Jaunting Part 6: Paris and Bruges

At last this stage of my journey took me to continental Europe! You can hear my talk about it here.

But, before I get to the titular cities I actually had one last stop in the UK. I made a final visit to London and made a day trip to Bath. The first picture here is the Bath Abbey, and second is just a nice canal a little out of Bath city center. The last two pictures are from London, the Millennium and Tower bridges.

Some big metal thing in Paris! After that is a picture of the back of Notre Dame, which I find even prettier than the front. Last, I have two pictures of the kind of stunning palaces you'll find dotted about Paris if you walk past enough beige buildings. Speaking of the beige, it turns out there's a reason so much of Paris feels like it was all designed by one guy. It was! Georges-Eugene Haussmann, he led a huge renovation of Paris in the late 1800s which did wonders for public health and safety.

After Paris I caught a train to Bruges. The most noticeable feature of the city is the Belfry. Below is a picture of it at night, but what you can't see in a picture is the delightful sound of it's carillon that rings through the city on the hour.

Game of Thrones Impressions: Season 2

You can find part one here.

Episode 1: The North Remembers, or, Setting Up

Stannis seems a very disagreeable fellow. Did he pick his council from the cast of a horror movie? Everything about this guy and his camp is creepy. Ned wanted this guy to be king?

Rob Stark is smart enough to look for allies. He is on an exponential likability curve.

Tyrion is never more likable then when he's putting down the other Lannister's. 

I really hope they end up killing Craster the Fantasy Fritzl.

Episode 2: The Night Lands, or, Incest and Infanticide

Who is this well spoken man in the cage talking to Arya? Does this show have a Hannibal?

Theon's family is even more annoying than he is.

Maybe I misjudged Stannis, now that I know he's on board the Light train for practical reasons he's much more likable. Though besides being annoying Melisandre, Stannis's religious nut job, seems very out of place in this show. Everyone else is a complex mix of good and bad, and then she walks in with her gloomy fanatic talk and creepy leitmotif. If she was a man she'd have a mustache to twirl.

Really John Snow? You lost to Fantasy Fritzl?

Episode 3: What is Dead May Never Die, or, Teaching Arya is Bad for Your Health

Cersei is really starting to lose it. Guess she wasn't as up to this game as she thought she was. Too bad, her efficacy was her only likable feature. Also, she has other kids? Is this the first time they were introduced, or are they that forgettable?

Wow. Sansa. I thought her and Tyrion's Chief Executive Prostitute were going to be friends. Then Sansa opened her mouth. It's amazing how quickly she destroyed the sympathy I'd developed for her.

I'm not sure how I feel about about Renly yet. I feel like he could actually be a good king if he didn't seem so naive.

Arya's really making a habit of losing likable teachers.

I don't think Theon is capable of a good decision.

Episode 4: Garden of Bones, or, What the Hell is That?

Alright, I hate Joffrey. He is the worst.

Qarth is refreshing. An oligarchy. Things run so much more sensibly when ideas can be questioned. How many times in this show has something gone horribly because no one can directly question a kings decision?

When I said the Melisandre was from a horror movie I didn't know how right I was. Now we even know which horror movie: Rosemarys Baby

Episode 5: The Ghost of Harrenhal, or, I Still Don't Know What That Thing Was

Renly would have been a good king. Being sociable and nice isn't a liability in a king. so long as one can have those features without naivety or weakness it's an asset. Something none of these other grim and dour kings seem to understand.

Fantasy Hannibal is back and is indeed a Hannibal.

Episode 6: The Old Gods and the New, or, Joffrey Gets Slapped

Theon what are you doing. This is the most awkward occupation ever.

Why doesn't Arya have Fantasy Hannibal kill Tywin? Even though that would make a little sad, he's a surprisingly likable old monster.

Poor Sansa. I was enjoying the riot till she got cornered. She may be annoying but she really does not deserve all the shit that keeps happening to her. I like The Hound. Of course, it would be hard not to after that.

I really don't care about Qarth. I believe because Daenerys doesn't really know what she should be doing there. Characters having muddled or uncertain goals can be fine for the short term, but having them stay that way is antithetical to good drama.

Episode 7: A Man Without Honor, or, This Occupation Got Dark

So I had John Snow pegged as one of the heroes of this show but eventually he's going to have to do something other than get captured. On the flip side, I like Ygritte. She was generic before, but now she's got some ideals. Or at least pretends to. Freedom. 

Whelp. So much for the oligarchy. 

Holy shit. Theon. What have you done. 

I don't believe it. Those kids can't be dead. There was too much left to their story. It can't be that hard to find a couple child size corpses in Winterfell, maybe he found some and burned those.

Episode 8: The Prince of Winterfell, or, Hodor Lives!

Hodor lives! Though, Theon isn't any less reprehensible. I think killing two defenseless orphans ranks about the same as killing your brothers.

I can't believe Catelyn let Jamie go. I mean she's always been a little dumb, but this. Man. I thought she was going to stand guard with Brienne. Or cut something off to appease the blood thirsty crowd. Giving away your only bargaining chip is not how you get your daughters back.

I officially like Stannis, but I like Davos the Onion Knight even more. An onion is definitely the best sigil. Pretty sure it's the only useful one.

Episode 9: Blackwater, or, Saving Private Tyrion

The Hound rocks.

Surprisingly for the big climactic battle scene no one of any importance died. Except possibly the Onion Knight. I hope he comes back.

Episode 10: Valar Morghulis, or, This Show's Got Ninjas

How on Earth did Fantasy Hannibal the Magical Ninja get captured and sent to the Night Watch in the first place? I guess I need to stop calling him Hannibal, he was never the serial killer I thought he was. As much as I wanted Arya to go with him and learn the tools of the trade it's probably for the best that she didn't. Arya's teachers haven't had the greatest life expectancy.

Why don't Stannis and Melisandre just make another shadow thing to kill Joffrey? Is there a range limit or something? This is the problem with magic. If you give it rules it kills the mystery, but without rules you wonder why it can't solve every problem.

Maybe I just have brain problems, but there's two things about this finale that don't make any sense to me. Firstly, when Danerys got to Qarth she had like 30 guys. They made it seem like they were all killed when her dragons were taken, I thought all she had left was Joreh and her one Dothraki bodyguard. But then at the end she seems to have a whole troop again. How many people does she have? Did she take some of Qarths people? With their entire council dead it's probably a good time to find some recruits. Secondly, I thought Winterfell was surrounded by Starks and the 20 pirates took up Rob's offer to surrender Theon and go home free. But then the kids wake up and Winterfell is burned with nary a Stark troop to be seen. Was it Greyjoys outside the wall? Theon said he looked at them, I think he would have recognized Greyjoy banners. Were they flying false banners as an elaborate practical joke? That seems ... Costly.

So at the end of this season, Tyrion remains the main hero of the show. John Snow's been demoted on account of doing absolutely nothing. I really like Rob, Joreh, and the Onion Knight. The least likable person is obviously Craster. But, among the main cast that award goes to Joffrey. Him and Cersei seem to get more awful by the episode. 

It really is remarkable that there's someone I like on every side. Except the Greyjoys. Nobody likes the Greyjoys.

Click here for season three.

Jaunting Part 5: North Ireland and Scotland

My most recent travels were through the lands of the Scots. By this I mean North Ireland and Scotland, but it could be said of both because the Scoti were actually a tribe from Northern Ireland that took what is now Scotland from the Picts. You can hear me talk about this part of my trip here.

One site of particular interest in Northern Ireland is the Giant's Causeway and it's peculiar hexagonal columns of rock. One of the few other places on Earth that has formations like this is a small island between Ireland and Scotland, which may have had an influence on the creation of the legend I described in the video. The first three of these photos show the Causeway, the next three pictures show places that have the distinction of being notable spots in both North Ireland and Westeros. First we have a most interesting space that was once Renly Baratheon's camp but now an auxiliary parking lot. Next is the Iron Islands harbor, and last is a set of caves where a most unusual birth took place.

The Dark Hedges. Truly a spectacular spot. Tragically one of the trees had died at some point, but I even found that stump oddly pretty. Trees so lovely they even make beautiful corpses. This place too was used in Game of Thrones. While most locations are found to fit the scenes they have in mind, here they actually created a scene just to use this location. It's the road Arya takes when leaving King's Landing. To shoot that 8 second scene they had to cover the road with dirt, take down all the fencing, and then put it all back the way it was.

After North Ireland I came to the city of Edinburgh. The first picture is of the Sir Walter Scott Memorial, the second of Edinburgh Castle, and the rest are simply the sort of views one gets walking around that remarkable, beautiful city.

Game of Thrones Impressions: Season 1

I'm a little behind the times. While everyone has been freaking out about Game of Thrones for years, I just finished season one. I'd heard from many that this was a show where your feelings toward the characters will change and change again as the show goes on, so, as a bit of fun I thought I'd record how my feelings toward the characters change on an episode by episode basis.

Episode 1: Winter is Coming, or, Wow What A Bunch of Assholes

Wow, what a bunch of assholes. Ned's pretty decent, though his allowance of the treatment of John Snows is less than noble. Tyrion is my favorite. Just like everyone else from what I hear.

Least likable has to go to Viserys. Which is impressive when you consider he's competing with a child killer.

Episode 2: The Kingsroad, or, Don't Play With Nobles

Oh, only an attempted child killer.

Tip for living in Westeros: don't play with people whose fathers can have you executed.

I like Jorah quite a bit. It's hard to believe he was a slaver.

I've heard a lot of hate for Joffrey, but I can't say I share it. He's just a kid. Kids world views are determined by their upbringing. I actually feel for the little monster a bit. He thinks he's the center of the universe and when anything threatens that assumption you can see his world begin to crumble. It's not his fault, Cersei raised him that way. Hate her, not him. Except I'm guessing her upbringing wasn't much different. Those crazy insulated Lannisters.

Episode 3: Lord Snow, or, An Hour of Talking

So Tyrion and John Snow are clearly the two heroes of this show.

Arya's got potential. Daenerys too. Despite hoping she fails because the Dothraki are horrifying I'm starting to really like Daenerys. Great character growth.

I like Little Finger.

Episode 4: Cripples, Bastards, and Broken Things, or, Even More Talking

Not much changes in this one.

Sam the Neckbeard shows up on the wall, more than a little out of place. If his family had any sense they would have dumped him with the clergy rather than the foreign legion. Maybe they don't have monks in Westeros.

Episode 5: The Wolf and the Lion, or, Does That Kid Eat Anything Other Than Breast Milk?

I don't know Ned, that pregnant girl with a claim to the throne is in charge of an angry horde ready and waiting to grind all of civilization into the dust. Pretty sure she needs to die. If you want to avoid assassination and infanticide maybe you should try a government that doesn't run on bloodlines. Maybe you could have set up an oligarchy or something instead of letting your drunken war buddy take sole authority over millions of lives. Also, I wonder how they knew about this. I think Jorah's a spy. Which makes me like him even more.

Wow, this lady is crazy. Lysa is going to be fun to hate.

Episode 6: Golden Crown, or, Fucking Finally

I'm so happy Viserys is dead. So happy.

Episode 7: You Win or You Die, or, A Lot of People Die

Whelp, the most despicable force in this world is now planning to invade civilization. Should've sent more assassins.

King Robert is dead. Can't say I'll miss him. Never really formed an opinion one way or another, mainly because it was clear he wouldn't be around long. The entire drama of the show stems from the question of his succession, he had to die pretty soon to make that interesting.

I like Little Finger even more for betraying Stark. Thank God someone stopped that maniac from starting a civil war over who a guys dad was. Nobodies got time for that, the Dothraki are coming! And I think Autumn is ending or something.

Episode 8: The Pointy End, or, Shut Up Sansa

I like Varys the Eunech. Him and Little Finger seem to be the only ones trying to keep this crazy country working while all these mad nobles keep trying to tear it apart with their ridiculous blood feuds.

Rob Stark has upgraded from nonentity to quite likable. Though, his sense of strategy seems a bit basic.

I didn't even realize how much I liked that sword teacher until he was gone. I will miss him.

Sansa is the least likable character on this show. Everyone else is awful for very deep and human reasons. This girl is just dumb.

Episode 9: Baelor, or, Ned Will Never Get Ahead in Life

Rob's sense of strategy was top notch after all. Very likable indeed.

Johns got the requisite special hero sword. He's definitely going places.

Filch is in this show! And he's talking about banging a 15 year old. This makes me feel very uncomfortable about his role at Hogwarts. Also, Catelyn promises the oldest male Stark will marry one of his daughters? That seems like a mighty big prize to give to some minor noble. He probably would have accepted Bran. Some speculation: such a marriage isn't nearly dramatic enough a fate for a character in this show. Which means it won't happen. Which means Robs war will not end well for him.

Oh, okay. Now I understand the Joffrey hate.

Episode 10: Fire and Blood, or, An Old Lady Saves the World and No One Cares

Poor Sansa. Rob's getting a bit big for his britches. Being King of the North is great but without allies you won't be king of anything.

So the most likable character of this season was the old witch who took out Drogo. Tough old lady saved the world. Too bad about what happened to her.

I guess Jorah isn't a spy. Or maybe his allegiances have changed. Which makes sense. If you're looking for the winning side, the one with dragons is going to be a pretty safe bet.

Out of the permanent cast Tyrion and John Snow continue to be the only truly lovable characters, and at this point it's quite hard to pick a least likable. Now that Sansa's lost everything she finally appears to have wised up. That leaves Joffrey but I still can't bring myself to hate him. I look at him and I just think "Yep, that's what you get when you raise a kid to be a ruthless egoist and yet always obey you. Eventually he's going to rail against one of those things, hard, and it's probably going to be the latter." I guess the award of least likable goes to Lysa the Crazy by default.

There's now a Part Two

Jaunting Part 4: Ireland

Recently I've taken a short hop through Ireland. You can hear me talk about it here.

The first step was getting to Ireland. I made my way to Liverpool with the hopes of taking the ferry. Hopes that were dashed with the discovery that the Liverpool ferry does not accept foot passengers. But, I still had a good time in the city. It boasts not one but two enormous cathedrals. There is the Anglican Cathedral which is made in the more traditional fashion of cathedrals: enormously heavy stones somehow stretched effortlessly into the heavens. For a small fee you can go to the top of this cathedral, which is where I took the overhead shot of the city. On the way to the top you get to see the bell machine. Across town is the Catholic Cathedral. Built in the 1960s this cathedral has a bit of a radical design: a circle. I liked this one more. While the Anglican cathedral is undoubtably the more impressive, it's not to different from many other cathedrals you'll city scattered across the UK. The Catholic Cathedral was refreshingly innovative.

Also in Liverpool is another branch of the Tate. Sadly when I went there 2 of the 4 floors were closed, but, one of the open floors was a fantastic exhibit on Mondrian and Muhamadi. If you're unfamiliar with the name Mondrian you may know his work the same way I originally did: the painting Commander Data keeps in his cabin aboard the Enterprise-D. The coolest part of the exhibit is they constructed a replica of Mondrians study which he decorated in a manner similar to his paintings. Though the second half of that exhibit was even more exciting because it was totally new to me. I had never heard of Narseen Muhamadi before but I really enjoyed her work. It consists of intricate, mathematical seeming drawings. All done by hand. I have a real soft spot for the geometric in art. A favorite style of mine is Vorticism, a tragically short lived art movement from the 1910s.

Dublin! The first two photos here show a rare sight: two of the only tall structures in all of Dublin. The Wellington Monument and the Dublin Spire. Next is the Old Library at Trinity College. While the main reason to pay is to gaze upon a few pages of the Book of Kells your admission also let's you see this gorgeous hall. I've been to a few grand libraries of the old style, though this was the nicest, and while they look like heaven the illusion is worn somewhat when you actually look at the titles on the shelves. In my experience most libraries of this ilk are dominated by the sort of record keeping that has thankfully been replaced with databases. Titles like Town Hall Meeting Notes Jun-Sept 1894. The last picture here is a shot of the interior of Kilmainham Gaol that shows it's partial implementation of the panopticon design pattern.

From Dublin I made my way over to Galway and went on a couple tours to see some sights of the West coast. First up was a trip through the Burren stopping at the Cliffs of Moher. The first photo here is the Poulnabrone dolmen, a Stone Age burial site inside the Burren that likely predates the Pyramids. The second photo is a sample of the typical Burren landscape, which is of a type known as karst. A frequent but consistently interesting site in this part of Ireland is abandoned abbeys, several of which I was lucky enough to explore. Finally we have here three shots of the famous Cliffs.

The second tour was to take in some of the hills and mountains of Connemara. The first three shots here show that majestic scenery. The star attraction of this tour though was Kylemore Castle. A lovely estate built in the 1800s by a wealthy Brit by the name of Mitchell Henry. After honeymooning in Connemara his wife fell in love with the place and so he bought an enormous amount of land and had this fairytale castle and Victorian garden constructed as a lavish gift to her. Tragically they only had a scant few years there. The castle was finished in 1871 and his wife died of dysentery on a trip to Egypt in 1874. After her death Mitchell started work on a miniature Neo-Gothic cathedral near the castle dedicated to her memory. One very notably feature of the cathedral is the differently colored marble columns, each type of marble coming from one of the four corners of Ireland. Unfortunately I didn't note which marble came from where and to my shock I can't find this information on the internet. The only one I can recall is that the gorgeous green variety came from Connemara.

Jaunting Part 3 Cornwall and Wales

The third stage of my journey has taken me up and down Cornwall and all the way across Wales. You can hear me talk about it here.

The first place after St Michaels Mount was the gorgeous city of St Ives. Here are three photos I snapped viewing it from the front, back, and top. Right next to the city is an outcropping of land known as The Island. This wonderful little patch of green is important as a Coast Guard watch station. Besides the station the only building upon it is the picturesque Chapel of St Nicholas.

Right off the coast of St Ives is the rocky islet hosting a seal colony known as Seal Island . When I went we were even lucky enough to have bottle nose dolphins come by. They seem to delight in dodging photos, but I managed to get one on camera. You won't have any trouble finding a boat to take you out to see the seals, there are many advertising the service around the harbor. I recommend catching the Prime Time if you can.

After that I was taken around Lizard Peninsula, the most Southernly place in all the UK.  Absolutely perfect hiking country, There's a hiking trail that goes all the way around the peninsula, and indeed all of Cornwall, that I would love to take someday. Fun fact: no one knows for sure why it's called The Lizard. But, it was most likely a corruption of "Lys Ardh", Cornish for "high court".

On the way from Cornwall to Wales I stopped briefly in both Exeter and Bristol. I grabbed a few pictures of the lovely Exeter Cathedral. In a terrible lapse of judgment I failed to get any of Bristol.

Next stop for me was Cardiff. The harbor features a bevy of interesting architecture. Shown below are the Welsh Millennium Centre, a theater and center for the arts, and The Pierhead Building. The Pierhead Building is currently being used as a startlingly dull educational center but is still worth a visit just for the distinctive architecture. At the center of the city lies Cardiff Castle. Easily the best castle I've seen so far.

Of course the most drawing part of Cardiff for a nerd like me was the Doctor Who Exhibit. They've got there the original console rooms used in the 80's and 2000's, and a recreation of the original console that was made for the An Adventure in Space and Time docudrama. Which is quite a good film, I recommend it if you're a fan of the show. Plus, they have a ton of props from the recent 50th Anniversary Special, including all three TARDIS's.

One day whilst staying in Cardiff I took a short visit up to the Brecon Beacons. The seemingly gently cresting hill you see in this first photo is Sugarloaf Mountain. All of the Brecon Beacons has such gentle curves that it's very difficult to convey the height of it on camera. Without depth the whole place looks a little flat. I hope the last two photos here, taken at the summit of Sugarloaf, give some sense of the altitude. While not particularly high for a mountain, cresting at almost 600m, it is still higher then it may appear.

After Cardiff I went up to Snowdonia in Northern Wales. While all of that country proved to be lovely what brought me out there was Portmeirion. Besides being the location for the greatest show of all time Portmeirion proved to be one of the most drop dead gorgeous places I've ever seen. The show barely does it justice. It was built in the 1920s and the architect had his mind on proving that buildings and nature could be seamlessly interwoven to the beautification of both and I believe he succeeded. While I was leaving I noticed someone had driven there in the same model car featured in The Prisoner opening. The castle in the background is a restaurant not far from Portmeirion.
Sadly this is as close as I got to the Snowdonian mountains. So named because they surround the tallest peak in all the UK: Mount Snowden. But, even from this distance they make quite an impression.

Jaunting Part 2 England

The second stage of my journey took me through Southampton, Oxford, and London before heading to the city of Penzance in the Southwestern tip of the UK. You can hear me talk about that trip here.

Southampton was startling to an American simply in the way that such ancient structures were seamlessly interwoven into the modern city. The pictures below show some of these. Most prominent is the medieval gatehouse that sits in the middle of the shopping district, but you'll find interwoven through the whole city ancient walls like the ones shown in pictures 2 and 3. The final picture shows the Church of Holyrood. Built in 1320 this church was reduced to a mere shell in 1940. The destruction brought about in that war is staggering. The destruction of history has always gone hand in hand with war, but it wasn't until the modern age that such wholesale destruction could be done so casually. This church wasn't even a target. Just in the way.

After Southampton I travelled North to Oxford. The most impressive sight to be seen in Oxford is Christ's Church, a college and cathedral. Fun fact, it was used extensively in filming the Harry Potter films. It's also surrounded by an extensive park area known as Christ's Church meadow which is positively lovely.

Of course you'll find beautiful buildings all over Oxford. The first one in this set is the famous Radcliffe Camera, but I don't even know what the other two are. They're just the sort of beautiful buildings you run into walking around that city.

Though I think my favorite spot in the city was actually Holywell Cemetery. Bit of an unusual place to be ones favorite, but it had a very tranquil atmosphere.

Next came a short sojourn in London, which I hope to see more of before I leave the UK. The below pictures go through some of the sites I saw there and I'll speak on each of them in order. I stopped by Buckingham Palace and while I'd seen pictures of the palace before but somehow I've managed to never see the Victoria Memorial located right out front. A massive, beautiful, golden statue. That night I went out and walked all around Parlament and got this photo of Big Ben. Fun fact: Big Ben is actually the name of the bell. The tower is actually named Elizabeth Tower, though that's only since 2012. Before then it went by the unimaginative moniker of Clock Tower. I walked to the Tower of Barad-dûr, also known as The Shard, which is a building I've always loved. Many find the design jarring and ugly but I find it compelling. On the way I happened upon another interesting piece of architecture under construction. I'm not sure what it is and it will most likely have a more conventionally attractive facade put on it before completion but I thought it was beautiful as is. I'm quite a fan of the Brutalist style of architecture. When done well, it can often be simply ugly. I think it's best done when contrasted against something more natural. One of my favorite places in the world is Freeway Park in Seattle is a wonderful combination of trees and large green areas interspersed with these large brutalist fountains and structures. Anyway, back to London.  Next there's a picture of St Paul's Cathedral. It's hard to convey in pictures just how incredibly big that cathedral is. The dome can be seen clear across the city and even from that far it's staggeringly huge. Finally you'll see the steps inside The Monument to the Great Fire of London. Usually referred to simply as The Monument, it's a tall pillar containing a spiral staircase of 311 steps. It was a long climb.

But, the coolest thing by far in London is the Science Museum. Below you'll find pictures of three different Difference Engines that were built based on the designs of Charles Babbage. Photo 4 is a superboat that set a world record for speed in the 1920s. Photo 5 is the "Exponential Horn", this was something built in the early days of radio that allowed a rare opportunity to listen to broadcasts with good sound quality. Notice the man standing at the bottom right of the photo to get a sense of scale. Photo 6 is one of the first particle accelerators ever built in 1937. During the 40s it was used to investigate the properties of uranium and plutonium to help the Manhattan Project. Photo 7 is an early Cray supercomputer. Photo 8 is a prototype for the 10,000 Year Clock, the flagship project of the Long Now Foundation.
Finally I ended this leg of my journey by visiting St Michaels Mount. A simply stunning place, though the best part was actually the gardens near the house which you can see in picture #4.

Jaunting Part 1 Cruise

The first step of my journey through Europe was, naturally enough, getting to Europe. This I did via 14 day cruise upon The Independence of the Seas. You can hear me talk about the trip here.

The Independence was simply enormous, check out the overhead view of the 'promenade' which was basically a miniature shopping mall on the boat. The second picture here is taken from the very front of the boat. There the view was the best, but the wind was often fierce.

We didn't go straight to Europe, we also took a short detour through the Caribbean. We stopped in San Juan, the capital of Puerto Rico, for an evening. As it was only for an evening I didn't have too much time to explore. Mostly I walked around El Morro, a fortress built by the Spanish in the 1500s that has survived attacks by English, Dutch, and American forces. A cemetery close to the fortress, and shown in the below pictures, includes the grave of Pedro Albizu Campos a major figure in the Puerto Rican nationalist movement and a fascinating person.

After San Juan we visited the Virgin Islands of St Thomas and St Marteens, though only for an afternoon and morning respectively. Didn't see too much of these two or take too many picture. Mainly just went to the beach. I did get a nice view of St Marteens as we pulled away:

After that it was ten whole days at sea. I did get a little impatient before the end, but truly I had a good time in those ten days. Of course, the best part of a cruise is simply watching the changing faces of the sea. An experience so beautiful I couldn't resist waxing poetic

How to Fix Godzilla

Quick note: this is all spoilers.

The new Godzilla film is broken. While not without merit, the final kaiju fight being one of the best in cinema, it sadly stuck to one tradition of the series that should have been left behind: almost everything before the climax is incredibly boring and populated by characters we don’t care about.  Many films have this problem, but this one was especially aggravating because the film already has all the elements it needed for a gripping, human drama. A drama that would only have bettered the monster fights. It has these elements and then it seems to deliberately throw them away. And it does this before casting or directing enter into it. The problems in this movie could and should have been identified just from the script. Allow me to expound upon these failures and briefly outline the wonderful movie that could have been.

Most of the problems stem from one monumental misstep. The film has the wrong protagonist. The father should have been the main character. Even before the brilliant casting of Bryan Cranston this should have been clear just from the script. The father, Joe Brody, is the one with the goal, the motivation, and personality strong enough to create the central conflict and see it through to the end. The son, Ford Brody, has no motive to be there and no strong goal. He only enters the conflict because his father is forced to call for help. Damon Knight once had a great piece of advice on storytelling that ran like this: “If your character enters the conflict by being asked for help, your story is about the wrong character.” The person asking for help will always have the more interesting story because they are the one personally affected by the conflict. The story should be rewritten to center around them, and preferably changed so that they can’t, or won’t, call for help. We want to see them resolve their own problems.

So, now that Joe is the main character we stay with him after the time skip. He could still get arrested and call his son for help, but I think that’s a mistake. I think we should leave the son in San Francisco. That way, when the monsters begin to converge there the main character has a strong, very personal reason to want to prevent that from happening. This is already true in the current film, with Ford trying to save his wife and son, but this new configuration allows for far more character growth. In the film as is Ford wants to keep his family safe. He does. The end. Ford, his family, and their relationships to each other are all exactly the same at the beginning and ending. If you’re characters all end the same as they started you have a boring script. With Joe in the lead there is very easy, but effective, character arc that naturally presents itself. With his sons life on the line he realizes he should have spent more time with the family he had left instead of devoting himself to his dead wife's memory. We could have had the father and son, estranged at the beginning of the story, reconnect at the end. It’s not an incredibly complicated character arc, but at least it is one. Ford has no arc. The only real, permanent thing that happens to him in the film is the death of his father and bizarrely the movie doesn’t even have him react strongly to that. He has a short scene of looking very sad, mentions it to his wife over the phone, and then apparently forgets about it. Even when he meets Dr. Serizawa, the man in charge of the conspiracy his father worked at exposing for the entirety of Fords life, Ford doesn’t have any strong emotions about any of it. You’d think there’d be some really strong feelings at that meeting, but not in this movie.

So, we leave Ford in San Francisco. Joe doesn’t get arrested and doesn’t have to call his son. We still need to reestablish both of these characters after the time skip. The way I would do this is having Ford calling Joe for a quick happy birthday. This would make intuitive sense as it would mean we cut to exactly 15 years later. Joe could have once again forgotten it was his birthday establishing he’s just as much of a workaholic as he used to be. Through their dialog we could establish that they’ve become estranged, perhaps they haven’t spoken in a year or even longer, and that the father has become obsessed with proving his theories about the disaster. Joe could let slip that he’s going back to their old house, the son could object that it’s in the quarantine, the father could explain how he needs his old disks. All that needed exposition. That’s just one way to work all that in. There are other and possibly better ways, but regardless we now have Joe head alone into the quarantine zone. Having him there alone would only heighten the danger and loneliness of the abandoned city, improving what was already one of the best sequences in the film.

The next bit would go about the same as before. He gets caught and brought to the power station. Through questioning they realize he knows what he’s talking about. The monster breaks loose and escapes. Only now he doesn’t die, and we actually get a payoff to Serizawa’s dramatic statement that he wants Joe on his team. Truly, the biggest mistake in the movie is not giving these two a scene together. Even if the script had been left 99% the way it was, and Joe still died, giving these two a scene together would have remarkably improved the quality of the movie. Joe has been spending 15 years trying to unveil a government conspiracy that he holds responsible for the death of his wife. Serizawa is the man at the head of that conspiracy, has devoted his life to it, and believes it exists to protect people. These are two strong characters with conflicting goals and beliefs. Their conflict could and should have been the heart of the film. Instead they never meet. The casting only makes this mistake more painful. They managed to get two masterclass actors and then never give them a chance to work with each other. Plus, there’s a bonus reason that the conflict between these two should have been the heart of the film. It would have centered the film around two scientists trying to figure out how to stop the monsters, a wonderful continuation of Godzilla tradition.

Next, excise Honolulu entirely. Nothing that happens there has any effect on the characters or plot in any way. It’s like twenty minutes of screen time and at the end of it everything is exactly the same as it was before. The only reason for that segment to exist is to see a city get destroyed and the monsters fight. Except we don’t see much of either of those. The time and money that went into that incredibly lengthy segment could have been spent extending the final fight. Maybe we could have even gotten a few more minutes of that one monster tearing through Las Vegas. That would give the middle a bit of enjoyable action without getting bogged down in go nowhere subplots like finding that boys parents.

Now we come to the all important part of a Godzilla film: the plan to stop the monsters. I’m not entirely sold on the ‘use nukes as bait’ plot line, but we’ll leave it since I don’t want to come up with a whole new movie. Just fix this one. Instead of being proposed by the military this could be Joe’s idea. He has very strong reasons to hate all of these monsters. The idea of blowing them all up would come naturally to him. Serizawa would strongly oppose this plan, believing they should allow Godzilla to fight for them. The two could have a heated argument that quickly becomes personal. Serizawa can say he's been studying these creatures for years, knows them, Joe can counter that hundreds have died already thanks to Serizawa's decisions. Interesting conflict naturally grows out of having strong characters with opposed opinions. 

Naturally the military would go with Joe's plan, and so he designs or builds some sort of special bomb casing or timer or whathaveyou to let the bombs work inside the EMP zone. Does it make sense that he could do this? Perhaps not, but at the least a nuclear engineer being able to make special modifications to nuclear bombs is not so ridiculous as Ford being the only one in the Army who knows how to turn off an Army made timing device. 

Then, when the monsters hijack the bomb and take it into the city it not only advances the plot but ratchets up the human drama. Joe’s plan to save his family is now the very thing that will destroy them. Because of all this, when they put together the mission to go into the city and disarm the bombs Joe demands to be a part of it. He’s allowed because he best understands the modifications he's made. We could have left Joe at the command center and still have Ford be the one to go on the mission. Or even just sent a group of soldiers. But, now that we’ve restructured the movie to center on Joe it would be stupid to leave him out of the climax. He is the one the audience has connected with and truly cares about. Ever since we saw his wife die in the reactor he’s the one we want to see succeed. Putting him in harms way is a surefire way to make the ending of this movie exciting.

Next we do the HALO drop and with the time and money we got from cutting Honolulu we can really spend some time with it. A squad of soldiers trying to navigate through a city in the middle of a monster fight is a brilliant, brilliant idea for a set piece. One of the best ideas of the movie and now we can really explore it. Overall the mission goes as it did before, though the danger is even more exciting since it’s being navigated by a fish out of water scientist rather than a trained soldier. Plus, the little moment he gets with the battered Godzilla is all the better. He originally planned to kill it, but now realizes he owes the big lug everything. Finally, when the monster is about to kill him on the boat he doesn’t pull out a pistol in a display of cool, but generic, badassery. Instead he takes out that family photo he found in his old house within the quarantine zone. We get an emotional callback to the beginning of the film and we get to visually see that he’s grown as a person. He realizes his family should have been more important than his work. It looks to be a big sacrifice ending, but, Godzilla saves him and we end with father and son reuniting. And now we actually care about the reuniting, unlike in the actual film.

One last thought. Why San Francisco? Have the son live in and the monsters converge on Tokyo. Everyone wants to see Godzilla tear up Tokyo. That’s just common sense.

Of the Sea and Sky

I spent a lot of time watching the water while crossing the Atlantic. While the novelty of the many diversions featured on the boat faded, the sea never failed to captivate. From the roiling grey of the North Atlantic to the glassy blue of the Caribbean it's impossible to not feel pulled in by the oceans chaotic permanence. Changing every second, no pattern ever truly repeated, yet always the same. Hour by hour the only true change comes fro the slow interplay between sea and sky.

When the Sun begins to sink the reddening sky melds the borders of water and the air. The horizon turns into one seamless work of staggering beauty. The crimson light of the dying Sun is reflected off the crest of each wave that rises before it, creating on the water an ever shifting and shimmering avenue of flame. But, slowly the Sun disappears. The road of fire goes out, and the blue drains from the sky. Then the sea can be more heard then seen. A dull rhythmic rumble that tells it still carries on in it's perpetual dance. The only ocean visible is far off, near the horizon, under the light of the moon. At sea the moon does not merely shine as it does in the city, but blazes and under that light a distant patch of sea is transformed into a shining pool of molten silver.

But more beautiful is the night after the moon has set. When the sky truly comes alive, set to life by the stars. They blanket the heavens. A handful of brilliant points set against a numberless expanse of more distant lights.  One can see why the ancients were so captivated. How right they were to make the stars a central part of their life, to fill them with myth and import, and how great is our loss at shutting ourselves away from them.

Then there is the dawn. Slowly, gently the stars are overcome in waves of yellow and gold. The day is felt not as a time but as a thing. A liquid that washes over the skies and drowns the stars in light. All but one. The Morningstar shines, and upon seeing it's singular beauty it is easy to see why it was assigned to Venus. Then, as the day grows and still it persists in the doomed struggle to shine against the coming Sun it becomes clear why it was ascribed also to Lucifer.

At last the day returns and once again the full expanse of the sea can be seen. It is as it always is. Different then it's ever been before.