Wednesday, June 29, 2005

So Long, Farewell

Amy and I are leaving Saturday for Dublin. We will be visiting that fair Irish city for a day or so, meeting up with my sister and her husband, and then taking a packaged tour of Ireland. We’ll rendezvous back in Dublin after about three days and then fly to Barcelona.

We will spend a couple of days in Spain and then take a train up to Montpellier. We’ll spend a few of days traveling the Riviera, and then we head to Tours. This is a city very close to some beautiful renaissance castles, which we’ll be touring. Then it is several days in Paris, including the French version of July 4th, which is on the 13th and called Bastille Day and celebrates the beginning of the French Revolution.

Sometime around the 17th we will return to Strasbourg to finish up our packing for our return flight home.

We fly home on July 21. After a few days of recuperation, we are traveling to Gatlinburg, TN for several days worth of relaxation and family visitation.

Then we will desperately be trying to settle back into Bloomington, which includes finding a new home.

All of this is to say that I am going to be absent from the blog for a good while. I’ll probably have some time post vacation, pre flight home to write about our vacation, but then I’ll be absent again while we visit and settle back into the USA.

So, take care of yourselves, folks. See you soon.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

A Night in the Life

Now that my time is growing short, here in France, I have become increasingly busy. For example, yesterday afternoon through evening I was amazingly active.

I left for my French class at about 4:30. Amy came along because we were returning most of the things that Ann had let us borrow for our home. We also stopped by and bought a little strawberry tart to celebrate my last class.

We didn’t leave Ann’s until about 20 minutes until 7 pm. We were supposed to meet some friends for drinks at 7, so we made our way straight to downtown instead of going home. This being France we arrived about five minutes after the hour and were the second people there. Ten minutes later Damian showed up, fifteen minutes after that somebody else dropped by and so on and so forth until about a quarter after 8 when the entire crew was there. By this time I had long nursed my Coca-Cola into oblivion and patiently waited for everyone else to finish their beverage. Considering the 2.50 Euro price for another class of soda, I set my limit to one.

The reason for the party was to say goodbye to Damian, who headed back to London today.

After everyone finished their drinks we all decided we were hungry and headed toward a restraint at the ripe hour of 9:30. Normal supper hours for the French are about 7 pm, which is about 2 hours past my American eating hour. On occasions like this when we don’t even get to the restraint until 9:30 I am ready to start eating the table cloth.

The food, when it arrived was lovely. I had some shrimp with fried zucchini, and a plate of sautéed duck with mixed vegetables. We were eating on the terrace which sits right along the street. The downtown streets are a bit odd. They are not really normal streets in which traffic flows. Many of the pathways are blocked by metal poles, keeping automobiles from passing. Certain vehicle, such as the police, taxi cabs and the local building owners have remote controls which lower the poles and allow driving passage.

Of course, pedestrians may walk up and down the streets at will. Being a relatively cool summer evening there was a good number of folks passing about us. A small group of homeless people decided the area right across the street from us was the perfect spot to sit for the evening.

For some reason many of the homeless people in France are dog owners. Actually a lot of people in France, homeless or not, are dog owners. Not that the homeless shouldn’t have a dog, it just always strikes me odd that someone so down on their luck still has the ability to take care of a dog.

Anyways, a small group of homeless folks with their bottles of wine and their dogs starts gathering around while we a re there trying to eat. They are all carrying on and getting rather rambunxious when I see one guy start kicking his dog and calling it a “pede” which is the shortened version of “pedophile” which is the French version of “faggot.” Now, I don’t know about my readers, but this was the first time I have ever eaten duck while watching a homeless man call his dog a homosexual while kicking the poor mut.

After the kicking the gay dog began fighting with another one of the homeless dogs. Then a couple of the homeless men began harassing the walker-bys for a cigarette, or some money. While they did this boombox guy stopped by.

Boombox guy is a young man we have seen before in the streets of Strasbourg. He sports a grungy set of dreads, all black clothes and a small 80’s style radio on which he continually cranks out heavy metal riffs.

The gang began to shout and dance and generally annoy until about 5 minutes before we got up to leave. We said our goodbyes and headed home at around 11 pm.

We took our second showers of the day (and we can now gage the weather on the number of showers we take in a given day – this day was mild and so we only needed two.) It was too hot to sleep so I stayed up playing on the internet until about 1:30 and then lay in bed sweating until about 3 where I finally managed some sleep.

Monday, June 27, 2005

I dreamed last night...

... that I received a package of marijuana seeds from either my friend Mullins or my brother, Neal, which one I can’t remember. I took the seeds and planted them in small planters and grew them tall.

From the seeds the dream fast forwarded to when they were large and ripe, do marijuana plants get ripe? Well, whatever you call it they were ready for the harvesting. I clipped them and dried them out.

Fast forward again to where everything is dry and the plants are ready for smoking. For whatever reason I decided to do the cutting/smoke preparation in my parent’s kitchen. I don’t really know all the ends and outs of how to prepare a marijuana plant for a joint, but in this dream version I put the stalks on to a cutting board and hacked them into little bits.

Tiny, round seeds popped out of the stalks, and this was what I was looking for. I finished my harvesting and began to clean up. The dream is fuzzy on how many plants I actually cut up, but I had thousands of seeds. I filled one bucket up with seeds for my personal use and began thinking of ways to destroy the remaining ones, which I would not need.

While I was cleaning up, trashing the actual leaves (!) my dad walked through the kitchen. I tensed up sensing he would understand what I was doing and kill me on the spot. But, he was distracted by his own search for some unremembered object; all he did was make a comment on my mess looking like a nice salad. He then left the kitchen for the office, and left me alone.

I disposed of the leaves, and the dream jumped to me being outside. It must have been right outside my parent’s house, but it was a landscape I have never seen before. Which, in reality, isn’t that far from the mark, since I’ve never actually been to the house my parent’s are currently living in. Anyway, I walked to the curb, where several old ladies were sitting on a porch swing. I walked a little ways away from them and began dumping my seeds very close to some flowers. There were literally tons of these seeds, at least three large piles filling the ground.

My plan was to burn the seeds and destroy all evidence of my illegal activity. Why I would do this in public, with many pedestrians walking about is beyond me, but never the less it was so. Making things stranger, I believed I must put a for sale sign on the seeds before I burned them. The price was really cheap, but I still hoped no one would want to purchase them before I could burn all the seeds. In fact I began burning the first pile feeling anxious that someone may walk buy and decide to buy the seeds before they were completely destroyed.

I didn’t think anyone wanting to purchase the seeds would actually know what they were, it was more like a garage sale, and someone might think they were sunflower seeds or something. Illogically I also couldn’t start burning the second pile until the first one was destroyed.

About halfway through the first pile’s burning, a middle age man approached the pile and began asking questions.

He seemed to know exactly what the seeds really were, but vocally, he was concerned with the destruction of the flowers that were buried between the seed piles. He complained that he would like to purchase the flowers before they were burned. I tried to stall him while the seeds burned, but he became more manic.

Somewhere in the conversation he began telling me he knew exactly what the seeds were and that the flowers were the give-away. He said that the flowers were, in fact, the product of the seeds. And as he said this, it became true. No longer were there marijuana plants, but flowers.

It was at this point that I woke up.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Buy Jerry Garcia's Mailbox

From the wide world of weird this just in: you can now purchase the late Jerry Garcia's mailbox here.

This mailbox sat in front of the late guitarist's last home, a custom made mansion in Nicasio, California. When Jerry died the house was sold and the new owner upgraded the box and put Jerry's in storage. Apparenly, now is the time to bring the thing out and make a profit from the deceased.

In a culture where celebrities are the new deities, even old mailboxes are sacred. The starting bid is $2000 so tighten up your budget if you want to have this one of a kind memorabilia.

The only question I have left is that with all the millions Jerry Garcia was making, why didn't he buy a better looking mailbox? That thing looks like it would fit better in front of a beat up trailer, than a million dollar mansion.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

Jamison got such positive feedback from his Be Cool review, he went right out and wrote another one. Its been so long since I wrote a review, I may have to hire him as the official Brewster's Millions reviewer.

Before you say anything, I already know what you are thinking: “Jamison, this is a KIDS movie, you are almost 30 years old!” … But I gotta tell ya, I really love these “kids” movies.

This follow-up to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone has our young wizard friend Harry Potter (Played by Daniel Radcliffe) and his friends Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) facing a new challenge or two during their second year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry (A year that almost doesn’t exists for Harry due to his evil Aunt and Uncle trying to lock him up). The gang of young wizards try to discover a dark force that is terrorizing the school, originating from the fabled “Chamber of Secrets”.

Sequels? Oh no! Oh YES! But this is no mere sequel. You see friends; I have never seen any previous Harry Potter movie all the way through before this one. Only bits and pieces on the TV versions of each. I literally go into the Chamber knowing little if anything about the background, history, or characters in the film. Yet, within minutes, I already had decided who to root for, who to root against, and what the goal for the hero is to be during each scene. YOU DO NOT NEED TO KNOW MUCH ABOUT THE FORMER POTTER FILMS TO ENJOY THIS ONE!

A few kick backs to the former films may just go over audience members heads… Harry’s cloak, the broom-stick rugby matches, etc. But these in no way hinder the movies ability to bring in the viewer to fall in love with our heroes.

Rather that go into depth about the plot and story line, I’d rather focus on the enjoyment aspects of the film. First off, the kids are cute. Sure, they are older in this one than they were in the past ones, but the little girl is still irresistible cute and a fine actress. Any kid with red hair and freckles is cute (until they get acne) and of course Harry Potter wears glasses. Kids with glasses…c’mon people.

For a bunch of no-named actors prior to these films, the kid’s abilities are outstanding! I can totally see myself as a kid wanting to act like one of them in my adventures in the woods behind my house. The only real un-kid-friendly aspect I can think of is that Ron says “Bloody Hell” several times in the film. Not a comment I would want my 7 or 8 year old repeating, which of course any kid will repeat when heard (Isn’t ‘bloody’ a very vulgar term in Brittan?).

The humor is relatable to all viewers. All characters have a British or Irish accent, yet none of that hard-to-understand British humor (the accents just make the kids seem cuter anyway).

Special effects are outstanding. The last scene involving a large snake looks kind of Willow-ish, but other than that, all the effects seem so flawless that they hardly seem like computer generated effects (Especially the spiders…ewww).

Full of spirits and ghosts, magic and monsters, humor and lovable characters, along with an easy to follow plot (Yet with enough twists to entertain an adult) I can’t help but recommend this movie. I loved it.

Although I have not read any of the books, I can’t help but think that the author was a Tolkien fan… We have two old gray wizards (the school’s Headmaster… and Gandalf from Lord of the Rings), two brown haired, bright eyed boys (Harry Potter… Frodo Baggins), His two friends (Ron and Hermione… Merry and Pippin), Trees that attack, a small, annoying, loud, little ghoul in both films, a very large spider in both Films… and a few more similarities. I certainly am not accusing this woman of copying Tolkien, but the inspiration is there for sure. Go rent it!

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Fête de la Musique

Yesterday was not only the longest day of the year, but it also marked the date in which Amy and I only have one month left in France. It was a rather busy day for us as well.

Our water, once again, was being shut off at 9 in the AM and so we awoke early, showered and breakfasted. We then left for the library to return and check out books, CDs and a DVD. While we were out and about we decided to check in with Air France to see what an extra piece of luggage would cost us.

Amy has about four books full study material here, which she has to have in Indiana when we get back so that she can study for her PhD exams. At the German post office (which is cheaper than the French PO) is going to charge us about 60 Euros per box! Air France will charge us 100 Euros for an extra bag. So, we are now looking at cheap, but durable bags in which we can stash at least a couple of boxes worth of books.

After lunch we spent the afternoon lounging in the shade at the park. It was a very pretty, yet extremely hot day. Without air conditioning our apartment is rather unbearable and thus sitting under a tree is preferable than sitting on our couch.

It was also the annual Fete de la Musique in Strasbourg, which is basically a city wide music festival. At all of the larger city squares they set up official stages in which the more popular local bands, and a few medium sized names in French music jammed into the wee hours of the morning. Yet at nearly every block in the city unofficial musicians were playing their tunes. This ranged from 7 piece zydeco/reggae bands to one guy playing a flute with another guy playing an old recorder. No matter where we were in the city, we could hear music.

We were meeting with a group from the university around 8:30 but Amy and I decided to wander around a bit first. We caught a fun French group with a terrible Rastafarian sax player in the Place de Zurich. Then we wandered downtown where there was live music playing every 20 yards or so. These street performers were so close together you could hardly hear them apart from each other. Around the cathedral it was madness. An official stage was set up in the Place de Gutenberg as well as nearby, right in front of the cathedral. Non sanctioned performers were everywhere in between, as well as a throng of people. The poor choir, in front of the cathedral, could barely even be heard even when I was standing but a few feet from them.

Time came and we went to meet the gang. None of us having any idea about where to go, we began wandering back towards the center of town. The crowds were expanding and it was quite an experience just trying to keep the 12 of us from getting lost. We caught short snippets of several bands before always moving on. As is always the problem with large music festivals, no matter where you are, you always think something better is around the corner.

Eventually we all tired and amazingly found empty seats at a local café. It was a little removed from the live music, but the block was more than making up for this with DJs playing piped in music. Our café was unlucky enough to be very near two DJ while employing one itself. This created three separate piece of music blending together into one loud mess. It was so loud we couldn’t really talk to each other and I quickly developed a headache. Our gang seemed content in sitting their drinking beer, but I became discontent and told them we were leaving. It was not only the annoying DJs, but the fact that I was spending my night listening to canned music while live music was literally playing around the next corner, and throughout the city. I guess we might have seemed rude, but I was sick of sitting there.

We caught a punk/metal band in Place Kleber. They covered Nirvana as we were walking by, so we decided to hang out a bit. It has been a long time since I caught a live metal act and I must admit it was fun. The energy was really strong, and the kids were having fun jumping up and down.

Our feet got tired so we wandered away again to another square in which there was grass to sit upon. The band was playing lots of classic American rock and we decided to stay. They played covers of Dire Straights, Elvis Presley, James Brown, Deep Purple and AC/DC. And let me tell you, you haven’t lived until you’ve been surrounded by a mass of drunken French people screaming Highway to Hell at the top of their lungs.

As we started towards home, around midnight, the crowds had really swelled. Walking near the cathedral, the streets were packed. It didn't help that a popular band was playing right near the street itself. There were folks enjoying the band, walkers who would hear the music and stop to see what was going on, venders selling drinks and sandwiches and masses of people trying to go both ways. Some dumb car decided he could get through the street, but got stuck about half way. As I passed it, I was getting pretty smooshed against its side. I had to stick out my elbow as a defensive action to keep from getting smashed. When we came to the car mirror, I had to shove myself against the crowd to make a little room

The music officially ended at 1 AM, but many of the unofficial acts played much later. The street parties didn’t end until much later as well. We returned to our apartment and tried to sleep. Luckily the official places around us had cleared out early which moved the party a few blocks away. I still was awoken a few times by the drunken hordes singing their lungs out as they returned home, but all was well. All was

Be Cool Review

Brewster's Millions is happy to announce we have a guest reviewer this week. My good friend Jamison recently took in a viewing of the Get Shorty sequel, Be Cool. He says he just couldn't not write a review of it, and so I'm happy to say he is allowing me to post it here. Let's hope there will be many more reviews from Jamison in the future.

Get Shorty is truly one of my favorite Cuss 'em up movies of all time. And when I heard of the sequel "Be Cool" coming out, I was very pumped. Breifly, the storyline is that the main character, Chili Palmer (played by John Travolta) is tired of the movie biz after having just made a terrible sequel to his first movie, staring Martin Weir (Danny De Vito). Chili has a music producer friend named Woods who is shot during the start of the movie by Russian mafia goons (still not sure how they come into play, I guess they are rampant in L.A.). Due to this turn of events, Chili offers to help out his friend's wife (Uma Thurman) run thier business. Whilst scouting out a talented singer in a club (Christina Milian) Chili is forced to tangle with her sleazy music manager (Vince Vaughn), his gay body guard (The Rock), and his producer partner (Harvey Keitel, who played in Chilis first movie, but in this movie, everyone acted like it was a different person... really confused me). Wood's horrible management of his music company gets Chili entertwined with members of the same Russian mafia (that killed his friend Woods) and a rich, well-to-do, clean-on-the-outside rap roducer (Cedric The Entertainer) and his gang of merry thugs. Uma's charachter had at one time done the laundry for Aerosmith. This sets the stage for Chili and her to make contact with Steven Tyler at a L.A. Lakers game. They end up getting thier scouted out chick (whos group used to actually be called "the chicks"... horrible, I know) a duet with Tyler at an Aerosmith concert. Getting her foot in the door to be produced... I guess...

I actaully went into this movie EXPECTING to like it. The start of the film was pretty pathedic. Chili goes on to explain to his friend Woods that he couldn't get a PG-13 rating in his last movie because it had the "f word" in it more than one time... He then says "You know what I think of that? FU*? that." And, in fact, that is the only F word in the whole movie, allowing it to keep a PG-13 rating. But before I go on, don't think that due to the rating it is safe for all 13 year olds. Every other allowable curse is throw around like a rag doll... if I heard a 13 year old speak like these characters, I'd probably slap him myself... Anyway, it was just pretty stupid to literally use that word for no reason at all... but that's just me...

The movie just does not have that Get Shorty feel. Get Shorty kind of felt like a comic book to me. It was fun, colorful, and the characters drove the plot. Chili was much smoother, much cooler in the first one. In Be Cool he seems fake-cool... I'm-too-old-to-be-cool-since-Get_shorty-came -out-10-years-ago-cool.... wow, 10 years? You'd think the same writer could come up with a better story in that time.

Cedric the Entertainer is great. He has a nice, multi-millon dollar home in the suburbs, waves a "top of the morning to you!" to his old white neighbors, cooks pancakes for his daughters every morning, and takes them to get ice cream after picking them up from their private school... only to have a group of thugs at his side when out making music deals and taking money from producers that "owe" him. One of his side kicks enjoys killing people. The movie tries to pass this on as comic relief, I actually found it boring. However, this side kick was Barney Fife-esque and had horrible aim, or shot accidently when not asked to...

Vince Vaughn I thought for sure would leave me in stiches, along the side of "the rock". Vaughns style of comedy couldn't really come out in this movie, so I was disappointed. But his attempts to talk and act black were very entertaining. The Rock actually played a black gay man very well, considering he is a straight white man. As horrible as an actor as he is, I dare say he was the most refreshing part of the movie.

And one of the biggest let downs of the whole film was the fact that Danny Devito was left out to only play a cameo. He comes out of a club and sees Chili drive up in a Honda Insight (the hybrid car). Devito says "what about your Cadilac Chili?" (Which got shot up in the start of the movie), to which Chili responds "It's the Cadilac of hybrids." A kickback to Get Shorty. Was used in the previews for good reasons... it made me laugh in the preview...

All in all, the story was very hard to follow, of course Get Shorty was too, but somehow I understood Get Shorty easier. This one tried to be like Get Shorty, as far as plot twists go, but they seemed to be fake and not genuine plot twists... kind of like the writers were syaing "Hey, we need more plot twists, have someone sit in the living room with the lights off and the TV on and let them point a gun at Chili when he walks in on them and..." it got tiresome fast.

Oh, and one last complaint. The entire movie seemed a good excuse to make a soundtrack... too much singing for too long. It was almost a musical... but that was sort of the theme. Get Shorty was funnier and more entertaining.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Staircase in the Cathedral Museum

Life Is But A Swim

Yesterday we went to the lake for a swim. I am not much of a swimmer. I like the activity well enough, but it is a rare thing for me to actually make the effort to do it. In fact the last time I took a swim was during my honeymoon three years ago. It has been since collect since I swam in anything other than a private pool, and since I was a child that I have swam in a lake.

A large part of the reason I don’t swim much is my body. I am not what anyone would call fit. I’m not a fat slob, but I’m not too far from it either. I have the white man paunch. I have no upper body development. If I have any sort of a tan it is of the farmers variety, which makes taking my shirt off less than pleasant for all spectators. The little swimming I’ve done since college has been in private pools with nearly no one actually in the water or poolside.

However, seeing the wide variety of people at the lake (women in bikinis with their large bellies hanging out, old men with their paunches tumbling over their speedos) I decided my unattractiveness would fit right in.

The water was cold. Which brought me quickly to the ever present lake decision: do I make my way into the water slowly, allowing me to adjust to the temperature in minute proportions; or do I just plunge right in, giving me a quick jolt which I absorb more quickly? Never one to prolong things I jumped right in and plunged underneath the water. This also gave me the ability to put all of my body underneath the water and out of the eyes of little boys who may decide to taunt me for either my whiteness or fat boy body.

Arising from the plunge I remembered why swimming in a static body of water isn’t always pleasant. The water was dirty. A hundred little kids had kicked up all the dirt, sludge, weeds, and slime from the bottom. I tried not to think about what particles were now clinging to my body, especially when some of it splashed into my mouth.

We swam for about an hour, at which time the question that always occurs to me when I go swimming occurred to me.

What do I do now?

As an adult, swimming isn’t exactly a fun activity anymore. The water is cool and refreshing from the hot sun. It is pleasant exercise for a time, but then I get bored. So we got out and returned home. I managed to avoid the scorching sunburn. Perhaps only because I’m in a perpetual sunburned state these days. Amy, however, was not so lucky. She is now several shades of red. She must have moved the straps on her swimsuit at some point because there are two large red stripes down her shoulders. For I forgot to put sunburn under her straps. Elsewhere, there are blotches of red and white, for my general ability of sunscreaning seems to not be so good.

Saturday, June 18, 2005


A continuation of last Saturday’s adventures.

After the horrors of the concentration camp, we trekked up a mountain to visit the chateau Haut-Koenigsburg. It was originally built in the 12th Century, but was sacked and rebuilt in the 15th century, and then sacked again and left to rot up until the early 1900’s where it was declared a national monument and completely restored.

Its purpose was mainly for defense, being one of many castles located in this particular area of So, its layout is not particular pretty, or ornate, but rather plain. That is not to say that it wasn’t interesting, or even beautiful, but that their purpose was not for its residence to live in grandeur. It will be interesting to compare this visit with the castles we visit just south of Paris. Those are supposed to be highly ornamental and gaudy enough to put the Biltmore mansion to shame.

On the road to the castle we saw signs for La Montagne des Singes which is to say the mountain of monkeys. Nearby they have a little zoo in which they keep hundreds of monkeys. Our friend Jill told us about the time they went to Monkey Mountain and brought their own popcorn. Apparently the zoo gives all visitors a little packet of popcorn to feed the monkeys, but it is never enough to last the entire visit. The popcorn they brought was of the microwave variety and had plenty of salt and better. It must have smelled and tasted great to the monkeys because she said all of them began to follow her around and became rather aggressive towards the popcorn. So much so, that the guards had to rush out and protect them from the monkeys!

Alas, we didn’t have time to visit the monkeys.

We gathered our people at the bottom of the castles, where there is a lookout point. The castle rests upon the top of a mountain and the view was splendid. After an hour or so of driving through the mountains we were all ready to use the restroom, and like most public toilets in France we had to pay 50 cents to actually use it. Although a few unsavory folks snuck into the stall without paying, because the guard was apparently off duty.

I was first surprised and happy to see that a scene out of the French classic, La Grande Illusion was filmed at the castle. Having just watched the film a few night before, Amy and I were very excited about this fact. For those curious, it is the scene in which the commander distracts the German soldiers so that the two French soldiers may escape out the window.

The interior of the castle looked very much like what a castle always looks in my mind’s eye. It was all very large. And I’m not talking about the size of the castle in it’s entirety, but each individual room, or hallway. The walls were all made of large stone blocks. The rooms were very open, with high ceilings. There were wiAlsace. Windows throughout, but shadows crept along many corridors. And there was a draft felt throughout.

It is difficult to imagine what it must have felt like to actually live there. Pre electricity it would have had to have been lighted using torches and gas lamps. The multiple fireplaces would have raged most of the night and day to keep any semblance of warmth. Even then it would have been very cold in many of the spaces, with cold drafts sweeping through. The fires would have kept everything hazy with smoke. And then there was always the thought of attack. The castle was sacked at least twice in its history, and it must have sustained more attacks than that. Much of the time they were surely at peace, but Alsace has a long history of violence and war.

One side of the castle was a keep, where there were many instruments of war. Cut into the walls were little slivers designed for archers to shoot out of. At our feet were little holes cut into the floor so that boiling oil or whatever could be poured down upon whoever was attacking. I couldn’t help but think of the Battle of Helm’s Deep from the Two Towers. In one room were old weapons of battle: suits of armor, axes and a variety of spears. In an adjacent room were more modern weapons including canons and rifles.

Seeing this castle and many of the medieval cathedrals throughout France always makes me think of life during those times. It is impossible for me to imagine. The harsh realities of daily life are unfathomable. If it wasn’t war, malnourishment or the plague killing you then it was your own king or the church stringing you up to die.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Dr. Katz: Professional Therapist

My good friend Jamison recently sent me the entire series of Dr. Katz: Professional Therapist on DVD. This has brought much joy to my heart, because none of the episodes from this series are yet available on DVD. My friend bought it off of Ebay from someone who essentially put his dubbed off the TV VHS tapes into the DVD format. The quality ranges from really quite excellent to something more akin to rather unwatchable garbage. Most of the episodes have that old VHS tape that’s been sitting in the attic for too long look. But it’s Dr. Katz on DVD and I’ll take what I can get.

The other, quite humorous, bit in this collection is that whoever mastered the DVDs didn’t manage to edit out most of the commercials. A few of the episodes are presented commercial free and look quite professional. The rest retain the commercials, but the creator has done us the favor of fast forwarding through them. This creates a nice nostalgic effect to the collection, reminding me of my days of recording favorite TV shows and fast forwarding through the commercials myself. He even does the guesswork on when the commercials will end, and the show will begin. Many times he’ll hit play only to find another commercial coming on. Or be a little slow, fast forwarding through the first few moments of the show.

The commercials themselves are also quite interesting. Craig Killborn is still hosting the Daily Show, Comedy Central is overhyping their sure to be hit show “Bob and Margaret” and Dell computers with 8 megs of RAM and 10 gig hardrives sell for only $2600!

The show itself is classic. It’s one of my all time favorite television comedies. The set-up for the show has Jonathan Katz playing Dr. Jonathan Katz, a professional therapist (high concept, I know). His patients consist of guest stars who are generally professional comics, whose “problems” are generally bits from their acts. Other characters are Dr. Katz’ perpetually lazy son, Ben (H Jon Benjamin), his sarcastic secretary Laura (Laura Silverman – how did they come up with these character names?). There is also the bartender and regular customer at a local pub Dr. Katz frequents (Julianne Shapiro and Will LeBow respectively).

Ben: "I'm saying, Dad, that it's lonely at the top. So if you wanna ride my gravy train, you better hop on, now."
Dr. Katz: "Why do you think this is the top? I mean, you could be lonely for any number of reasons."
Ben: "What are you trying to say?"
Dr. Katz: "I'm saying, you're a lonely guy. ... Don't blame it on being at the top."

The best part of the show is the interaction between Katz, Ben and Laura. The three have great chemistry and often feel more like three hilarious friends sitting around trying to one up each other. I doubt the show ever had much of a script, for it all seems rather improvised on the spot.

Ben: "I bought a, uh, one of those fake fountains. You plug it in, and the water runs constantly."
Dr. Katz: "A urinal."

The only problem with the show is when the guests aren’t all that funny. In the early days the guests consisted solely of stand up comics. Generally, these guys are spot on hilarious, doing their best bits. But, sometimes the guest is more annoying than funny (Judy Tenutu anyone?) Since an individual guest’s bits can make up 1/4th of the show, a bad guest could really drag the show down. This is especially true, when as the show got popular, non comedian’s made appearances. I loved Julia Louis-Dreyfus on Seinfeld, but here she says nothing funny, and her only gag seems to be that she goes to the toilet a lot while she’s pregnant. Katz makes the most of poor guests, though and milks the material for all its comedy potential.

Dr. Katz: "Hold on one second, Ben, let me play the Devil's advocate here, just for one minute."
Ben: "No Dad, don't, okay please, I don't like the Devil's advocate thing; you're too good at it."
Dr. Katz: "What about ‘Duck Duck Goose'?"
Ben: "Okay, you got a deal."

In the last season, the show did what too many television shows do when running out of steam: it tinkered with its own premise, and added characters. While in the previous five season, the only people with speaking parts were the main characters, and the guest patients. In season 6 suddenly there are miscellaneous extra’s popping up. Why, suddenly is there an exchange between Ben and his dentist? Todd, the video store clerk has become a running regular into this season as well. The actor portraying Todd (Todd Barry) had previously been a patient on the show. While the bits between Todd, the clerk, and Ben are usually funny, it is an additional character to a show flooded already with too many characters, and not enough time.

These are minor complaints in what is one of the funniest series to have ever hit the airwaves.

To sign online petitions to have Dr. Katz released on DVD click here.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Concentration Camp

I am a little late in getting this up. I am finding I have less and less energy for writing anything these days. I also found after writing my account of the concentration camp, I just didn't have it in me to talk about the castle. Perhaps some other time.

As our time in France is coming to an end, I have come to realize that we are just not going to be able to see everything that we had hoped to see. Though the border is but minutes away, Amy and I have seen very little of Germany, and thus it shall be until another visit some years in our future. I had truly hoped to visit the many castles that countryside holds, and also to visit some of the many horrors left over from the Third Reich.

This past weekend, I was able to visit one of each of these types of things, albeit in the Alsatian mountainside and not the mythic country that is Deutschland.

Our first stop was the concentration camp Natzweiler-Struthof. Though not the traditional death camp for Jews, it was never-the-less a place of absolute horror for many German criminals and members of the French resistance.

To say that I have been looking forward to visiting a concentration camp is to miss the point. Yes, I have wanted to go for a long time, and even felt some anticipation before we left, but I can’t say that I was looking forward to it in any real sense of pleasure. Visiting a place of torture and death is not my idea of a good time. Yet, it seems these places are important, not only in a historical sense, but in a manner of trying to understand to what we are capable of as human beings.

The camp is located high in the mountains. It is a beautiful area, and I often found myself struck by the majesty of the scenery around me and then the horror of the place below my feet.

Most of the barracks were destroyed by Neo-Nazis many years back. In their foundations are little plaques inscribed with the names of the other concentration camps. This is designed to tie this camp with all the others. What remains of the other buildings is a rebuilt barrack, a kitchen and a prison in which inmates were tortured, experimented on, and murdered.

In a little ravine beside the camp little flowers now grow. A placard noted that in this area many inmates were shot dead. It said the inmates were forced to carry large boulders up the hillside and deposit them in the ravine. A soldier would often kick the tired inmate just as he was bending over to drop the boulder. If the inmate fell from this kick, a machine gunner in the watchtower would shoot the inmate pretending it was an escape attempt. For this murder, the gunner would get an extra day of vacation.

At the top of the camp is a large memorial. It is a tall spire sculpted to look like flame and smoke, engraved with the image of a man. Next to the spire are small crosses, each with the name of a resistance fighter who died for the cause of France.

In the prison building, there were many methods of torture set up. Beside the regular cell rooms, were tiny cells designed as solitary confinement. They were about 4 feet in height, and no larger than a small closet. For the smallest infractures, inmates would be locked into these cells for days at a time, given only bread and water for nourishment. In a nearby room, inmates were experimented on. They were inoculated with various diseases such as Typhoid so that doctors could notate how their bodies reacted to them. When the inmates died their torturous deaths, they were then autopsied.

A small bare room was said to be a place of execution room. Inmates, not condemned to die in the gallows, but never-the-less committing some small infracture that angered a guard enough, would be taken into this room and shot in the back of the head. A small drain in the center of the room would wash away the blood.

The most harrowing site was the oven. Like many of the concentration camps, the Nazi’s decided the most effective way to get rid of the bodies piling up, was to cremate them. This camp held but one oven, but it was enough. To see a thing in which so many were destroyed senselessly, was a thing of horror. I will never forget it.

As I walked to the exit, I took once last look down the slope of the mountain, taking in the entire camp. Thinking about all I had just seen, I said a small prayer.

Let us remember what we are capable of, so we shall not forget what we have done.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Long Time Gone

I apologize for having written so little the past several days. This past week a group from Harding University came over and I spend most of my time with them. Each morning I tagged along as they split into group and distributed flyers throughout the neighborhoods. Every evening they held a meeting which Amy and I also attended. So, from about 8 in the morning until 11 or 12 at night I was very busy, excepting maybe a few hours in the afternoon. And even this time was often spent either doing my French homework or attending class.

To have spend the last 8 months doing absolutely nothing, it was quite a shock to the system to suddenly be busy for 12 hours a day.

On Saturday we all did some visiting. We went to the only concentration camp in France. It was not a place of mass execution for the Jews but rather a work camp for German criminals and members of the French resistance. Yet still, thousands of people were malnourished, tortured, experimented upon and murdered. It was a very harrowing experience. One I’ll not likely forget.

After the camp, we visited a castle. It was used for defensive/military purposes so was not nearly as beautiful or ornate as other castles in France, but it was still quite interesting.

In a day or two I shall post a more extensive entry about these two sites, along with some photographs. For now, I wanted to chime in, since the blog has gone to neglect over the last several days.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

The African Queen Review

See, I told you I would still write reviews. I'm just eliminating the stress that I had built into them.

The fact that it took me over 2 months to read the mere 136 pages that make up CS Forester’s The African Queen tells a great deal about the quality of the writing. Classic film buffs will note that this is no fault of the story, for it made a brilliant motion picture starring the likes of Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn. The problem, then, lies in the telling.

In Creative Writing 101 writers learn the importance of showing and not telling. Forester must have been sick that day for he spends his entire novel telling the reader exactly how the characters feel, think and are. He never allows his character’s actions or words give the reader an emotional response, he spends his pages telling us how to feel.

There is no chance to gain insight into a character through what they do, for Forester is much too busy telling all the pertinent details. There is no subtlety in the text. If we don’t get something the first time, rest assured, he will repeat himself two or three times.

What will keep the reader reading is the power of the story itself. For many years Rose has been assisting her missionary brother in the heart of the African Jungle. When he dies suddenly she enlists Charlie, a gin-swigging rough and tumble river boat captain, to ship her back to civilization. Along the way they must traverse deadly rapids, disease infected hoards of mosquitoes, German soldiers, and a river that is not meant for the sturdiest of boats, never mind the old, rickety African Queen.

Forester fills his tale with plenty of chills and spills. There is enough action to keep the pages turning, and an old fashioned romance to keep the ladies interested. Truth be told, there is almost too much action. In nearly every paragraph, some new obstacle presents itself that must be overcome. Each obstacle is overcome, of course, and that a bit too quickly. For though the obstacles are fretted over and stressed about, Charlie and Rose seem to overcome them within a few sentences; only to find another one waiting around the corner. It would have served the novel better to have had fewer problems, and more struggle to overcome them.

Forester has a keen eye for mechanical detail. He gives good exposition over the mechanics of making an old steamer like the African Queen keep going. He paints a detailed picture of the African landscape, as seen from a riverboat. The physical details of the boat and its surroundings are all apt, and true. It is in the abilities of the humans that bring an air of falseness.

Rose, though having never piloted a boat before, in a very short time somehow manages to master the intricacies of sailing a difficult steamer through dangerous rapids. Likewise, she sheds her moral inhibitions like a heavy coat in the sultry African climate. We are led to believe that an innocent, sheltered missionary can suddenly give up all of her belies and morals to a dirty, foul mouthed, drunk all in a matter of days.

Ultimately I would have been better off having just watched the movie again and left the novel on the bookshelf. The movie retains all of the excitement and grandeur of the story, and elevates the storytelling to the level of classic. The book seems flat in comparison.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Burning Down

I’ve been feeling a little rugged and ragged of late. The old burnout is creeping precariously close to my end trails.

I know, I know, burned out from what? You don’t do a darn thing, you lazy mother scratcher, you’re likely saying. What’s there to get ragged from, living the good life in France, amongst cheese, wine and beautiful nakedness?

And I’ll agree. But the burnout is still creeping in. When I decided to start reviewing items on my blog way back when, I decided to review basically everything I read, heard or saw. Obviously heard has been thrown completely out since I’ve not reviewed a record pert near never. But I have adamantly reviewed every book, every film that I have consumed into my brain cells. I generally run behind in these categories, being 2 or 3 reviews from being caught up at any given moment. I’ve even let this fact keep me from consuming something else.

No, lets not watch that movie tonight, I’ve got too many reviews to write. One might have heard my say to my wife, were you a bug on the wall, or some crazed French pervert listening in. Or that book I’m all but 10 pages from completing sits on the shelf being unread for fear of adding another review to my growing to do list.

What the crap!? I’ve started letting my poorly written reviews get in the way of my enjoyment of art. Suddenly it is work, and it shouldn’t be work should it? I love movies. I thoroughly enjoy discussing their merits, deconstructing their value, and reviewing them. I’ve been putting the review first, of late. Well forget that junk.

So, lately I’ve been watching a lot more movies, reading a lot more books, and not doing any writing. I do want to review these things. I do want to keep up the posts. But I’m taking a bit of a break. I’ll write when I’m inspired to do so, and not fret about having a stack of reviews I haven’t gotten to.

To wit, I now have the following reviews to write, which you may or may not ever get.

Sin City
The Cold Six Thousand
The African Queen
The Wild Bunch
Young Guns
Grand Illusion
Dracula’s Daughter
Son of Frankenstein
X-Files Season One
Dr. Katz

And I’ll be watching another movie tonight! Caution to the wind I tell you.!

Thursday, June 02, 2005

David Gans Announces Summer Tour

David Gans, the prolific singer/songwriter is performing a number of shows in his native state of California before heading off for music festivals in the Midwest and East Coast.

Gans performance is what he calls solo electric. It’s just him and his guitar on stage. Yet, thanks to an array of electronic gismos allowing the looping and manipulation of any sound, his music sounds more dense and layered than you’d expect.

Following in the singer/songwriter tradition, Gans writes songs that could be classified as folk, but contain influences as diverse as psychedelic rock, blues, and jazz. His live gigs are as diverse as any performer alive today. On any given night he plays his own tunes, and covers a myriad of artists such as Townes Van Zandt, John Prine, the Beatles, Dire Straights, Ernest Tubb and the Grateful Dead.

David Gans, the man, is just as eclectic as his music. Not only a darn fine performer, he has also written at least four books on music, produced several records including the Persuasians Might as Well and the Grateful Dead boxed set, and is the host of the syndicated radio show The Grateful Dead Hour

Check him out!

June 11 Oakland CA.

June 11 Oakland CA.
With Mario DeSio

June 12 San Rafael CA.

June 17-19 Laytonville, CA
Summer Sun at Area 101
With David Nelson Band, Rowan Brothers, Melvin Seals, Joseph Langham, Flying Other Brothers, 7th Direction, and others TBA. DG will play solo and as part of Rubber Souldiers, a Beatle jam w/ Chris and Lorin Rowan, Josh Zucker, and Adam Perry.

July 1-3 Garrettsville, OH
With Donna the Buffalo, David Grisman Quintet, Rusted Root, Little Feat, and others.

July 14-16
Somerset KY Master’s Musicians Festival

July 22-24 Bean Blossom, IN
Magnolia Fest Midwest

July 12-14 Mariaville NY
Gathering of the Vibes

August 19-21 Garrettsville, OH
Grateful Festival
With Dark Star Orchestra

October 20-23 Live Oak, FL
Magnolia Fest

More information on David Gans, including up to the minute tour information, can be found here.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Exploding Blogs

I suppose most everyone has noticed the blinking advertisement in my sidebar these last few weeks. BlogExplosion is a site designed to bring more traffic to your blog. It is a pretty ingenious program, actually. The way it works is that you sign your blog up into the program. In order to move traffic to your site, you have to view other people’s blogs.

With the main program, you must view the other blogs for thirty seconds to earn credit for your own blog. The more blogs you view, the more credits you earn. The more credits you earn, the more people view your blog.

They’ve set it up to keep the cheating to a minimum. When you view a blog, there is a frame at the top which holds a timer counting backwards from 30 seconds. When the thirty seconds is over you are told to click on a certain number. Various numbers are scattered throughout the frame. I like this system because it keeps people from clicking through the blogs super fast, without looking at them. It also creates trouble for anyone looking to create a macro to click the mouse every thirty seconds. In theory this means everyone is actually looking at your blog for at least thirty seconds.

Of course, theory isn’t always reality. It is very simple to have the blog in the background while you are surfing other websites, checking e-mail, or playing games. I often have BlogExplosion running while I’m doing my normal computer work. Every thirty seconds or so I flip over and click the right button earning me more credits. The only time I actually look at a blog is if something quickly catches my eye within the top of the page.

This has been good training for my own blog. This is, in part, why I started adding the Amazon images, and brought in the new banner. Images catch the eye a lot better than plain text. It also makes me work harder in being a better writer.

If you are looking to bring more traffic to your blog I would recommend BlogExplosion. Besides the method I have described to bring in traffic, they have several other methods. You can use some of your surfing credits to enter a monthly lottery. You can create ad banners that run along side the timer while others are surfing. They’ve even got a battle of the blogs thing going now. The site is a lot of fun, and it definitely works. I’ve seen a big increase in traffic in the two weeks I’ve been using it. We’re still talking traffic in the hundreds, not thousands, but for one little blog with no advertising, that’s pretty good.

One other thing I have noticed since using BlogExplosion is that my traffic from search engines has increased. Many of my review are now in the first or second page on a Google search. I’m also hitting much higher than I ever did for a variety of searches on many of the search engines. I’m not sure exactly why this is, but I suspect the fact that I started getting more traffic alerted the engines that my site may be worth going to. Or something.

This is actually better news than just getting more traffic. As I said, much of the traffic coming from BlogExplosion isn’t really great traffic. I’m sure my blog has remained in the background of many a computer for the requisite 30 seconds and quickly been moved away from. But it is exciting to think someone is searching for a review of the Hitchock classic, “To Catch a Thief” and reading what I have to say about it.