Monday, October 3, 2022

Disney, Rock, and Strange Moods

When I occasionally go on YouTube crawls, clicking from video to video, it isn't to watch dogs and cats befriending turtles and canaries. Usually it's when I get sucked into music. I'll start maybe listening to that one concert where Lacey Sturm performed with Skillet. Click here and click there and before I know it, I'm listening to rock covers of Disney songs. 

That is, people can have a very loose idea of what makes something a "rock" cover. Or "metal." I have found some of these quite disappointing. But Peyton Parrish, though. Apparently like the rest of the Internet given the high number of views his videos have, I think he does an excellent job with the Disney covers. I stumbled first across "I'll Make a Man Out of You" from Mulan. Then later he came out with "Go the Distance" from Hercules. The former was a wonderful display of the concept of masculine strength. And the latter took that a step further into transcendent space. 

When Hercules sings that song, he's just a young man setting out on an adventure looking for excitement and belonging. He's imagining the glory of it all. Yet this cover takes that and gives it a subtle nudge. Instead of "going the distance" for glory, here the speaker wants to go the distance to hold on, stay the course, run the race, do what's right. The line "to look beyond the glory is the hardest part" stands out more as an explanation of his motives. This song now is not about seeking fame. It's about enduring with strength for an ultimate reward. Instead of the "hero's waiting arms" being Zeus, the father Hercules has been separated from and whom he hopes to please, the line suddenly sounds quite bolder than a Disney lyric. It suddenly sounds like we're talking about God's love--and I see your Lion of Judah tattoo, Peyton, so I doubt I'm making this angle up simply as the viewer. Ah, gotta love when we find deep meaning in Disney songs (I've gone on such tangents about Snow White and Sleeping Beauty and the symbolism I find there). 

And then once I ended up on Blackbriar and Ulli Perhonen's "Snow White and Rose Red." I couldn't quite tell if this was my missed Goth calling music, or if this was just too far off the deep end for me. After attempting to delve in more, I'm going to go with the latter. Sometimes clicking and clicking in strange moods can lead to interesting discoveries; sometimes, though, it leads to discoveries that you only find intriguing when in such aforementioned strange moods. Ah, the endless possibilities of music and song. 

Friday, September 30, 2022

Monsoon Chocolate: Gola Rainforest Sierra Leon 70%

We have come to the end of the Monsoon Chocolate haul. We're finishing with a classic dark chocolate, the Gola Rainforest Sierra Leon 70% Dark Chocolate. The pottery design this time is against a white background, with the black monsoon cloud to indicate dark chocolate. The overall look is less earthy, with the contrast of the white and blue being a tad more playful, as well.

The smooth surface of the chocolate has a mild, semisweet aroma with silvery tones. Instantly, its taste is sweet, like a chocolate dessert with the richness of fudge. Then it deepens. Just a hint of tang comes in--the precursor to what would otherwise be a hint of bitterness. The flavors smoothen back out to more of that flourless chocolate cake appeal; they get warmer, with just a hint of dried banana. It finishes smooth with a warm aftertaste. 

This is quite a mellow chocolate--and yet it has its own kind of boldness. It's just very gentle about it. Like a colorful introvert. Personality-wise, this is very similar to what I had described with the Esmeraldas Ecuador 75%. If this gentleness is a trait of Monsoon Chocolate, I'm all for it. But I will be curious to do a side by side of some of their dark chocolates to see how they contrast when tasted together. For now, I had to focus on getting some of those intriguing flavored white chocolates. Next time, I'll try more dark chocolate. 

Because there will be a next time. This is a wonderfully pleasant, rich, smooth chocolate. Though there is depth beneath the surface, its simplicity makes it alluring. At this point, I have faith in Monsoon Chocolate in the overall sense, whether it's their dark chocolate, milk chocolate, white chocolate, or desserts. 

Friday, September 23, 2022

Monsoon Chocolate: Blue Corn Atole White Chocolate

Besides the Mesquite White Chocolate, this bar, the Blue Corn Atole White Chocolate, was the one I was most excited to try from Monsoon Chocolate. Now that I have, though, I'm left somewhat stumped. But let's start from the beginning.

Though strong blues can be a bit too much sometimes, the blue clouds in this design actively portray clouds coming to water the crops to yield a harvest of blue corn for our chocolate. The back of the packaging gives us info about blue corn and the Pueblo tribes of Santa Ana, as well as some details about what atole is. Normally I think of atole as thickened hot chocolate--but its spices and consistency can vary, just so long as it does have that corn or masa thickener. I guess an atole chocolate bar should be a fairly natural idea, but this is certainly the first I've come across--and using blue corn is a further unique element. Unique but intriguing.

The Mesquite White Chocolate's color was fun to look at. By the time I got to this blue chocolate that is blue like the exact shade of blue cornmeal or blue cornbread batter, I was both amused and wondering if this was too much. Blue cornmeal white chocolate? Who ever heard of such a thing? I love the idea of it--but it's also a little out there. Here I will make note that the ingredients list purple pea flower, which can be used as a natural food dye. I'm guessing that the amount of cornmeal that would be necessary to color the chocolate was a greater proportion than what was needed to flavor it, hence the use of the purple pea flower. If my assumption is correct that this is the dye, I do regret that this isn't simply the natural color of the chocolate. Blue color adds to the novelty, but perhaps in the case of such a chocolate bar showcasing heritage Tamaya corn, sticking to the natural state would have fit in better than going for novelty. Even though it is the perfect shade of dusty blue.

Once more, the aroma is of cocoa butter. Strong cocoa butter. The chocolate tastes sweet, like the sweetness of the corn. This is where I was somewhat reminded of the Corn Cookie from Monsoon's shop; that cookie also used corn to add to the sweetness, enabling a lower sugar content. There is a slight dustiness to the texture, more than with the Mesquite. The idea, so explains Monsoon, is to keep "just enough texture to enhance the perception of the delicate and floral qualities of the heirloom corn." Usually chocolate bars are showcasing the delicate qualities of the cocoa beans; again, I rather like the idea of also showcasing specific ingredients within the chocolate. 

Blue corn is richer in flavor than other corn. I noticed that the time when I made corn mush/porridge out of blue cornmeal. So while I don't know how I would do on a blind taste test between blue corn white chocolate and yellow or white corn white chocolate, the corn flavor here is quite rich. Its flavor plus the cocoa butter also make it feel like a fairly sweet chocolate, despite this 45% white chocolate being lighter on the sugar than is normal for a white chocolate, as we discussed last time. It's definitely a sweeter experience than the Corn Cookie. 

Really, eating this chocolate isn't entirely unlike eating blue cornbread; you just have the added chocolate texture and cocoa butter flavor added in. Which is a little weird. It's pleasant, but also quite weird. Even though corn is, for most people, more common to eat than mesquite is, this is a stranger bar of chocolate than the Mesquite. Yet it's also quite natural when you think about atole. Even if the average person in the U.S. may not have ever had atole, we're familiar with hot chocolate; and atole is a variation of hot chocolate, with this bar of chocolate being a spin on atole. So it's kind of an example of modern inspired by traditional. 

I said that this chocolate bar has left me stumped because I find myself asking, why? I just gave the answer: it's chocolate inspired by atole. And it's white chocolate so that the corn can have space to not be overpowered by the flavor of chocolate. So then maybe the question should be, do I want this chocolate to exist? Obviously I do since I was so excited to try it. And I like all the conversations around it. It is pleasant to eat. But I don't know that I would buy it again, unless to have people try it. That seems to be what this chocolate bar is: a conversation piece. I used the word novelty earlier, and that's what this chocolate is. It's a novelty, though in a different sense than chocolate shaped like hammers or alligators. It's something you try for the pleasure of exploring. There is a possibility that the flavor grows on you over time (like that avocado ice cream with chiles and beet sauce from Sazon in Santa Fe that I found myself craving months after). But only time will tell that. 

For now I'll simply say that I enjoyed trying this chocolate. It's unique in a good way, which is why it also placed at the International Chocolate Awards. But it's probably a one-time experience sort of thing. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Immersive Monet

The question is whether or not one can repeat something twice. When I went to the Immersive Van Gogh exhibit last year, I was intrigued. Granted, I was also in a particular physical/emotional state that may have contributed to my receptivity to explorations of light and color. But I thought it was well put together, "artistic in its own right," I said. I thought it was just a one time thing we were going to get to have for a season. But this year, Immersive Monet and the Impressionists followed. Then there will be a King Tut exhibit. Then The Nutcracker. 

My first thought from all this was that, well, it was good once, but if they keep doing this, are people going to still be willing to pay for those pricey tickets again and again? As someone pointed out to me, though, the newer exhibits are probably to attract a different crowd. Someone who wouldn't have gone to see an exhibit on paintings might go to see a King Tut exhibit. A family who didn't go to the others might go out for The Nutcracker. So maybe people went to see Van Gogh also won't keep going.

I did go to see Monet, though. I had to. I had to check out one more; curiosity gets me that way. I want to see what's been done and what's on offer. There is probably some element with this of the novelty wearing off a second time. But it wasn't just that. This exhibit was composed differently than the Van Gogh one was. Very differently. 

I spoke so highly before of the movement of particular brushstrokes. Well, you can do that with Van Gogh because of the shape of his brushstrokes. They were able to make living paintings with his works. Most of the time with this exhibit, they didn't even try to recreate the effect because you can't. In a couple of instances, they did something similar, which while not the same was still nice enough. I also appreciated things before like the flickering candlelight. Here there seemed to be less "animation" like that. The train let out puffs of steam, so there was that. I would have to sit down with each exhibit and make lists. It's possible that this is just my memory imagining that the Van Gogh exhibit had more animation; maybe they were the same. I can't say for sure; it just felt like less.

There were sections that were very beautiful. The rolling ocean. The plants and trees coming to life before our eyes. What it felt like, though, was as if certain sections had received more attention than others. Van Gogh felt like we were following a storyline of emotion. Here, we were just seeing paintings cut and pasted in creative ways, with some sections that had more detail. I did enjoy watching it all unfold, and I do like the music that accompanies the exhibit. I get delight out of analyzing things like this. But is it something where if you've seen one you have to keep going and see them all? No, not really. (Granted, this is also taking price into account. If tickets were more affordable to the average person, then perhaps I would be more likely to say that it's a nice little outing to check out whatever is new at the Lighthouse Artspace.) 

So we go back to our original question. Can one repeat something twice? Some experiences viewers can return to again and again. Some creators can keep going and make one movie, one show, one book, one exhibit right after the other--and keep making something as celebrated as the first. But other things are less easily repeated. Is Lighthouse immersive one of them? I'll be curious to see how they do in the future with the new exhibits and whether or not attendance keeps up.

Saturday, September 17, 2022

Monsoon Chocolate: Mesquite White Chocolate

While I had already established that Monsoon Chocolate could make a good, artisan dark chocolate, what I was most excited to try were their two flavored white chocolate bars. I am one of that small percentage of people who will say that I do enjoy a good white chocolate--and the flavors of these white chocolate bars are entirely unique. First up is the Mesquite White Chocolate, which is part of the Desert Series. You'll note that this is 45% cocoa content: that is high, not just for white chocolate, but even for if this were milk chocolate. Monsoon has a different way of doing things, and so far I like it. Given that this particular bar won silver at the International Chocolate Awards, I see that I'm not the only one.

The coloring here is a deep blue with some tan shapes at the bottom reminiscent of plantlife. While they don't remind me of mesquite trees specifically, they do have that general flora feeling. Inside, the chocolate is the color of sand, similar to the color on the design. It's lighter and more yellow than what shows in the pictures--a bit more like straw and definitely not at all like either the usual white chocolate or milk chocolate. The color is, of course, simply from the mesquite. The only other ingredients here are cocoa butter, cane sugar, milk powder, butter, and salt. Normally the cocoa butter for this bar is from Camino Verde, which the back of the back informs me is just outside of Duran, Ecuador. Inside, however, is a small note that, due to supply shortages, this cocoa butter is sourced from Peru. As the border to Peru is not far from Duran, this is relatively not too far away--and in a context like this, I would imagine a difference of origin doesn't change things too much.

In comparison with the unusual color, the chocolate's aroma is simple: cocoa butter. It smells like a regular (good quality) white chocolate. But when I put it in my mouth, I didn't know what it tasted like. My mind couldn't supply words fast enough to keep up. I tried out sweet and buttery--but that didn't seem quite right. Slightly earthy? A bit. Past the halfway point, it gets a springy flavor, almost like a hint of fruit. Then the aftertaste is slightly dusty with the flavor of mesquite. 

If I had done a blind taste test, I would be rather confused. Actually, I would have been confused even if it hadn't been blind--just if I hadn't been told what it is. There is such an interplay between expectation and perception. If it's white chocolate, it should be sweet. But if it's mesquite, it should be earthy. But it is sweet--but not extremely. It does taste a bit like caramel--but you ask yourself if that's just because of the color (it isn't). This chocolate tastes both warm, from the earthy mesquite, and cool, from the cocoa butter. It's intriguing.

I have had mesquite before, though never in chocolate--but still not enough that my mind instantly thinks of and recognizes the flavor. If I keep eating and get to a third piece, then I do start to taste mesquite more. It seems to take up to that point for me to settle into all of the flavor impulses and recognize what it is I'm eating. Mesquite-flavored white chocolate isn't something my brain is accustomed to pointing out. This would be a fun tourist find, as well as something pleasing for the percentage of locals who do normally eat mesquite. You don't have to recognize the flavor in order to enjoy it, though it's an added plus if you do because this is a unique way to find that flavor. The mesquite is from the San Xavier Cooperative Farm, which is run by the Tohono O'Odham, in Tucson. 

There is an ever so slight dustiness hidden within the texture of the chocolate from the mesquite flour. It doesn't detract from the effect at all. This chocolate is still quite pleasantly buttery from both the butter and cocoa butter. Yet it isn't at all greasy, like most white chocolates. And as I alluded to, there is sweetness and yet it isn't strong. Again, the sweetness level isn't at nearly what it is for other white chocolates. Monsoon Chocolate has harnessed just the right level of sugar and butteriness to make a sweet chocolate that remains mild in its sweetness levels. And they've flavored it just right with the mesquite. I'm coming to know Monsoon for this handling of mild sweetness, for unique flavors, and for a gentle approach to what would otherwise be expected to be complex flavor. The Mesquite White Chocolate therefore comes with a high recommendation. 

Friday, September 9, 2022

Monsoon Chocolate: Kokoa Kamili Tanzania 55% Dark Milk

As we continue with the Monsoon Chocolate bars, the next is the second milk chocolate: the Kokoa Kamili Tanzania 55% Dark Milk Chocolate. This is a curious thing. Their standard milk chocolates seem to range from 38% to 42%, which is already usually considered to be dark milk. Yet I did find the Sonoran Sea Salt Milk Chocolate to feel lighter than its cocoa content. So perhaps then Monsoon's 55% would be like another's 42%? Note, of course, that 55% is considered dark chocolate--but the addition of milk powder makes this dark chocolate into a milk chocolate. It is properly a fusion between the two, a dance between two categories.

The same brown monsoon cloud as last time once more denotes milk chocolate. Its contrast with the grass green marks the combination of two of my favorite colors. The black triangles and the blue swirl make it into a map of mountains and water. Must always be able to find water in the desert. The back of the packaging gives info on the cocoa origin. The Kilombero Valley, it seems, has over 1500 smallholder farms. Small batch cocoa companies are perfect for partnerships with small farms--and for highlighting less common origins, as well.

As will be the case with all this set of chocolate bars, remember that the slight disturbance of its surface is because I didn't bring these straight home from my visit to Tucson. The bar itself seems to have had a perfect original surface, smooth and clear. Its medium brown tone does look more like milk chocolate than dark. Cocoa butter is the aroma.

Instantly, there is a soft, soft mouthfeel. I'm guessing that this is due to the higher cocoa content (the higher the content, the slower a chocolate is to melt) paired with the creamy addition of milk. It's still a quicker melting than is standard with dark chocolate, but there is perhaps a greater steadiness to the texture that increases the softness when paired with the milk element. The milk adds such a creamy richness that I'm also left wondering if Monsoon uses a better milk than what most companies use--while this seems entirely plausible, it may also simply be the taste of the chocolate that gives this effect.

After the initial creamy richness, there is a slight tang, and then a curious depth. The mellow richness of milk chocolate follows, then a bit of brownie flavor. Then it's gone, leaving a whisper of fudge in its wake. If you try chewing a piece quickly instead of letting it melt, you'll get the subtle tang a tad later, almost towards the end; it takes a second for that flavor to build in your mouth. Either way, even with chewing quickly, you get more of the feeling of a rich chocolate dessert than a plain, standard milk chocolate. This chocolate, in a way, can feel richer than many dark chocolates--and yet it remains distinctively milk chocolate.

Usually, I try and categorize the chocolates I review. This one defies categorization. That is, the nature of Monsoon Chocolate puts this bar decidedly into the artisan chocolate category. But after that, do I say it's for milk chocolate people? For people who like sweet chocolate, or rich chocolate? Its rich creaminess has appeal to the desire for chocolate confections. But its depth touches also on the delight we get from a nuanced dark chocolate. You can sit quietly with this chocolate to ponder it--or you can eat it quickly in your desire for sweetness. You can keep it hidden away in your chocolate stash, or serve it with dessert. Or maybe as dessert. If I had to choose one, I'd say that: if a restaurant gave me a square of this chocolate on a petite plate for dessert, I'd be remarkably happy. 

Wednesday, September 7, 2022

Monsoon Chocolate: Sonoran Sea Salt Milk Chocolate

I said I had four chocolate bars from Monsoon Chocolate to look at--make that five with the addition of the Sonoran Sea Salt Milk Chocolate. The others are the two flavored white chocolate, a dark milk chocolate, and only one dark chocolate.  It's kind of an unusual selection, perhaps, when I should be eager to try more of their dark chocolate--but I like to try the unusual things first. 

While there are variations in the packaging designs and art for each of the bars, the look here is also a bit of what I'd consider unusual. The monsoon cloud, you'll notice, changes color depending on whether a bar is white chocolate with a white cloud, milk chocolate with a light brown cloud, or dark chocolate with a black cloud. Colorfully clever. The coloring here of that light brown cloud with the warm tan background reminds me of clay, like you'd use to make the bright pottery featured. We have the same envelope style packaging as before, this time with a bright, striped pattern like geological layers. 

You'll notice a light dusting of salt on the back of the bar. Any slight imperfection in the surface is because I did, remember, get this chocolate in late morning and bring it home at late night in summer; I would say I kept it quite well, all that considered. The color is pale, which gave me the impression that this was a standard 30-something-percent milk chocolate rather than the darker percentages that bean to bar companies tend to favor when they dabble into milk chocolate. In fact, I assumed this even while eating the chocolate and only after looked it up and found that this is actually 42% cocoa content. I will freely admit that I find that surprising. 

There is a slightly peppery aroma to the chocolate, though, that carries some into the flavor. As there is no lavender or bergamot, what I call a peppery quality would then be the flavor notes of the chocolate itself. So I suppose that is where we can find that this is a higher than average cocoa content, despite me calling it pale in color. 

I tried the chocolate first salt side down because I wanted to make sure the salt got to feature. In this case, though, I don't know that it makes too much difference which side you go with. Usually salted chocolate is dark chocolate, yet naturally milk chocolate melts in the mouth much more quickly than dark. So while with a dark chocolate the salt will tend to melt faster than the chocolate (necessitating the correct placement of the salt to be able to taste it), in this case the chocolate melts a bit more quickly than the salt. So whether you start salt side down or salt side up, you will have some salt throughout the life of the chocolate and probably a tad at the end, as well. That in itself is a nice, subtle variation from a salted dark chocolate.

You'll tend to taste a burst of salt, then chocolate, and then some more salt. This is a full-on milky milk chocolate, creamy and sweet. Which is why I didn't think it was as high of a cocoa content as 42%. Usually those tend to feel a little darker, if darker is the right word. But this creamy sweetness is a good thing if you're a fan of that familiar style of milk chocolate, rather than the slightly darker and richer milk chocolates that bean to bar companies tend to make (if they delve into milk chocolate at all). We want to have all flavor/style options available from good cocoa from good companies, right? And by this, I don't mean to say that this is "average" milk chocolate; it's much nicer than average, but it simply has those familiar traits of sweetness and creaminess. Like I said earlier, though, there is flavor to this chocolate, which adds a pleasant nuance. The chocolate here is a blend of three origins: Esmeraldas Ecuador, Semuliki Forest Uganda, and Bejofo Estate Madagascar. 

The sea salt is excellent. This is, Monsoon explains, wild harvested Tohono O'Odham salt from the Sonoran Flats at the Gulf of California. Why stop at giving details about cocoa origin? Let's hear about the featured ingredients, as well. I am in favor of such an approach, and of course Sonoran salt goes along with the Sonoran Desert specificity of Monsoon Chocolate. The salt is nice and tangy while also being light and crisp in flavor. It balances out the creaminess of the chocolate and comes in just the right proportion, neither too strong nor too subtle. 

On the one hand, this seems like a simple and straightforward bar of chocolate. On the other, it has such a delicate and intentional approach to every detail that makes it quite unique and certainly delightful to devour. 

Saturday, September 3, 2022

Monsoon Chocolate Shop

After stumbling across Monsoon Chocolate's Esmeraldas Ecuador bar early in the summer, I knew I had to make it over to Tucson to visit their shop in person. Summer hasn't seemed like the greatest time to go on a chocolate hunt, but it cooled down enough recently that it felt like finally time. And oh, now I have a new reason to go to Tucson more regularly. 

Their shop is located conveniently close to the freeway and with its own parking if you're just wanting to duck in and out quickly on the way to another destination. The familiar monsoon lady from the Esmeraldas bar decorates one side of the windows, while the design from their Ucayali Peru is featured on the other side. They're open on limited hours and space right now, but that was fine to go by and browse a bit and choose a few things to start with. I can always go back later. (So I kept telling myself.)

The display of chocolate bars is impressive. So many varieties. Dark chocolate of varying origins, as well as some dark milk, some milk chocolate, and the flavored white chocolate bars (which were at the top of my list). Maybe it was seeing them all lined up on the counter that made them so tempting. I wanted to choose them all. There were also cocoa nibs and chocolate-covered fruits, marshmallows, and malt balls. I didn't even ask for any truffles this time because I figured I was going to have enough on my hands already--and truffles will be better to transport in cooler weather, anyway. 

I did, however, get the Corn Cookie and the Frocho drink. Maybe someone can explain to me why I didn't also get the Monsoon Cookie while I was there. Next time. Next time. 

The Frocho I had seen online; they described it in store as being like liquid chocolate. If you ever wanted to be Augustus Gloop drinking from Willy Wonka's chocolate waterfall, here's your chance. They sprinkled a few cocoa nibs on top, which is a nice touch and ever so much better than whipped cream. I wish more people would agree with me on that. I really didn't know what to expect from this one. Would it be deathly dark and thick, too intense to drink? Would it be sweet? I didn't really get the latter impression. 

Turns out, it's neither one. I mean, this is all relative. Perhaps if you're accustomed to drinking frappuccinos, this will be too dark. But I'll say this: when I took the first sip, it wasn't as dark as I'd been expecting. It's just dark chocolate. So that's up to your own palette to decide whether or not that's too dark. It has sweetness, but also isn't overly sweet. That's also relative: I love the fact that this isn't super sweet, but maybe not everyone will. But it has no hint of bitterness, either. In fact, I find if fairly mild. 

I suppose the closest comparison would be to chocolate milk--at least, compared with something like a shake. This isn't dairy, though. I didn't ask what the base is, but it seems like a water base to me. Yet it isn't like watered down chocolate either. It really is like a frozen hot chocolate. It's like hot chocolate--but cold. But a good hot chocolate. Not Nestle. And yet also not a thick drinking chocolate, either. 

I will mention this. I only drank maybe a third of it, or maybe even a fourth, before then deciding to leave the rest in the car for later. I don't necessarily advise doing this and I doubt Monsoon would, either. But the fact that I did shows that you can. You see, besides the fact that it wasn't quite the time of day that I wanted to have a whole chocolate drink yet (but I had to stop into the shop when I did because later on they might have been closed for the day), I had also had enough chocolate for the moment and I didn't particularly love large quantities of the original texture. It was something like a slushy, with little chips of ice. Again, this is going to be a per person type of thing. But I really don't drink drinks like that. I don't even usually care for ice in general. So I found the texture of the ice chips distracting. I didn't exactly mind it, so I'm not saying it was a bad thing. But I did find myself enjoying the drink more later on, even the next day, when the ice had melted and it was just a cold beverage. The frozen style probably makes it into more of a "special drink," but my personal preference turns out to be simpler.

Tangent aside, I really enjoyed this drink and it's not quite like any other chocolate drink I've had before. 

Now for that Corn Cookie. If I didn't know what to expect from the drink, how about from such a cookie? I mean, I love the idea of it. Corn is very Southwest, perfect for Monsoon Chocolate of Tucson. This one came home with me; it seemed still perfectly fresh the next day. It's a light-colored cookie with, surprise, sprinkles of cocoa nibs instead of chocolate chips. Fancy that. 

Texture-wise, this cookie is between hard and soft. It's a little crisper on the edges, of course, and a bit softer in the middle. Initially, its flavor is very light. That makes it a nice option after a flavor-heavy meal. Maybe after some Tucson enchiladas, eh? Or for those times when you're just craving something mild and not too sweet. Like during a Tucson hike?

That is, it is sweet--but just barely, kind of like a garnish. The sweetness has the feeling of coming from the corn, like it's more of a sweet corn flavor than a sugar flavor. And this cookie is probably not nearly as sweet as most cornbread when you get right to it; most cornbread is loaded with sugar and butter that make it more like cake than bread. This feels almost more traditional, if that's the right word. 

The cocoa nibs are also quite interesting. At first, they fool your mind into thinking that they're just chocolate. Given that description I just gave of lower sweetness levels, your mind just goes right along with accepting a lower level of sweetness from the chocolate element, too. Not only are the nibs not as sweet as even semisweet chocolate chips would be, they're also not as dominant. The texture is vastly different, too. They're smaller and harder. That distinctive nib texture goes well with the crumbly texture of the cookie; it's quite unique but also pleasant. The texture of the cookie, then, is perfect for nibs: the effect wouldn't be the same with a softer cookie. 

As I kept nibbling, I did start to get a little more of that cocoa nib specific flavor. What I call blue flavor notes ended up giving a loose impression of blueberries. So somehow even the cocoa nibs felt like they added a sweet note. If you've eaten straight cocoa nibs, you'll understand the irony of that statement. Nibs are not sweet. For its uniqueness and its delicate handling of flavors, this cookie is amazing. It's entirely unlike anything I've had before. If Chips Ahoy are not made with me in mind, this cookie is. It's wonderfully satisfying. 

Whether you're local, in state, or visiting, Monsoon Chocolate is well worth a visit. Even if there were no chocolate bars, if this were just a cafe that happened to make a chocolate drink and a cocoa nib cookie, I would have been excited. And I still have four chocolate bars coming up next.

Thursday, September 1, 2022

A Thing of Beauty

"A thing of beauty is a joy forever," so starts John Keats's long poem Endymion. Keats himself was part of that era of appreciating beauty, particularly classical beauty and that found in nature. The pursuit of beauty of the Romantic poets, though not flawless, was at least more pure than that of the aesthetes. I don't think Oscar Wilde appreciated the types of things John Keats appreciated. Keats, at least, could appreciate a good nature walk.

You know, I've wandered through the McDowell Sonoran Preserve plenty of times in my day. But it took many visits before I happened to look to the side at the Gateway Trailhead and see a small stone, like a gravestone, with those very same Keats words carved on it: "A thing of beauty is a joy forever." Fitting words for a nature preserve, a section of land deliberately set aside for the preservation of its beauty. Keats probably never saw a saguaro or a creosote or an ocotillo. So perhaps it's a little random to include a John Keats quote in the Sonoran Desert. But I, for one, do not mind bringing some of the, let's call it, classical perspective into how we approach the desert today. 

Keats wrote his "Ode to a Nightingale" in a completely different natural setting than the one in which I live. Yet I can sit and listen to the mourning doves and watch the quail go by in a similar state--the sort of melancholy ecstasy that he so well describes. I'm an advocate for enjoying whatever it is that you're able to enjoy where you are. Not that I wouldn't enjoy a trip to England. But I don't believe that beauty is so limited that I can only find it in certain places. 

Like that Keats stone at the trailhead. I only had to take a look, to let my eye linger, to not rush by in order to see it. Don't rush by the hidden odes to English poets. Don't rush by the patch of late summer wildflowers. Don't rush by the extended greenery of the landscape after rain. Don't rush by the tortoise walking the edge of the path. Don't rush by the sparkle of starlight. Don't rush by the fingernail of the moon. Don't rush by the perfect shape of each leaf of that cultivated shrub on that cultivated landscape surrounding that city building. 

For, after all, "a thing of beauty is a joy forever." The city building will not last. The cultivated landscape and shrub won't, either. But the shape of that leaf, crafted by the best designer, will not fade. There will be another leaf on another plant somewhere that will be its match, still crafted in such perfection. Even statues and vases that have been beloved for generations, well, sometimes they are destroyed. The memory of their loveliness sometimes does pass away. And so it is that the loveliness that continues to increase, as Keats describes it, I would say is that found in nature. It is nature that we can keep turning to with joy and awe. And its loveliness increases as our appreciation increases. Stay and linger and breathe it in. 

Saturday, August 27, 2022

Theo: Cookie Bites

We have some more casual chocolate candy today. Although they're still fairly new, I finally spotted Theo's less-than-brand-new cookie bites at my store recently. So here we have the Double Chocolate Cookie Bites and the Mint Chocolate Cookie Bites. The third flavor, Snickerdoodle, which I did not see, was probably the one I was most excited about. Maybe it'll turn up later; I don't think I would go out of my way to track it down. 

Theo is like a small batch chocolate maker with mainstream access and appeal. Their quality is good and simple, their chocolate bars are easy to find, and their prices are comparatively low. So it is with mixed feelings that I approach this new product. On the one hand, it's exciting: I keep advocating for better quality, candy tier options in the chocolate world. On the other, making mass-produced candies with a long shelf life is a deliberate, non-artisan-type choice. But I like Theo, so if someone is going to be making such products, it might as well be Theo, right?

The resealable bags come with a standard look similar to Theo's chocolate bar. A cream background is accented by either cranberry or green color. Not too many different colors or images going on, and the descriptions and logos are kept compact enough to not be too chaotic. 

Though they're not particularly exciting to look at, you will want to notice that the cookie bites are not covered in layers of shellac like similar products tend to be. So that's an immediate plus. The Double Chocolate bag opens up to the aroma of chocolate and cookie dough. I'm not sure how they manage that. Because it's more solid than I'd expected, the crunch of the bites is more like a crunchy cookie than soft, raw cookie dough. But it's a pleasant crunch that still has a light feel to it and helps to keep you eating more. Or is that just me? I do love crunching. 

Flavor-wise, the chocolate comes first. It's a 55% dark chocolate, so it's a standard, slightly sweet dark chocolate. Not overly sweet because, again, it's Theo. But properly sweet for a product like this: it's a lot like semisweet chocolate chips. The cookie dough flavor comes quickly in, as well, along with salt. Actually, it's quite heavy on the salt. I'm not complaining; most of us like salt. And the salt goes well with that crunchy texture. I'm not really a cookie dough person (so I will fully disclose that this product was not made with me in mind), but it's a good cookie dough flavor, as cookie dough goes. It somehow has that "raw" flavor that makes it distinctively dough and not just cookie bites. I can't compare them to the standard Cookie Dough Bites candy because I've never had them, but the ingredients are certainly much better.

Peppermint oil makes the bag of Mint Chocolate smell of Andes Mints and Thin Mint Cookies. In fact, if you happen to still like the idea of Thin Mints but you've outgrown the flavor of all that oil, these are a great alternative. The familiar peppermint overpowers the cookie dough flavors, so you're mainly just getting peppermint, sweet dark chocolate, and crunchy cookie texture. This is what I think Thin Mints taste like--until I taste one and realize it just doesn't match what's in my head. (Sorry, the Girl Scouts don't tempt me when they're out selling cookies. They really are very cheap cookies.) That isn't to say that these are the best mint chocolate I've ever had. No, they're still just chocolate candy. But they are a good example of what they set out to be.

Another thing I like about Theo is that they don't make a big deal about their ingredients--and yet their ingredients are better than some of the other "alternative" chocolate candies out there. The front of the bag just mentions organic and fair trade. The descriptions on the back just talk about the flavor. But when you look at the ingredients list, you'll see no palm oil and no artificial colors or flavors. There are also no eggs or milk either if anybody was interested in that. There is sunflower oil--but it's for the cookie part, not the chocolate. This is how candy ought to be. There's sugar, but the sugar and the sunflower oil are the closest to junk ingredients that it gets. Which means that, if you're into this style of candy, these are a great alternative option. They have better ingredients and yet still satisfy that specific candy craving.

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Whispers from a Fish

"I don't like Asian food." 

Okay, I'm sorry. I was overgeneralizing when I said I didn't like Asian food. By that standard, I don't like any type of food. I'm going to be picky--or as someone once kindly said, selective--wherever I go. But that doesn't mean I need to generalize against entire continents of food. Noodles and veggies, I can eat that. It's the seasoning and sauces that tend to be too much for me. But I can handle a bit--and there is such thing as growing accustomed to certain types of food, as well. 

Well, when they sucked me into a Thai restaurant, I played it safe and got a Chinese dish. (And found it funny that I was the only one who said I like Indian food when everyone else thought that Indian food was too much. Strange.) I somehow survived going for sushi by getting a veggie roll and potstickers. And then a Korean place (the H Mart food court) was next. What do you do when in the face of a million dishes you've never even heard of, most of which contain ingredients you don't even like to eat? 

Ah, well, I have a hard time choosing, anyway. So this just narrowed it down to me. Which dishes are made with chicken? Very narrow selection. Which doesn't sound too scary but also sounds like something that is specifically Korean, that I would only be able to get here? So I made a choice--and it was fine. I don't know that I'll crave it, but I could eat it again. So why my fear, why my overgeneralization about not liking Asian food? I coaxed myself in and realized I can find something to eat in most places where I go. I dived into the ocean and came back up to the surface. 

I dived in just like this little fish friend here. I'll have to hand it to Koreans, their golden fish breads are unmistakably cute. Though turkeys are my animal of choice, I do get excited over fish-shaped things, too. And I much prefer the Korean fish dessert to their savory fish cake (which, okay, I tried, but I failed to see why I would want to sprinkle potent fish onto my food--don't we in the Western world usually cook fish in ways to make it less fishy, rather than trying to make non-fish foods taste like fish?) The bread was nice and warm, filled with your choice of filling. I went boring with custard because that sounded like a safe option. I don't think I care for red bean (I'm from the Southwest, not the South--beans shouldn't be sweet). So the fish bread was a nice, pleasant dessert.

And then there was the rose lychee milk tea. It also comes in just rose, rather than rose with lychee. I was overjoyed that the rose flavor was nice and strong. I do love rose, as I've said before. I would go back just to get this drink. I suppose I did also try a bit of a beautiful matcha and taro ice cream. Maybe I wouldn't mind getting more matcha ice cream. I don't crave ice cream often, but I might be more inclined to crave matcha ice cream. 

So maybe the dessert is where it's at for me. I guess that's what comes from poking around and trying something new. Don't be so quick to generalize (I'm sorry, I'm sorry, black and white thinking just comes so easily to me sometimes) because you never know what you might find. At the very least, maybe you'll find some fish bread. 

Monday, August 22, 2022

Syntax & Personal Expression

Syntax is a way of telling during what period of time a piece was written. I remember someone in middle school pointing out how long a sentence was in something they were reading--it went all the way from one page to the other. If you write a sentence that long today, you'll be told it's a run-on sentence and you'd better shorten it. (You'll also be told to avoid passive voice, but if passive voice is so common in other languages, why do you need to always avoid it in English? Just because active versus passive is better in some cases doesn't have to mean you should always avoid it.)

I never particularly cared about being a stickler over grammar rules and such. This is why I would specify that my area of study is literature, not linguistics. Therefore it is tone and expression that matter most. For instance, if I'm writing something formal, I'll use "whom." But I usually don't use it in speaking because it just sets up a certain tone that isn't quite how I normally want to present myself. On the other hand, when people overcorrect and use "I" instead of "me," that bothers me. That isn't choosing to ignore the grammar rule in favor of common speech; that's trying to follow a rule and not doing so correctly and therefore not falling into either the camp of using proper grammar or of choosing to talk like a regular person instead. (This is not to say that I know all the rules, either. I know I definitely don't always follow all of them, even when intending to. And yes, that was an incorrect way to end a sentence.)

This tangent about grammar brings me back around to syntax because of what I notice about longer sentence structures. There are in fact a lot of long sentences (often run-ons) that go along with the regular way that people speak. Most of us don't speak in complete sentences and paragraphs when we talk in casual conversations. But even more formal settings, like lectures, don't always follow this format. A completely scripted speech will, but I'm referring to instances in which a speaker has prepared what he's going to say in general but not necessarily every sentence. Dashes and parentheses are common in this type of speaking. That is, long, possibly run-on sentences and sentences that otherwise drag on quite a bit. 

In written text, long sentences seem often to go along not just with older texts but also with more complex ones. You need more than just a subject and a verb in a sentence in order to express more complicated ideas. Pick up a modern, mainstream novel. How many semicolons or colons can you find? Probably not many. But look at a more intellectual text, and there will probably be plenty.

So if long sentences are often related to either common speech (which is reality) or to intellectual content, then why should we avoid them? If you can make a sentence that's half a page long and is punctuated correctly and expresses a complete thought, then what's wrong with that? If we're all trying to follow the same set of editing recommendations, personal expression goes out the window, as does the ability to think and then to convey an original thought. Sometimes expression is better when it isn't perfect. 

Friday, August 12, 2022

Little Secrets: Nougat + Salted Caramel Creamy Nougat Bars

I have mixed feelings about Little Secrets. In the past, I've shown a preference for the their chocolate pieces versus the crispy wafers and the cookie bars (aka. the M&M's versus the KitKats and Twix). Today's product, the Nougat + Salted Caramel Creamy Nougat Bars in Dark Chocolate, are obviously modeled after (American) Milky Way bars. 

I know they were trying to cram in as many appetizing words as possible, but perhaps they could have come up with a shorter name? Or did they just assume people would say, can you buy some of the Milky Way Little Secrets candy from the store, as opposed to, could you get me some of those Nougat and Salted Caramel Creamy Nougat Bars in Dark Chocolate? They managed to find short, knock-off names for the other products, so why not for this one?

As per usual with Little Secrets, the style of the packaging is basic to have wide appeal. Bold green can mean marketing towards children--but it also works for adults. The look is casual because this is just candy, but it's also a fairly clean look without a lot of words or graphics going on. I was a little disappointed to find that there are only five mini bars inside the bag. At 22 grams each, they are a little bigger than most fun size candy bars, but after buying a whole bag I was expecting more. (No, I didn't look to see how many were in it before buying. I was going to want them to review, anyway, so I saved my analysis for later.)

The individual packaging is more chaotic--a little less decisive about what angle it wants to take. The white background is more neutral, but there are a lot of words crammed onto the small wrappers. I'm guessing that the discussion/thought bubbles in the background are meant to look trendy and hip, but they just add to the chaos. Something simpler and more distinguishable would have worked better.

Unsurprisingly since this is candy, the chocolate is a fairly light color for being dark chocolate. It's probably just a breath away from being milk chocolate. And without milk to bulk out that percentage, we know it still has plenty of sugar in it. So I really don't care about the claims that these have 30% less sugar than the leading nougat bar. I can monitor my own intake of sugar. If something has more, then I eat less of it. Tangents.

As you can tell from the picture, the caramel is thicker in proportion than it is in the picture on the packaging. And given that it's quite a dense and chewy caramel (dare I say it it even gets close to the caramel in Rolos?), the texture here is much stiffer and stickier than I remember Milky Ways being. It's difficult to get any of the nougat on its own, but when I attempt to, it does appear to have more substance than the standard type. It's more flavorful and a tad chewier, less airy. So it probably also contributes to the denser, chewier texture. This isn't necessarily a bad thing--and of course most people probably aren't analyzing candy this much. While the stiffer texture of the crispy wafers was too much to satisfy a KitKat craving, this one would work well enough as a Milky Way replacement. 

As far as the dark chocolate, it doesn't make much difference to me. It's a sweeter type of dark chocolate to fit the scene, and it is only a small contribution to the overall flavor. The caramel and nougat take the front seat. I don't see what they mean about salted caramel, other than trying to make it sound cool and trendy and more "adult." I don't taste any particular salt. 

Little Secrets makes a big deal about having better ingredients than other chocolate candy. I appreciate some attempt at fair trade cocoa. And their palm oil is marked as being sustainably sourced. I'd prefer not to have palm oil at all--but it's hard to create that familiar chocolate candy without the familiar palm oil, butterfat, and glucose syrup, isn't it? Not having corn syrup is nice. Unless I'm mistaken, Milky Way has egg whites, and this version does not. Including them probably would have made the nougat fluffier, though the inclusion of cocoa in the nougat itself does contribute to its stronger flavor. I guess I still feel like the real little secret is that these might be a step up from standard candy bars--but that's a low level to beat, which means that these still aren't too much to boast of. Again, not that I necessarily mind. It's candy. I can monitor my own candy intake. If it's a little cleaner, I'll avoid it a little less. And I'll let it fill that sugar void every so often when the sugar worms make their demands.

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

The Present, Past, and Future

"The past steps on the heels of the present, whether you like it or not," exclaims Sarah in Sarah, Plain and Tall. She is, of course, referring to how Jacob must deal with his past in order to move forward in his present. By trying to bury the past, he is actually clinging onto it. Sarah helps him to reconnect with his memories of the past and to remember their joys so that he can no longer be burdened by their pain. So that his children, too, can have the wholeness of being able to remember their mother even though she is gone.

The present is where we live now. And the future is for what we plan. The past, then, is what influences our present--and our future, too, I suppose, in so far as the actions we choose in the present affect our future. So it is interesting when we hear the warning not to live in the past. This is true: the only place we can actually live is the present, so it's best that we accept that. But a healthy relationship with the past includes an understanding of how the past affects the present, no?

In our example above, Jacob had fond memories of his wife. Anna had fond memories of her mother. And those were good things--things that could help inspire their characters in a positive way in the present. Anna, in particular, receives great comfort at being able to remember the mother she lost when she was so young. Being able to talk about what she does remember gives her stability in her present. She knows that loss can happen in the blink of an eye again, but she also knows that nothing can take away the good memories she cherishes with those she loves.

It follows in all sorts of ways--that concept of the past's influence on the present. A doctor is able to perform his role because of the time he spent in the past in school and in his residency. A child works to get a good grade because he knows from the past that his parents celebrate with him when he does. That's the past, present, and future all entangled into one. You see, it's learning from our past that teaches us to consider our future in the actions we take in the present. That's The Lion King, isn't it? Rafiki hitting Simba with his staff to show him that the past can still hurt but we can choose to learn from it--thereby prompting Simba to take action and return home to heal the wounds of the past. 

The only place where we can live is the present. And yet it is all quite a tangled web with the past and future, anyway, isn't it? 

Thursday, August 4, 2022

Turkeys Lurking in the Desert

What marks out the Promenade at Scottsdale is The Spire--that great, big, green-blue, poky sword thing reaching into the sky. It may be designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, but it is quite odd--and it stands rather in contrast to the general, softer, desert palette of Scottsdale. It doesn't even seem odd in the usual Frank Lloyd Wright way. No doubt this is because he didn't actually design it for this spot, and it was only built based around his design after his death. Turns out there is a long history behind the green, light-up, dragon tail sword sitting in the middle of North Scottsdale. 

But I'm not really here to talk about the green sword today. Because you know what you'll find if you wander by foot through the shopping area? A turkey.

Ah, yes, a turkey. It puts me in mind of that wonderful little ditty in A Winnie the Pooh Thanksgiving (which I am still waiting to see come up for streaming or on DVD or something). "A turkey may be lurking," sings Pooh as he and Piglet set out to hunt a fierce turkey for their Thanksgiving gathering. (At least said ditty is still discoverable through the magic of the Internet.) This turkey is not fierce, but it is big and grand. It is not the only animal surrounding the central fountain--and their lifelike designs are in direct contrast to the poky, green sword across the way.

For all that Frank Lloyd Wright's intentions in design included harmony with nature, as the use of his design now stands, the turkey feels much more harmonious with nature to me today. When buildings and streets and cement have overtaken so much of the land and the only plants left are the ones that are brought in and corralled into pre-approved spaces, a simple turkey or a crow in flight are a welcome find--even if they are not as alive as they appear. 

So take a moment to look beyond the glowing green giant spires. Turn into a quiet corner: you never know where a turkey may be lurking. 

Saturday, July 30, 2022

Leith Chocolate: Lavender Milk Chocolate

I'm a little stumped. When I saw this bar, I said, yes, of course I've had that brand before, but I'm just not sure if I've had the Lavender Milk Chocolate before or not. But then the name Leith Chocolate didn't sound familiar--and it didn't turn up in my database of reviews, either. I knew I'd had this company's chocolate before, so I looked up the Gin & Tonic bar that I remembered. Ah. That one is by Coco Chocolatier--but the style of the packaging is so much the same that I knew they had to be the same company. It isn't uncommon for a company to change names, or even to go by a different names in different countries. But there is no website listed for Leith Chocolate on the packaging and not much comes up under that name in the searches. However, the physical address listed on the chocolate bar matches the one on Coco Chocolatier's website, so whatever the story is behind the two names, we can conclude that these are indeed the same Scottish company. 

Although I didn't care for the "watercolor painting from a '90's hotel room" look of the other packaging, there is a slight difference with the coloring and texture here that is more appealing. It's a bolder, less neon look. In fact, the simpler font of the label, as well as the black rectangle below the white, also contributes to a steadier look. 

The bar inside is sleek. It's molded perfectly and so is smooth, as well as light in its creamy color. It's aromatic, too--like peppery lavender. This peppery lavender is the same that immediately comes through in the flavor, as well. As I've mentioned before, there are generally two types of lavender flavor when it comes to things like chocolate. One is sweeter and more floral, and the other is this peppery kind. I don't necessarily prefer the peppery lavender, but it does work well here. And that's because of the chocolate.

Although this is supposedly a 40% cocoa milk chocolate, it seems like it's lighter. It's nice as a milk chocolate, but it's fairly on the milky side--which I'm associating with a lighter percentage. Or it may be that when it comes to darker milk chocolates, I'm used to Theo's 45% Pure Milk bar--and 5% is still a difference. European milk chocolate does also tend to be milkier and American milk chocolate sweeter, so that may be a factor here. All this to say that this is a creamy milk chocolate. It has more depth than average, but not a huge amount. And because the lavender flavor is dominant, the chocolate doesn't have much chance to take the focus. But because the light cocoa flavor comes with all that cream, it makes for a good contrasting base for the peppery lavender. And it does indeed become evocative of the ever-growing-in-popularity lavender lattes (no pumpkin spice for me please, but lavender lattes I can get behind). Or, if you prefer, you could also say it's like a cup of Lavender Earl Grey with cream and sugar. 

Either way, it's a lovely bar of chocolate--if you like lavender. (If you don't, I hope you don't need me to advise you not to get a lavender chocolate bar.) I for one prefer stronger lavender to barely-detectable lavender, so that is perhaps something to keep in mind if you prefer a lighter touch of flavor. But the flavors that are here are balanced well. And we've just passed lavender harvest season (in the southwest, at least), which makes this feel like the perfect time for enjoying lavender chocolate. 

Monday, July 25, 2022

The Harmony of The Lion King

I couldn't even tell, at first glance, where the performers ended and where the costumes began. That's how stunning the costuming and puppetry and performance of The Lion King were when it was at ASU Gammage this month. The musical isn't new, of course. I knew that it was rated highly, which is why I wanted to make sure and see it when it was in town. This is one case where the show did live up to the hype. 

Just the opening number is beautiful. The costumes, the set design, the choreography, and the performances in both movement and music elevate this show. If the story showcases the circle of life, so, too, does the musical exhibit harmony in visuals, sound, and movement. We appreciate the beauty of the land, its flora and fauna, that the performers bring to life. These visual concepts work in tandem with the music. Quite beautiful vocals, in particular from Gerald Ramsey as Mufasa and Gugwana Dlaminni as Rafiki. Jaylen Hunter as Young Simba also had wonderful charisma. And I particularly enjoyed the lioness ensemble. 

This is the joy of art. We have a chance to view and encourage creativity and talent. And in so doing, to also reflect on our own lives and bring into our interpretations wherever it is that we are currently at in life. If The Lion King is about the intersection between the past and the present, then it gives us a chance to consider where we are, shall we say, in harmony with our past and where we are not. Or where we are in harmony with our current decisions and life choices and where we are not. We can't move backwards and we shouldn't live in the past--but we should be aware of how our past affects our present. And we should be aware of the repercussions of our current choices. 

This is a beautiful musical visually, but it also has that depth of theme. It may be a familiar story to most of us--but, after all, it grew to such popularity because of that very depth. 

Thursday, July 21, 2022

Hope and Identity in Paris

Hope and dreams. Hard work and goals. A break from the ordinary. Day in and day out. Is it one or the other? Or is it a balance of both? Can you even have the one, day in and day out, without the other, hope? What is even the goal, aspiration for higher things or contentment with the ordinary?

These are the questions that come up in the latest adaptation of Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris. This was my first experience with the story; I haven't seen any of the other films or read the book. On one level, the film is a simple diversion, a pretty story with characters that are pleasant to watch and views that are beautiful to behold. Yet it's also gently stirring in its themes and contemplations. 

Mrs. Harris is a woman who has kept hope. Years after the ending of the war, she has kept hope that perhaps her husband might still be alive out there somewhere. And when she comes up with the idea of buying a dress from Paris, she holds the hope that this is an attainable dream. She believes in beauty and goodness. Her ability to dream is what upholds her through all of the years of hard, daily work. 

Her dreams sometimes shatter. Reality breaks into them, and things don't always play out the way that she had pictured. But does that mean that her perspective is off? What about the other characters? 

Along the way, we see the rich and wealthy also pursuing their dreams. They dream of acceptance and status. Instead of picturing how they will enjoy the elegant dresses, many of them simply imagine what the dresses will make them into. The circles they will be accepted into or the impressions they will give. Mrs. Harris, on the other hand, wants to wear her dress to the same old local dance that she could go to in any dress she already owns. She doesn't want the dress to make her into a new person: she wants it to enjoy it. There is something to be said for having something to look forward to. 

So when she experiences rudeness at the house of Dior, or when the Marquis tells her that she reminds him of the maid at his boyhood school, nothing has changed. It's disappointment that taints her experience, but it is nothing different from the role she has had for years. She works as a cleaning lady, and that is the way in which she interacts with the world of her daily life--and it remains when she goes to Paris. The dress did not change that. But the difference between Mrs. Harris and some of the other characters is that she didn't need the dress to change her. 

She enjoyed the experience of visiting Paris, of meeting the people there, of seeing the work rooms, and of having her dress made. And she enjoys getting to finally wear a Dior dress to the local dance. But through it all, she remains herself. It's the perspective she brings that made it all magical. She was eager and friendly towards everyone she met and always hoped for good. She took delight in the new things she got to see, and she appreciated the craftsmanship and artistry in the dressmaking. And she loved the way in which she could hope for something special, a designer dress, and then see it become a reality. 

Hope keeps us alive in our daily lives. We hope not that a certain circumstance will change everything about our lives and who we are. We simply hope for having the experience. Because if we depend on a particular circumstance to change who we are, then, well, we are poorly off indeed. Joy and hope must be independent of circumstances, or they are truly no joy and hope after all. 

Thursday, July 14, 2022

A Storm of Turbulence or Renewal?

The wind now blows. It isn't like the monsoon seasons of years past, but a summer storm is still a summer storm. Air blowing tree limbs and sheets of dust. Clouds creating chaotic shapes across the sky. Color dancing between dark and light--between pink and blue. Light flashing on the horizon and thunderbolts stretching their fingers.

A good summer storm always once more puts me in the mood of Lucy Snowe in Villette: "It was wet, it was wild . . . I could not go in." (Charlotte Bronte) Nothing like a storm to take everything out of one's soul and pour it out into the landscape. Every burst of lightning is like one's own emotions playing out in visible tangibility. It's irresistible. But is the chaos of a storm good or ill? Is bursting out of one's skin a good thing or a bad thing?

Well, for Lucy Snowe it certainly felt like an encumbrance--and like an irresistible pleasure. She says she dreaded weather incidents like storms because of all that they stirred up within her. Yet when she's watching a storm, does she not look more alive? So was it indeed better for her to stay in the quiet calm, or to let the storm awaken her? 

Sometimes what can appear turbulent has its place in creating renewal. A summer storm can be incredibly violent. Clouds of dust fog the horizon. Tree limbs break off. Flash floods begin. But through it all, the earth is fed and regenerated. The storm that awakens the sleeping land ushers in a brand new day.

Saturday, July 2, 2022

Red, White, and Blue

Red for pain, sorrow, and sacrifice.

White for hope.

Blue for respect and integrity. Reverence.

The world in which we live alternates between impossibly beautiful and impossibly terrible. We rejoice in and give thanks for the beauty. We mourn the terrible. Neither can extinguish the other so long as this world, in its present state, exists. Yet still we try, and it's the trying that makes the difference. To trade one moment of pain for one of joy. To shadow one terrible time with the memory of one beautiful time. To persevere. 

Taking moments to acknowledge the good and be glad for it have always been crucial towards safekeeping that good. That's why I find so much overlap between the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving. So this Independence Day, let's remember history but let's also be glad for what we have today that is good. 

Thursday, June 30, 2022

Obi-Wan & Personal Responsibility

I have had nothing to say on the live action Star Wars shows they have been making recently. Obi-Wan Kenobi, however, has been different. This show had that Star Wars feel in setting, characters, and theme. Yes, we like familiar characters--but more than that, we like them because we know their backstories and we know their struggles. And it's that inner story that allows us to connect with a story. From here on there will be some amount of spoilers.

So yes, this series was fun because we got to revisit the Organas and the Skywalkers. We see Luke stuck in the desert while Leia is getting dressed up in her royal garb. He is his father's son and she is her mother's daughter. And little Leia is adorable, yes. The bits of flashbacks to Obi-Wan and Anakin training are nostalgic. But the heart of it all is in how the various characters deal with the conflict within themselves and in reaction to others. Essentially this series is about personal responsibility. 

From the beginning, I thought that Reva had such an innocent-looking, almost childlike face that contrasted with her dark side baddie persona. I thought this was just fairest-of-them-all evil queen type casting. But it turns out, of course, that casting (and performance) was even more intentional than that. Reva is in her mind still a child who is hurt by the evil she saw done and how powerless she felt in the face of it all. So she responds to her powerlessness and pain by trying to be the most powerful and by seeking vengeance. But that is never the way to heal either one's self or the world; it only adds more pain. What Reva instead has to do is separate out what other people might choose to do from what she can choose to do. Instead of being like fallen Anakin and killing a child, she chooses to return the child unharmed. 

Likewise, Obi-Wan struggles with the aftermath of failure during the war. Encountering the figure who was once his apprentice, he feels all the guilt for having failed Anakin. This is why he struggles with feeling unable to rescue or protect Leia: he was unable to protect Anakin. But Leia is still a child, and Anakin made his choices as an adult. That moment in which Darth Vader himself releases Obi-Wan from his guilt and responsibility might just be one of the new best Star Wars moments. On its simplest level, it provides an explanation for why Obi-Wan later tells Luke that Darth Vader killed his father. But thematically, it's wonderful.

"I am not your failure, Obi-Wan. You didn't kill Anakin Skywalker. I did." The way in which the mask's vocoder staggers and allows Anakin's voice to falter in and out provides that link between the past and future, between the prequels and the originals, or the originals and the prequels depending on how you look at it. What his words say emphasizes the reality that Obi-Wan and Anakin each chose their own paths. We cannot choose other people's paths for them. We cannot control others' actions. We are not responsible for others' mistakes or failures. We can only control what we do and we are only responsible for what we ourselves do. Similar to Reva, Obi-Wan learns to let go of the pain of the past, of the actions he saw someone he cared about choosing. 

Star Wars is so much about choosing the good path. This series explored how to react when those around us do not choose that same path. It's hard and it's messy, but there is great freedom in being able to separate out our responsibilities from the responsibilities of others.