Mundane Monday: Sand

Sometimes the Mundane Monday photo challenge is a challenge–I do it on Tuesday, or it’s not really mundane, or I use it as an excuse to write about geocaching, or I search my photo library for something that kinda fits and get creative–whatever. Since Jithin at photrablogger stopped doing it each week it has become a little more free form, which fits my style anyway. But, this week it all comes together with this picture:

SandalSand

Yep, that’s my sandal-clad foot next to some sand.

IMG_3783This is actually a geocache near Leuven, Belgium. My family stopped there on our way to Brussels. This is a subclass of geocache called an “earth cache,” which teaches you something about geology. In order to log an earth cache on the geocaching website, instead of finding a logbook in a container and signing it, you have to answer some questions about rock formations you find at the site.

The sand is incongruous. It doesn’t seem to belong here in the forest. This particular site is completely dry, but if you look closer there is evidence of a former sea bed in the area, with fossilized worm holes in the rocks.

IMG_3782

When we were in Paris 2 years ago we found a number of earth caches there too. Many of the big cathedrals and city halls of Europe are built with stones containing fossils, fossils left when the old sea beds dried up.

 

 

Advertisements

Thursday “Tors”: Brandenburg

So I am here in Berlin, and I have wifi. Woot!

“Tor,” which sounds a lot like “door,” is the German word for gate. (It’s also the German word for “goal,” which you’ll be hearing a lot of with the World Cup about to start). The most famous Tor in Berlin, and perhaps in all of Europe, is the Brandenburger Tor. According to wikipedia, “the Brandenburg Gate was often a site for major historical events and is today considered not only as a symbol of the tumultuous history of Europe and Germany, but also of European unity and peace.”

I lived in Germany for 8 months in 1983. I graduated from high school young and took a gap year between high school and college, living with my family while my professor father took a sabbatical at the Freie Universitaet in Berlin.

This is what the Brandenburger Tor looked like back then, in a picture I took with a Kodak Instamatic. You could only see the back of the chariot on top, from a distance, behind the Berlin Wall, and the whole structure was pretty dirty.

“Achtung! Sie verlassen West-Berlin”

“Attention! You are leaving West Berlin,” the sign informs you, in case you were confused about the concrete wall, the no-man’s land, and the guard towers nearby.

BrandenburgGateWall
Brandenburg Gate from the West, May 1983

(Admittedly, the faded color printing doesn’t help, but it’s held up surprisingly well for 35 years.)

This is what it looks like today, from the other side, on the famous avenue, “Unter den Linden.” The gate itself has been cleaned up, the wall is gone, and there are tourists everywhere.

IMG_3514

This souvenir shop now hangs the opposite sign over its door: “ACHTUNG Sie verlassen jetzt Ost-Berlin” (Attention you are now leaving East Berlin). Our kids, who weren’t yet born when the wall fell, don’t remember anything different. To them, Berlin’s Tor has always been open.

Achtung

Thursday Doors is a weekly feature allowing door lovers to come together to admire and share their favorite door photos from around the world. Feel free to join in on the fun by creating your own Thursday Doors post each week and then sharing it, between Thursday morning and Saturday noon (North American eastern time) at Norm 2.0’s blog here.

 

Mundane Monday: Fingerprints

This week’s Mundane Monday theme #164 is “A Use for Hands.” I am posting it on Tuesday because of European hotel wifi bandwidth failure.

Last week my hands were used in a fingerprint forensics STEM outreach activity.

There are 3 classes of fingerprints: arch, loop, and whorl. Arch is the least common, with only 5% of fingers in the USA exhibiting an arch print. My right index finger happens to have a good arch.

IMG_3492

So, I made a bunch of examples.

IMG_3493

They were used in an outreach activity at a STEM festival last weekend. Kids who came to the booth had to figure out who stole the candy, based on fingerprint, hair, and cryptology evidence.

Here’s one of the suspects. (My hair is not really pink: it’s an app!)

IMG_3494Mug shot of the Strawberry Snatcher

Book Review: Druid’s Portal by Cindy Tomamichel

Druid's Portal: The First Journey (Druid's Portal, #1)Druid’s Portal: The First Journey by Cindy Tomamichel

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I don’t usually read time travel romance but I have heard that it is a full-fledged genre. I think the main reason it doesn’t generally appeal to me is the thought of having to live, as a woman, in a pre-feminist era. I don’t think any love story would be worth that. But perhaps the better examples of the genre manage to find a way around or through this problem. Druid’s Portal does.

The protagonist, Janet, is a history professor who knows a great deal about Celtic lore and the druids. I found this aspect of the book to be quite interesting and extensively researched. I had tended to think of druids as benign priests of nature, but the author here shows that their legends and lore have a dark side. She also invokes a deity, Bridgette, who takes the souls of humans who use the time-travel portal more than 3 times and for their own gain. Bridgette makes a powerful villain, but I have not been able to find anything about her in a cursory internet search. The closest that I have come is to reading about the Goddess Brigid, who, according to wikipedia is associated with the spring season, fertility, healing, poetry and smithcraft. This Brigid too seems like she could be a good, rather than destructive presence.

As the book opens, Janet is grieving the loss of her fiancee, Damon, who was abusive while they were together and who abruptly ended their engagement. She knows she is better off without him, but misses him nonetheless. After a break-in in the museum where she works, Janet finds an artifact that serves as a portal back to Roman times. She doesn’t realize at first that that is what it is, and suffers from what she believes are hallucinations of a Roman soldier in battle. This soldier turns out to be Trajan, eventually her love and partner.

The obstacles to Janet and Trajan getting together are mostly external and circumstantial. First Janet has to believe that he is real and that she can travel back in time. Then she has to actually do so, and find a way to survive in Roman Britain. This is made exponentially easier for her when the soldiers she encounters, Trajan included, think she is a goddess when she appears. Being seen as a goddess exempts Janet from a lot of the indignities that a regular Roman or Celtic woman would have had to endure. No one takes advantage of her while she and Trajan are on the run, and she soon finds a job working in a bath house where the men are friendly and flirtatious, but they still don’t take advantage of her.

She then comes up with a wild plan to help Trajan with his intelligence gathering for the Roman army, and they pose as minstrels visiting nearby towns. This expedition too, like working in the bath house, seems like a fun romp at first, and Janet and Trajan engage in hot, gracefully written, physical relations while they are out being minstrels. Their idyll comes to an abrupt end when they are found out by the enemy, and when Janet’s ex-fiancee Damon starts stalking them.

Trajan is an appealing, if somewhat unrealistic, character. The author sets him up as a simple but honorable man in contrast to Damon’s scheming and conniving persona. Janet and Trajan are able to communicate easily because Janet is fluent in Latin, and she tells Trajan stories about the future, stories that he is surprisingly accepting of. Some of the most poignant moments in the novel come when Janet is thinking about the parallels between her life and Trajan’s, and also about what makes them different. He is in his early-to-mid 30’s, presumably like she is, and she thinks at one point that he only has about 10 good years left if he stays in his own time. He had a wife and baby son years ago when he was young, but they were killed. Janet also tells him about how she and her museum colleagues study skeletons and remains of people from his time. This creeps him out and she feels bad about it. The decision to bring him back with her to her own time is easily made and accepted by both of them.

This is where Damon and Bridgette come in–to keep the lovers apart. Damon’s will to power is reasonably well drawn and believable, but we could have used a bit more backstory. It seems somewhat crazy that he would sacrifice his soul to Bridgette’s “dark creatures” when the payoff is so murky. He hopes to change history, but it is not completely clear what he would change it to and especially why. Janet simply wants a happy life with Trajan in her own time. Her journey could be viewed metaphorically as a wounded woman’s healing from the scars of an abusive relationship, and I especially enjoyed reading the novel from that perspective. (However, the reader should not take this novel as saying that you have to go back to ancient Rome to find a decent man!)

This is the first book in a series and I would gladly read the next ones. But I’m a sucker for happy endings, history, and pretty much anything having to do with pre-Christian England. If time-travel romance is something that appeals to you, through the Druid’s Portal is a good place to go.
View all my reviews

Thursday Doors: Germany

I’m getting ready to go on another trip, this time to Germany. Internet access will be spotty, and while I can technically blog from my phone, I find it cumbersome. I will be gone for a month and not sure how much blogging I will be able to do.

CityGate
Memmingen City Gate

Since 1983 when I lived in Berlin, I’ve been to Germany many times, at this point more than I can accurately count. I traveled to Germany in graduate school and gave my thesis seminar at institutes in Tübingen and Frankfurt. I married a German a few years later, we went to Germany for our honeymoon, and we have been back every other year since then, for the last 21 years.

ThroughTheGate

I find myself in an odd position in that although I’ve been there pretty often, Germany is not home for me. I am semi-fluent, enough to get around, but not a native speaker. We have been trying to get our kids to learn to speak German since they born, and frankly it is much harder than I was led to believe!

But, about the doors. The two photos above are different views of the gate into Memmingen, in Bavaria, where we were two years ago after dropping off our kids at German camp. Memmingen is an old town in the Swabia area of Southern Germany. Its origins date back to the Roman empire. I wasn’t doing Thursday doors back when I was there, so if I happened to catch a door in a photo, I was lucky. I’d say that gates count.

There are also some nice-looking old buildings and monuments in Memmingen that have weighty doors. But the doors are better in context:

This last door is more personal. Here my husband is standing in front of the door to the house he grew up in. This house is not in Memmingen. It is much further north, in the Bundesland of Nordrhein-Westfalen, in the town of Mülheim an der Ruhr.

AtTheDoor

My husband’s mother passed away young, before I ever met him, and by the time I visited this house for the first time it was starting to fall into disrepair. Eventually his elderly father, who had remarried and was no longer living there, could not keep up with it, and it had to be sold. By that time it was barely livable, the yard had become overgrown with weeds and trees, and it required a complete overhaul. The new owners have done a great job with it. We saw the exterior had been painted and fixed up, the trees tamed, the living areas made bright with new windows and paint. The old house, shuttered and lonely for years, has new life now and echoes with the laughter of children.

Last year my trip to Asia supplied me with Thursday Doors posts for a lot of the rest of the year. I’m hoping that now that I know to look for the doors, this trip will do the same!

CanalDoors

Thursday Doors is a weekly feature allowing door lovers to come together to admire and share their favorite door photos from around the world. Feel free to join in on the fun by creating your own Thursday Doors post each week and then sharing it, between Thursday morning and Saturday noon (North American eastern time) at Norm 2.0’s blog here.

Mundane Monday: Rectangles

On Saturday I had been feeling a bit under the weather, but I was on the mend. I had an evening concert to play in and decided I was well enough to go. On my way to the concert I went to find my geocache of the day, which was at this gazebo in a park nearby the high school auditorium, which was also the concert venue.

The sun was going down making all sorts of rectangular shadows through the railing. The cache was an easy find, tucked behind the gazebo just by one of the supports.

I found out after I arrived at the concert venue that the power had been out in the entire town for about 3 hours prior to the concert, and just came back on. The sunshine made me feel better and the concert went well.

Gazebo

For the Mundane Monday Challenge #163 from Dr K Ottaway. What is your take on rectangles, what perspective lifts them out of the mundane and makes a magical photograph?

My answer: Sunlight and shadow!

 

Film Review: Solo: A Star Wars Story

I saw the original Star Wars trilogy in theaters when it first came out, and my favorite character was Han Solo. It helped that I had a serious tweenage crush on Harrison Ford, and I wasn’t the only one. Even my mother, who thought Star Wars was a silly kids’ movie (even before it was called “A New Hope”), was able to muster up some love for Han. But while my fangirl affection for Han and his star-crossed love story with Leia carried me through the 1980s, it is not serving me well for the newer crop of Star Wars movies.

We know how it ends for Han

I looked forward to The Force Awakens in 2015 as much as anyone else, and I was thrilled to meet onscreen Rey and Finn, a new force wielder and a stormtrooper with a conscience. These characters blew out of the water the tired old stereotype that black or female leads couldn’t carry a blockbuster movie in the United States. I cheered them on and listened to the soaring John Williams soundtrack, delighted by their exploits. Except.

Except, as much as I loved The Force Awakens, I also hated The Force Awakens. The story was exciting enough and boldly told that I was mostly willing to forgive the many plot holes, but I can’t forgive the way Han Solo was killed.

I seem to be a minority in this view, maybe a minority of one. When I ventured to my friends, “that part was a little too dark for me,” they answered back, “It’s *supposed* to be dark! That’s what Star Wars is about!” And they’re right. It’s not called the Dark Side for nothing.

kylo-ren-killer
Brian Kesinger

But Star Wars is about more than that, to me. It’s also about humor, and about hope and redemption. And all the humor, hope, and redemption that I had lived along with Han and Leia’s love story and in their victory over the Empire died with Han there on that unnecessary catwalk. I came home from the film to fitful sleep and disturbed dreams. Han, Luke, and Leia hadn’t just made a few parental and avuncular mistakes. No, they had spawned a mass murderer.

eqautlsh
http://moonionaire.tumblr.com/image/138724198302

A Nightmare of Eternal Return

“It’s a classic battle of good and evil,” a friend told me. “An allegory, a morality play” (as my 10th grade English teacher had also once remarked). “No one side will ever really win or defeat the other side permanently.” This argument struck me as Nietszchean. Han’s death plunged the series into a nightmare of eternal return, in which nothing and no one ever won or lost or even changed very much. Jakku was Tatooine rebranded. The First Order rose from the ashes of the Empire. And they apparently didn’t learn anything about not building planet-killing weapons with single fatal flaws that can be destroyed by small bands of fighter ships.

What would an origin story about Han Solo add to all this? Might it somehow redeem Han’s death? Could it say something new about families, about fathers and mothers and sons, or even about the power of romantic love stories and the limits thereof? Unfortunately, at least so far, the answer is no.

A Boy and His Dog

I didn’t hate Solo: A Star Wars Story. It was an enjoyable enough way to spend two hours on a Memorial Day afternoon. Alden Ehrenreich did a credible job soldiering through the action sequences, and Lando’s antics as played by Donald Glover were amusing. I especially liked the meeting between Han and Chewbacca. Every hokey SF movie has a scene in which Our Hero is thrown into a pit to fight a crazed hungry beast. I was happy to see the script end differently for once. It would have been nice, however, if we had a reason that Han could speak Wookiee. What made him learn that language? Is Han talented at languages or especially interested in them?

Image via ckpg today

As it was, the movie seemed like a kids’ movie emotionally, in spite of its PG-13 rating. The boy-and-his-dog friendship between Han and Chewie is a case in point. Chewie could have been Lassie for all the emotional complexity their relationship had in its early stages.

The Dark Side?

This same issue–cute, talented kid mysteriously turns bad–plagues Episodes I-III as well. The stakes are higher with Anakin because he starts out cuter and more innocent than Han. Anakin also has further to fall to become Darth Vader than Han does to become Jabba the Hut’s eventual target. But both transformations are similarly unsatisfying at the core. There is no real betrayal of Anakin’s trust by those he loves. Padmé Amidala loves Anakin unto the end, and even Obi-wan cares enough to travel to Mustafar in hopes of saving his Padawan. Anakin just turns, motivated not by tragic circumstances but by a character flaw exploited by the Sith Lords.

Similarly, Han is not betrayed in Solo by anyone or anything that matters, not even himself. The Empire whose army he deserts is corrupt. His sometime-friend Beckett has already shown his true colors plenty of times, even as Han remains a loyal friend and helper. Han couldn’t help leaving Qi’ra behind on Corellia and carries a torch for her for 3 years hoping to make it right. Qi’ra fights by his side when it counts. Han saves Chewbacca and even lets him go to help other abused wookiees, at serious risk to himself.

Return of Eternal Return

Qi’ra is long gone by A New Hope. The method of her disappearance whether by death, betrayal, or other, is the only thing I see here that might transform this movie’s Han into the bad boy we know and love. Qi’ra (played by a dark-haired Emilia Clarke, Game of Thrones’ Mother of Dragons) starts out as a standard romantic love interest and becomes potentially the darkest, most complex character in the film. Her motivations and feelings remain murky, but like Padmé Amidala before her, she is still too good and true (and alive) to ruin Han’s earnest boringness in this film.

So any betrayal involving Qi’ra would have to happen in a sequel. In order for that sequel to work, it needs to be more dark and twisty in the realm of human relationships than anything in Star Wars we’ve seen. It would need less of the spirit of Lassie and more of  Game of Thrones. Yes, this would mean telling a story that might upset some fans.

But it also would mean confronting what we really want and need from this franchise, 41 years in. Is Disney just going to keep telling the same story over and over with different names? Or do they have a chance now to delve deeper into human motivations around betrayal, deceit, and the will to power?

Mundane Monday: Fountain

When we moved to CA almost 3 years ago, one of the first places we went was this movie theater: Century Cinema 16. It is near the Googleplex and is on a street aptly called “Movies.” It is a fancy theater, with reserved, reclining seats, which were a major novelty when we first arrived. The experience has gotten pretty routine now, since if we go out to a movie we never go anywhere else, and otherwise we watch Netflix.  Continue reading Mundane Monday: Fountain

May #WATWB: New Redwoods Park in Silicon Valley

When people come to visit in the SF Bay Area, they often want to see redwoods. The iconic place to go is Muir Woods National Monument in Marin County north of San Francisco, which is amazing, but it has gotten crowded and difficult to park there.

There are others, around Lake Tahoe:

TahoeRedwoods

Or on the peninsula in Woodside and Portola Valley:

Even in Los Altos, the next town over from Mountain View where I live, there is a small redwood grove:

LosAltosRedwoods

And in Sunnyvale town, or on Sunnyvale’s Sunken Gardens golf course where squirrels play:

Walking among the redwoods, even some closer to home, brings a feeling of peace and even enlightenment.

Cuesta Park, Mountain View, site of several geocache finds and many a Pokemon raid
Cuesta Park in Mountain View, site of several geocache finds and many a Pokemon raid

Now there is going to be a new park for more people to enjoy: “Silicon Valley has a new redwoods park, groundbreaking Tuesday,” from the San Jose Mercury News, by Paul Rogers.

It is known as the Bear Creek Redwoods Open Space Preserve, and sits in the hills west of Highway 17 across from Lexington Reservoir. From 1934 to 1969, the land was the site of Alma College, a Jesuit campus. Now trails and amenities such as parking lots are being built for more access. There is a growing tension between preservation of wild open spaces and public access as California’s population increases. But I believe that projects like these are the best chance for balancing those needs.

We are the World LogoWe Are the World Blogfest,” posted around the last Friday of each month, seeks to promote positive news. Sharing these stories increases our awareness of hope in our increasingly dark world. The #WATWB co-hosts for this month are: Shilpa Garg, Inderpreet Kaur UppalPeter NenaAndrea Michaels, and Damyanti Biswas. Please check out their posts and say hello!

 

The Brain—is wider than the Sky

%d bloggers like this: