Thursday, April 29, 2010
Again, I think this is a martial arts film in a rather loose sense. Certainly there is great fighting and weapons combat, but it is more about armies and strategy and characters than about one-on-one hand-to-hand combat. The tone of the movie has much in common with most martial arts movies.
Don't watch the short version that was released in the US! Get the full 4-5 hour 2-disc international release version. Kudos to John Woo for an amazing film!
Wednesday, April 28, 2010
The villa Jim and I stayed at in St. John had many novels, and I found this one. Since it was a sea adventure, it seemed a fitting read for the poolside. I got hooked very quickly. In some places it's a bit silly but it really struck me as a kind of homage to all those pirate/swashbuckler sea novels from the past, such as Captain Blood or Treasure Island.
It wasn't published during his life, so I don't know if he was working on it and didn't finish it or if it was a sort of lark for him. In any case, I enjoyed it. A pleasant surprise as I find it very hard to sift through contemporary writers in order to pick something worthwhile. Though, like I said, this was definitely not a deep book. Have some fun!
Tuesday, April 27, 2010
I asked my parents to explain what the Tea Party was for, and all I got was 'small government'. Well, what the hell does that mean? "What are you going to cut," I asked. "All the pork," was the answer. I am now convinced that the Tea Party are a group of upset people blurting out slogans when prodded with intelligent questions.
The problem is that one person's pork is another person's justified government spending. I'd love to see how quickly some of these tea partiers stop whining about socialism and big government if anyone asked them to put their money where their big mouths are and send back their Social Security, Medicare, and/or Medicaid checks.
Monday, April 26, 2010
Said goodbye to Rocky, took a last look at the iguanas, and cast longing glances at the hammock and the pool. However, I think we'll be back someday. Even though we did a lot of new stuff this trip, there's still plenty more we could do. For such a small island, St. John has a great deal to explore.
This final shot is a picture of a rainbow we saw from the deck as a small storm blew by out at sea. I'll post it here as a sign that we'll return.
Sunday, April 25, 2010
This past year, I have tried more different kinds of spirits that at any other time in my life. To my surprise, I'm finding that I like quite a few of them. Jack Daniel's is my drink of choice, with coke or straight. I just like that charcoal-whiskey flavor. Didn't care for Southern Comfort. And now, Pete made his lime gimlet. I love them, but they sure pack a punch! I was pretty loopy after one (I'm a total light-weight). Luckily, I was already home. Definitely took the edge off!
Later that night I re-ventured into the waters of eBay. I've started reading my second Horatio Hornblower novel (Ship Of The Line), but it's all in paperback. EBay had for auction a three novel set in hardcover of the first three Hornblower novels which are all set during the time he is a captain. The set comes with a slip case, so I thought that was kind of cool. We'll see if I win!
We did the extra .3 miles to petroglyphs over much easier ground. As you could tell from the photos so far, everything around us was very much about forest and dirt and tree roots everywhere. When we got to the petroglyphs site, it was a very different story. We came to a natural spring that has been there for over a thousand years and, all rising all around it were these wrinkled walls of stone. Some vines dangled down from the tops, but otherwise these walls and much of the ground were now solid rock. So the environment was completely unlike the rest of the jungle. In the picture above, the pool is behind Jim and some petroglyphs are in the lower right.
After that we started the long hike back up (and I do me up, as in on an incline) the 1.8 miles back to the jeep. It was pretty humid by this point, so we were sweating pretty good. At the jeep, we had out ice chest with fresh supplies of cool water waiting. Tasted so good!
After that we drove to the East End to try and find Haulover Bay, but it wasn't easy to locate parking or a path down since locals mainly know about this place. Since it was pretty late, we were a bit too tired to make a huge effort. And, since we knew the pool was waiting, we thought: "Let's go home!" Plus we were getting hungry and tonight was Uncle Joe's BBQ for dinner.
Uncle Joe's is in Cruz Bay. It's an open air stand where they cook ribs and other food and, since the kitchen is open air too, it's not unusual to see wild chickens running around. Despite the lack of ambiance and the revolving door of grouchy young people who work there, the BBQ is amazing! We actually had it twice while we were on the island. Spent some time that night, staring up at the stars. I remembered enough of astronomy to pick out Sirius, Betelgeuse (the red supergiant that - when it explodes - will be visible on Earth even in the day!), and Rigel (a massive blue star). Nice quiet way to end our - unfortunately - last full day on St. John.
Saturday, April 24, 2010
Friday, April 23, 2010
Thursday, April 22, 2010
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
In terms of martial arts movies, this one isn't straight forward hand-to-hand combat. There's definite skills of that kind in evidence, but the battles are often much larger scale. In any case, the battles are massive in size and very well shot. There are a few over the top acrobatics that make you roll your eyes a little bit, and they are especially unwelcome given the generally gritty feel of the battles. I think the excess was too much given the already impressive battle choreography.
Although there is a big epic sweep in the scope of the movie, there is a strong focus on characters as well. It's a little tough to keep all the players straight at first, but you slowly catch on as to who is who and who's on what side. I especially like the loud, wild haired general (not sure what his name was), as well as the tomboy princess. The two male leads (played by Tony Leung and Takeshi Kaneshiro who also starred in the excellent House of Flying Daggers) are great characters, though there is a bit of homoeroticism involved in their connection that I have to admit I enjoy a bit! In any case, the balance of intimate character scenes and big battles is nearly perfect.
The blu-ray came today, and I'm sure I'll be watching part two this weekend! Can't wait to see how it all ends!
As I was swimming, I stood up to adjust my mask when someone from the beach called out to ask how the snorkeling was. I looked up to see...lesbians! They were very nice, and we traded a few bay stories. They told me a giant stingray had been in the water swimming in the opposite direction as Jim and I. That's a metaphor for life, ain't it?
We didn't spend too much time at Maho, so we went back towards Lienster Bay to hike around some of the Annaberg Sugar Plantation ruins. St. John has ruins of sugar plantations all over the place, but these were the least ruined we have seen so far. What bothers me about some of these places is the tendency to sugarcoat what was going on. I mean, they don't hesitate to say that labor was slaves or anything like that. However, Annaberg has a room called 'The Dungeon' that was found with a post and shackles in one corner. It was here that (so the placard said, and I'm paraphrasing): 'severe discipline was dealt'. Can't we just say 'where the slaves were whipped and tortured'? After all, we all know what went on. I may be getting picky over language, but what's the harm in being upfront about this stuff? I noticed they hadn't yet found time to replace the post and shackles as part of the upkeep of the ruins.
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
I bought my first Gang Starr album in 1992, and what an album it was: Daily Operation. I lucked out big time, because it's still the CD I consider the best rap album ever made. Deep lyrics, great beats, minimalist production, and one-of-a-kind MC-ing. It just never got better than that.
I followed Guru and Premier, both as Gang Starr and as solo artists. In fact, in 1996, I saw Guru perform live at the Metro in support of his Jazzmatazz, Vol. II album. The always scintillating Vanessa Daou opened for him, and then he came out with jazz legend Donald Byrd and performed a kick-ass show. Me and a friend were grooving and dancing amid an audience of every ethnicity. I've never seen such a diverse crowd at a show, before or since. It was an amazing night. And, yes, I got the T-shirt which I keep in a 'time capsule' of all sorts of belongings from that period of my life.
After that, Gang Starr reunited for a couple more albums, but they ultimately broke up. After that, Guru's music inexplicably became everything he had been fighting against during his career. So, even though the best days of his career were behind him, it's still very sad to know that such a great writer and performer is gone. He will be missed.
See ya at the crossroads.
Monday, April 19, 2010
Knowing we would be tanning on the pool deck, I created a playlist for my ipod that I could pipe out onto the deck through the sound system. I picked songs that were laid back and often with a little South American flavor. Here's the playlist, and I hope maybe it's one that can be useful to others. It was very relaxing to zone out to this stuff while baking in the sun or lying in the hammock.
Venasque - Ian Pooley
Tropicalia - Blue Six
Surrender - Michiko
Momento - Bebel Gilberto
Tell Me - Wax Poetic
Speck Of Gold - Afterlife
Looking For The Sun - Aya
Quando Das Um Pouco Mais - Sara Tavares
Le Monde - Thievery Corporation
Sem Resposta - Celso Fonseca
Kissing - Bliss
Slippin' - Aya
Chiquita - Pacifika
En Cada Lugar - Federico Aubele
Ponto De Luz - Sara Tavares
Quedate - Andrea Echeverri
I've Given Enough - Blue Six
All Around - Bebel Gilberto
Feels So Nice - Michiko
Makeda - Les Nubians
Go Easy - Afterlife
Saudosismo - Rosalia De Souza
Azul - Bebel Gilberto
Moonchild - Cibo Matto
Searching - Nobukazu Takemura
Cafe Latino - PJR Peter Rooke
I Would For You - Vanessa Daou
Deep Surprise - Samantha James
Juliette - Vanessa Daou
Rain - Samantha James
Spirits - Latrice
New Beautiful Life - Newton
Besos De Sal - Federico Aubele
Previsao - Bossacucanova
Gafieira - Paula Lima
Nunca Mais - Zuco 103
It's actually not quite that romantic here, because the bay below the villa (Hart Bay) is not real hospitable. It's very rocky and in the rough water the sea grass is full of sea urchins the size of basketballs. The wind keeps things pretty choppy and rough. When we snorkeled here last time, Jim wasn't real keen on being tossed about by waves with the aforementioned sea urchins all around. I'm not foolhardy enough (so far) to go snorkeling here alone. The word is though that you can see sharks in the channel off this bay, which would really be something!
And just getting down to Hart Bay is a challenge/work out. There's a path from our villa to the bay, but it's very steep and made up of indifferently strewn jagged boulders running through tall grass and cacti. It's pretty thick undergrowth (see picture), and full of critters: iguanas (see picture), scorpions, spiders, anoles, assorted birds and lizards, and who knows what else! Oh yeah, and mosquitoes during some parts of the day and bugs that bite (no-see-ums?). But it didn't stop me from heading down. At heart, I'm that kid who has to put his hand on the stove to know it's still hot.
The iguana in this pic is a male (I think), and we called him Big Daddy. He looked to be around three or four feet long, and he always sunned himself on a cacti just off our deck. He was like clockwork, sunning between 7 and 8 in the morning and 4 to 6 in the evening. There was always two or three smaller iguanas in his cacti (his harem, I'm guessing?)
Anyway, by the time I got down to Hart Bay, I'd pushed through brush, swept spider webs out of my way, and probably done several things an experienced hiker would have groaned at. And I was sweaty! So it wasn't especially pleasant getting down there, and the climb back up was definitely not fun. Regardless, I had had my morning stroll.
Aside from trying to spot as many iguanas as we could from the porch (I think we saw five on the cacti right near the villa) and trying to find anoles and other small lizards (seemed to be less of them this year), I have little to report about this day. That's right, we did nothing. NOTHING! We ate breakfast at a snail's pace, tanned all morning, swam in the pool, and then I had my daily siesta in the hammock. Then it was lunch, tan, pool, dinner, and a relaxing night with cards, books, and the stars. Life in the real world had gone slap right out of our pretty little heads, and I'm proud to say we kept it exiled for the entire stay. Work/Life may be about balance, but we were fully committed to being totally unbalanced in favor of Life.
Sunday, April 18, 2010
The villa website is http://www.andantebythesea.com/. It's hard to do justice to the place in photos, but I've made an attempt with this panorama shot (click to make it much, much bigger). The railing looks all jaggeddy because it's something like a 270-degree view merged together.
Andante has everything: amazing views, privacy, a hammock in the shade of the lower deck, a big grill on the patio, a private pool and hot tub, a sound system that lets you play music anywhere in the house or decks via your ipod, and the ability to watch the sun rise and the sun set. There's also a great breeze that keeps the place cool enough so you don't need AC. The villa sits on the side of a mountain/hill, and there's a steep trail down to the bay below (Hart Bay). Not much of a beach, but the snorkeling is rumored to be pretty good. We've only given the snorkeling there a trial run so far...maybe another year we'll really check it out.
The best thing I can say about this place is that, even with all St. John has to offer, it's sometimes a tough choice whether to go out in the jeep and explore the island or kick back at the villa all day to tan and swim.
For those who don't know, St. John is - unlike the other U.S. Virgin Islands - almost entirely set aside as a National Park. It's largely unspoiled, largely undeveloped, has no night life to speak of, and is not crowded. I think there's only something like 4,000 people on the whole island. Even when the cruise ships come by (and I think they land at St. Thomas), the most adventurous cruise ship denizens ferry to St. John and take these 30-seater taxis to specific 'must see' beaches. So it's easy to avoid the herds, and we often had entire beaches to ourselves or with only a few other people around.
I've put two maps in this entry (click to open) that show exactly where this island paradise is located, and I'll be posting entries just as I did with the London trip. I didn't enter anything down on St. John because I didn't bring my laptop with me. Not that there was a chance in hell I was going to log into my work email or surf YouTube rather than go outside, but part of me wanted to leave the PC and everything it represents behind.
Nice idea, but I'll never do that again! The villa had wi-fi, so I could have pulled up star charts to identify the stars we saw at night, done my blog entries on site, and maybe even researched some deep sea fishing places. Plus I could have watched DVDs on a nice large screen during the plane ride down. I should have trusted myself more. Next time, the laptop comes!
Anyway, on to the entries...
Tuesday, April 6, 2010
Monday, April 5, 2010
While surfing their website, I found this video. I'm not sure if this is strictly something created as a clip for the song or if this was a real wedding. However, if gay marriage is ever legalized, I would love it if our ceremony could have this kind of carefree energy.
Sunday, April 4, 2010
Beat To Quarters was written in 1937, so there's a lot more psychology in this book than in earlier periods of lit. That said, the book is mostly a sea adventure, rather than anything deep like Melville. The core of the book is the character of Horatio Hornblower, and it works because he seems very real to me. He's an excellent sailor and captain, heroic really, but in his own mind he has a lot of doubts and he views himself as cowardly and weak. Naturally, he always keeps a 'stiff upper lip' before his men.
I found that his internal dialogue helped me relate to the situations in the book in a greater degree, as it made me understand more clearly what was at stake in each situation. Hornblower certainly has flaws, but Beat To Quarters was written well before the 'flawed hero' transformed into today's whining anti-hero, so there's no sense of the author begging you to pity his hero. There's still enough of that old Romanticist tradition in the story to keep this an engaging adventure story.
The plot is rather thin, overall, but I found it to be a diverting read with a well-drawn main character. I actually felt like I learned something about leadership based on the qualities and behaviors Hornblower engaged in. I'll probably start reading the books in order of his life if/when I pick up the next one.
Saturday, April 3, 2010
I only wish that I had brought my ipod hookup so I could have listened to some out of control techno. That would have been nirvana! Or some of that death metal I was writing about before. Pretty yellow car and Celtic Frost. Sounds like a great combo to me!
The business trip was a big success, so everything worked out well all around.