richlayers

writer, librarian, dabbler


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Ireland! Wednesday!

Well, our first order of the day on Wednesday was to sleep in and we were highly successful, waking around noon (7am my normal local time — we’re at the DST crossover where America is on it before Ireland switches over to it).  We perhaps should have been more ambitious but I’m too old to kill myself with tourism and the sleep was much needed.

When we finally got ourselves roused we went and found (more) pizza at a little Italian restaurant on the Smithfield Square.  Of course we ordered fries (truffle and parmesan) with the pizza and shared it all. It was pouring and miserably windy, which Laura said she’d never seen before in all her months here — usually it’s one or the other.  I refused to take responsibility for bringing it with me from Kansas! In any case, it was perfect to get out of the weather and snarf down some good hot food.

After that, the Jameson Distillery on Bow Street was basically a block over and around the corner.  Again, it was pouring the whole way over but at least that time it wasn’t far away. We went in and signed up for the basic tour, a little less than half an hour from the time we got there, which gave us some time to look around the front room, take pictures, and for Laura to get a special edition bottle with the name of her sister and soon-to-be brother-in-law for their wedding gift.  At the shop they were nice enough to hold it so that she wouldn’t have to manage it for the tour — plus we were definitely coming back to the gift shop afterwards!

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The tour was fantastic.  Our guide, Eoin, was from Kilkenny, and wanted to be sure we could understand him, but he was quite practiced and it was no trouble at all and completely delightful to listen to him.  Also he was gorgeous so that didn’t hurt our feelings at all.

The tour was about half an hour.  The first ten minutes were a history of the distillery and the Jameson family, with reference to some of the trials and successes throughout the past hundred plus years.  We all sat or stood in a little round room with a big table in the center, and above the table was a hanging display of books, kettle, and other artifacts from the history of the distillery.  The talk was like magic, because everything was done with projected lights right onto the table, and however Eoin was controlling what came up when, I couldn’t spot it. (Wizardry, I assume.)

After that we moved to a room where we learned all about the distilling process.  We clustered around little tables that were workstations with items that went from the very barley to the aging process.  Eoin invited us to taste the malted barley, and the woman across from us muttered something about how surely they changed it out between tour groups — Laura and I were not convinced and declined.  We were invited to sniff the spirits at different concentrations. The first was rather like something I would clean my bathroom with and the second smelled deliciously drinkable — though Eoin recommended against it as the concoction in front of us was about 89% alcohol.

There were also clear glass bottles that showed how the color changed over the aging process.  And Eoin explained about the Angel’s Share (that which evaporates over time) and the Devil’s Cut (that which soaks into the casks.

Finally we got to the actual taste testing part of the trip, where we tried Jameson’s, a blended Scotch that I can’t specifically remember, and Kentucky Johnny Walker black.  Each was distilled a different number of times and Eoin explained how that changed the flavor. Something about where the heat hits you: belly, chest, throat. I don’t know, they were all enjoyable although out of the three the Jameson’s was my favorite.

Then we got our free cocktail at the Daily Grog stop, where Laura and I both opted for the ginger lime whiskey since we’d just tried it straight a moment before.  We sat at the bar and made fun of the two year old who was sitting on the other side of the bar. (I’m not kidding.)

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No, I didn’t take a picture of the kid.

We had vague plans to go to Penney’s (local TJ Maxx, kind of, except the local TJ Maxx is called TK Maxx and… anyway it has clothes and other stuff but it’s not JC Penney’s, look, just try to keep up, it’s different okay?)  But when we left Jameson’s it was still raining, and the wind was blowing in all the directions, and it was generally pretty miserable. And the Cat Lounge that we passed was by appointment only, so we couldn’t even take a break to pet some cats.

We ended up going back to Laura’s room and beginning a truly epic RuPaul’s Drag Race binge, ordering Pizza Hut (don’t worry there were chips (Americans read: fries) on the side so, Irish potatoes), and staying warm and dry for the rest of the night.

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More Ireland! Tuesday!

We decided to jump right into a day trip and headed on the Darby O’Gill tour to see the Cliffs of Moher, which was my number one desire for the whole trip.  We had to head out very early to make it to the bus stop where we’d be picked up. We made it in good time with pastries and (for me) coffee in hand. We ended up the last picked up, so sat across the aisle from each other, instead of next to each other, but we were in easy conversational distance so that was fine.

Our first break was at the Barack Obama Plaza.  Laura nearly lost her shit in excitement. Apparently Obama had visited a few years back and they’d dedicated the rest stop (or services as they say here) to his name.  Of course I think it’s strange that people find it so mind boggling that he could have Irish ancestry when his mother was a white girl from Kansas! Anyway it was just a basic service stop except all the touristy information had to do with Obama (O’Bama) and his visit here.

The tour guide, Murphy (Ahh I miss Murphy!  He was good people) also mentioned that Trump owns a golf course some 20 kilometers to the west of the Obama rest stop, and that the first thing he tried to do was build a wall around it.  Either he doesn’t like the Irish, or he’s overestimating the Mexican swimmers. Murphy told us a lot of history about the island, and all kinds of history and culture, not just the wars. He talked about everything from sports to knitting throughout the day!  My favorite, of course, was the knitting.

Our next stop was the Cliffs of Moher.  I was expecting some wind, but it was wind like Kansas on a fairly serious wind day.  Not the worst of all possible wind but you could feel it knock you around. We headed up to the tops of the cliffs — the back way, not Fezik’s way.  There is a tower at the top of the hill but it’s not included in the admission price and was locked up in any case. There is a stone barrier all along the edge of the cliffs, though it’s built back far enough from the edge that there is considerable cliff to stand on beyond the barrier.  Within the realm of the national park this is not allowed, but beyond that point it is only discouraged. We went both ways from the entry point, and I chatted with a crow a bit who seemed disappointed that I didn’t have any food to throw him. The crows are huge and I love it.

We took a great many pictures, not a few on the selfie stick until that stopped working for some reason, we thought the battery had died (it runs on bluetooth) but it apparently just failed because we charged it and tried again later and it still did not work.  Fortunately Laura has mad selfie skills anyway, and we got a lot of good pictures. Also she’s borrowing her father’s nice camera, which is no good for selfies, but I can’t wait to get all the pictures we took on it because it’s a much nicer camera than anything you get with a cell phone.

We eventually made our way past the barrier to walk along the very edge of the cliffs.  Well, not quite so much as some of the other tourists. The vertigo is quite thrilling and terrifying — I love it even as it puts me at the very *edge* of my comfort zone (har har).  We took more lovely pictures though my favorite from the day was after that, with me resting an elbow on the barrier and grinning like a madwoman. Probably a new profile picture once I get home but we’ll see what else comes up.

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The CLIFFS.  Of INSANITY.

There were some gift shops near the bottom, and although I didn’t buy anything there (I didn’t have enough cash for the sweater I really liked) I rather enjoyed the name of the one shop: Gifts of Moher.  I do love the puns.

We had lunch nearby in Doolin in a pub called Fitzpatrick’s.  They had a lovely Irish Red on tap and it was the best Irish Red I’ve ever had in my life.  Go figure.  (Completely ruined American Irish reds for me, I’m pretty sure….)

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Pub life.

We headed back toward Dublin with another stop by a castle where they do big medieval dinners, and browsed through the Woollen Mills there.  (Which is apparently just what they call Irish souvenir shops from what I’ve seen!) They also had some lovely sweaters, and an ATM, but I didn’t see any sweaters I liked as much even though I did get some cash.  I also found a little sample of the Writer’s Tears whiskey that I’ve been wanting to try for so long, in a lovely gift box that is a hollow book (so once the whiskey is gone I’ll still have a hollow book). I am debating hard whether to give that to Dad and hope that he’ll share it with me, or simply share the whiskey with him!  We have both shed a few tears over our keyboards in the last few years, I think.

(PS I gave it to him, and he generously shared with me.)

Also we got some shortbread which was painfully delicious.  So buttery! I needs must get more. High priority for the rest of my trip.

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The only lamb I eat.

When we finally got back to Dublin we had another bus ride back to Laura’s room, and once we were there we binged some Drag Race and ordered pizza hut — which came with chips (french fries) and I can see what Laura means about being offended to not have them with pizza going forward.  Lovely combination.


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Ireland! Monday

Monday — arrived at 5:30 am.  Spent time in Non-EU immigration wondering why all the signs in Non-Eu Immigration were in English and Gaelic.  (ALL the signs are in English and Gaelic.)

Laura and I went straight back to her room and she gave me the mini tour and then we slept for about 4 hours.  There was some concern that they’d get inspected but it got delayed due to break, which was good because we slept right through the time that we thought they’d be inspected.  God I was so conked out. That was about 2 am to noon my normal local time.

After that we got up and went to St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

Laura Taking a Picture

At St. Patrick’s Cathedral park, looking for dogs.

Our tour guide was giving her first ever tour. She was very interesting.  Super short lady, maybe in her 40s, a couple of moles on her face, no makeup, an open expression.  She told us within moments that she was giving her very first tour, and checked a number of times to make sure we could understand her.  She asked us to ask her if we needed her to slow down. She had a lovely Irish accent, the first one that I’d heard uninterrupted, so that was very nice.

During the tour we got to a statue of … someone…, who was dressed in the regalia of the Order of St. Patrick.  On his chest he wore a necklace which was the perfect sigil of an X within a circle. I leaned over to Laura, uncertain of whether she would be impressed with these antics, and murmured, “He’s an X-Man.”  She looked at me with wide eyed amusement. Suddenly she took much more detailed pictures as the guide went on to explain that this is one of the most detailed statues in all of Ireland. Yeah, right, lady, this is clearly a guy whose ability is to turn to stone during the day and go out and fight against the evil Brotherhood of Mutants at night.

We went through the choir area which was simply stunning.  Every seat was decked with a helm and sword (non-functional, not for sudden attacks) and the mosaics on the floor were breathtakingly complex and beautiful.  The ironwork on the wooden windows at the back was elaborate and delicate. The stitch-work on the altar cloth at the front was the best I have ever seen: old but perfectly maintained, intricate and rich.

St. Patrick's Cathedral Lenten Altar Cloth

I could never sew that much.

Laura ran across the history of some names she was familiar with, I believe it was Fitzgerald, whom she had been working with in her internship at the Royal Society of Ireland.  She had been within weeks past trying to decipher the very man’s handwritten letters.

We learned about Jonathan Swift and his time as a priest.  The tour guide showed us the pulpit he used, explaining that it was on wheels, and if congregants fell asleep during the sermons, he would have the deacons wheel him to stand above them while he preached, raining fire and brimstone to awaken them.

After that we had to hurry over to Marsh Library, which was just next door, and a complete fairy tale of a library.  We entered through a mossy green stone archway to discover the first public library of Ireland.

Marsh Library gate entrance.

I’m pretty sure it’s magical.

The interns there (gentlemen in their 30s or 40s, not what you normally think of) were very helpful with the questions we had.  (As librarians we had better questions than most.) They ran through their normal spiel about Narcissus Marsh (straight outta Hogwarts, I say) and how he decided to start the public library for people who weren’t rich enough to have their own books.  Apparently Jonathan Swift hated the man and, as our librarian put it, “Basically called him fat and ugly until he went away.” Charming. He also showed us some of Swift’s marginalia about the Scots, which was unflattering to say the least.

We browsed back through the shelves.   I did ask how it was organized and was told, “Hierarchically, basically.  And the librarian doesn’t really explain further than that, to prevent theft.  But the big books are on the bottom, and the small books are on the top. And the controversial books.”  He mentioned a French book, which the title translated to something like The Illustrated Woman. Racy!

They had a photobooth set up at the back near the reading cages, which went along with their current exhibit about Hunting Stolen Books — they’d discovered, when they’d finally done inventory, that about 900 books had been stolen over the years.  

I'm a wanted poster now!

And I’d do it again.

After that the strict security measures were put into place — bars on all the shelves, and the reading nooks were essentially cages (!) where you could read as long as you want, with a little bell inside to let the librarian know when you were done and wanted to come out.  All the previous reading nooks between all the shelves were barred off so that nobody could sit in there and read and slip the book into their bag or pocket. We weren’t supposed to take pictures anywhere except for the photo booth but Laura is a rebel so we managed a few around the corner.  We had a couple of the volunteers point out the bullet holes from some violent engagement that took place in the churchyard during the 1916 Rising. They just left the damage because at this point it is history, too.

I bought Mom the book of the current exhibit — they are much nicer exhibit books than some that I’ve gotten from the DUC grant in the past.  They have a lot of the history and stories about the exhibit written as well as photographs of the content. This one is the Hunting Stolen Books exhibit, which I decided on as opposed to the one about the marginalia, which I also think she would have liked.  I got Ron a postcard with an old book that definitely needed some preservation, so I think he’ll like that due to his interest in archives.

After that we went back to Laura’s room.  I was still fairly exhausted. We grabbed some food at the local KC Peaches (cafeteria style eatery, yummy food, beer in the cooler) and ate it in her kitchen, chatting and catching up a bit (though we generally stay pretty well caught up).  The mac and cheese was delicious. We watched some youtube videos and read some buzzfeed lists and stayed generally entertained until we passed out in exhaustion.


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To Another World … The Forbidden Kingdom

There is something compelling about the idea that any one of us might, at any moment, be summoned/dragged/pulled out of this world and into another — a world of adventure, magic, mystery, and heroism.  The motif shows up over and over again in everything from fairy tales to Stephen King novels.  What is so special about the idea?  Perhaps the notion that we’re meant for more than humdrum lives, or perhaps we simply like our escapism served up with the idea that we could be next….

The Forbidden Kingdom stars Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Yifei Liu, and some white kid Michael Angarano, who have to work together to return the Monkey King’s staff to the Five Elemental Mountains to free the Monkey King and end the reign of the evil Jade Warlord.  But first we meet generic white teenager Jason Tripitikas (Angarano) in South Boston, where he wakes from a dream of the Monkey King fighting the Jade Army.  At first glance, it would seem that the kid simply watches too many kung fu movies, and the glimpse we get inside his room emphasizes his obsession with all things kung fu.

Jason goes to the local pawn shop to find some more action movies to feed his obsession, where he trades jokes with Jackie Chan wearing all of the age makeup.  He gets some DVDs and heads home, flirting with some neighborhood ladies.  All is well until a bunch of ruffians show up and it turns out that watching kung fu movies does not help prepare one to stop bullies.  Once the bullies realize that Jason knows Old Hop at the pawn shop, they use him to break into the shop after hours and try to steal all the money.  Jason shows that he is a terrible person for not taking a bit of a beating but instead going along with it to get his friend robbed.  Things go even more wrong when the lead-thug pulls out a gun and shoots the old guy, who gives Jason the staff and tells him he must return it to its rightful owner.  Jason runs from the thugs and ends up on the roof, and as the lead thug threatens to shoot him, he’s magically dragged backward off the roof, and falls for a long long time.

He wakes up again, but this time he’s in a tiny village in the Forbidden Kingdom.  Before he can understand what’s going on, he’s chased by Jade soldiers until he runs into the Drunken Master Lu Yan (Chan), who fights off the soldiers and then gives him the magical ability to understand Chinese (I guess) by yelling at him that he’s not listening.  This shortcut at least allows the characters to understand each other for the rest of the movie.

Lu Yan takes him to a teahouse and infodumps the history of the Monkey King and his rivalry with the Jade Warrior, the Jade Emperor’s very unperceptive dismissal of the matter before he goes off to meditate for 500 years (okay man, if you want to be a hermit, be a hermit, but if you’re the emperor you should probably do some emperoring).  The Jade Warrior tricked the Monkey King into putting down his staff and then turned him into stone.  At the last second the Monkey King threw his staff out the window and through time or other worlds (within the movie it all seems to be treated as another world, though summaries of the movie suggest that it’s all time travel, so take your pick).

They are overheard by Golden Sparrow (Liu), who helps them escape when they are attacked by more soldiers.  Lu Yan gives them directions to the Elemental Mountains, implies that he’s an immortal who needs wine to be immortal (actually Sparrow does the implying here, and Lu Yan goes along with it), and Jason convinces him to come with them and teach him kung fu.  They’ve been at this for a few days — with a nice reference to a traditional Zen story about emptying your mind to learn new things — when the staff is stolen by Gandalf the White the Silent Monk (Li), who takes it to a temple and sits meditating over it.

Lu Yan finds him there and then Jackie Chan and Jet Li face off for the first time in cinematic history!  Really, if you don’t see this movie for any other reason, it’s pretty great to see their styles blend.  They fight to a standstill, and then Jason catches the staff, which for some reason convinces the Silent Monk that he is the seeker from the prophecy.  (Because it reverberated slightly when the kid caught it?  I don’t know.  On a rewatch the logic doesn’t hold up so well. I’m not convinced they ever needed the kid after this point but hey, it’s not my movie.)

So now the gang’s all here, the scarecrow, the cowardly lion, and the tin man, so they continue on their way to reach the Elemental Mountains.  Meanwhile, the Jade Warlord has hired Danaerys Targaryen a witch, Ni Chang (Bingbing Li) — and a nod to The Bride With White Hair, which Jason mentions as one of the movies he bought from the pawn shop, nicely done there.  She tracks them down after they cross the desert and Jason lives through a torturous kung fu montage, the best of which is Chan and Li using Angarano as the comedy prop in some pretty classic Jackie Chan style fighting.  We also get more background on Sparrow, whose entire village was wiped out by the Jade Warlord, but the Silent Monk (considerably more talkative by now) warns her that vengeance is bad.

About this time, Sparrow and Jason have a tender moment, and of course right then, Ni Chang finds them and harshly criticizes them for having feelings.  She offers Jason passage home if he’ll turn over the staff to her, but he refuses.  The four travelers fight Ni Chang and her Jade Goons, racing away and escaping, only to have Lu Yan struck down by a long range arrow from Ni Chang.  Can’t help but admire shooting like that, as it’s apparently hours later when he finally gets struck.  The others whisk Lu Yan to a temple and it turns out that he’s not immortal, he just really likes wine.

He’s lying there dying and the Silent Monk and Jason argue (with staffs) about the best time to go to the Elemental Mountains — Jason doesn’t think they have time to waste, since his friend and teacher is dying, and the Silent Monk thinks their best chance of success is to wait two days until the new moon, so they can sneak up in the dark.  Sparrow tells Jason that he’s grown a lot as a warrior, which inspires him to take the staff to the Jade Warlord in exchange for the elixir of immortality to save Lu Yan.  Again, can’t really understand what this kid is thinking, this seems like a terrible plan.  The witch escorts him to the Jade Warlord, who makes Jason and the witch fight to the death for the elixir since he’s promised it to her already.  Jason is pretty outmatched and their fight is pretty boring, oh well.  For some reason the warlord stops Ni Chang from striking the death blow, which gives Jason’s friends time to come to his rescue.  They show up, closely followed by all the trainees at the monastery, who have also dragged Lu Yan up the mountain on his deathbed, presumably for convenient access to the elixir.  A bit more scuffling and Lu Yan gets the elixir and joins the fray.  The Silent Monk and the Jade Warlord fight for a while, and then Sparrow decides to have her moment and kill the warlord, which backfires because revenge is bad.  Then Jason uses her jade pin to kill the warlord, which doesn’t backfire because revenge is only bad if you’re a girl, I guess.  She dies.  Everyone else lives, and the Jade Emperor returns for some reason, because at this point things are pretty well fine.  However, he sends Jason home.

Jason returns the same moment he left (giving some credence to the time travel theorists) and fights off the thugs from before.  He returns to the pawn shop to find that the owner will be okay, because, he hints, he’s immortal, and therefore we are led to believe that he’s actually Lu Yan.  After that Jason runs into a girl who looks exactly like Sparrow, which makes sense because, as a young lad who’s earned his chaps, next step is getting the girl.

Jackie Chan tells us that as one story ends, another begins, and we fade out on some beautiful music.  The end!

Let’s break it down for the Wonderful World of Forbidden Kingdom:

PROS:

  1. It’s gorgeous.
  2. Plenty of time for tea and contemplation.
  3. You might just get that training montage you’ve always wanted, to magically become a badass.

CONS:

  1. People may try to kill you just because of a stick you brought with you.
  2. Good luck if you aren’t male.
  3. You’ll never be quite sure if you went to another world or traveled in time.

 

So overall it’s a better movie, visually, than a great story — the plot holes gape just a little too wide, especially on repeated viewing.  Ummm, why is the kingdom forbidden, exactly?  I’m uncomfortable with the White Savior motif, which is only tolerable because Jason’s pretty much useless.  More damaging is the concept that the Everyman is a white male from the United States.  Of course this is a loose adaptation of Journey to the West and it’s adapted by American filmmakers, so that doesn’t surprise me but… ehh, we’ve done that song and dance so many times that it doesn’t matter if it’s done well or not at this point: it’s old.  Still, it’s fun to see Chan and Li together, and the cinematography is beautiful.  If you want a decent kung fu movie you can skim through the lazy filler plot (I was knitting).  If you want an excellent other-world-ly adventure… there are other worlds than these….


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Blade Runner: Director’s Cut

Somehow, I had never seen the first Blade Runner.  With all the excitement about the new one, I figured I’d finally watch it.  I went in knowing very little about what I was about to see, other than the fact that it was a cult classic, and that people I trust were excited about the sequel.

 

So the original Blade Runner is actually a horror movie about these four kids who get trapped in an evil, haunted retro-future city where they know they’ll be hunted down and killed if they’re found. They try to get around this by blending in with the local monsters, and they get away with it for a little while, but the evil masterminds know they’re there, so they call in this mega-hunter, the Blade Runner, who weirdly doesn’t have any blades or even do a whole lot of running (but horror movie monsters never really have to run so you’ve gotta wonder why they called it that anyway).

Meanwhile, the evilest mastermindest has another kid, RACHEL, captive, and she thinks she’s actually one of the monsters until it’s revealed that she’s just another innocent kid who the mastermind is experimenting on. When she realizes this she runs away, and goes to the Blade Runner for help for some reason, even though it’s its job to hunt these poor kids down. Then she comes to her senses and runs away from it, too.

So the Blade Runner is hunting these kids down, and finding them one by one, and even though they put up a good fight, it is able to eliminate them because it’s got that persistent evil thing going on, so it slaughters them even though they manage to beat it up a little bit. For some reason, Rachel goes back to the Blade Runner, maybe thinking it’ll keep her safe if she helps it, and she helps it take out one of the other kids. It kiiiind of rapes her or maybe you could argue that it just convinces her to have sex. Then she’s in love with it or something. She wears less makeup and her hair changes to show she’s not a monster anymore.

Two of the kids are dead and the other two hide out with one of the monsters, who is less monstrous than the other monsters. That monster tries to help them by taking one of the kids, the handsome male, to the evil mastermind. The evil mastermind almost tricks the kid into letting him live, but then at the last moment the kid manages to defeat him, and also kills the less-evil monster for some reason, I mean I guess he’s still a monster.

He goes back to the place they were hiding and finds that the Blade Runner already killed his girlfriend, so he’s sad about that. He fights the Blade Runner and they chase each other around the building for a while. He defeats the Blade Runner but at the last moment saves it from falling to its death, and then he dies because the evil mastermind actually managed to defeat him, even though it seemed like he was going to escape.

The Blade Runner goes back to its lair where Rachel is still waiting, and runs off with her, presumably to use her for its own twisted purposes until the evil mastermind’s evilness destroys her.

I really did enjoy the ambiguity of the Blade Runner, who seemed conflicted about all the killing it was doing for the evil masterminds, even though it did continue to torture and kill the poor kids. That’s more than you get from a lot of horror movies. I dunno, I had a beer, but I think I followed it pretty well.

 

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Originally I posted this on Facebook, and got some great commentary.  I wanted to post it here where I’d be able to find it again in the future.