises her with his wife. It turns out she is the beautiful princess from the Moon who was sent away to protect her during the celestial wars (I wonder if they have made this story into a movie. Someone must have…). The princess grows up and has many admirers. Maybe she wasn’t comfortable with interspecies marriages (she is an alien after all), but she tells her father that she just isn’t ready to be married (very 21st century girl). So the princess turns all her suitors down. Even the emperor asks for her hand in marriage. She says no. The Moon people then show up and demand that the princess return home. The princess is reluctant, but she is really given no other choice.  She insists on writing to her friend, the emperor. She sends him a letter and a potion that would make him immortal. The Moon people wipe her memory of her time on Earth and forced her on a chariot back to the Moon (leaving behind a heartbroken father. Not so sure I’m liking these Moon people…). The emperor receives the princess’s final gift but could not bear the idea of living without her. He ordered that the letter and the bottle of elixir be sent to Mt. Fuji and burned so the smoke can travel to the Moon. The fire that burns inside the mountain was created when the emperor’s orders were carried out.


Mt. Fuji’s significance is seen throughout history in stories and art. One of the most famous depictions of Mt. Fuji is Katsushika Hokusai’s 36 views of Mt. Fuji. Many of us would recognize the water of The Great Wave (though, I have to admit, I never noticed Mt. Fuji in the background before), but Hokusai has dozens of others prints (46 total. This could be confusing since the series is called 36 views. The series was so popular Hokusai made ten more) showing the beauty of Mt. Fuji. He began this series in 1830 at age 70 (just goes to show that it is never too late to make your big break!) and finished them five years later. They have been an inspiration in Japanese art ever since.

Exploring Mt. Fuji

The artwork doesn’t do the mountain’s beauty justice . The view really is breathtaking and the majestic mountain in the background never grew old. I explored the towns and parks at the base of the mountain. Since my visit was in June, Mt. Fuji itself was closed to hikers. Hiking opens July 1st and continues until mid September. These are the months when there is no snow at the top of the mountain so it is safe for even novice hikers. Thousands of people flock to the mountain, many beginning their journey up at night so they could see the sunrise once they reach the top. You may want to avoid Obon Week in mid August, when the number of hikers will hit a peak, but it is said that hiking with others is part of the experience. There is a sense of comradery.

I would love to return to Japan to hike up Mt. Fuji. A trip to add to my bucket list. In the meantime, I will just have to enjoy memories of the views from below.

The Prestige: Are you watching closely?

Jean Val Jean and Batman face off in an epic magician battle in early 20th century England? Yes please!

Christopher Nolan has entertained us again in his 2006 movie, The Prestige. Like Memento, Nolan (with his brother co-writing, no surprise there) tells us the tale by jumping around the timeline. We are waiting for the “prestige” throughout the movie. Michael Caine explains in the opening that a magician’s trick consists of three parts: (1) The Pledge in which a typical scene is set (or so it would seem) (2) The Turn where something unreal is added and finally (3) The Prestige  where everything is set right again.

The Pledge

The movie takes place in the era of Harry Houdini, who is not mentioned at all in the movie (but I’m going to talk about him anyway). Houdini was born in Budapest, Hungary in 1874. He was named Ehrich Weisz (Houdini is a bit more catchy, I can see why he had a stage name). His family moved to the United States and that’s where he began his magic career. People were awed by his escapes. He escaped handcuffs and jails as well as straight jackets and coffins. Between his strength and talent in controlling where his audience looked, he seemed actually magical!

Eventually, he stepped away from the stage and used his knowledge of magic to debunk mediums and psychics. He actually wrote a book called A Magician Among Spirits. Houdini death is infamous. He had a college student punch him in the gut as part of his show. That blow ruptured his appendix and when Houdini refused to get medical help (dumbie) he died from the injury. I’d like to think Houdini would have been at peace dying because of his magic, though I’d think dying in your sleep from old age still would have been preferred.

Back to The Prestige!

Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) are magician apprentices. They work together as plants in the audience. They get along well enough, until Borden ties the wrong knot and kills the magician’s assistant (Piper Perabo) in a water box trick gone horribly wrong. The assistant was Angier’s wife and this begins a dangerous rivalry between the two men.

On a side note, I had to look up when CPR was first used after watching this movie. This was the second movie in a week that a woman drown (the other one was a Lifetime movie. Don’t judge! Go check out Escaping the Madhouse: the Nellie Bly Story. It stars Christina Ricci, how can it not be good?) and all the other people did was yell her name and shake her. It’s very frustrating to watch. So I googled it. CPR was first used in the US military in the 1960s. So I guess the movies were historically (and maddeningly) accurate…

After the tragic accident, the two men begin their careers as magicians. Borden is a talented magician, but lacks the glam of being a stage performer, while Angier is a decent magician, but a wonderful showman. For example, Angier seeks revenge for his wife’s death by sabotaging Borden’s bullet catch, leaving him two fingers short. Borden then retaliates and ruins Angier’s big break in a popular theater. They go back and forth for a while, with no one actually winning, just a lot of twisting of mustaches and maniacal laughing.

I really felt for Angier at the beginning. They did a good job at setting up the happy marriage. Her death and his grief really was a tragedy. Then Borden insisted on claiming that he couldn’t remember what knot he tied, refusing to fully admit fault in the death; I had little sympathy for him. That changed as the movie progressed, though. The plot took a twist and did something very cool.

The Turn

Everything changed when Angier sat in the audience and Borden performed his newest trick: The Transporting Man. The trick was quick. Borden bounced a rubber ball and stepped into a closet. He then instantly re-appeared out of a closet on the opposite side of the stage to catch the ball. The audience actually missed the magic of the trick. Borden didn’t have the showmanship to really display the trick’s genius. but Angier caught it. He couldn’t figure out how he did (insisting on a double not being possible, though Caine suggested that a half a dozen times).

In search of the secret to the trick, Angier finds himself in the United States to consult Tesla (played by David Bowie). This is where the movie steers away from reality and into science fiction (no complaints from my end!). Tesla is able to make a machine that actually transports objects, animals, and people. No trick. Actual magic. Angier is successful. He could finally beat Borden.

The Prestige

I don’t want to spoil it! If you haven’t seen the film (this movie is already over ten years old…), you’ll have to see the big reveal for yourself.

I was able to call half of it (Boyfriend made me write my prediction down so I couldn’t cheat. I said: “I would never!”, but also jotted it down on an old receipt.) I was able to figure out Angier’s prestige, but not Borden’s. That was a great reveal! There were breadcrumbs dropped throughout the movie, which really makes or breaks a plot twist. I’m going to have to rewatch it to see if there were any hints I missed this first time.

I also liked that by the end of the movie, my opinion of the characters changed. I was rooting for grieving Angier, but by the end I was on team Borden. The shift was nicely done, and both were complex and interesting characters that really pulled me into the movie.

There is so much I didn’t mention from this movie. Borden has a daughter, Angier ends up with a drunk body double, and I didn’t even touch on Borden’s wife! All of it was great, and too much to go into for one post. The Prestige was a success for Boyfriend and me. We even watched this one on a weeknight and no one fell asleep! That’s an accomplishment.

Next up is an 80’s classic! Boyfriend hasn’t seen this one, so we’ll see what he thinks!

Edinburgh: Who doesn’t Enjoy a good story with serial killers and penguins?

From volcanoes to serial killers, and unicorns to penguin knights, no one can ever claim that Edinburgh has a boring history.

We didn’t make it to Arthur’s Seat on this trip. It’s a must see for next time!
Photo Credit: Eden Ashley

Glaciers slowly formed the hills that surround present day Edinburgh. It’s believed that celtic tribes settled around Arthur’s Seat thousands of years ago. The twenty minute hike up this hill will take you to a possible location of Camelot. The mystery of Arthur’s Seat was further mystified when seventeen miniature coffins with small wooden figures inside were unearthed in 1836. Today you can marvel at the view of the city. One sight you will see is Edinburgh castle built on top of an extinct volcano. Below are the winding streets and alleyways that make up the ancient city.

The English named the city when it was still just a fort built on top of a rock. England captured the fort on Castle Rock and dubbed it Eiden burgh (with burgh meaning fort). Over hundreds of years the fort would exchange hands between Scotland and England in a series of battles. In that time, the castle and abbey were built. An alternative to monks (who took a vow of silence and solitude) helped the community during this time. Friars (who still lived in the abbey, but did not take a vow of silence or solitude) lived in the southern outskirts of Edinburgh. The ruins of the abbey look beautiful. Unfortunately, I was not able to see it in person during my trip.

There was so much to see and we had so little time in Edinburgh! We didn’t make it to the abbey (the ruins look gorgeous. I’m bummed we didn’t make it).

In 1707 the fighting between England and Scotland stopped. England left Scotland’s capital city and Edinburgh began to grow.

It grew a lot (a lot, alot), and buildings began growing up to accommodate the tens of thousands of people living in the city. The first high rise buildings were built along Edinburgh’s Royal Mile, a 1.81 mile stretch of road that connects Edinburgh Castle and the Palace Holyroodhouse (the palace was built when the royal family decided they no longer wanted to live in the cold drafty castle).

A city so old has a long history. There are few interesting highlights from these ancient stone sidewalks that would be fun to keep in mind as you are enjoying the pubs and restaurants and exploring the small alleyways.

The alleyways really do transport you into the past. The small side streets housed the poor. They were filthy and many people died of disease. Two men, though, decided to take advantage of the overcrowded city. The Death Act of 1823 dropped the number of crimes eligible for the punishable by death. This should have been great news for society, but the medical community suffered. Cadavers of condemned criminals used to be readily available to doctors, but with the new law, the number of condemned cadavers dropped significantly (I feel like if these doctors were alive today with this same conundrum, we may refer to this as a “first world problem”). Grave robbing became common. Thieves would steal the bodies from the graves and sell them to the university, the fresher the body the more they were paid (gross).

William Burke and William Hare lived on the same street. Burke lived with his mistress, Helen McDougal (his wife and children had been abandoned back in Ireland. Classy guy), and Hare ran a boarding house with Margaret Laird with the two being essentially common law man and wife. While Burke and Hare are really the ones who have gone down in history as Edinburgh serial killers, all four of them, including the women, participated in the crimes.

One of Laird and Hare’s tennants, an elderly man, died of natural causes while staying in the boarding house. Since he died with a debt owed to Laird and Hare, Hare and Burke decided they had every right to take his very fresh corpse down to the university and sell it to science. The man owed four pounds in rent. The university paid Burke and Hare seven pounds and ten shillings for the body. It was an easy made three pounds and ten shillings, and the men discovered a lucrative endeavour.

Photo Credit: The Lineup

The two couples worked together and killed at least sixteen people. They got cocky, though (always the serial killer’s downfall, right?). The university began to recognize the bodies being brought in, one being a handicapped children’s entertainer. The man’s deformed foot gave the killers away.

Marjoy Campbell Docherty was the last victim. She was a lodger along with two others, James and Ann Gray. Burke killed poor Marjoy and hid her body under a bed. Suspicious of their host’s behavior, the Grays went into the room Marjoy was hidden. They found the body, turned down the bribe offered to them to keep quiet, and notified the police (they sound like good people).

Everything unraveled at this point. Police found clothing from victims stashed in the boarding house. Witnesses testified how they recognized the cadavers brought to the university. Hare was granted immunity in return for his testimony against Burke (did he get a deal or what??). The women fled the country, Helen going to Australia and Margaret to Ireland. Burke was found guilty and hanged for his crimes. His body was then rightfully donated to the university. His skeleton is still on display at Surgeon’s Hall in Edinburgh.

Hare was released based on the deal made with the court and he was able to get away to England. No one really knows what happened to him after that, but one rumor says that an angry mob attacked Hare and threw him into a lime quarry. Hare was blinded and lived the rest of his days as a beggar in London. I’d like to think this rumor is true.

There is actually a movie based on this story. It came out in 2010. Definitely a dark comedy. Based on the commercial, I’m not so sure it’s any good…

These murders led to the Anatomy Act of 1832, which allowed doctors greater access to cadavers and bodies could now be legally donated to science. A hard lesson learned, for sure.

Edinburgh is not all dark, though! Yes, the stone clad city is overcome by gray, but today the city is very well known for its festivals. One festival in particular made me smile: The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo (where members of the military get tattooed along the Royal Mile. Just kidding! Tattoo actually refers to the last call to duty for the day). One member of the military was just promoted a few years ago.

Nils Olav was knighted by King Harald V of Norway in 2008. This tradition has brought Norway and Scotland together since the 70’s and still continues with Nis Olav’s promotion to brigadier in 2016. The penguin is the mascot of Norway’s royal guard, and these festive ceremonies have become a way of honoring the countries’ relationship (dare I say friendship?). The king has been visiting the penguin every few years since 1972, promoting him each time. David Allfrey, Chief Executive of the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo described the event perfectly, calling it a “charming tradition.”

Which brings me to my final fun fact. This one is about Edinburgh’s country. Scotland is a land filled with a history of legends and folklore. As a child, I loved to read stories of Scotland’s mythical creatures, so what could be a more perfect choice in a national animal than a unicorn. Now, if only they could find this majestic creature and knight it!

Bewildering Stories Issue 793

I just have a quick post today. I’m very excited to share my first published story!

My flash fiction, Sombreron, can be found in the latest issue of the webizine (a clever name for an online magazine) called Bewildering Stories. I had a great time working with the editors at the webizine and know that this will be the first of many stories I will get published.

It’s a quick read. Take a look and let me know what you think in the comments below!

I as happy as Ron Swanson when Pawnee’s government cut funding!

Oh! That Film Blog: Meet the Blogger

Most of us have that childhood memory that makes us smile. Maybe that memory is time spent at a grandparent’s house feeding the pet rabbit carrots. Or it’s an annual camping trip where you roasted (or burnt, set a flame, whatever) marshmallows over the fire. Or maybe the memory is sitting down with your mother to watch The Rocky Horror Picture Show at four years old.

Amy, the writer of Oh! That Film Blog, began her movie journey with the 1975 cult classic. The “transexual trensvestites of Transylvania” guided her into the world of Hollywood and she never turned back. At sleepovers, she brought movies to share her love of stories with friends. Now she has moved onto a bigger audience, writing reviews on her blog. She has gone from collecting VHS tapes and DVDs to monetizing her passion online, an adventure I’m sure is worthy of a movie itself (the next Netflix original?).

Growing up requires a big action, a choice that really sets a person on a path: their job. Now Amy’s blog doesn’t allow her to quit her day job, but it does cover her movie tickets. She describes this achievement as her proudest moment blogging (who wouldn’t?). Through her writing, Amy has turned her love of movies into a paid gig, undertaking the clichéd advice: follow your dreams.

You see your favorite in there?

But deciding on your passion in life and pursuing it is a lot easier said than done. Cal Newport, author of So Good They Can’t Ignore You, said it beautifully:

“Passion is not something you follow. Passion is something that will follow you as you put in the hard work to become valuable to the world.”

Successful people, like Walt Disney or Bill Gates, all claim that they are doing what they love and this has helped their career, but there is always a second piece to their success. Hard work (like, really hard work).

Chris Gardner, a man you might picture as Will Smith in The Pursuit of Happyness (I admit, I haven’t seen this movie. I know it’ll make me cry), explains that passion is just the motivator that gets you out of bed in the morning. I think most of us can agree that getting up can be one of the hardest tasks of the day. I know that I hate the idea of leaving my soft, warm bed, especially when I have my feline friends curled up beside me.

So what gets you up?

For Gardner, it was his job, his decision to be “world class” in his field so companies couldn’t run without him.

Amy has worked to become a world class movie reviewer. At first the blog was a creative outlet, but she soon discovered that this distraction from college papers was was an actual commitment. She had to be disciplined to publish regular posts. As a fellow blogger, I completely understand. Writing a nine hundred word post takes time that you have to intentionally make in your day. Additional time is needed to ensure your work is well written and enjoyable. Amy has accomplished this with her movie reviews, and if she ever feeling unmotivated to put the hours in, she has her followers to keep her in check.

And when I mention followers, these are people from around the world. How cool is the internet? Where else could you sit on your couch (I don’t know where Amy works on her blogs, that was a personal reference), record your thoughts, and someone on the other side of the world hears you? Amy explained that the internet is an escape. And why not, when you could escape to Paris with just a few taps of the mouse pad? On top of escaping, ideas are shared with people you never would have happened upon. The internet really is a great tool and Amy is utilizing it with her movie blog.

People look to reviews to get an overall idea of the movie’s quality. This can be difficult for a movie reviewer when the movie is flawed. Amy described how it is especially difficult when the movie isn’t good, but stars in it are renowned actors and actresses (I may have been guilty of not giving a broad opinion of Good Will Hunting...oops!). She solves this problem by choosing to view movies that she believes she’d enjoy. Now, I’m sure everyone can relate, this can’t always be controlled. So when she does come across a movie that she didn’t like, she reminds herself to stay as unbiased as possible. Go check out her work for yourself. I think her reviews read positive. They are helpful overviews of the movie and have gotten me to add a few more movies to my bucket list!

Writing in general is an independent task. I really do appreciate the time Amy took to talk to me about her experience blogging. And if you’re ever trying to figure out what to do with your Saturday night, go check out Amy’s blog. I think she may be able to recommend something for a movie night.

The Paris Catacombs: Secrets and History

You are wondering around Paris in July. It’s hot, but coffee shops and restaurants are crowded with Parisians and tourists. What do you do?

Go underground of course!

The complex network of tunnels under Paris is cool and refreshing. For just 12 euros, you can travel through the tunnels and cool off. You may even need a jacket!

Lining the walls of the tunnel is an elaborate display of bones. This may seem dark and morbid, but I found it to be more of a curiosity than anything creepy. The bones are hundreds of years old placed there before there was even a city above it.

Gist of a translation: The work started in 1777 and was finished in 1782

In the late 1700s Paris had a problem. Between the age of the city (it was founded in 3rd century BC, almost 2,000 years before this 18th century AD problem), and the massive amounts of deaths caused by disease and famine, bodies were literally piling up in the French city. In fact, there was a literal flood of bodies when a flood broke the the perimeter of cemeteries, unburying and flowing the corpses into the street. It was a smelly problem.

So, in 1777, King Louis XVI ordered the movement of Paris’s corpses to some abandoned quarries outside of the city. These quarries contained limestone that was mined to build up the city of Paris. Now they were an abandoned tunnel system ready for millions of bones.

And I do mean millions. The bones of 6 million people are buried in the catacombs.

Workers started by just throwing the bones into the underground tunnels, but they began to get creative. Napoleon, keeping with his flashy style, actually had some forethought here. Inspired by the Roman catacombs (Yes, there are catacombs in Rome too. I had no idea! They are much more architecturally elaborate, brought on by Christian persecution and a law against burying the dead in within city walls. What’s the worst that could happen burying the dead in the cirty?), he ordered the bones be placed in a display for future tourists. This is what you can see now with the bones arranged in piles of tibias and femurs, as well as in shapes like crosses and hearts.

One worker, Decuré, spent his spare time in the catacombs carving the stone. One of those renderings was the Citadel of Mahon, a church on an island in Spain, (random enough for you?). You can still see it today. Other exhibits, like the ancient bones of the deformed (so morbidly curious about this one), and a display of the types of minerals found in the tunnels (not so curious about this one though), are no longer open to the public.

Not open to the public, though, is not stopping Cataphiles (catacomb lovers and explorers). A group of Parisians have taken their curiosity and love of adventure to the next level, finding and making new entrances and exits into the catacombs. They explore tunnels not part of the public tour, as well as open restaurants and movie theaters underneath Paris.

Some of it is legal. In the 19th century, Farmers discovered wild mushrooms is the cool dark caverns and began planting them intentionally. You can still find farmers tending to their mushroom crop. Supposedly, you can even walk away with your own handful of button mushrooms if you visit.

Airbnb has also offered a room in the catacombs for a spooky Halloween evening! The room is set up for a whole romantic evening, including a candlelit dinner. Guests enjoy their night by agreeing to respect the catacombs “as you would your own grave”. Learn more about this unusual rental here, reported by a Parisian and fellow blogger.

Legality does not stop explorers though. One summer, Parisians took advantage of the freshwater pools in the old quarry tunnels. In the tunnels, police found a movie theater set up next to a restaurant with only a note saying: Try to find us! One blogger asked a cataphile to take her down for an illegal tour of the tombs. You can see her tour here. It’s pretty cool; if you are at all curious, I highly recommend it. I can imagine it gave everyone quite an adrenaline rush!

One thing you don’t see on the tour are the bunkers from World War II. The French and Germans used the catacombs to keep their movements secret.

I did not partake in any illegal activity on my tour of the catacombs. I was on a three week Europe vacation with my sister. As two scary movie lovers, the plans for our stop in Paris had to include the catacombs.

Is it weird to be smiling in front of a pile of bones?

It started with a dizzying trip down a narrow spiral staircase, and then a seemingly never ending tunnel surrounded by human bones. As I said earlier, it was surprisingly not spooky. Maybe creep factor was ruined by having a whole tour group walking through the tunnels along with us. I wonder if I would have felt the same going on a smaller tour or an illegal one like the cataphiles take.

The catacombs was a unique experience. Where else would it be socially acceptable to pile bones in underground tunnels (Don’t get me wrong. Workers started this project at night to avoid push back from the citizen, but once the deed was done, everyone was okay with it)? Not only are the catacombs accepted, they are sought out. We waited in line at 8:30 in the morning to get our turn in the underground tomb (travel tip! Go on the first Sunday of the month and your tour is free!).

And you can’t forget the gift shop!

Has anyone else visited Paris’s catacombs? What about Rome’s? What was your experience like? Let me know on the comments below!