Wednesday, April 17, 2019

I Like the Living, Dead Sculptures

It's always the cactus that someone else would call ugly or dead-looking that I not only like but find absolutely beautiful.

Partly, I just like weird things. Emus, for instance, are gorgeous and awesome. Everyone has their own type of preferences.

But the strange cactuses always give me so much to ponder. Some look sculpted, less about lush foliage and more about the shapes that they make. Like my night-blooming cereus, which has skinny arms that reach like tangles through the air, journeying this way and that. Plants like this are poetic in the way that they live.

This picture is from a couple years ago; the plant is much, much taller now.

And plants like this thing are amazing in the way that they live:


Is it alive? Does it look alive? Oh, yes, it's alive--believe it, it's thriving. Hey, it lives a little differently than a rose bush or an apple tree does but it isn't a rose bush and it isn't an apple tree. Its very life is defiance of death.

No water? Hey, that's okay, I can make it, anyway. Piles and piles of sunlight? That's cool, I'll manage. Give me the worst; it makes me thrive. Just watch me; I turn death to life. Those who look at me and think I look funny, they don't understand, and that's okay. I'm a living, dead sculpture, and that in itself is enough to celebrate.

The cactuses that express all that life is, in beautiful sculptures, are the best of all.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Thoughts on Episode IX Teaser

The newly-released teaser trailer for Star Wars: Episode IX was indeed simply a teaser. Two minutes is a decent length, but it was careful to not show much of anything--which frankly made it somewhat boring to me. But of course, anything that they do show gives us the chance to guess and surmise and theorize. So let's commence with my thoughts on all that (not having seen anyone else's thoughts yet).

Small note: what's with the Rey panting for the first few seconds? I know it's probably trying to evoke her feeling the Force for the first time on Ahch-To, but I found that a weird and unnecessary way to start the trailer.

Luke's narration feels repetitive, like ground we've already covered. But again, it's a teaser, so they have to kind of focus on the ground we've already covered to get us excited for what's coming next without actually showing us what's coming next. And then we have the princess theme playing even though we know that there can't be much Leia in this film--but it stands to reason that her role would still be significant. Rey's outfit at the end there is a combination of her standard look and the Leia white robe/dress (it's the color plus the hood). So we can assume that when Leia dies, Rey in some way assumes her role. And what was Leia? Hope and a leader.

I don't care for the whole long buildup to Rey flipping into the air to spear Kylo's ship (that is his ship, right?). Sure, some action's good in Star Wars, but it shouldn't be the focus (again, it's just a teaser trailer, so this doesn't mean that it'll be the focus in the movie itself). And weren't some of the silly flips and all one of the things that made the prequel trilogy a little . . . less than perfect to many viewers?

What I want to know: what do we see of Kylo in this trailer? Very little. We see more of Rey because we know what Rey's up to already so it doesn't disclose any secrets to show her. But what will Kylo do and what will happen to him? We see him fighting (presumably still on the wrong side) and we see his helmet being mended. Yeah, it's stretching things, but we don't really know that he and Rey were fighting--what if they were training together? And is he really the one mending his helmet? Isn't he done with that facade? It wouldn't make sense for him to try and put it together again, would it? It's broken and he's broken and now he wants his real rage to show on his face because he's done with putting up a fake facade of rage--he has the real kind now. So that does make me wonder if it's someone else--or if there is a specific, random reason for the helmet to be put together again.

Because remember, artifacts have been very important in the sequel trilogy. The Aftermath books had all sorts of random characters collecting items that had belonged to the Sith for rituals, etc. Kylo kept Vader's mask as a sort of idol. What if the masks have something to do with the return of that laughter at the end of the trailer?

Of all the characters we all expected to see come in or return, the Emperor probably wasn't one. I keep expecting Vader or Anakin to come back in one form or another. It was always a question of whether or not Snoke was truly dead for good. But the Emperor? Unless, of course, Snoke somehow was the Emperor--but the books seem to disprove that and put him as a separate persona. I mean, unless somehow it isn't just Jedi who've achieved balance in the Force who can appear as Force ghosts. Maybe the Sith have a way of returning as dark spirits--maybe that's all we see. Or maybe the laugh is just part of a vision that Rey has.

That title? I don't like it; it doesn't roll of the tongue. I guess it doesn't need to, though; we'll all just call it Episode IX, anyways. I don't think that the title is confirmation that Rey is a Skywalker. We've covered that. It could mean that Ben Solo returns, that Kylo finally ends. But I keep thinking about how the art book for The Force Awakens mentioned that the first thing they did when beginning work on the new trilogy was to answer the question of who Luke Skywalker was. The Last Jedi was all about dispelling the myth of Luke Skywalker. Maybe this film will be about bringing the myth back, in which case The Rise of Skywalker refers to the return of the myth. So Rey could in fact be the one continuing the myth, becoming the new figure that carries on the hope. Or it could still be Ben, or Ben and Rey together (or their child . . . oh, it's just one film, okay, maybe not, that's fan fiction, eh? then again, the whole Force bond thing was literally fan fiction, too, and that made it into the film).

So I don't overly care for the trailer itself. But I suppose it did its job of giving us a little tease.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Coco Chocolatier: Gin & Tonic

I guess it was the whole "small chocolatier" thing (out of Scotland, no less) that drew me to Coco Chocolatier. And while I've never had a gin and tonic, the ides of a Gin & Tonic Dark Chocolate sounded like something worth trying, something a little different. At first I thought the colors of the packaging created a cool vibe, but now I'm split. They remind me of the watercolor paintings that (less than high end) hotels used to have in their rooms in the '90's. Then again, a dress at Anthropologie right now reminds me of those same paintings--so maybe the look is coming back in?


The bar itself comes in that standard mold with the small rectangles that are about the size as in a Green & Black's bar. Great size; I approve. As you can tell by the bloom, I did let this bar sit for quite a while before I got around to reviewing it; sometimes that just happens. Add to that the fact that I've been so irregular with posting lately and, well, you get some bloom sometimes.

Nothing special to the chocolate's aroma. Just smells like standard dark chocolate. As far as texture, the age did unfortunately show in this area, as well. Old chocolate gets kind of hard (and it takes months and months for chocolate to get old, so sorry), so I went ahead and chewed a little to get it all melting and releasing flavor. Otherwise it would have been quite a slow and strange process.


I do taste something other than chocolate. It was hard to say what exactly. Some "alcohol" chocolates have an alcohol taste to this one, but this one does not. It also, by the way, does not contain any actual alcohol (some chocolates do). As I mentioned, I've never had a gin and tonic. I've only had gin in mixed drinks, so I don't necessarily know what gin on its own tastes like. From this chocolate, initially I was trying to describe that other taste as sweet, something akin to vanilla and marshmallow--but that wasn't quite right.

And you know what, there is the ingredients list right there available to see. It contains vanilla flavor, juniper oil, lemon oil, and lime oil.

One bite reminded me of Santa Fe for a second, perhaps of the drinking chocolates at Kakawa Chocolate House. Perhaps it's that combination of less usual flavors (like juniper) that created that old world feel (though I don't recall any of their chocolates having juniper specifically). Either way, likely it is the juniper that gives the chocolate that unique flavor because juniper is something that you come across less often in chocolate (I do believe I've had it in chocolate before, or at least something similar).

And while I did say that there was no alcohol taste to this chocolate, a couple pieces in, I did start to get an aftertaste that reminded me of drinking an alcoholic beverage. That sort of zingy, deep flavor. So while I can't say if this chocolate specifically evokes a gin and tonic, it is interesting. Likely, as well, the flavors would have been better and more pronounced if I hadn't let this sit on my shelf for months before opening it. I'd say the chocolate itself is fairly standard good quality--and being able to put together something nice with a "stranger" flavor combination is an achievement for Coco Chocolatier. I'd be interested if someone offered me more from them.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

In the Desert

The smell of desert marigolds is one of my favorite scents of all.

They smell like they've been baked by the sun, warm and golden and strong.

Spring is beautiful and terrible. The shocking transition from winter into summer and the gorgeous weather and the piles and piles of wildflowers appearing everywhere, even on the side of the road and in parking lots. The desert marigolds are my favorite because they're the ones I was always most used to seeing.

They came at the time when the school year was traditionally getting close to being over, that time when you're most stressed over classes and most looking forward to the next phase and yet also maybe a little apprehensive about what might be next (like college after high school). The association, then, is with that duality.

Wildflowers are also ephemeral. They spring up in beauty, but don't pick them; they'll die almost instantly. You'll never see a bride with a bouquet of wildflowers; it just doesn't work that way. Wildflowers are part of the land, part of the earth; you have to leave them there and admire them as you walk through. And when spring is done?

The desert marigolds will be gone. Don't worry, though, you'll see them again next year, like clockwork, as the saying goes.

And soon you'll get to see the saguaro blossoms instead. You won't smell them in the air, perhaps, but seeing them is like seeing magic. The desert always has something new to show off.

Monday, April 8, 2019

The Marriage of Figaro

Nice as it was to see The Barber of Seville last year and then its sequel, The Marriage of Figaro, this year, I quite honestly probably just wasn't in the mood for such a lighthearted story on that particular day.


The story is full of fun comedy--and a little bit of iffy comedy. Yet it was when the Countess (performed by Katie Van Kooten) was singing about wanting her love to come back to her that I was all bawling. It brought somewhat to mind Madama Butterfly. I do prefer the melodramatic, don't I? Give me three hours of lighthearted comedy and all I latch onto is the touch of pain.

That's how art is, though, isn't it? You can sit an audience in front of the exact same show and we're all going to come out with different experiences. That's why so often art will feel like it's speaking exactly to you: once it's unleashed on the world, it becomes a mix of what the artist gave it and what the viewer gives it.

Friday, April 5, 2019

Ocho: Peanut Butter Eggs

I wasn't planning to get on the soapbox about Easter chocolate again this year. I was just going to quietly say, hey, here's some alternative chocolate. But I picked this bag up too quickly at the store. I didn't notice until I sat down for my review that while it's organic, it isn't fair trade. Still good, but not quite the angle I was going for. I guess the good thing about all this is that fair trade chocolate is becoming so much more common that I took it for granted that this one was.


So let's go ahead and see what this chocolate has to offer while I have it here. The bag comes with a resealable top, which is an unnecessary addition of material: the chocolates are individually wrapped. The white wrappers have orange decorated edges to evoke painted Easter eggs. While the look might not quite compete with the shiny wrappers of most candies, they aren't really trying to replicate that look, anyway.


The little eggs are only rounded on one side; the other side is flat. Imprinted on them is an image of a baby chick hatching from an Easter egg. Here I'd call it a pretty similar approach to the Palmer's bunny that decorates much Easter chocolate.


Like most of the peanut butter chocolates coming out these days, these are fairly comparable to Reese's Cups. Of course, not exactly like them, but different companies are finally settling in on what makes Reese's so popular. The salt is there and also that semi grainy or crumbly texture to the peanut butter. The chocolate isn't as greasy, which is technically a good thing, but you know, that greasy element is part of what makes a Reese's Cup a Reese's Cup. You can also taste more chocolate here than with Reese's.


So if you are going for better ingredients for environmental reasons (organic keeps it all safe from pesticides) or for feeding your family better (some of the ingredients we eat regularly without blinking an eye are downright disturbing), these are a good option. Organic is a step, yes. And they taste good. They're close enough to Reese's to taste fine to those used to the usual candies. And for those who are just used to alternatives, they'll be completely satisfactory. I just hope that we can keep on taking steps and get to more fair trade chocolate, even if it means we eat less chocolate overall (which I realize sounds self-contradictory from someone who regularly reviews chocolate, but there you have it).


Wednesday, April 3, 2019

In the Queen's Shadow

You know, I never feel like I share the experiences of people who talk about the role models that Star Wars characters were to them while growing up. Except that, the more I think about it, the more I think that Padme might just have influenced me more than I realize. After all, I was about eight when I watched The Phantom Menace and we watched that movie quite a bit in my house--being that we didn't own too many movies and being that it is, after all, a good movie (not perfect, sure, but few movies are). One of the great things about it is the introduction of two great Star Wars female characters (a topic which is talked about so much for characters coming out now): Padme and Shmi Skywalker.

While I must reluctantly admit that there will probably never be a book about Shmi, at last we got a book, Queen's Shadow, about Padme. A book written by E.K. Johnston, no less. How exciting is that?


I keep talking about reading or watching things at either the right or wrong time in one's life. When I was maybe a third in, I thought maybe this was a bad time to be reading this book--for reasons I won't get into. But then the reasons changed and developed and it became quite a fitting time.

The title refers to two things. There is the plot. Padme is shifting from her role as queen to senator and adjusting her approach accordingly. What worked when she was queen doesn't when she's senator, so she has to get out of that shadow even while using what she gained from it. There is also Sabe, her closest handmaiden (and her main body double aka. Keira Knightley in the movie). Much of the book is from Sabe's point of view, not just Padme's. So you have this character who is freely choosing to live behind this other person, to literally become her when needed: she is living in the queen's shadow.

The book answers many questions--or rather fills in many details. The shift from Padme in Episode I to Episode II (why does she act so different?). The elaborate costumes. The handmaidens. Simply Padme's voice in it all. The movies show what they can, but they're not from Padme's perspective, so I think a lot is left to the audience to infer--and some audiences maybe don't quite bother to go into her perspective. So this book shows what types of things go through her head.

It's so funny. I'm going from realizing that maybe this character did influence me to realizing that we have much in common. Not . . . everything about her. Just certain things, certain things that reading this book made me ponder. And I guess this was kind of a pondering book. It wasn't so much about plot as about that transition that Padme made to being a senator. So it has all of the thoughts she has about her past, present, and future. While politics make up a certain percentage of the plot, E.K. Johnston has that talent to bring everything right back to character. It was all about the characters and not about the political plot points. Interestingly, as well, this book shows Padme apart from Anakin, during the time that she didn't seem him at all and so only thought of him rarely and in passing if at all. That's quite important. Much as I like Anakin and Padme, all this shows that she was her own person before their relationship. It makes her eventually "fall" more a tragedy that happened to her than something she brought on herself.

If Padme didn't bring the fall on herself, even if it did come, maybe I won't, either.

Monday, April 1, 2019

The Death of Kings

Heading over to see what Southwest Shakespeare Company has going on at Taliesin West always turns out well. The Death of Kings: Seize the Crown was performed by a group from UC Santa Barbara's Department of Theater and Dance. The play itself combines eight of Shakespeare's history plays, only one of which I have watched.


Frank Lloyd Wright's little theatre up at Taliesin is already such a strange (in a good way) spot to see a play. This played used the space differently, bringing the back "wall" of the stage farther back than in the other plays I've seen there. The other plays have had small casts, usually just a few people. This one had a little over a dozen. So they did need a bigger physical space--and yet they were still in the smaller physical space of the theatre itself.

I talk about space because this production emphasized the use of space and visuals. They had that not-quite-abstract, artistic approach. The same wooden poles in the hands of the cast could represent either the swords of the battlefield or the wood that burns Joan of Arc. The physical passing of the crown from one monarch to another was a theme in and of itself. And red light or red hands or red cloth, well, I'll let you imagine that. It was all done in a fluid way, though. Sometimes such an approach can feel like the actors are pretending to show something happening; but the approach here was, instead, a direct representation of what was happening.

Although the cast was on the bigger side, most were playing at least two or three roles, in addition to being part of the ensemble. The 90 minute play, after all, puts together eight plays. The whole play, then, was much about the overall concept of changing thrones and yet also about each moment. In this moment, this actor is this character and they are playing out this scene, even if they were a completely different character in a completely different scene just a minute ago. In this way, they took the pressure on themselves instead of putting it on the audience: we were free to just sit back and watch it all unfold, not needing to worry about keeping track of who's who or what's happening. Indeed, the carefully placed snippets of narration also worked to provide whatever guidance the audience might need.

All of these pieces of plays came together to create something dark and dramatic and exciting and funny and thoughtful. The concept of different generations falling and rising brings up questions of what we are doing in our own time, or how the present would look as just a single strand in a whole stack of events. What would you choose if you were being watched in the pages of history?