Monthly Archives: March 2017

Iđź–¤NY – Day 1: Modern Art and My Drowned Passport

Pre- Day 1

Right, let’s get one thing straight. It should not take well over an hour to go through passport control when you arrive at one of the most famous airports in the world. We landed at about 7pm and got to the baggage carousel at around 8:45. Keeping in mind the 5 hour time difference I think it’s easy to see how we were asleep by the time our heads hit the pillow at 11pm.

Still this is what we do to get to one of the best cities on Earth.

Day 1

Right so for a first day the weather was pretty crap. Hurricane Matthew was making its way from the U.S. mainland to the wider ocean and causing rainstorms all along the eastern seaboard. It was constant (and sometimes horizontal) rain until 3pm.

It was enough time to for the rain to claim a hugely inconvenient victim: my passport. As I write this up in our hotel room, my passport is sat open with plastic bag shreds separating out the pages. There is water damage and some of the ink has run… so there is a part of me that wonders if this will be a problem at the airport. Hey ho, nothing I can do really.

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So we set out on this sodden morning and, on the way to Central Park, stop into a diner to have breakfast. Literally just picked the first diner we walked across that looked half decent. We were not disappointed by our experience.

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We were sat right at the counter, which meant a lot of fun interaction, and ordered ourselves a pair of pastrami Rueban sandwiches. They were massive, greasy and incredibly delicious. I promised the hub a pastrami sandwich and by glob that’s what he got. You really don’t get things like this back in London.

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After a very filling sandwich we whiz through the Wholefoods on Columbus Circle (more on those purchases later) and enter a rather deserted Central Park.

I have never seen Central Park so empty. I guess that is what happens when it is absolutely tipping it down. You can’t visit New York without a stroll or seven through Central Park. It’s just not done.img_3539

 

Even in the strange rainy twilight I know that hub could see why this was such a fantastic park to visit. I mean, there are reasons that it has been featured in so many TV shows and movies. You could easily just lose yourself in the park for hours if you had the time, but time isn’t your friend on holiday.

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So after showing hub the Bethseda Terrace and the beautiful statue of Alice in Wonderland we made a beeline for our first attraction: the Guggenheim museum. Of course, being a rainy Sunday we were not the only people who figured that a museum was a good way to get out of the rain.

Luckily for us we did a build your own NY Pass before flying over which meant that we could skip the queue and head on in. Lucky, because otherwise the Guggenheim would have been more disappointing.

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Architecturally you can not fault the Guggenheim. On the outside it looks interesting, but on the inside it is truly something else. The alabaster white spiralling ramp makes for a unique and impressive way to display art. I know this from many years ago when I had the privilege to see a Kandinsky retrospective. This time the artist was Agnes Martin and that was nowhere near the same.

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For one thing all her paintings are white and with lines. Some are slightly different, but for the most part they are pretty homogeneous. It doesn’t help that most of the paintings are untitled.

The best part of the visit was the small section devoted to the permanent collection. There was a Picasso and some Kandinsky work to be seen… but on the whole this visit wasn’t the best.

After this we set out for the Museum of Natural History. We never made it in, however, as the line was horrendous. Instead we made our first trip on the subway (where a machine swallowed $20 and now we have to phone up for a refund) to get to the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA).

List Item: Try three quarters of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die
img_3553Food item: Bialy

Before entering we tried out the bialy that I bought in Wholefoods. At first glance it looks a lot like a bagel where the hole didn’t get made all the way through. At first bite that’s pretty much what you have. Nice enough, just a bit doughy and could do with a bit of a topping to go with the hint of onion.

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Thanks to our pass we managed to dodge another hour of queuing and were immediately being taken up into the world of MoMA. As much as I enjoy the Tate Modern, I really think MoMA is head and shoulders above it. Why? Because it has some truly top name paintings – including two of my favourite modern art pieces.

We must have spent 2-3 hours walking around taking in both the famous and the unusual pieces. One such unusual piece being a rather evocative 1994 piece called Lovers which involved a tower of projectors putting moving images on the way of naked people walking, standing and not quite embracing. Hard to describe, but weirdly compelling.

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The first artwork we saw in MoMA, a series of videos showing refugees drawing their routes on a map of Europe, was infinitely more interesting than a few coloured in lines. When you consider you have pieces by Van Gogh, Picasso, Mondrian, Lictenstein and Monet on show then it’s obvious which is the better afternoon out.

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Needless to say we were all modern arted out and got ourselves a good old slice of New York pizza at a place I have been to every time I have been to New York. Man, how I love the thin crisp crust of a New York pizza. I know I need to try a Chicago pizza one day. For that, I’ll need to visit Chicago.

img_3570Food item: Red Banana 
Progress:
 561/751

Back at the hotel (we were tired and probably a bit jet lagged) we tried the other item I bought from Wholefoods: red bananas. Now, what can I say about red bananas other than a quote from Red Dwarf’s own Kryten, “it’s a banana”. Aside from the red skin, the taste that is less bananery and the slightly softer texture this is still a banana. That’s not to say that I didn’t like it, but I just expected something less obvious with the taste.

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After this quick pit stop we were back on out to visit THE New York department store – Macy’s. This is another of my regular places to visit because of their awesome Christmas section on Floor 9.

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Since I have only been to New York in the autumn, I have never been to Macy’s when their Christmas section was not up and running. It just made me so gleeful to romp around the Christmas decorations and listen to Christmas music. I could never work in a Christmas store as the sheer force of repetition would make me want to tear my skin off, but it makes for a nice half hour to spend on holiday when it’s about 7:30 in the evening.

Rather than eat out we opted for takeaway. More delicious New York pizza and… the first slice of New York cheesecake of the trip. It’s proof that you don’t need any toppings or extra gubbins if you just have the basics of a good cheesecake. New York I salute you and your delicious down to earth cheesecake.

Today probably wasn’t the best day to show hub the wonders of New York due to the bad weather and the missing $20, but I know that tomorrow will be different. It’s our wedding anniversary after all and we are going to be seeing some great sights.

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(✿◠‿◠) Anime!!! – Gintama’

List Item:  Watch the 100 best anime TV series
Progress: 17/100Title: Gintama’
Episodes Aired: 51
Episodes Watched:
51
Year(s): 2011-2012

So here we are again (so soon) in the wacky world of Gintama. This is the odd part of using MyAnimeList as a source for this Top 100 – if a show takes a year or two out they class it as a new separate show rather than a continuation. Good news for shows you like, not so much for those you dislike (not come across any of those yet, but it’ll probably happen at some point)

For a show like Gintama, which has follow through but no serious serialization, the break in seasons is beneficial. The world is weird and inconsistent enough as it is without there being too many anime-only arcs and storylines to muddy up the waters.

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Now, whilst I still found many a laugh out moment in this season of Gintama it felt slightly more inconsistent than previous series. There were some great episodes like the Renho, Glasse, Four Devas and Scandal arcs. On the other hand there were episodes where it went over the top with the idiocy/crudeness (see: the Jugem and Bath House episodes) or the whole Thorny arc which dragged along.

It was most definitely more hit then miss, but the ratio was not as good as the previous season. There were still a lot of laughs and feels though. The episode where the three central characters sit down to eat crab just encapsulates everything I love about this show. It’s wacky, it escalates quickly, it’s overly dramatic at times and it is unpredictable.

Another episode or two worth a mention are episode 23 (with the haunted blu-ray player) and episode 47 (or any episode with Hasegawa as a main character to be honest)

I am in two minds whether I should continue on with Gintama or finish it off. Thoughts on the subject would be greatly appreciated.

🎻♫♪ – Études by FrĂ©dĂ©ric Chopin

List Item: Listen to half of the 1001 Classical Works You Must Hear Before You Die
Progress:
 12/501Title: Études 
Composer: Frédéric Chopin
Nationality: Polish
Year:
 1830-1837

Being as transparent as I am you’ll have probably gotten that I angled for Chopin’s Études as the next classical piece for two reasons:

  1. I wanted some sort of piano music
  2. I wanted to listen to the re-listen to some of the pieces from Your Lie In April

Having listen to the 24 Études that make up Opus 10 and 25 I have a far better understanding of why these are pieces that would be picked by the characters when entering a piano competition.

The name Ă©tudes means ‘studies’ and that is what these pieces are. Short pieces that can be used to demonstrate technical skill on the piano. That would explain how you can end up listening to 24 of these in 70 minutes – these aren’t meant to be long pieces at all.

In Your Lie In April there are two of these pieces that are picked out and, now that I have listened to the group of 24 I can completely understand why.

Op 25, No.5 (known as Wrong Notes) is so dissonant that, when played even slightly wrong, it sounds clumsy and rather awful. When played right, however, it’s possibly the most interesting piece of the 24.

Op 25, No. 11 (known as Winter Wind) is the most powerful and emotional of the 24. Having Emi play this as a passionate reach to both KĹŤsei and the audience in general makes complete sense. It’s one of those pieces that makes you take notice – and not just because of the sheer dexterity required to play the theme. I mean, if you just listen to those tumbling note you cannot help but be astonished.

Other than the Your Lie In April connection I feel completely vindicated in my choice to jump to something later. Not only did I sound cultured when people asked what I was listening to and I was able to say Chopin’s Études (man, that felt good), but also this is the most I have enjoyed listening to a classical piece on headphones since we started. It’s a close run thing with Mozart’s Requiem, but this just beats it.

Thanks to this I have convinced the hub to stick with the Your Lie In April theme for a while so I am going to be moving onto one of Kaori’s pieces – Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No. 9. I only know the first boisterous movement so am keen to see how the following two parts of the sonata hold up. Apparently Saint-SaĂ«ns’ Danse Macabre is not on this list – a real pity.

XL Popcorn – Bigger Than Life

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 584/1007
Title: Bigger Than Life
Director: Nicholas Ray
Year: 1956
Country: USA

We take for granted that there are many films being made at the moment that are able to deal with concepts like mental health and addiction. In fact, if you want to get an Oscar nomination, many actors gravitate to these sorts of roles. However, back in the 1950s these films were not commonplace.

Films like The Snake Pit and The Lost Weekend were able to make such an impact not only because they were great films but also because they brought to the mainstream topics that we don’t tend to talk about in polite society. The same thing can be said about Bigger Than Life which deals with prescription drug addiction and, eventual, psychosis.

Not enough can be said about how fantastic James Mason is in this film. He portrays Ed, a school teacher who is prescribed cortisone to help treat a condition that would eventually kill him. We now know what can happen when people are given high doses of cortisone for a long period of time – when this film is set these side-effects were only just starting to emerge.

The main side effects we see here are mood swings, depression, anxiety, change in personality and the eventual psychosis that ramps up in the film’s final act. Mason has to bring his character through all of these changes that make him going from being a generous and hard working man to an abusive and high-handed man.

There is a scene in a parent-teacher conference that feels like one of the moments where Ed is starting to cross lines he would have never crossed before. As a former teacher I can understand that some of his comments are things he always felt (like how one of his young students could be outsmarted by a gorilla – that made me laugh) but then there is one quote I found particularly interesting:

“Childhood is a congenital disease – and the purpose of education is to cure it.”

You can plot the rest of the film (including his literal and rather shocking interpretation of The Binding of Isaac) from this statement. His continuing breakdown and abuse of his wife and son all stem from this idea of his. The more you listen to him the more and more fascist some of his outbursts become. In 1955, that will have been downright shocking.

Speaking of shocking, the penultimate sequence of this film with its carnivalesque music in the background is fantastically done. You fear for the wife and son as Ed goes through a complete psychotic break is palpable.

It’s only when you remember this is James Mason and the year of production is 1956 that you are able to discount certain outcomes. Still, this is one of those films that feels nearly forgotten and it’s a downright shame.

(✿◠‿◠) Anime!!! – Kono Subarashii Sekai ni Shukufuku wo! 2

List Item:  Watch the 100 best anime TV series
Progress: 16/100Title: Kono Subarashii Sekai ni Shukufuku wo! 2
Episodes Aired: 10
Episodes Watched:
10
Year(s): 2017

This is the second time where I am watching an anime live and it just happens to end up in the anime list. Previously there was Yuri!!! On Ice, which plummeted down the rankings after the Crunchyroll Anime Awards. I am under no illusion that KonoSuba 2 will no longer be in the Top 100 this time next year, but who cares – I enjoyed this.

So where are we? The KonoSuba series are based off of a fairly success light novel series about a NEET called Kazuma who, having died of shock after being nearly run over by a truck, gets reincarnated in a fantasy world resembling those of his favourite video games. The ultimate goal? Destroy the Demon King.

The issue of the thing is that he, and the people who end up making his adventuring party, are utterly inept. First off he is pretty much a mean pervert. There’s Darkness – a paladin with a 0% hit rate and 100% a masochist, Megumin – a mage who only knows explosion magic… which needs a day to recharge between uses and, finally, Aqua – a whiny goddess who is a drunk and was tricked into becoming part of the party by Kazuma.

The strength of this series is that this is a comedy-fantasy series that is able to satisfy and overturn a bunch of video game tropes whilst also building a successful world of it’s own. Also, it’s pretty funny in a pretty stupid way.

Yea, this is not a high brow watch by any means, but it’s a whole lot of fun and I really hope we get more seasons of it because this is nowhere near over. Honestly I am not holding out much hope for this, but it would be good to have another chuckle with the KonoSuba crew.

What’s On TV – The Great British Bake Off

List Item:  Watch half of the 1001 TV Series You Must Watch Before You Die
Progress: 183/501
Title: The Great British Bake Off
Episodes Aired: 64
Episodes Watched: 30
Year(s): 2010-
Country: UK

On paper this show should have been awful. A competitive baking competition between amateur bakers from around the UK. By no reckoning of the imagination should this have become the most watched show on British TV. Yet it did, and as a show it’s pretty damned magical.

I had resisted the world of Bake Off for many a year for one reason: it sounded lame. It wasn’t until a colleague of mine basically berated me for not watching it that I gave it a go. So an addiction was born and I have demolished Series 4, 6 and 7. Much like the cakes they are baking, this is a show that is hard to not finish once you have started it.

Now, by the time this post goes out a lot of the news items about Bake Off’s move away from the BBC will have died down. It’s more than a shame that this show has essentially been gutted, but we’ll just have to find that next piece of TV addiction.

Since I now have the TV podcast these particular write-ups are going to be brief.

Please tune in to the Just Watch It podcast and let us know what you think!

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/3cdiw-64084c

🎻♫♪ – Motets by Antoine Busnoys

List Item: Listen to half of the 1001 Classical Works You Must Hear Before You Die
Progress:
 11/501Title: Motets
Composer: Antoine Busnoys
Nationality: Netherlandish
Year:
 1400s

This is going to be a short one today, mainly because I completely lost all sense of time whilst listening to the recording of Busnoys work.

In a number of cases the losing of time is a positive thing. Like how you suddenly realise you are an hour into watching Gone With The Wind and remark how quickly time flew or how, when watching Beauty & The Beast, you get to 20 minutes in and are amazed at how much they have packed in.

No, with this I got to about an hour in (I was listening to this in the office) and thought I had looped around to the beginning again.

This is the problem with listening to a bunch of music intended for masses. I can’t imagine the masses of the 1400s being the liveliest or most varied of occasions when it comes to music. I get this. The thing is that when I was envisioning this list as an addition I didn’t realise the wealth of religious music (yes, I am that dumb apparently).

Next week I am jumping ahead to Chopin because of Your Lie In April. I need piano music now!

XL Popcorn – Limite

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 583/1007
Title: Limite
Director: Mário Peixoto
Year: 1931
Country: Brazil

‘Dreamlike’ is one of those film descriptions that is banded about rather frequently. Personally it’s a word that comes to mind as a way to describe silent movies  due to the absence of dialogue. If I had to describe why this is the case…it would be because, compared to real life, the rulebook they use is similar enough to be recognisable yet different enough to feel otherworldly.

Limite is one of the films, however, where dreamlike must be the intention of the director; author Mário Peixoto. Not only is it a silent film, but an experimental silent film. He plays with camera angles, shooting styles and negatives in a way that make ordinary shots of palm trees and dilapidated buildings feel alien.

The plot of the film, if you can call it that, is that we start with three people stuck on a boat. They seem hopelessly lost. The majority of the film is made up of seemingly non-sequential flashbacks to give us more of a backstory into the lives of these three people. One of them is a recent prison escapee, one is mourning the lose of their lover and the other… looking back on it I am not so sure.

Thing is, it doesn’t really matter how these three ended up on the boat. This almost feels secondary to this film and instead the focus is more on the shots than the people contained within the shots. As such I am not sure if this would have worked as well with actual dialogue. The (gorgeous) music is more than enough here.

Interesting to note that for a while Limite was a lost film. It is a film that managed to influence Orson Welles and had available prints for a few decades and then suddenly it was gone.

Luckily for all concerned this did not stay lost for long and there is a restored version that can be watched on YouTube. The more of these 1001 films I watch, the more I realise just how many of these works could have been lost forever. I’m still crossing my fingers that the 1926 Korean film Arirang can be found… but I think we might be out of luck there.

Good Eatin’ – Medlar Compote with Angel Layer Cake

List Item: Try three quarters of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You DieFood item: Medlar

There are many reasons why I settle for a non-fresh version of list fruit when doing this list. Cashew apples were perishable, quince is usually eaten as a paste or jelly and I had no idea what the Japanese for acerola was so juice drinks and sweets made sense.

For medlars… there is a tendency to eat them as they start to go putrid. There are good reasons to do this, don’t get me wrong, since it means the flesh starts to break down and become a whole lot sweeter and more gelatinous. Sounds nice until you realise that the window of opportunity between this and plain gone off isn’t too wide. Enter: medlar compote.

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Being a compote I knew I needed to eat this with cake; angel layer cake to be more specific. The compote itself was spiced, so the main things that came though were the sweetness of the fruit and the different mouthfeels of the flesh (springy and jellylike) and skin (thin, paper-like and flaky).

This went really well with the angel layer cake since the cake is only a light sponge with a hint of a vanilla flavour. Could I have just eaten the compote from the jar? Well yes but everything is so much more fun with colourful cake.

Progress: 559/751

(✿◠‿◠) Anime!!! – Shokugeki no Soma

List Item:  Watch the 100 best anime TV series
Progress: 15/100Title: Shokugeki no Soma (Food Wars)
Episodes Aired: 24
Episodes Watched:
24
Year(s): 2015

Japan sure is a country that loves their food. I witnessed this first hand during my honeymoon and have become addicted to their amazing competitive cooking show Iron Chef. I had not expected to see this love of food to cross-over into my anime list, but little did I know.

Competition is one of the main threads running through this anime and, as such, you can summarise the plot of Food Wars really easily – a boy who wants to take over the family restaurant and tries to gain his father’s approval by being the best student in the country’s top culinary school. True, being an anime this is no ordinary school, but one with cooking competitions between it’s members fought in the style of pistols at dawn. It is also pretty damned cutthroat – at one point we see a student being expelled for wearing hair gel with a citrus scent.

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Unlike any of the other shows I have watched so far for this list Food Wars engages in a large amount of ecchi (think of it like seeing softcore graphic content that is played up for laughs as well as fan service). It happened every now and then in Gintama as well as some other shonen animes I used to watch like The World God Only Knows. 

For Food Wars the ecchi content weirdly ties into the second of the two central themes of the series – a rapturous adoration of food. Everyone in this anime is passionate about food and these weird scenes are all related to how the characters envision the taste. Some of them are questionable (think tentacle porn…. and now stop thinking about tentacle porn), but they pretty much all played for laughs; somehow they actually succeed to do this once you get over the weirdness of it all and that this isn’t something just reserved for female characters.

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As much as I really enjoyed the wide range of characters (although some needed a lot more fleshing out) the thing that kept me watching was the food. The writer of this has clearly done a lot of research into so many different areas of the culinary arts. You just need to look at the characters of Alice (specialism: molecular gastronomy) and Hisako (specialism: medicinal cooking) to see some of the variations you get within the same episode.

A bad thing about this anime? You can’t watch Food Wars on an empty stomach. The food all looks so appetising that you can’t help but feel awkward about your own attempts at cookery. It makes me wish for an actual cookbook, but I’ll get by on watching YouTube videos where people try to make these dishes themselves. Who knows, I might try and make my own Gotcha Pork Roast soon.