Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Norway Musings

I spent Christmas in Oslo. I had thought about traveling abroad over Christmas ever since my friend Jessica had planned a trip to Estonia over Thanksgiving. I can't remember why or how I settled on Oslo, but I'm so glad I did because I loved it.

When I started reading blogs and such about what to do in Oslo, lots of people stated that Oslo was an ugly, boring city that should be skipped. Especially at Christmastime because Norwegians take their Christmas seriously and everything would be closed for Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and Second Christmas Day (Boxing Day), and maybe even more.

Everything WAS closed while I was there. I arrived the evening of Christmas Eve and, while people did start coming out Christmas Day night and on the 26th, lots of stores and such were closed until the 27th (some even closed all the way until the new year!). It wasn't until the morning of the 27th that it seemed like people were out going to work; the garbage trucks were out!

Regardless, I had a great time. What I enjoy about experiencing new cities is just walking and getting a feel for it. I like trying to get a sense of what it is like for the people who live there. How do they get to work? Where do they grocery shop? How do they meet up with friends? 

Most everyone in Norway speaks English. I asked a girl at a travel shop about this, and she said that most Norwegians learn english while in elementary school; while Norwegian is their language, she said it's not super useful when traveling abroad because no one else speaks it! Everyone was helpful and kind, but they aren't overtly kind - they'll keep to their business but are quick to be helpful when needed. 

Merry Christmas in Norwegian is God Jul. It's a wonderful time to be in Norway! Christmas is important, but Norway is kind of secular so there didn't seem to be over-concern about keeping the religious part of Christmas intact. Their decorations are understated, and lights are very important since it's dark a big chunk of the time. The biggest decoration is lighted stars in the window - they were EVERYWHERE and I was obsessed. The standard was yellow/white lights, with nary a multi-colored string in sight. It all makes for a lovely aesthetic.

Everyone keeps their window blinds open. This was especially noticeable in Tromso as we took a fjord tour. Our guide explained that since Norway lacks density, the windows are left open and lights on for anyone that would be out in the woods and needed help. This seemed to translate to Oslo as well, and I am a big fan of the custom. I think I'd fit right in in Norway. As I look out at the apartment windows across from me all of the blinds are closed. I bought a lighted start that I put in my window that is shining bright for all to see. 

Since Oslo is so far north, the sun doesn't shine much in the winter. It rose around 9:30 in the morning, but it never rose above the horizon before setting in almost the same place around 4:00 p.m. It'd be completely dark by five, which really messed with my internal clock!

The biggest negative of Norway is that they do not have Dr. Pepper. Coke and Pepsi, a smattering of Mt. Dew and an orange drink called Solo are what's available. While I would love to live there, I'd have to think long and hard about not having Dr. Pepper (which I don't even drink that often, but it's my go-to when I have a headache and it's really the only carbonated drink I drink).

I'd go back in a heartbeat, and would really love to see it during summer and rent a car to drive along the coast. I'm hoping to post separately about specific things I did while there, so stay tuned. 

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

After seeing The Rise of Skywalker just before Christmas, I was positively giddy to see it again in Oslo as my Christmas Day Movie tradition. I enjoyed it more the second time around! The third time I saw it at the Alamo Drafthouse here in Austin, which has fantastic themed pre-show content. Here are my random thoughts on it...

After spending the entire previous movie with our supposed trio apart and in their own story lines, Rise of Skywalker wastes no time bringing the trio together on a mission. I never really bought into them as a group of close friends to begin with, so this start kind of annoyed me. Rey and Finn get close during The Force Awakens, along with Finn and Poe (Finn kind of just clings on to the first people he meets; yes, he is my least favorite character). In The Last Jedi, they aren't together at all. Rey is experiencing A LOT of things, and Finn and Poe are each on their own adventures.

So to have Rise of Skywalker start so deeply in solidifying how close this trio is is a bit weird. But whatever. Their journey to find the Sith Wayfinder is still good. Rey is clearly going through something that neither Finn nor Poe understands; Finn annoyingly thinks he knows her, while Poe wisely knows he doesn't.

For me, the strongest part of the prequel trilogy has been the Rey/Kylo Ren connection and I really enjoyed the outcome of that. Not that Rey is a Palpatine, which is just so ridiculous, but I wonder how else they would have made their connection through the force without making her a Skywalker. Because I enjoy the conclusion, I am willing to forgive Rey being a Palpatine.

Kylo Ren has always been very conflicted, which makes for a good character. He claims to be evil, and he does seem so when he ruthlessly kills his own father. But he also seemed so conflicted. Why he worships Vader is a bit unclear, since he killed the Emperor to save his son before dying. Does Ben/Kylo just conveniently forget this part? Vader/Anakin KILLED the Emperor himself to save his son, so Kylo even listening to the Emperor is strange. Dude needs to learn some family history.

Also, where the eff is Anakin. Surely he could return as a force ghost and give his only grandson some guidance, since this is all his fault basically. My guess is Hayden Christensen declined to be a part of it (I have heard he has become a bit reclusive because the fame from Star Wars was too much....). And also Anakin would likely be force-projected as his older self, right?  Whatever, I think Anakin needed to have a presence.

Rise of Skywalker had just the right amount of world-building, especially with the Kijimi sequence. I love Keri Russell, so that likely played a part in it as well. It built on Poe's background, which I liked. I was excited about Poe as a character, but I felt like he never really developed until now. His humor was finally nailed in this film and I loved the whole bit on Kijimi about "You were a spicerunner? You were a stormtrooper? You were a scavenger? I can do this all day!".

I am very curious as to why Ben disappeared when he died like Obi-Wan and Yoda. What has become of him?! Him and Rey clearly have some unfinished discussions.....

I'm already thinking about when I will see it next!

Star Wars Musings

I have now seen Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker three times. By choice. In three different movie theaters, in two states and two countries. This is remarkable, at least to me, because I had given up hope on ever really enjoying a new Star Wars film again.

Being born in 1983, I discovered Star Wars as most kids born in the 80s did - through watchings on television. For Christmas one year (in the 90s) Santa brought the Anderson family the VHS boxed set of the trilogy and it was the best Christmas ever. I remember once telling my mom, in all my pre-teen earnestness, that my only wish was to go back in time and experience Star Wars for the first time on the big screen.

My wish sort of came true when the films were re-released in 1997 as the Special Editions. I remember my excitement still now about seeing them on the big screen. Then everything really changed when three brand new prequels were announced. Revenge of the Sith was released in 2005, and that was really the last time I remember really enjoying a Star Wars film.

Perhaps as I've gotten older I've just become much more difficult to please (this is likely very true). I can be a tough critic. I've changed over the years, and I began to wonder if I just wasn't a Star Wars fan anymore. Or a true Star Wars fan. Whatever that means.

The Force Awakens was exciting in that it brought new Star Wars into my life, but the film didn't quite do it for me. I read a tweet that I wish I could still find that summed it up like this: the new trilogy erases the happy ending of Return of the Jedi and for that I will never forgive it. I was displeased that the new trilogy decided to tell, at least in The Force Awakens, a very similar story to the original: a band of rebels fighting against an empire. We have the Rebellion, the First Order, Starkiller Base, Kylo Ren as Darth Vader-lite. It all felt like a story that had been tread before, and I wanted something different out of the new trilogy.

The Last Jedi never clicked for me. It did try to tell a broader story within the Star Wars universe, but I didn't care for it. It didn't feel like a Star Wars movie to me, and the only parts I liked about it were the Rey/Kylo Ren mind-melding and their fight in the throne room. Coupled with my disappointment in Rogue One and Solo and I was pretty sure Star Wars and I just weren't compatible anymore.

I dutifully made plans to see Rise of Skywalker with my best friend Lindsay in Pocatello to continue the tradition. We had come so far, I certainly wasn't going to end everything now. Seeing it with Lindsay is always the best, because we have shared our love of Star Wars since becoming friends in 8th grade. Sadly our theater audience was kind of lame and didn't react near enough to the movie. I think I reacted plenty for everyone.

I walked out of the theater mostly liking it (even with the truly terrible twist of Rey's parentage), and it was the first time since Revenge of the Sith that I wanted to see a Star Wars movie again in the theater.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Austin City Limits Music Festival

Every year Austin hosts the Austin City Limits Music Festival at Zilker Park over two weekends in October. I had heard about it when I lived in Denton from friends/coworkers who went to it over the years. Being an Austinite now it seemed my duty to attend, so two weeks ago I decided to get a ticket.

ACL is like a lot of other multi-day festivals - multiple bands throughout the day at several stages, with headliners anchoring the evenings each night. I really only cared about three acts though:

  • Mumford and Sons - I've wanted to see them since their first two albums, with dream location being at Red Rocks. That just never happened, but now they would be playing in my very own city!
  • Kacey Musgraves - I really liked her performance of "Rainbow" at the Grammy's this year (where she won Album of the Year!). She's not an artist whose songs I know though, even if I am aware of her in general (she's technically country which I don't really follow anymore). But I definitely wanted to see her.
  • Lizzo!! - she's been around for awhile, bus has been having what we call a "moment" this summer with her hit "Truth Hurts". I most definitely wanted to dance to it live. 
I'm going to write about each act separately, because each one had moments that were so special and magical that they need their own space :)

The entire experience was TRANSCENDENT.  

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Cool Bike

Today I rode my bike to the Violet Crown theater to see Wild Rose. It's super easy to get to by bike from where I live, thanks to the Lance Armstrong Bikeway - a protected bike lane on 3rd Street right through downtown Austin! I literally live right off this bike route and it's pretty amazing.

As I was unlocking my bike after the movie, the guy standing close by smoking a cigarette said "Cool bike. I like the color." My bike IS cool, and the color is great. It made me super happy.

I jetted quickly over to the nearby Trader Joe's to pick up some lemon ricotta ravioli for dinner (it is to die for). I hadn't planned on stopping, and therefore didn't have a side bag with me; the paper bag would just have to hang off my handlebars. As I was unlocking my bike, a guy inside Trader Joe's looked at me and motioned handlebars and a bag. I nodded and he gave me a thumb's up.

I rode home with that Trader Joe's bag on the protected bike lane back to my apartment, where Biscuit and Chance were waiting for me and I felt at home in this city.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Spider-Man: Far From Home

Spider-man has been a tricky character for me. I have not read the comics, so my take on him is purely from the movies that have been released. And THE Spider-man for awhile was the Tobey Maguire version released the end of my freshman year of college. It somehow found a way to make a universally-agreed-upon killer sequel, giving us Doc Ock and the classic Dashboard Confessional song "Vindicated" on a truly great soundtrack album (I have very strong memories of buying this album at the Walmart I worked on, and listening to it on incessant repeat as I drove around SLC in my silver Honda Civic). Sony then found a way to make a universally-agreed-upon abysmal third outing which most everyone would like to just forget.

The Andrew Garfield-led first outing was good, but the second one was truly awful.

Which then gave the world Tom Holland as Spider-man - truly inspired casting. Not that Tobey Maguire wasn't great, but finally Spider-man was being played by an actual teenager who really nailed the funny aspect of Spider-man. Tobey's version, while great at the time, now seems so very pedestrian.

When Sony decided to finally loan out Spider-man to Marvel, we were also blessed with not having to see another film with Spider-man's origin story. Instead he gets plopped right into the middle of an Avengers movie.

I didn't love Spidey's first outing. I was bored with a lot of it and actually fell asleep for a brief couple seconds during the fight on the Staten Island Ferry. But, much like with my evolving love for Captain America, Spidey really shone in his small roles in the Avengers movies. When he tells Tony he doesn't want to go at the end of Infinity War I started crying.

So, ALL OF THIS TO SAY, I was mildly excited to catch Spider-man: Far From Home on the Fourth last week. Tom Holland is just such a joy to watch. But you know who else was a joy to watch - Jake frickin' Gyllenhaal! He was very briefly rumored to replace Tobey Maguire as Spider-man back in the day, and he's somehow never been in a superhero movie. He looked like he was having so much FUN playing Mysterio. The twist was also really neat because I thought he kind of had a point....

For me, I think it also helped that Spider-man is now linked to the larger Avenger stories. I definitely recommend, even if you didn't see the first one.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

The Mindless and Endless

I went off Facebook two years. I did it in direct response to a mean-spirited attack against me from a family member over email. Tuning out of Facebook seemed like a good way to shut everything out for a little while. That little while turned into a year.

It was amazing.

But also somewhat of a hindrance when wanting to know about goings-on and being invited to things. Even hosting my annual Piesgiving became a bit more difficult because I didn't have email addresses for everyone I usually invited (through Facebook). Thankfully my friends were pretty good about telling me about movie nights on the Square and get togethers, so it wasn't as if I was completely removed from social gatherings and society in general.

Then I remembered my friend Will Bishop. Will was, and still is, old school in that he hasn't joined the smartphone ubiquity and still owns a simple flip phone. While I "celebrate" over ten years on Facebook, Will has also never joined the social media site. However, Will was ALWAYS invited to any and every event or get together that was being held. People just knew he wasn't on Facebook, so when an invite went out there was usually a last line to the effects of "And someone let Will Bishop know!".

In my sabbatical from Facebook I was still on Instagram, and I was running the Bike|Walk Denton Facebook page, so it wasn't as if I was completely off the grid. I reactivated my account purely for March Madness and the competition I run on an Anderson extended-family page (that I created and was admin for). It seemed selfish to not create the event since every one seemed to have lots of fun with it.

When I first came back on, I only checked it in the morning for the Memories. I am a very sentimental and nostalgic person, and I love seeing old posts of what I was doing on the same day but one, three or nine years ago. Then I was checking it at work. And at home. And all the time.

Facebook can be really great. But it can also be a huge time-suck. While I work to be better about not spending so much time mindlessly, endlessly scrolling through the same twenty people that the algorithms have deemed and countless ads, I'm going to attempt to blog more.

And get out and explore this new city of mine more.

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