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. 

Saturday, June 25, 2022

1944 Jane Eyre

I've mentioned many times over that the 2006 adaptation of Jane Eyre is my favorite. It still is, but I've come to realize that I've been overly reluctant to even watch other versions. There are too many that I haven't even yet seen. And Jane Eyre adaptations aren't as bad as, say, Wuthering Heights adaptations. At least that's what I'm finding as I dig in and watch more. The one for today's topic is the 1944 version, directed by Robert Stevenson and starring Orson Welles and Joan Fontaine. 

Really, I shouldn't be surprised at how good this version was given those three stars. It has that moody, Gothic tone. We have a chance to see Jane's isolation and loneliness from childhood into adulthood. Joan Fontaine gives a remarkable performance: she captures Jane's calm exterior that hides a broiling heart inside. While I love the 2006, they did put Jane's emotions a little more on the exterior--which I like and which works for film but isn't exactly how Jane's character reads in the book. The "high class" quality to Joan Fontaine's performance works well to capture both Jane's education and her isolated social status. Granted, she is much too beautiful to be Jane--yet she makes us so believe in Jane's loneliness that we believe that no one gives her a second glance.

Orson Welles, too, gives a great performance as Rochester. The temptation with adaptations is to make Rochester too debonair. Yes, he's meant to have a certain rugged, masculine appeal, but he's not meant to be straight out attractive and he is rude and abrupt. Orson Welles is willing to give that performance, while also emphasizing Rochester's brokenness. Like with Jane, we see the beating heart beneath the exterior he presents to the world. And so it is when their inner selves meet that we see the chemistry between the characters. Even with less scenes between them (since this movie is a little shorter than most of the modern ones), the nuances of their relationship are portrayed quite well.

A big element that was missing, though, was Jane's faith (the inclusion of which is one of the reasons why the 2006 remains my favorite). The opening scenes with her childhood allow us to see the cruelty she faced due to religious hypocrisy. But we don't get to see how Helen teaches her another way to believe. We don't see that it is her devotion to God first that causes her to leave Rochester when she learns his lies. We don't see her struggle through the moors. We don't see her relationship with the Rivers family, St. John in particular. And so we assuredly don't see Rochester's description of how he cried out to God in the aftermath of the tragedies. Jane and Rochester get each other in the end--but there is no sense of the divine. 

What was intriguing, though, was to see that the 2006 version directly borrowed certain scenes or angles from this one. Like when young Jane awakens in Lowood for the first time as the girls line up by the washing bowls. The fact that they chose to pay homage to the earlier film is a testament to how well done it was. It isn't perfect and it has some gaps--but it's quite good and I in fact highly recommend it. 

Saturday, June 11, 2022

Sonhab: Costa Rica 70%

The second chocolate bar I picked up from Local Nomad is from Sonhab, which is a local Tempe-based company. Their approach seems to be based more around concepts of superfoods, mindfulness, things like adaptogens, that sort of vibe. That generally isn't my vibe, so I went with a plain bar, the Costa Rica 70%, to start.

Packaging definitely has that handmade, small business style. The pale tan color of the card box evokes brown paper. The swirly lines of the circular logo as well as the font choices add to that, um, shall we call it mindful vibe. I could see this for sale in the funky Sedona stores. Again, it isn't really my vibe, but it is a vibe of ever increasing popularity.

They've gone with the also popular envelope style to the card box. What I've never yet come across before, though, is a little colored sheet inside that has the notes on this specific cocoa's origin, as well as a QR code to scan for more info. You may have noticed that the card box had the flavor notes and cocoa origin handwritten on it. So that plus this little blue sheet mean that they can use the same card box for all of their plain dark chocolates. It's a smart approach for a small business, and the QR code is a way of interacting with technology. QR codes are all over these days, but this is the first time I've seen them used this way. 

Immediately on unwrapping the chocolate, out comes a strong chocolate fudge aroma. The design of the bar continues with the style established in the packaging. Swirling rays emerge from the Sonhab like rays of the sun--quite fitting for this self-proclaimed Sonoran Desert chocolate (I believe, by the way, that the "hab" part in the name comes from the Sonoran habitat). It's a unique and distinctive design. 

Initial flavor is fairly sweet, but not in a sugary way. The chocolate fudge carries over into the flavor; that's the definite, strongest trait here. Flavor notes list fudge, espresso, and pudding. I don't always catch up on all flavor notes, but the fudge is easy to define. There is a certain depth to the flavor, especially towards the las half, that I might not have defined as espresso on my own. But seeing espresso listed, it's the perfect comparison. It isn't a bitter flavor, so the image of freshly ground coffee beans or espresso describes that sense of depth. That espresso-type flavor continues into the aftertaste, as well.

The flavor profile is simple and straightforward, and therefore has wide appeal. Because it doesn't have stacks of flavor notes, I'm finding it tempting to eat more at once than I normally do with dark chocolate. Texture-wise, the chocolate is smooth. I thought it might be my imagination at first, but the chocolate does seem to melt a little quicker than normal. I even thought that maybe it was because this is such a fresh batch (since, alternatively, old chocolate gets harder and takes longer to melt when eating it). 

But just as I finished contemplating these concepts, I looked at the back of the packaging in more detail. Normally I'll do a tasting before reading a lot about the chocolate so as to be less influenced by what is written about the chocolate versus what it is like to simply eat it. So I didn't notice (since it isn't mentioned on the front of the package) that this chocolate is sweetened with coconut sugar. Well. I guess since I literally didn't realize there was coconut in here, I can't complain that I could taste the coconut. But maybe that's why both the sweetness and the texture felt different. When you make chocolate, the cocoa and the sugar interact together on a molecular level and bind together in a specific way. I don't know much about coconut sugar's structure (and chemistry is definitely not my favorite type of science), but it would make sense to my nonscientific mind that there could be a subtle yet discernible difference. That smoother mouthfeel I described is consistent, after all, with the smoothness of truffles made with coconut oil. 

If the chocolate does melt slightly faster because of the coconut sugar, I could see this perhaps being a subtle negative with a chocolate that has layers of flavor note development. But since the flavor profile here was simple, that wasn't an issue. And the softer mouthfeel was, if anything, a plus. So even though I've mentioned that coconut is on my list of foods I'm supposed to avoid and therefore I would personally rather have regular sugar, if avoidance of cane sugar is of importance to you, this is a great alternative. And if you don't care either way, this is still a great example of coconut sugar use in chocolate. And it's also just a good bar of chocolate. Sonhab has a good approach going. 

Thursday, June 9, 2022

Redefining Classics

A rambling post for today.

The phrase "the classics" is a loose term in literature. We expect it to refer to books that last through time, that remain relevant in either their message or their format. They are either beautiful to read or contain important themes, preferably both. But what is considered a classic changes with time and often has little to do with a book's popularity. Perhaps it is because everything has been said already in literature that context does matter. An exploration of identity, for instance, is rewritten a thousand times over because each generation wants to hear it expressed in a new way. That's why you'll notice that some of the more recent "classics" either become or remain popular when they are reinterpreted anew time and again.

Consider something like Alice in Wonderland, which wasn't exactly popular when it came out. It's still widely available in bookstores, but is it really widely read by anyone except literature students? It especially isn't read much by its original audience of children, unless in extremely abridged formats. Yet the story is popular and it is widely referenced in all sorts of art forms. 

Two more nineteenth century novels, Frankenstein and Dracula, are similar. They were more popular in their day, but they still are. Here I would also question how many people read the originals who aren't literature students, but everyone knows (or thinks they know) the basics of the stories. Adaptations and references abound. 

But that's the thing, isn't it? These three stories that I've brought up remain popular because they are constantly being redefined. And it's that redefining that makes them new and keeps them in society's collective consciousness. We have an idea of what we mean when we talk about the character of Frankenstein or his monster--an idea that is not limited by the details of the original story. It's like we've made archetypes out of certain stories, like the tales of Greek heroes used to be. And so when we refer to those story lines or characters, we're interacting more with that archetype than the original source itself. 

Fiction always keeps to the same core concepts. But we keep those concepts alive by reinventing them through either new stories or new interpretations of the same stories. And that's what makes us feel connected to "classics" as they age. If we feel we've lost that connection, then the old classics become dusty relics only read by those who study literature. (Which I don't have an issue with--some of like reading dusty relics, and it's impossible for every piece of value written to continue to be cherished through the ages. Then we would have no need for new writers, eh?) That's why it's the ones we can approach more loosely that remain popular. So maybe it isn't such a bad thing that people sometimes forget that Frankenstein is the scientist not the monster. It's the main imagery, not the details, that take root in our minds. 

Saturday, June 4, 2022

Monsoon Chocolate: Esmeraldas Ecuador 75%

I've recently been introduced to Local Nomad in Uptown Phoenix. Among the local gift items in the shop are also some chocolates made in state. I picked up two for now, so we'll start with Monsoon Chocolate. This is the Esmeraldas Ecuador 75% Dark Chocolate from their origin series. Specifically, the cocoa here is from a family-owned farm in the region that used to be cattle pastures. This puts in mind another company I looked at recently who were highlighting the healthy environmental changes of certain regions growing back to sustainable farming. So besides Monsoon being an Arizona company (they're based out of Tucson), I also appreciate the type of cocoa that they source.

Their packaging takes the fold-out envelope approach that has been so popular lately. But the artwork is quite unique. It's fairly modern in style, yet also has a certain earthiness in the textures evoked. One of the advantages to the envelope style, as I've mentioned before, is that it can make a fairly small bar appear bigger. In order to work toward truly fair trade cocoa, I think we also need to simply consume less. This bar is definitely on the smaller side at 50 grams, but I quite like that size and the size of the card box makes the bar feel more substantial to the average consumer. 

Inside its clear wrapper, the chocolate bar is in a simple arrangement of rectangles. Yet the basic look here is slightly unique as well: the rectangles are much longer than usual. Somehow this adds to the artsy vibe. I'll probably keep repeating this all summer long, but just ignore the slight imperfection in the surface. That's probably due to me not going straight home with the chocolate after buying it (though I certainly didn't leave it in the car to experience its melting death). 

Other than that slight weather imperfection, the surface looks good. There is a mild cocoa aroma along a possible hint of lightly bitter notes. The snap is great, and the inside of the chocolate looks perfect. The initial taste is quite mellow and soft, then I get what could almost be a ripe banana flavor before the taste moves on just the slightest but not quite developed hint of bitterness. At this point, the chocolate mellows out again and then becomes just simple, smooth cocoa flavor, neither bitter nor sweet. The level of depth does increase a bit in the last stage, with a hint of darkness between the lines of the cocoa finish. 

Texture-wise, there is a healthy smoothness. It's neither grainy nor plasticy. From this bar, I can see why Monsoon has placed at the International Chocolate Awards for their chocolates. And not only am I curious to try more of the origin bars, but I am also hopelessly intrigued by the Mesquite White Chocolate and the Blue Corn Atole White Chocolate. Perhaps a trip to their shop in Tucson is in order? 

Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Mystery Castle's Freedom of Creativity

Castles represent our dreams and our imaginations, and so Mystery Castle is aptly named. This house at the base of South Mountain was built by Boyce Gully when he responded to his terminal illness diagnosis by moving to Arizona. He built the house with his daughter, Mary Lou, in mind, and after he died she came and lived in it for the rest of her life. 

South Mountain has never been my favorite section of the greater Phoenix area. The landscape is very scrubby, with both dirt and rock having not so much color as you'll find in other areas. It's all quite pale. And yet it's this scrubby paleness that makes Mystery Castle seem to fit so well into the surrounding scape. If the inspiration behind the house was sand castles, then this is indeed a desert sand castle, formed up out of the desert sand. 

The castle just closed for the summer, but beginning in October the tours will begin again. The tour in itself makes visiting the castle a fun and quirky experience. Your story is honestly admitted to be part fact and part fiction. You hear a bit about the history and the construction, but you also hear silly jokes and puns and tangents. 

Frank Lloyd Flight instead of Frank Lloyd Wright

And of course along the way you get to observe the inside and outside of the structure. There are so many details in the materials and the art that you could spend hours just taking it all in. The rocks here, the tile there, the painted snake in this spot, the pun written here, the prayer written there. Something of this style, something of that. Art from this culture, art from that. 

What you end up walking away with, besides the hour of diversion, is inspiration to be free. Mystery Castle is creativity run loose without any rules and without trying to please anyone. That's what makes it captivating. So that in turn becomes inspiring for all the little things we might do in our daily lives, whether making art, decorating our homes, planting a garden, or getting dressed. Adding in a little creativity brings an element of play into the everyday.