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Portugal, Day Twelve: No Pix

Today was Sunday.

By this point, my legs were aching to a degree that I can’t readily dismiss as simple soreness. Shit was painful. I did my best to take time off, but it wasn’t enough. It’s never enough.

No pix today, obviously.

Mirrored from Harry Connolly. You can comment here but not there.

Portugal, Day Eleven: Sintra

On this day we went to Sintra—which is just a short distance north of Lisboa, and very near the coast—to see the Moorish castle there. It’s what my sister-in-law referred to often as the “storybook castle” because it looks like something out of a fairy tale.

That was a deliberate choice, as it turns out. King Ferdinand II decided to have the castle restored in keeping with the Portuguese version of Victorian aesthetics. Gardens, moss, and crooked trees were all mixed with the beautifully ruined walls and buildings.

Storybook. Unfortunately, it was more elaborate art installation than useful reference material, so I didn’t take a whole lot of pictures (to my wife’s annoyance). Also, it sat atop a tall mountain, so not only did I have my usual twinges of anxiety from the height of a wall, there was the long, long cliff faces on the other side. Yeah, the view was panoramic, when I could pry my clutching fingers from the stonework and lift my head to take a look.

It didn’t help that I was primed for anxiety by the ride up the mountainside. We rode—standing room only—on a full-sized bus that swung through switchback after switchback. Fast, too: the driver knew the route well and he was rushing up paying tourists up and down the slopes.

Which meant I had to hold on for deal life while looking down through the windows at the slopes we were zooming past.

I didn’t get too many pictures, and everyone was a little too burned out to make the trip to the other hill and see the Palace, so home we went for quiet time and a chance to catch up with old friends.

Portugal, Day 11

Mirrored from Harry Connolly. You can comment here but not there.

Spoiler-filled review of The Force Awakens

I know that social media will replicate the first few lines of a blog post, so I won’t put anything spoilery right here at the front. Also, I’ll use a cut.

But let me say that I mostly enjoyed it but didn’t think it was all that great. I certainly liked it less than John Scalzi did. Light sabers are still the most cinematic idea ever, but as for the rest of the story?

Meh.

And please don’t ask me to “turn my brain off.”

Read the rest of this entry »Collapse )

Mirrored from Harry Connolly. You can comment here but not there.

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This post is going to be filled is SPOILERS for the movie KRAMPUS.

I know. Literally zero of you care about this movie, but I took my son (for nefarious reasons[1]) expecting it to be a poor man’s GREMLINS, and I was mostly right. It wasn’t gory, but it wasn’t as funny or subversive as it imagined it was.

And the ending ruined the movie.

The beginning is pretty great: “It’s Beginning to Look a lot Like Christmas” begins to play over a slow-motion door-buster shopper rampage through a department store. People get trampled, they fight over toys, employees with huge grins on their faces taze people. It’s stylish and fun.

Then the movie focuses in on a family and their awful Christmas. Briefly, upscale yuppie family awaits the arrival of their downscale redneck relations, and no one is even bothering to hide their contempt for each other.

Which means that the movie’s hero, young Max (who is too old to still believe in Santa, but believes anyway for the sake of the holiday) gets fed up and tears up his letter to the jolly old elf.

This summons Santa’s shadow, the demon Krampus, who “comes not to give, but to take.” Krampus himself doesn’t do much except carry around a bag full of evil toys and gingerbread cookies. He also has scary-looking elves. In all, people are killed, kidnapped, or devoured.

Of course the family bands together in the face of all this trouble and learn to care about each other. The movie forgets that Max is the protagonist, letting his parents do all the protagging, and, you know, it’s fine. It forgets to be a satire, but it does have a demon teddy bear so whatever.

But the ending really kills the film (in an interesting way) is the ending. I mentioned SPOILERS, didn’t I? Here’s the thing: the final shot shows the family in Krampus Hell. Basically, they’re celebrating Christmas around the tree, but they’re all trapped inside a snow globe, which is placed on a shelf with a whole bunch of others, suggesting that these people will be stuck together forever.

Which is a fine ending for a PG-13 monster movie, but they way they got there simply didn’t work.

First, you have the scene the backstory sets up: the whole family has been taken but Max remains behind as a cautionary tale.

But Max won’t have it. He takes the Krampus bell (which sort of works, given the context) and demands his family back. He throws the bell, it lands in the snow, the ground cracks open, and a fiery pit is revealed.

I’m thinking Krampus and all his elves and toys gets sucked into Hell? But nope. The pit to Hell is part of Krampus’s MO, and they pitch a cousin into it.

Which leads Max to weep for his family and ask for them back. Krampus reaches out with one of those fakey prosthetic monster fingers and wipes away the tear, leading me to think Will the monster undo everything for the sake of a real tear? Nope. He just laughs and dangles Max over the pit.

Then Max says he’s sorry. He apologizes for losing his faith in the holiday (which is bullshit, considering the shit he’s put up with) and I’m wondering if this could be…

Nope. Krampus drops him, and he does the slow-mo scream & fall into the pit…

And wakes up in his bed. It’s Christmas morning, and everyone is downstairs, and nothing is broken or ruined, and everyone is happy to be together. LOOK GUYS IT WAS ALL A DREAM.

At this point, my son leaned over and said: “He’s going to find a Krampus bell and realize it all happened” which is close enough to the truth to win the kewpie doll because when he unwraps a gift and finds it, everyone remembers, and the camera pulls back to show them trapped in the snow globe, and Krampus walking away.

But I was already soured on the whole thing. Teasing those other, softer endings (the tear, the apology, the dream) gave me the sinking feeling that I was going to see a shitty ending. Snatching away a shitty ending in favor of a different one/a pretty good ending isn’t fun or satisfying. At best, it’s a relief.

You don’t want me thinking “Thank god they did x instead of y.”

Anyway, Krampus: an okay movie with a really underwhelming ending.

[1] Nefarious reasons explained: Giftmas is upon us and my kid wants nothing. There’s almost nothing to buy for him, and it’s a little frustrating. So, knowing that he needs clothes and that he has a particular taste, my wife and I figured he would do well at Old Navy.

She picked something that he could get her for the holiday (inexpensive PJs) and, while we were there, he asked if he could get some stuff, too.

End result, $150 of desperately needed clothes added to his Giftmas pile, and he thinks it was his idea.

Mirrored from Harry Connolly. You can comment here but not there.

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Portugal, Day Ten

When I dragged my kid to the castle in Tomar, I said: When are we going to get another chance to see a castle?

Well, derr on me, there’s a castle right within Lisboa city limits. Of course there is. My wife’s Italian friends are historians, so we thought it would be educational to see a castle with them.

But first! A church. Churches and castles, man. That’s what Europe’s all about.

The church was actually the Lisboa Cathedral, and it was cooler than the castle, but only once you paid to see the treasury and the cloisters. The paid parts contained an archaeological dig that revealed Roman roads and sewers, Moorish homes, and a bunch of Christian sepulchers. Have some pics below.

The castle was pretty crowded, as you’d expect, and it was full of money-making opportunities for the city. There was a fee to enter and lots of opportunities to buy souvenirs and espresso. It was still pretty cool, but a little Disney-fied.

By then my feet were hurting like whoa, because the public transportation to those sites is packed. We stopped for lunch at a little restaurant, where the waiter talked us out of the meal we wanted to order into the house special. It turned out to be, once again, meat w/ two carbs, no veg. I’m pretty much over Portuguese food.

Portugal, Day Ten

Mirrored from Harry Connolly. You can comment here but not there.

Self-Publishing Stars of 2015 is the list of self-published books that received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly’s Booklife service, which allows self-publishers to submit work for review in that venerable institution.

And I’m on it.

Apparently, only 18 books in the fiction category received stars this year. That’s a pretty small list, and I’m pleased to be on it.

Also, next time I should seriously consider how my titles turn out in alphabetized lists.

You can buy the book here

Mirrored from Harry Connolly. You can comment here but not there.

Portugal, Day Nine: Turkey Day

Today was Thanksgiving in Portugal (almost two months early) for my wife’s American friends who have been living in Italy.

There’s not much to tell, so I won’t. I cooked a lot. It went over well. I met one of my sister-in-law’s Portuguese friends and my wife’s friend’s partner from Italy. Both tried to greet me with kisses on the cheek, but I out-awkwarded them. I did not go on vacation to kiss people I don’t know, and if that’s a requirement I should have been warned ahead of time.

So, instead of talking about the nice time we had, I’m going to talk about a few other things. Just a quick summing up of some of the fun things that have been going on:

1. Portuguese sidewalks are made of calçada[1] which is really just a whole lot of similar, mostly square, stones laid out in a grid. Many of the websites that talk about it address the art/mosaic qualities it sometimes has: In downtown Lisboa, the sidewalks have all sorts of designs. In Tomar, they were Templar crosses. But those are in the historic districts, not the regular neighborhoods. In the rest of the country, it’s just plain yellow stones. Here’s a pic.

Calçada

Yeah, it’s not flat. I’m sure it’s super-sturdy and resilient, but man is it unfriendly to feet and bicycle tires.

2. Here’s how you order coffee in Lisboa:
Bom dia. Queria um cafe, fazh favor.
Pronounced: “Bohn DEEya. Keh-REE-ya oon caff-ay, fazh fav-or”
Translated: Good day. I would like one coffee, please.

If you want two coffees, you say “doysh” cafe. For three, “traysh” cafe. “Doysh” has become my new favorite word.

The “cafe” you get is a straight espresso shot in a tiny cup, with a packet of sugar on the side. To get other kinds of coffee, check this out: http://americaninportugaltours.com/how-to-order-savor-coffee-in-portugal/

3. If it’s after noon, you can switch out “cafe” for “imperial” (imp-ear-ee-AHL), which is a schooner of beer. The house beer is generally a light bock. If you want a full pint, you order something else, which I don’t remember because I’ve never ordered one.

But that’s only in the southern part of the country. In the north, it’s something else.

4. It seems to me that Portuguese sounds like a mix of Spanish and Russian.

5. Lisboa has pushed my tolerance for funny waiters who do intrusive comedy routines into the red zone. Let’s consider this an opportunity for my personal growth.

6. Portugal, Brazil, and several other Portuguese-speaking countries recently enacted an agreement that would bring their different versions of the language into one. A number of changes and simplifications have been made with regards to the way people spell certain vowel sounds, and with the elimination of silent letters in words. However, the weirdest thing is that Portuguese now includes letters it didn’t have before: K, W, and Y.

Looking around at all the Portuguese signs on stores and on book covers, I have never seen those letters used, ever. The only place I’ve seen them is in English language text and in graffiti. Google tells me that “GWK”, which is all over the place here, stands for “Graffiti Word Krew.”

7. Portugal has a lot of graffiti.

[1] pronounced “cal-SAH-da” I believe. In Portuguese, the “C” always makes a “K” sound when the vowel that follows it is an “A”, “O”, or “U”. If the vowels that follow it are an “E” or “I”, it makes an “S” sound.

But what if you want an “S” sound in the middle of a word with a following “A”, “O”, or “U”? Then, you change the “C” to an “Ç”. That’s a “cedilla” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ç

Mirrored from Harry Connolly. You can comment here but not there.

This is my annual repost of my favorite version of A Christmas Carol, animated for TV.

If the embedding doesn’t work, the link is here.

It’s only 25 minutes long, but it’s full of amazing creative choices: Scrooge’s candle on the dark stair, Ignorance and Want, the transitions that Scrooge takes with the Ghost of Christmas Past, the hands, the waves and clouds, and so many other things.

Really beautiful. If you haven’t seen it before, treat yourself.

Mirrored from Harry Connolly. You can comment here but not there.

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Portugal, Day Eight

It’s always challenging to cook in someone else’s kitchen, right? Well, I impressed myself with today’s pepperoni frittata. Let’s pretend you tasted it and were impressed, too.

Today was a prep day. My wife and her sister have a friend flying in from Italy—a friend they haven’t seen in years and years, but have kept in touch with—and they’ve decided to surprise him with a traditional American Thanksgiving meal: roast turkey, sausage stuffing, cranberries, mashed potatoes, apple pie, the whole deal.

But first, supplies: I was excited to go to the old bull-fighting ring with my son. There was a food court where he and I could sit with our laptops and while away a few hours, and there was shopping to be done.

Unfortunately, the bull-fighting ring was mostly a shopping mall, and the food court was cramped and noisy as hell. To me, it was just an indistinguishable clamor, but it really bothered my son. We tried to slip away to a quieter place, but their internet wasn’t working. In the end, we just went back to the apartment and did a little work. Too bad. I would have liked to have pretended part of my new book was written in a bull-fighting ring, even if no one knew the truth.

Oh, and there was a bookstore but nothing I could read, of course.

Lots of quiet and lots of cooking today.

Portugal, Day Eight

Mirrored from Harry Connolly. You can comment here but not there.

You know what’s nice? Taking it easy. I’m not a kid anymore and we’re in Portugal for a full month. I don’t need to rush every day. In fact, a little downtime to get some writing done is just the thing.

I spent the morning working quietly in the lobby of the Residencial Uniao, our “guest house.” The chairs were very comfortable, and for once I didn’t just nod off in one of them. Then we caught a train back to Lisboa, carried all our stuff into my sister-in-law’s apartment, and I fell over into a deep sleep for several hours.

That eventing we had leftovers from the fridge: chili, octopus and rice, good bread…

Actually, have I talked about the bread in Portugal? The local word is pão.

It’s incredible. As troublesome as we sometimes find the food here, the bread is always first-rate.

Anyway, we played another game of iota, then had quiet time. A day off. It was nice.

Here’s a picture of an old building. If you like decayed places, Portugal is the place for you.

Old things

Mirrored from Harry Connolly. You can comment here but not there.

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