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Goodbye, Mr. Chips (2002)

30 Jun

GoodbyeMrChipsI’ll admit it.  Sometimes my “research” comes down to me doing quite silly things.  I’m not sure how much you’ll really learn about England by watching the Exxon-Mobil presentation of Goodbye, Mr. Chips but I certainly loved it.  It features Martin Clunes, the chap who plays Doc Martin in the show of the same name.  I don’t know why I like Clunes so much in both his role in this movie and as the good doctor in “Doc Martin”.  If he was my co-worker I don’t know if I’d even notice the fellow.  But somehow he wins hearts just by being genuine.

The story told in this movie has been told many a time.  It started as a book and I know that there is another movie and a movie musical based on that book.  I just happened to watch this version because that’s what the Hennepin County Library system had available.  The tale is that of a Mr. Chipping, an earnest Latin teacher with his own flair for teaching and interacting with boys in a British boarding school.  We watch as Mr. Chips protests capital punishment, values individuality and rewards moral courage.  We see him take an interest in the students as individuals and how WWII impacts the not-so-insulated world of a British institution.Though boarding schools seem to change very little over time, the film tells us, they cannot help the men they help create.  The challenges of life find us all.

Though I’d still like to see the film from 1939, I wasn’t disappointed here.  I enjoyed watching the awkward Mr. Chips fall in love with an independent and exuberant woman.  I was touched by the handling of the wounded students who returned to visit their stalwart teacher.  I’m not sure how much I learned about the boarding school experience that I hadn’t already known by reading up on Oscar Wilde.  I will continue to find ways to research aspects of Britain that are a bit on the bizarre end of the spectrum.  That’s the nice part of making your own curriculum, add anything that you like and change your mind along the way, too.  It is in this spirit that I have it in mind to binge on Monty Python as soon as possible.

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Below Stairs: Margaret Powell

29 Jun

BelowStairsMargaretPowellThe full title of this book is actually “Below Stairs: The Classic Kitchen Maid’s Memoir That Inspired Upstairs, Downstairs and Downton Abbey“.  Didn’t want you to miss out on anything but that’s a bit much for a blog title, even for me.

Margaret Powell writes up a detailed account of life in service.  And though it sounds like miserable, back-breaking work there is still so much charm in this book.  Isn’t it true that we often envy the lives of others just because they are so very different from our own?  As my job requires my sitting in front of a computer for ten hours or more a day, the vigorous efforts that are required of Margaret sound like a welcome change.  It’s as if I expect to feel that welcome sense of fulfillment we all have after accomplishing a day chock full of chores.  After pulling weeds, scrubbing the tub, taking out the garbage, washing the dishes and folding the laundry I feel like Champion of the World.  So naturally, through this lens, Powell’s time in service seems a bit more tantalizing than it should.

However, it’s hard to fully appreciate the long hours of tasks that filled her days starting at 5:30 every morning unless you were actually the one holding the dustpan, the mop, the blacking brush, etc.  And no matter how romantic a time seems there always the things that we forget.  To be a woman in service is to be seen as a separate grade of people.  There are servants and then there are those who serve.

As someone who grew up thinking that I could do anything that a man could do it would be hard to suffer popular opinions about what is or isn’t proper for a woman to do.  It would also gall me to no end to allow others to think that they are better than me because they employ me.  I also think that there has been a cultural shift over the years in how we view work.  There was a time when it was “beneath” people to get their hands dirty.  Now we are surrounded by DIY-ers and kickstarters.  Not only do we believe that we can do anything, we’re overwhelmed with options.  I feel, as a woman, the pressure to bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan, constantly remind the Mister that he’s a man and also be able to create a seasonally-appropriate table scape and garnish our meal with fresh rosemary that I personally grew in our window garden.

Perhaps I can look at Margaret Powell’s story with envy because she was limited to certain roles and certain tasks.  That today it’s easy to feel that we’re not doing enough simply because we can do so much more.  Somehow the Kelly Ripas and Martha Stewarts of the world have ruined our perception of just how wonderful it is to be a woman right now.  We still have so much further to go and the last few years have been steps backwards in many ways.  However, viewed through the lens of a woman born in 1907, we’ve come a long way, baby.

I have yet to watch Downton Abbey but it’s on my list.  I plan on making myself stupid amounts of tea and buying scones to have with marmalade and clotted cream.  I will binge on the series, don’t you worry.  In the meantime, this book was a welcome tale from a woman I would have loved to share my scones with.  Not my tea though.  You know for certain that I couldn’t make an Englishwoman tea.  Let’s not be silly.

 

Medieval Travellers: The Rich and the Restless – Margaret Wade Labarge

4 Sep

I really want to tell you about this book but there are two things getting in my way: the writer’s name and the keywords people are using to find my blog. 

First, Labarge.  Every single time I picked up this book I kept thinking of the 80s pop song “Rhythm of the Night” which you can see lyp synced here.  The urge to dance until the morning light kept coming over me.  Sometimes that’s exactly what you need to do and other times you have to lay in bed and read about rich people in the 1400s, know what I mean?  Two chapters in and I just stuck a Post-It™ over the cover to make. it. stop.

Secondly, you keyword searchers.  I know that you’re trying to get out of writing a book report by reading my take.  You know how I know?  Because you type in things like “summary” and “synopsis” after the book title.  Listen, if desperation has brought you to the point of counting on me for helpful advice then keep on being desperate, kids.  Oh, and thanks for stopping by.  I seriously do appreciate it.

Okay, now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about the book.  Basically during the medieval period leaders had to get out and show everybody that they were still the boss.  They didn’t do this by diamonds on their grills or firing people on national TV.  What they did was gather a bunch of their staff, friends and the dark ages version of Kato Kaelin and stomped all over their kingdom.  Doing this took a bunch of money and a bunch of time.  First off, the size and splendor of your particular wagon train had to be equal to how much of a rock star you were.  Kings are traveling with 40-60 people as a general rule.  Lords, priests, bishops, queens and other celebs didn’t have as large of a posse but they also didn’t gather their frequent flier miles alone.

So large groups of people traveling together, what does this sound like?  Oh, a tour.  And on a tour, you are with a bunch of your countrymen so this kind of prevents you from having to talk to outsiders which is exactly what happened.  They had one or two guys who were responsible for translating and guiding.  No guidebooks and no phrasebooks for these guys.  They didn’t even have to worry about changing money which was a huge concern back then as going from Paris to Rome could cause you to change through over a dozen different currencies.

Though you didn’t need a passport during these times (or a horridly unfortunate passport photo) you would need a letter of introduction or a go sign from the leader of the country that you would be passing through.  This was back in the day when a lot of the land was city states.  Meaning, if I left Minneapolis today and headed to Eau Claire, I’d have to get someone to sign off on me in St Paul, too. 

And I’d have to bring the guy sweet presents.  In the book Lab… let’s just call her Maggie, describes all these crazy presents that people were giving each other.  Poor servants are tasked with moving leopards, falcons, giraffes and all other wackadoo gifts across the Alps and the sea and plenty of other places.  The leaders of the known world at that time became super hard to shop for because everyone was trying to outdo each other.  You laugh but I better not see you in a stretch Hummer.

Anyway, this book was a fun read and I learned a lot, more than I’m sharing here.  The main point is that people always travelled.  I’m not the first white person to head over to Europe.  In fact, us crackers like to get over there quite a bit, according to Stuff White People Like.  I’m happy to continue the tradition.  While I’m at, remind me I need a falcon.

Rick Steves Labor Day Travel Sale

3 Sep

I think that the Mister are just about done gear shopping but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to share the We Can Do It Rick Steves image.   So head on over and get your savings now. 

Trip Ahoy! is in no way affiliated with Rick Steves (but gosh darn it, we wish we were).

Slightly Apologetic in Salzburg

3 Sep

I’m from North Dakota, a land populated by Lutherans.  If you don’t know any Lutherans (they aren’t very vocal about it, typically) let me describe them.  They are kind people but they frequently beat themselves up for not being kinder.  If someone gives a Lutheran a compliment on their shirt such as “I like your shirt, that’s a great color on you” they are likely to get an earful.  “This?  Oh, this is old.  And I think it makes me look kind of washed out.  I shouldn’t even be wearing it because it’s too warm out today but it was clean.  It’s not as nice as the shirt you’re wearing.”  After saying something of this sort they will find a way to compliment you a couple of times or leave the room in abject horror.

Typical Salzburger fare - not sure what it is, not sure I care. Let's eat!

Lutherans are also embarassed of their food.  They don’t want it to be too flashy so they typically cover it in some kind of Cream of Something soup.  The Holy Trinity to a Lutheran is Campbell’s Cream of Something, Cool Whip and Miracle Whip.  Let not a potluck be had without them.  I am glad of this.  When Lutherans have a potluck they delight in dishing out whatever is there and knowing that it will taste like what they had at the last gathering.  You know, except for that new fangled ramen salad that just showed up.  What was she thinking?

I joke but I love these people, which is good, because I am one.  I like to tell people that a North Dakotan Girl Scout’s cookie sales pitch is something like “You wouldn’t want to buy cookies, would you?”  Kind of assuming failure and wishing that this moment in the spotlight was over already.  Heck, I bought more than half of the band candy I “sold” and gave it to friends to spare myself this shame.  (Random aside, I just realized my band teacher’s name was Mr. Salzburg.  My life is not unlike a poorly written episode of the new Twilight Zone that no one watched.)

Durrrrr…  maybe I should get to the point about the Austrians here?  Well, I was reading a site today about Salzburg written by real live Austrians.  The Off the Beaten Path section appealed to me and I started to feel at home when I read phrases such as: “If you are in Salzburg as a tourist, you probably won’t be interested in any of the city’s sports facilities” or “Alas, since it is still in Salzburg, it effectively became a nice, but rather tame mix of a theater and bar”. 

I’ll be darned if their lukewarm enthusiasm hasn’t won me over.  I even read that Austrians are really uncomfortable with compliments.  They either are somewhat suspicious or embarassed.  These are my people.  I can’t wait to try their hotdish!

Oh and please read the wonderfully titled post they wrote called “Crappy 10: Things Not to Do in Salzburg“.  My favorite quote “Don’t wear Canada flags on all parts of your body if you are American.  It is ridiculous and doesn’t work.  Don’t worry: we know that not everyone of you guys voted for George W., and since Austria doesn’t have any oil, we can still love you without fear, no matter if you are Texan or Ontarian.”

Everybody In the Whole Cell Block

20 Aug

We have plans to visit Lucerne to see the former Swiss fortress that was hidden inside a mountain.  I wrote about that here but I’m sure that you’ve already committed it to memory so forget I said anything.  When I was looking for a hotel I came across a pretty unique one.  It’s called Jailhotel Löwengraben and it was a former jail.

Built in 1862 the jail was still in use until 1998 when a new prison was built and the prisoners moved along.  As the building was considered somewhat historic the city didn’t want to tear it down.  They floated a bunch of different ideas of what could be housed in the building without changing much of the structure.  My favorite has to be the plan to have a school there.  As if school didn’t feel enough like incarceration, let’s make it more realistic, shall we?  In the end, the hotel idea won out.  And since, as I mentioned, not much of the structure has changed, if you stay there you are staying in a jail.

They have three types of rooms – former cells, former offices and four suites.  The suites were a former library, a former rec room for prisoners, the director’s office and what used to be the visitor’s room.  The suites look like nice big rooms, the former offices or “Most Wanted” rooms look like smallish hotel rooms.  And the former cells or “Unplugged” rooms?  They look like cells… because they freaking were.  It seems that some of the good people on Trip Advisor didn’t quite the whole theme of the place.

The experience was really really close to jail experience! Gives you a first hand experience of what it would be to spend time behind the bars. The room was the most narrow/small room I have ever slept in! Dark, narrow and with a stell rail bed! The door of the room is made of old style steel & wood. There was not even a single window in the room except for a peep hole all the way up near the roof! (italics are mine)  And inside all this, was a make shift bath+toilet!
The experience was so bad and depressing that we kept roaming around in the streets even though we were dead tired. The very thought of getting back to this room was so repulsive that we chose to spend out time out doors until it was late in the night.

And…

The Rooms in this Jail Hotel were very small with hardly any ventilation. We felt choked and claustrophobic. Families should avoid this Jail!  (italics are mine)

Me and Seat Guru, We Got a Thing Going On

15 Aug

Any good travel guide or website worth its salt will tell you to head on over to SeatGuru.com.  There you can look at seating plans for your particular flight and pick the one you want and birds will magically appear and start doing your laundry.  I never bothered with the site because when I travel for business we’re usually booking last minute and seat assignments aren’t available.  There’s no fun in logging in to see what you cannot have, right?

Wrong.  I finally rambled over to Seat Guru today because apparently I’ve reached the End of the Internet.  And guess what?  There’s a whole bunch of stuff on there that’s useful… besides seats!  Cue the singing birds, it’s time for fluff and fold!

Go buy this owl doing laundry ceramic tile on Etsy! Click the link to get it. Amazing.

Seatmap for Your Flight

Okay, so this is pretty self-explanatory.  This is what Seat Guru’s bread and butter.  Pick your airline, type in your flight number and get the insider info.  Good seat, poor seat, seat from hell; they are all artfully detailed for you.  Now when you play Choose Your Destiny, you aren’t just blindly guessing.  Maybe you’ll actually get to sit in the seat, too.  Gadzooks!

Airlines

On the left navigation bar you can pick out which airline is lucky enough to serve you in-flight peanuts.  After selecting the carrier, you’ll get loads of information.  On the left, below the airline, the different planes they fly will be displayed.  You can click on a specific plane to get a seatmap, see the amenities and learn how many first class flyers will be avoiding your eye contact as you board.

The General Information for the airline has lots of information, in general.  Check-In, Baggage, Infants, Minors and Pets are the main categories.  So you can figure out how much your carry on can way or how big it can be.  Because I know that’s as exciting for all y’all as it is for me.  Jumping up and down yet?

Comparison Charts

Towards the bottom of the left navigation bar you’ll see links to Comparison Charts.  These suckers will give you a quick glance at what the airlines are offering, in general.  You can click through to the carriers or the specific planes you’re interested in.  I mean, China Airlines gives you a personal TV, don’t you want to learn more?

Travel Tips

There is such a wealth of information under this heading that I probably won’t be able to sleep tonight, I’m that excited.  But in all seriousness, this is really good stuff.  Researched, practical and updated advice from people who honestly travel.  You could do a lot worse than to browse through here and see if anything grabs your interest.  Examples include reviews of iPhone travel apps and guides to airports.

I Like What I’m Seeing

8 Aug

A couple of sayings come to mind when I think about art.  The first is that if the art is good it will make you feel something.  You may not like it but if you are responding to it then it’s good art.  The other thought is by Rick Steves.  He said that if the art is boring then you don’t know enough about it.

I’ve been trying to learn more about art in prepration for our trip for just that reason.  The Mister and I are making our way to the Louvre but we both like Impressionism a bit more, so we’ll be hitting the Orangerie (ohr-rahn-jzehr-ree) for sure to see Monet’s work there.  But this post is about the Musée d’Orsay and its fantastic website.  The Orangerie site is entirely in French, as befits a site for a museum in France, but if you click English in the top right corner you’ll get a PDF with all the particulars for visiting the museum.  Great information but then the Orsay had to kick out the jams with something they call Discovery.

The Orsay has set up a part of their website to really help you discover what kind of art appeals to you.  It’s magnificent, really.  It especially caters to those of us who like the art of this period but aren’t really sure about the terms or the artists.  Using Discovery you can view a work in the center frame with additional works on all four sides.  The top has a display of other works by that artist at the Orsay.  The bottom displays works from the same artistic movement and some will belong to more than one.  On the left are works from the same year and on the right are works with the same type of subject matter such as landscapes or modern life.

If you get caught up in one work then you can easily explore different aspects of it.  The tool doesn’t suggest anything either.  It doesn’t say “Oh, I see you like Rage Against the Machine.  We have some Joni Mitchell that you might also be interested in.”  Art is very personal and it lets you make the choice as to what you want to see.  I dig it. 

Even if you aren’t planning a visit to the Orsay any time soon I’d recommend visiting the site and finding out what art you love.  Angry Birds will still be there when you get back, promise.

City Walks with Kids: Paris

7 Aug

With kids?  Yes.  Let me explain.  The Mister and I like a lot of stuff that kids like, too.  Valleyfair, ice cream and not doing our chores.  So I thought that City Walks with Kids: Paris would be fun in at least a bizarre way but I’m kind of surprised at how good this is for trip planning.

Come on. Don't you think that bird with a beret is the cutest? Presh!

For example, Rick Steves is big on churches and art.  We know that we should be big on those things, too.  That’s why we are going to the Louvre and Notre Dame.  But wouldn’t it be good to know that while we’re checking out the Mona Lisa we can also see the medieval part of the Louvre that was once a castle with a real live moat?  And how about remembering the Hunchback of Notre Dame and checking out the gargoyles while visiting the cathedrals?  These cards appeal to the part of me that is a kid on vacation.  We can still get a dose of culture while not missing out on world-famous ice cream (it’s on the Île St-Louis at Berthillon, FYI).

These cards also have Metró stops and useful websites listed.  And fun cartoons on the back.  Which Lonely Planet and Fodor’s are sadly missing.  Honestly, if I could read a tour book with more cartoons I’d be on it in a heart beat.

It’s also something worth remembering when you’re going to Europe: fun.  There are a lot of things that you should see, right?  But we’re not the Griswolds.  It’s not a competition.  You don’t need to return home and fill in a survey that shows you saw all the big ticket stuff.  If you don’t care, don’t go.  Or at the very least, research whatever it is you’re dreading and find out why everyone else makes such a big deal out of it.  Because I’m pretty sure there’s a reason.  Maybe there’s ice cream?

Fly Like a Beagle

6 Aug

Do you have a dog?  We do.  Last October we brought home Henry and now all you dog people can shut up because I finally get it.  I was raised a cat person and I can’t imagine life without them but I have noticed a distinct difference.  Cats are like roommates.  They check in when you get home then they get back to what they were doing.  You interact with each other on your own terms.  They don’t need you but they like you.  Being loved by a cat is a pretty special thing.

Dogs, however, are like kids.  They need you.  They couldn’t be happier when you get home or sadder when you leave.  Their innate trust in their hoomins means we feel we need to earn it.  I’ve seen many a bump sticker that read “Lord, please let me be as a good of a person as my dog thinks I am”.  I don’t think that’s possible but I do think that we can try to do right by our dogs and, for that matter, all animals.

That’s why the Humane Society recommends leaving the animals at home when you travel by air.  They cite reasons such as extremes in temperature, issues with ventilation and being treated like the rest of the baggage.  So, in addition to losing our luggage, airlines have lost pets.  Animals do become ill, get injured and even die on flights. 

Boarding time at Pet Airways. Yet another reason that I want to be a dog in my next life. A rich dog.

Domestic airlines are required to provide this to the Department of Transportation and you can check out there latest reports here.  I read the one for July of this year and found that there was one injury and one death on board this year.  It’s fantastic that this number is as low as it is but… what if that was your pet?  I read the report of a pug that arrived at the Minneapolis airport in 2010 no longer breathing.  I can’t imagine how his owner felt when they opened his carrier.  You can read reports by region by visiting PetFlight.com which is an amazing resource.  They have information by carrier and suggestions for keeping your friend safe.

Despite all the cons, you may still find yourself traveling with your pet.  The best thing to be done in this scenario is to research it.  Petfinder.com, where I met up with Oona and Higgins, started doing a review of the most pet-friendly airlines in 2010.  Here’s the link for 2011.  At the top of the list is a carrier called Pet Airways.  And they are called that because they don’t have passengers, they have “pawsengers” according to the airline.  Everybody gets checked on every 15 minutes and potty breaks are available to the animals on the go.  It’s spendy and the routes are limited but this would be a really good option.  Everybody gets their own crate and their own bag of peanuts.  Okay, I lied about the peanuts.

Henry is not going with us on our trip next year.  Actually he’s bumming us out because we know we’re going to miss him like crazy pants while we’re gone.  I guess we’ll just have to teach the little buddy how to use Skype.