Roman Holiday

One of the things I do at the end of a long semester is to watch as many films and television shows as possible and to read as many books as I can.  I think most people do this; at least, several of my students professed deep pleasure at the idea of being free to read what they wanted when they wanted to.  Now, I’m still working on different things, so much of my reading is work related.  None of my viewing choices are work related, thankfully.  I’m engulfed in the series finale of Lost, and I’m trying to resist the urge to re-watch the previous seasons now so easily accessed on

I’ve also been dreaming of Italy again, a summer time habit of mine.  I need to go back to Florence.  But for now, I’ll take it via film.  (Indeed, a lot of my travel yens are inspired by film.)  I saw Letters to Juliet this past weekend, and it was just a delightful romantic comedy.  I could have done without the B-plot of Sophie’s looks good on paper engagement–what a way to under use Gabriel Garcia Bernal–,but the A-plot of the Secretaries of Juliet and answering letters people write to the Juliet of Shakespeare’s play was smart, quirky, and engaging.  (I say this as someone who still doesn’t like Romeo and Juliet; not even Bax Lurhamn was able to fully recover that play for me.)  Vanessa Redgrave as Claire Smith was warm, and her slow, measured way of moving and speaking grounded the film in the paper thin realities of old age and righting regrets.  Indeed, Sophia’s love story and realizations were merely a vehicle for Claire’s journey to find her lost love.  It ended with perhaps too much sweetness, but I think that was a product of the almost unnecessary B-plot.  Surely another way could have been found to send Sophie to Verona?

I also re-watched Roman Holiday this week.  I forget how measured the film is after the barge fight.  Of course, Mr. Bradley has fallen for Princess Ann by this point, but the realization takes him completely by surprise.  The looks between Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn are full of longing and knowledge that this spark between them simply cannot be.  She must return; they know it and we know it.  The whole last few scenes, from him taking her back to the palace to the press conference, dwell on the theme of duty and longing.  There’s no angst here, just a quiet acceptance and Bradley acknowledging his original duplicitous role in giving Ann her holiday.  The film resists the quick fix that a film today would have, which is a large part of why Hepburn won an Oscar for this role.  Her performance before the press conference is smart and vibrant, but it’s the calm reserve and control she shows in this scene that makes the film.  Both Peck and Hepburn have to convey worlds of emotion via looks and innuendo.  Nothing can be clearly stated.  And the end scene, with him walking quietly away from the podium, after she and all the press have left, is profound.


October 2009: Vancouver, Part I

So, I planned on writing about my trip to Vancouver last year, but the inevitable press of school, deadlines, and grading got in the way.  I’m doing it now because a) I want to and b) I’m testing my picture embedding skills.  Hopefully, I’m not as technologically inept as I suspect I am.

Most of my travel in the last few years has been driven by conferences or weddings.  In fact, all five of my trips since moving to FSM have been for one or the other reasons, excepting trips back to Dallas.  Most conferences don’t take place in cool cosmopolitan cities.  They’re mostly in places like Bloomington, IN.  Great college towns with not much to see beyond the college or the pubs.  Minneapolis, where I went for RSVP in August, was a surprising revelation.  Of course, I went in August, so I have no idea what it would be like in December, although the number of walkways and underground tunnels connecting buildings together suggests that no one goes outside unless they have to.  At any rate, Vancouver was a conference trip, meaning a large part of my time was spent in a hotel conference room listening to and giving a paper.  Professionally, the conference went well.  I gave a decent talk that was followed be a good q&a.  I met cool people and got to have a lovely dinner with my dissertation director.

But, there are only so many papers you can hear or so many times you can go over your talk or avoid doing so.  Instead, I walked Vancouver.  It’s a gloriously small, walking city surrounded by water and nature.  I’m strangely drawn to the ocean, and every time I stepped outside the hotel, I was drawn to the water.  The first evening I walked down to English Beach.

English Beach and logs

All along the beach, they have logs set up, but the guide book never said why. I can only presume from Vancouver’s days as a timber hub.  At any rate, I found myself fascinated by the ways the forest melded with the water.

English Beach, long view

I was also surprised by how much use the beach got on a brisk Thursday afternoon in October.  There were numerous people walking and jogging along the beach, boats moving in the harbor, and even people canoeing along the shore.

The English Beach area also had several interesting public art displays. (The whole city felt like a public art display.)  One was the Inukshuk statue placed at one of the look out points for English Beach.  For the casual tourist, the statue seems to celebrate the theme of friendship.  However, as the keynote speaker for the conference noted, this particular statute is controversial.  Inukshuks are a common feature of Inuit art.  The Inuit, while one of the largest Canadian aboriginal groups, are not from the British Columbia area.  The key note speaker dripped disdain as he talked about the incongruity of having this particular statue in Vancouver.

The Inukshuk, English Beach

I’m not familiar enough with the complexities of Canada’s aboriginal groups or First Nations (I’m not even sure the Wikipedia article on First Nations has the distinction between Inuit, Métis, and First Nations right), so I can’t say if his disdain was well warranted or simply part of his style.  He seemed pretty disdainful of many of the incongruities and layering of cultures that have shaped Stanley Park.  Again, it just might have been his speaking style that evening.  I’ve heard him speak on a similar topic at another conferences, and he didn’t come across quite that, um, snarky.

The other statue I took pictures of were the Laughing People.  I loved this circle of people making faces.  It made me happy at the end of a long day of travel.

The Laughing People, English Beach

More on Stanley Park tomorrow.

dream hipster prep vacation

Nantucket Great Point Light House, courtesy Wiki Common Media

My good friend Mouse and I were discussing vacations this past Saturday.  Since his wife is probably going to Ireland on a choir trip this summer that is really too expensive for him to tag-a-long on, he’s looking at going on vacation by himself.  (The trip will also use up all of her vacation time.)  He’ll probably go to Mexico, but it got me thinking about what my ideal solo vacation would be.  I travel for a variety of reasons, usually for work.  I need to take a research trip to the UK soon, and I would love to research/visit/sight see/ in Australia.  But for a vacation, for an absolute break from the world, I think I would take a hipster prep vacation to Nantucket or the Maine coast.  It would be all diffused sunlight, strawberry rhubarb pie, and lazy days on the beach with a good book.  I’d wake up late, and stay out all night star gazing.  I would stare at the ocean for hours, doing absolutely nothing.  I’d build awful driftwood fires.  In my head, it’s a vacation with a ramshackle beach house in whitewash tones.  It’s also with a fabulous wardrobe that I can’t afford and set to the soundtrack of the Innocence Mission’s “Geranium Lake” and all of Vampire Weekend’s oeuvre.  It’s like Love Story without the bad dialogue or tragic ending, but with the great clothes.  I realize that it’s super cheesy, but I think dream vacations are about transforming yourself for a little while into an idealized version of you.