August 2010

Several friends joined me over the course of my birthweek to celebrate, and we went to several ball games and also out to dinner.  But today was nothing less than pure, unadulterated awesomeness.

It’s yours truly’s birthday today, and my friend “N” and I made the 2-plus-hour drive to Orlando to check out Universal’s newest addition to their Islands of Adventure park, “The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.”  This particular section of Islands of Adventure isn’t large (there are only 3 rides), but it’s just beyond amazing.  You can see Hogwarts Castle on a hill before you see the archway leading into Hogsmeade (Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley are combined here, but I’m not so nitpicky that I’m going to complain about it), but when you walk through the arch, there it is: Hogsmeade. Every single person in the vicinity had the same reaction to seeing Hogsmeade – they were bowled over at how realistic it is.  All of the buildings are covered with “snow,” and you can see Ollivander’s wand shop, Honeyduke’s, Zonkers, etc.  Some of the stores are not real, but you can look in the windows and see a shop that supplies cauldrons, or a shop that sells quills, or the shop where Hermione bought her lovely pink dress for the Yule Ball (the dress itself is in the window).

I apologize in advance for the quality of the photos – the place was packed, and I did my best to get as few strangers in the pictures as possible.  Quite a few of the nation’s children are already in school, so it wasn’t quite as packed as it had been  but, based on the amount of Mets, Yankees, Giants and Jets apparel I saw, it seems that fully half of the New York Metro area was there today. And that’s in addition to people with British accents, Indian accents, Spanish accents, Italian accents, German accents and Portuguese accents.  Pottermania’s reach is global, and the park’s attendance just proves it.  As always, click on the pictures to make them larger.

This is the archway leading into Hogsmeade:

Here is the Hogwarts Express:

And here is Hogwarts Castle:

The ride inside the castle, “Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey” is outstanding.  You walk through the castle on the way to the ride, and get to hear the pictures of Slytherin, Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff and Gryffindor talk about you while you’re waiting.  Dumbledore greets you and then you get to meet Harry, Ron and Hermione, who take you on the ride itself.  The ride is supposed to give you the feeling of riding behind Harry and Ron on your own broomstick.  It’s incredible.  The first time we did it, it was great, but the second time it was even better because we knew what to expect, and could pay more attention to what we were seeing.  So, what did we see?  Spiders, Dementors, the Quidditch pitch, the Forbidden Forest, etc.  We’d arrived at 8:30 and they opened the gates at 8:45 instead of 9, so we were in and out the first time before 9:15.  They provide free lockers for any loose items while you’re on the ride, and part of the line goes through Professor Sprout’s greenhouse.  Alas, we did not see any mandrakes until we were window shopping in Hogsmeade.

Here are some photos of the Flight of the Hippogriff.  This is a fun roller coaster that we also rode on twice.  The first picture shows the front of the roller coaster:

Here are the “train” and Buckbeak:

This Hagrid’s house, which you pass while waiting to get on the ride:

The last ride is the Dragon Challenge.  It is 2 coasters that take off at exactly the same time and that meet up along the way (yes, that should be taken literally).  It is, simply put, the scariest coaster I have ever been on.  The Incredible Hulk coaster looks even scarier, but you are not going to get me on that one.  Ever.  This is the entrance to the Dragon Challenge ride.

We were on the red coaster.  Warning – do NOT sit in the front row unless you want to take even more years off your life than this coaster already does.

Here are more photos of Hogsmeade, including the exterior of Honeydukes:


An unidentified shop in Hogsmeade

Hogsmeade rooftops

Hogsmeade skyline

Honeydukes and Zonker’s are connected inside, and you can see some chess pieces that look very familiar.

Chess set

I bought Dark Mark lollipops for my nephew and niece, and some chocolate toads for myself (OK, OK, I’ll go back on Weight Watchers tomorrow!).

And here are the 4 house banners, followed by the Hogwarts Choir (including the singing frogs):

Choir with frog accompaniment

Here is the Weasleys’ car:

We never made it into Ollivander’s because the line was longer than that for some of the rides.  You can buy wands on the street, and chocolate wands at Honeyduke’s.

I had so much fun today.  We enjoyed some butterbeer (hint – get it frozen!!) and bought some pumpkin juice to enjoy later (it’s chilling in the fridge as I type).


Being unemployed means I have so much more time to read.  Not that I don’t want to find a job, it’s just that I am thrilled to have a chance to make a dent in the TBR list.  In between reading about real estate law, that is.

While I was re-reading another DIK  — Girl Meets God by Lauren Winner — I learned that Ms. Winner recommends Miriam’s Kitchen by Elizabeth Ehrlich, so I visited the library and took out their copy.  I am very glad I did.  Miriam’s Kitchen is New York-based writer Elizabeth Ehrlich’s memoir about growing up as a (mostly) secular Jew in New York and Detroit in the 1950s/1960s, and her decision to be more observant than she had been earlier in her life.  It’s a good read, and also contains some mouth-watering recipes. And the best part is that you don’t have to be Jewish to appreciate the food Ehrlich talks about.

I also just finished The Blind Side, by Michael Lewis.  Lewis is the author of Liar’s Poker and Moneyball, among others.  Liar’s Poker is one of the funniest books I have ever read, and Moneyball is a fascinating look at how baseball executives evaluate talent using statistical analysis.  I now have to read his newest book, The Big Short, which is another book about Wall Street (I’m #16 on the library’s waiting list for this one).  I haven’t yet seen the movie based on The Blind Side, but I already know there have to be some differences from the book.  The book doesn’t just talk about Michael Oher and his relationship with the Tuohy family (which is the focus of the film); the book also covers the evolution of the position of left tackle in American football.  I do follow football (J-E-T-S JETS JETS JETS!!), but I freely admit to not knowing as much about it as many of my friends do and some of the minute details of the game went over my head.  But that’s OK, because the human interest part of the story is just wonderful and I cannot wait to see the movie.

I also took out the two Bridget Jones books…in French.  I figured it’s a good opportunity to practice my French by reading something I’m already familiar with.  I’d wanted to find some Harry Potter books in French too, but my local libraries don’t have them.  I could try Interlibrary Loan, but it’s not quite that important to me.

Last but not least, I’ve just been notified that I can pick up Losing Our Religion by S.E. Cupp, so I’ll get to that shortly too.  Of course, I’m far behind my planned schedule for Emma, which is not a Good Thing.  Sorry.

I finished The Man Who Loved Books Too Much yesterday afternoon and have been wondering how to review it.  It’s an interesting read and it’s all true.  But I’m not very impressed with the behavior of the author, a San Francisco-based writer named Allison Hoover Bartlett.

John Gilkey is a book thief operating primarily out of the San Francisco area, and Ken Sanders is a bookseller from Utah who helps catch him.  Bartlett gets to meet both men, and attempts to give us insights as to why Gilkey does what he does.  But, in her desire to “tell the story” not “be the story,” she freely admits that she would feel awkward about turning him in when she knows he’s still stealing books. Simply put, Bartlett doesn’t want to get involved.  She tells us ad nauseum how torn she is between getting the story and doing what’s right, but in the end, she sides with the story.  It is, to be sure, an interesting story, and Bartlett does a good job telling it, but I’m saddened at her attitude that the story is more important than doing the right thing.

We all have them — those books and movies that we cannot imagine living without.  I know some people try to come up with a top-10 list of their DIKs, but I can’t think about mine in terms of numbers.  If I were in a situation where I’d have to limit my DIKs to a certain number, then we’d have to take some anthologies to that desert island in order to get all my favorites included.

I started thinking about a DIK list when my “new” copy of Love Is a Four Letter Word arrived from Abebooks.  I already own one that I bought from the UK but, unfortunately, it’s still in storage.  So when I had a real craving to re-read the book, I found a cheap copy from a bookseller in Canada.  How cheap?  The shipping cost more than the book, that’s how cheap.

Love Is a Four Letter Word is not famous.  It is not a classic.  It wasn’t written by an author (Claire Calman) who will be remembered hundreds of years from now.  But it is still one of my favorite books of all time.  There are parts that are laugh-out-loud funny, and there are parts that make me break down and cry.  And it’s not just me.  Everyone I’ve ever lent it to has adored as much as I do (and several of them have purchased their own copy), and the blurb on the back of this newly purchased Canadian edition says:

Reviewers and readers alike found themselves laughing one minute and reaching for tissues the next as they got caught up in this emotional rollercoaster of a novel, a funny yet unexpectedly poignant tale of love, loss and letting go.

Love Is a Four Letter Word is a perfect marriage of style and substance.

There are a lot of twists and turns in the plot — you start reading and think you know where the story is going, but then all of a sudden, you realize that Calman has taken the story in a totally other direction.  But by then you’re hooked, so you keep reading.

Bella Kreuzer is a Londoner who moves to a smaller city where she only knows her friends Viv and Nick.  She has a new job and a new house…and old memories.  Her former live-in boyfriend, Patrick, is out of her life, and she is having a very difficult time moving on.  The new house has a garden that is currently unattractive but which does have possibilities, and she hires landscaper Will Henderson to help her out.  She and Will have an instant rapport, but Bella’s memories of Patrick (and — as we can see, but she can’t — her problems with her mother) get in the way of the relationship going any further.

I am fully aware that my description of the story makes it sound rather dry, but I really can’t tell you any more without giving too much away.  But I can say without hesitation that this book is worth reading. Oddly, Love Is a Four Letter Word reminds me of both Persuasion and Truly, Madly, Deeply, two other favorite stories about learning how to move on with your life.  If you aren’t conversant with British slang it might be somewhat less enjoyable, but the Internet is a wonderful thing, and you can always look up words that aren’t familiar. I implore you not to let that get in the way of reading this truly beautiful book.

I lost my job yesterday and am taking the weekend off before plunging back into the job hunt.  I’ll file for unemployment as soon as I’m eligible, and that should allow me to continue paying bills for the foreseeable future.  I’ve been unemployed more times than I care to think about, and I’ve  never been one to sit around the house feeling sorry for myself.  I like keeping busy, and so have already started working on doing just that.  The people at the local library are happy to have me back as a volunteer, and I would bet that the church needlepoint group will take me back too.  I have school on Tuesdays and Thursdays this semester, so that’s another way of keeping my brain in gear.

But while I have the time, I plan to read the books I haven’t gotten to, to watch the movies I haven’t gotten to, and to get some more cross stitch done.  And, speaking of books I haven’t gotten to, when I went to the library to re-up, I saw that “my” copy of The Man Who Loved Books Too Much had arrived, so I plan to start that one later today.

After, of course, a good cry and a long nap.

I’m not trying to copy the “Seen on the Subway” feature over at BookishNYC’s wonderful blog, but I couldn’t resist posting these items. Obviously, I don’t take the subway anymore, and people here don’t carry books with them to read while in line or whatever (I do, but that’s just me), but people do drive, and some people have rather interesting “decorations” on their car. Don’t forget to click on the pictures to make them bigger.

I saw this on Main Street in downtown Sarasota not too long ago:

Do you think Lady Catherine would approve?  It’s a Chrysler and, I would think, rather suitable for a modest parish priest and his family. 😉

And then I saw this in the parking lot at a Bradenton Marauders game last week:

And that, of course, reminded me of this: Time for Some Campaignin’.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t make me laugh any more.  *sigh*

It poured off and on most of the day, so I stayed home all afternoon and watched movies.  For some reason, I didn’t feel like reading anything I needed to think about, so continuing with Emma was out.  But, on my way home from church this morning, I caught a little bit of XM 59’s “Breakfast with the Beatles,” and remembered I had never watched the remastered editions of A Hard Day’s Night, Help! and Yellow Submarine that I’ve owned since they were released.  So that’s what I decided to do.  I spent the afternoon reliving my childhood.

IMDb says A Hard Day’s Night was first released in August of 1964, just before my 5th birthday.  My parents saw the tail end of it when they went to see The World of Henry Orient (another GREAT movie, by the way), and my mother was impressed enough that she took me to see it shortly afterwards.  I adored it.  Even at the tender age of 5, I loved the Beatles and, to this day, I own copies of the American pressings of several of their early albums, including A Hard Day’s Night in glorious mono.  She also took me to see Help! and Yellow Submarine, both of which I also loved.  I’ve seen all 3 countless times over the years, on both large and small screens.   Back in the 1970s, before VCRs, I would scan the TV listings and wake up in the middle of the night and sneak downstairs to watch them, if necessary.  Since we only had a black-and-white television, I missed out on much of what makes the latter 2 movies so great.

Unfortunately, I spent so much time watching the bonus features on the discs that I didn’t get to Yellow Submarine this afternoon.  But no worries; there’s always next weekend.  I really enjoyed the extras on both discs, particularly those for A Hard Day’s Night.  There are more than a dozen interviews with key players, including Richard Lester (the director), George Martin (the Beatles’ producer), John Junkin (Shake), and David Janson, who played the young boy (“Charlie”) who meets Ringo while he’s wandering around on his own.  I learned a lot about the making of the film, including that the theme song was not written until late in the process and that some of the filming techniques were revolutionary for their time.  Because of his involvement with these 2 movies, Richard Lester is sometimes referred to as the “father of MTV,” to which he replies that he wants a blood test.

One thing I found particularly interesting is that Wilfred Brambell, who plays Paul’s grandfather, was only in his early 50s when A Hard Day’s Night was made (he was born in March of 1912, and he turned 52 during filming).  In the UK, he was most famous for having played Albert Steptoe in the British series Steptoe and Son, which was turned into the Redd Foxx vehicle, Sanford and Son, for the US market. Brambell had no problems playing characters who were older than he actually was — the man who played his son in Steptoe, Harry Corbett, was only 13 years younger than Brambell and, given that Paul McCartney turned 22 in 1964, Brambell was certainly not old enough to play McCartney’s grandfather in A Hard Day’s Night. Knowing Brambell’s real age made the scene in A Hard Day’s Night where old Mr. McCartney talks about remembering something that happened in 1909 particularly amusing, given that the actor playing Mr. McCartney wasn’t even born until 3 years later.

We also learn where the recurring joke about how “clean” Mr. McCartney is comes from.  Brambell’s character, Albert Steptoe, was, apparently, called a “dirty old man” in that program, and so Alun Owen (who wrote the script for A Hard Day’s Night) took that joke and twisted it around for this movie.  And, speaking of Alun Owen, we also learn in the extras that, while his name may be Welsh, he was from Liverpool, and had a similar sense of humor to John, Paul, George and Ringo which is why the dialogue sounded so natural.

Another thing I really liked hearing was George Martin saying that “I Should Have Known Better” is one of his favorite Beatles songs.  It’s not just “one” of my favorites, it is my absolute favorite, so I’d say I’m in pretty good company. 😉  In his interview for the remastered movie, Kenneth Haigh, who plays Simon in A Hard Day’s Night, talks about how much of the Beatles music hearkens back to traditional Irish and Southern American music.  I wholeheartedly agree with him on this — and I’ve also noticed that a lot of modern country singers regard the Beatles as an influence, along with bluegrass and its Celtic cousins.

The extras for Help! aren’t quite as extensive, but they do show the process used to remaster the movie.  That was really interesting. Other than that, I didn’t learn very much about the making of this movie.  But the movie itself is still a whole lot of fun. And, of course, the music is incomparable.

I am so glad I got to see these movies again.  I don’t have HD or Blu-ray, but the regular remastered discs still look much better than the older copies of the movies.  For anyone who grew up on 60s music in general and the Beatles in particular, I cannot recommend these enough.

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