Monday, March 29, 2010

King Tut Exhibit

On Friday, my mom, sister and I went to the King Tut Exhibit up in San Francisco. There was a long period of time in my teens when I wanted to an an Egyptologist, or at the least, an Archaeologist. As a college freshman in an ancient studies class, I was once asked by my professor to stay after class so that we could talk. I was nervous, wondering what I'd done wrong, but it turned out that she thought I knew more about Ancient Egypt than she did and wanted me to recommend some books! I wound up loaning her a few and always took that gesture as a compliment.

So when I found out that the traveling exhibit of Pharaoh Tutankhamun's burial treasures was coming somewhat nearby, I was very excited. I had, after all, spent hours as a teen, attempting to decipher the hieroglyphs on his sarcophagus in order to translate them. The exhibit has been here for a few months, and I was excited to go, even if it meant spending 4 hours in the car.

The Golden Gate Bridge is peeking up in the distance on the right


Driving through San Francisco always makes me claustrophobic. Look at how close the houses are. I know some people don't mind living like that, but I would wither and die. I think I was born in the wrong century. I need the wild.

The exhibit was at the De Young Museum, and to get there, we passed by the Japanese Tea Gardens. Here's a peek at the tranquil beauty of the gardens in spring.

Blossoms!







I've been watching Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg's miniseries The Pacific every week, about WWII fighting in, you guessed it, the Pacific. I love to think about the fact that during our grandparents' generation, the Japanese were our enemy, yet now we are friends, and California, a state built by many Japanese immigrants, now celebrates its immigrant heritage.

Approaching the museum. The palm trees already reminded me of Egypt.




There was no photography allowed inside the exhibit, which is understandable, and the exhibit was wonderful. It takes about 90 minutes from start to finish, and the artifacts begin in the Amarna Period with Tuja and Yuja, Tut's great-grandparents, including Tuja's resplendent sarcophagus and death mask. The exhibit then moved on to show relics from Akhenaten's time as pharaoh, in which he radically changed the religion from the worship of many gods to the worship of one, the sun. The backlash from Akhenaten's rein was severe, and much of his art and written records were destroyed by the priests. Tut attempted to restore the traditional religion of the region. On display were several gold-gilded treasures found in his tomb, including canopic jars, perfume bottles, and various statues meant to serve and protect the king in the afterlife.

My favorite artifacts, however, were the items that showed signs of wear, indicating that Tut had used them in his life. A square, unadorned jewelery box, for example, pulled me in, and though most passed it by because its was marble and not much to look at compared to all of the gold and stone-encrusted treasures elsewhere, I couldn't walk away. He had touched that box, 3,000 years ago. Perhaps, after a long day, he had chatted with his wife as he took off his jewelery and stored it within before lying down, the breeze blowing through the open window and caressing his skin.

My other favorite artifacts were a scarab bracelet and a headdress that he wore. Both were gorgeous and reflected exquisite craftsmanship. Did he wear that bracelet then put it in the jewelry box? Was it a favorite of his? Was it heavy on his wrist? Did it slide down and bump against his hand? And did the headdress pinch his hair? How did it make him feel to wear it?

I was saddened to leave the exhibit, knowing that I would, most likely, never again come so close to an historic figure who has captured my imagination for so long. But it was well worth the wait and journey.

On the downside, my fellow museum-goers, while respectful of the dead, were not so respectful of the living. Many people bought devices for an "audio tour" which, as far as I could tell, meant that Omar Sharif narrated everything that the plaques and information on the walls of the exhibit said. That's great if you wanna spend an extra $7. What isn't great is that the people who bought these audio tours (which was probably more than half of the crowd) saw it fit to stand still, listening to the device, while standing right in front of the artifact, blocking the descriptive placards from view of the rest of us who weren't having the same information spat into our ears. Figuring out that you're obstructing everyone else isn't that difficult. Where was the common courtesy?

To be honest, the people acting like moocows wouldn't have been that bad if they were, you know, normal-sized people. Alas, they were large. Very large. I often forget about just how fat many Americans are until I'm thrust among the throngs of the public. When you're that big, no one can see around your girth and if someone thinner tries to slip in close, they get smacked about as the larger people shift and waddle off.

Yes, I'm being cruel in my descriptions of the obese, and I'm sure my current views are tainted by being a fan of the show Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution, but seriously. The museum scheduled the tours so that only a certain amount of people would be in the exhibit at one time so that it wouldn't be too crowded. That's a great idea. But we've gotten to the point where that limited number of people is still too much because the people are, literally, too big.

I know I'm turning into a fattist, but no one has been able to stop me. Please, someone, set me straight if you can. I know and love many people who are overweight, just as I know and love many people who smoke, have drinking problems, etc. Being obese doesn't reflect who you are, but it reflects a huge portion of your mentality and lifestyle. I mean, literally, obese people are putting their choices out there for others to see. So it annoys me when large people snap and snarl and say that you have no right to judge them because you don't know them. They're right to a point -- there is a lot about a fat stranger that we don't know -- but we know one big thing. Pardon the pun.

I'm torn on this. I'm not into shaming or pointing the ugly finger at anyone. And yet obesity has become and epidemic in our country. How ironic is it that the country with the most food doesn't know what to eat? The worst is seeing fat children. Wake up, America. That is not normal. Gabby Sidibe (the star of Precious), while talented and beautiful, is not healthy. Young people who have carried that weight for years can die of obesity-related complications by the age of 30. That is not a scare tactic. That is science.

After the Tut tour, we went up into the tower with an 8 story high view of the city. Check out the scenery from up there!





The Natural History Museum

The Golden Gate is on the far right, peeking up over the mountains

The bay

San Francisco



Just to let everyone know, I've had to change my comments policy. In order to get rid of the Anonymous robot comments, I've changed my settings so that only registered users may comment. I hope that isn't a problem and I apologize in advance for the inconvenience.

Here's a song that has always reminded me of King Tut (and one that I used to dream to putting in a movie about him):

Full Circle by Loreena McKennitt



Tracie -- Hopefully that's the last of Anonymous! I'll try to have more animal pictures soon. :)

Sunday, March 21, 2010

More Flowers

I hope you all had a great St. Patrick's Day! I spent nearly all day with Teyla and Comanche, either grooming and trimming them for spring, or petting them while I worked out the plot of a possible new script. Neither pup enjoyed being groomed, but both look great after being trimmed... although, since they both have long, thick but hair, they now each look like they have the rounded, massive butt cheeks of fat kids. I don't have any full body shots yet, but here's Cheech enjoying the sun, naked (no collar) after his trim.

Happy boy

Here are also some more flower pictures to enjoy while listening to the bird songs I recorded the other morning. I know. I should just rename this blog "Twisted Little Nature Fanatic."

Birdsong

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In other random news...

On the St. Patrick's Day episode of Ghost Hunters, the team explored the Harriet Beecher Stowe house. Stowe's son has a striking similarity to Andy Samberg -- maybe he's an ancestor?!

Andy on Ghost Hunters

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Anyone here watch Grey's Anatomy? I'm not a fan but sometimes watch it with my mom to keep her company. The (former) Chief's wife, Adelle, seems to be stirring up some trouble in my inbox. I know they were having some marital issues, but really!

Adelle!


And last but not least, I finally heard back from my professors, and I'll be able to take my MFA exam a week early so that I can attend the BEA Media Arts Festival in Las Vegas and accept my awards! Now this means I have to put my nose to the grindstone in terms of prepping for the exam... which would be a lot easier if the books I ordered to study would get here. I ordered them over a week ago. Now I'm getting anxious.


Ajla -- You know me -- I couldn't stop analyzing something if I tried, lol. Yeah, I agree that the Na'vi were using whatever weapons they had because it was the best they could do, but in the context of the film -- they had advanced warning and could have evacuated then retaliated. So I thought that showing them being so boastful/ignorant at first was actually showing them to be stupid, and then if they really are supposed to be a metaphor for Indians... that's where things get problematic. I mean, the Na'vi had been attacking and observing the humans for a long time. They knew English and even knew about the Avatar project, so it stands to reason that they would be well aware of the disaster the humans could cause them yet chose to try to stand their ground anyway with no real strategy. It reminds me of Dances With Wolves, and there's a reason Indians have the phrase "from Custer to Costner."

Hammy --
I agree! I was the same way about Avatar for a large part, which is why it took me so long to finally see it. However, as a screenwriter, I can't exactly avoid high-grossing movies if I want to stay on top of my game. As for 3-D, however, I definitely am with you and hope that they at least streamline the technology soon, because with all the films jumping on the 3-D bandwagon (including Jason Momoa's Conan film and the upcoming Hobbit films) I'm beginning to get a little wary. That's a good point about 3-D being streamlined for those with "average" vision. I have perfect vision yet had a lot of trouble with the 3-D -- it was as if my brain new it was false and was resisting the depth on the screen.

Tracie -- Avatar is worth seeing but not worth the hype! Oh, and as you may have already noticed, I made a page for Tumnus now, too! :)

Friday, March 19, 2010

Avatar


I finally saw Avatar, and since so many of my friends have asked my opinion, here it is. Warning: Spoilers below.

My mom, sister and I traveled a half hour to the city south of us to see it in 3-D. I actually think the Industry is jumping the gun on this whole 3-D craze, because the infrastructure isn't here yet. The glasses we were given were painful (not only to our eyes, but literally caused pain to our faces) and dirty. Half the time, the image on the screen was blurry until it stopped moving. It was cool to see depth, but I am left feeling like I need to see the film again to experience it "properly" without all of the distractions of "what the heck am I looking at? Oh, now it's in focus -- wait, it's gone." But enough on that.

Overall, I enjoyed the film. The bio-luminescent world that Cameron and his team created is very pretty. The action scenes are very fun. The music was lovely and, as a big James Horner fan, I'd rate the score as "good" but certainly not one of his compositions that I will turn to for pleasure or inspiration. Yet it complemented the film well.

There were several things about the movie, however, that made me snort. For example: robots. I'm sorry, but as soon as I see a giant humanoid weapon marching around, I can't take the story seriously. From that point on, I can't get "little boy's fantasy" out of my head. But unlike Transformers or Terminator (the latter of which I saw in the theater... only for Mr. Bale), I knew Avatar wasn't about how super cool giant robots could be, so I tried to keep an open mind.

And then Sigourney Weaver's scientist character waltzed on screen demanding a cigarette and we were once again in the Hollywood land where all scientists wear lab coats all the time. Okay, that's a convention that's laughable but doesn't harm anyone. However, the convention that annoyed me was Weaver's quips. She was, unmistakably, meant to be seen as a tough woman in charge who can best any man with her witty remarks and hard-assed attitude. I get it, Cameron, you're writing a "strong" female character (which is a description I loathe and refuse to use, for slapping the adjective "strong" onto "woman" or "female" infers that women are inherently weak). He's trying to show how tough our ovaries have to be to survive in this man's world of the future (dude, we live in a man's world right now and women have to constantly negotiate man crap, and we're not all a bunch of bad-ass wise crackers). But no one likes a character who marches around and spits people out all the time. They're annoying. I always want to hit them.

It gets even worse when there's two. Michelle Rodriguez' character had some excuse to be obnoxious given that she was in the military and used to displaying bravado, but still, bravado at the expense of character? Granted, we find out more about Rodriguez's morals later on in the film, but Weaver's character suffers the same shallowness due to her "machismo." And she's a character we're supposed to invest in. Short of being decent and suggesting that the military doesn't kill all of the aliens, we aren't provided much insight into why Weaver's character is doing what she is doing, which would have been interesting. She could have been a source of intense moral drama. As it is, the only part of the film where I felt torn about her character was when she told the military that the aliens' attachment to the Tree of Souls wasn't just "pagan mumbo jumbo" (or whatever her term for nonsense was) but that there was science behind it. That made me pause, because I couldn't help but think "Yeah, believing a tree houses the souls of your ancestors is so ridiculous. Nothing like believing in immaculate conception and that a dude with a stick parted a freaking ocean). But that's what made it realistic -- religious people always view another religions beliefs as inferior. Not that Weaver's character was religious (in fact, she embodies another scientist stereotype -- that all scientists have science as their religion at the exclusion of other beliefs which is complete bull), but we have "In God we trust" written on our money. Just saying.

But in the end, I guess these two women (the only two human women in the film) don't have to be very interesting because they both die in the movie. I guess bravado only goes so far.

But wait! There's the alien girl who remarkably has naturally-curled eye-lashes and whose boobs are always magically covered up by a necklace. All of the alien women's breasts are. What the heck? They're aliens. Why can't aliens bare their breasts? Would the rating of the film have jumped to R if there was, God-forbid, an alien nipple? Not like, on a man, because that's totally normal, but like, a glimpse of an alien woman's nipple? Tee hee hee! Boobies are silly! Apparently. Because I'm pretty sure that's why they're covered all the time. What a bizarre double-standard. Male aliens show their blue nipples non-stop but if the females do... uh oh. Anyway, topless women in film are a different subject and Cameron's playing by rules he didn't create in that regard, so moving on...

Guess what? The giant blue people are part of the land. You know, like, they are nature. In fact, they're so in-tuned with the earth (sorry, Pandora... planet of the floating mountains... literally) that they have neurons in their hair which they can plug into the antennae of other animals and share thoughts and live together in mutual peace and respect. Or so says the blue alien lady. But it's clearly not true. She teaches the avatar dude Jake how to plug his hair into a wannabe pterodactyl's brain or something so that he can ride him and they can be partners in harmony for all time. Except for the part that the human/alien controls the pterodactyl's brain the entire time they're plugged in, and when telling the creature to fly into battle, gets it killed of no will of it's own. That's not mutualism (what the heck is the pterodactyl getting out of this relationship?) as the film wants you to believe. That's parasitism. The aliens in Avatar are parasites.

Before I saw the film, a manager mentioned that it was intended as a metaphor for what happened to the Native Americans (Wes Studi even voiced the chief). Yeah, okay, but what happened to the Indians of this continent has happened to nearly every people on earth at some point or another. Which is good because it makes the story universal. But if it really was supposed to show how natural and peaceful and innocent Indians were before white people arrived, it kinda failed because A) That's a stereotype and B) Indians weren't idiots. Avatar/Jake is like "evacuate -- giant bulldozers and bombs and machine guns and robots are coming!" and the Indians/aliens are like "We think that our bows and arrows are more powerful than your robots so we'll all wait around here until we get run over and stuff because we're indigenous and this is our land." Is that a suggestion that Indians' "innocence" led to their genocide? In fact, 90% of the native population of the Americas had been wiped out by disease (brought by Europeans) before many of the Indian wars even began, but I wasn't expecting Cameron to include that in his film. It is just a metaphor, and it clearly remains a metaphor, because the avatars or whatever the blue people are win and get to keep their land.

And I'm a little offended on behalf of the military. The lead military antagonist (we'll call him Mr. Big Penis because I, obviously, can't remember the names of any of the characters other than Jake Sully because everyone called him that every time they directed a comment at him) is a deranged psychopath. When he finds out that Sully has commandeered a chopper to go help the aliens, Big Penis grabs a machine gun and tries to shoot the chopper down. Because that is so protocol and totally permitted, no matter you rank. Right. Then Big Penis hates Jake so much that he gets into his giant robot suit and tries to beat the crap out of him. That's how big his penis is. He doesn't even have to use his hands. Okay, that part is typical of males with the Big Penis syndrome -- "I'm so bad ass that I'll fight you with a totally unfair advantage so that I'll be sure to win because I'm not insecure." Isn't that the same as big game hunting? Shooting a lion, who is obviously more dangerous than any human, with a gun when the lion least suspects it, then gloating about it.

Let's get one thing straight. Big Penis is the military leader of the base on Pandora. The military is on Pandora to mine unobtanium (I prefer unfindable rock or reallygoodathiding rock, personally, but anyway) so that people back on earth can have lots of money by selling it. Big Penis is just doing his job of protecting the miners and he is not profiting from the sale of unobtainium. Yet he wants to blow up the aliens and screw them over crazy bad. Because that's who he is. And he wants to kill Jake because Jake betrayed him by warning the aliens of the humans' intentions. That last sentence is his one shred of motivation. Except that it withers when you consider the fact that the betrayal wasn't really that bad because Big Penis had no personal stake in obtaining unobtanium because he's just there to make sure the aliens don't get in the way. Is this confusing? I know.

In other words, Big Penis has no motivation until the end of the third act, and even then, he still looks like a maniac. Maybe he's just supposed to be a maniac in a giant super cool robot suit, but I don't find much compelling stuff in that. Make a comment on how his greed led to his mania, Mr. Cameron, or how he was so conditioned to kill that when he thought he wasn't going to kill, he went nuts and made up an excuse to kill. Raving lunatics are only interesting when they're rocking themselves in corners, muttering truths that no one wants to hear.

I did say that I liked this movie, though. A lot of people think they're pretty damn clever for pointing out that the story is almost the same as Disney's Pocahontas, but few have taken the observation a step further to wonder why. The story of Pocahontas and John Smith is at the heart of American history and culture. It was the start of the hard birthing pains of a nation. It's in our psyche. I'm surprised more stories don't follow the same pattern in a uniquely American way.

Furthermore, what is the end message? That we cannot allow greed to render us without compassion, and that we must stop destroying the earth. That's a message that's worth repeating, in my opinion. Every generation has their story that reiterates this message, from James Fenimore Cooper to James Cameron. And the fact that the message of kinship and guardianship of the land has never left our consciousness, and that we're still willing to go to great lengths to share it (and hear it) is a wonderful sign. It means we haven't yet turned into the greedy rapists of Avatar, nor have we destroyed the earth to the point of no return. And we're intent to keep it that way.

P.S.
As Tracie's last comment reminded me, I keep forgetting to warn people. Most of the "Anonymous" comments being left here are by a spam robot. I've been trying to keep up and delete them but sometimes miss a few. Don't click on the links!

Mackenzie's Momma -- Did you get to see the tulips yet? And I love the party theme -- that's awesome!!

Tracie -- I'll be sure to keep posting animal pictures! And if you have a Facebook, you can even become fans of our pets. Check out Fans of Toot, Fans of Chee Chee, and The Communist. :) Oh, and the Commie's real name is Black Bear, but we just call him Black.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Spring!

There's a Toot hair on the far left flower!

Here are some pictures of the earliest flowers of the season. This is my favorite time of year -- when the sun is soft, the wind catches your hair, and the world is green. I suggest listening to Ben Whishaw's reading of Keats' "Ode to a Nightingale" while looking at these pictures.



Buds awaiting their glorious hour

Little suns

A curious red fungus growing by a drainpipe.

These flowers smell the best in the world.


Cheech on a hike

Pond reeds

Cattails spreading their seed

Chee gets to swim in the seasonal ponds formed by rainwater

The very ground is a green carpet

Daffodils!

A very rare glimpse of the Communists' face

The edge of the garden



Wildgrass

Little flowers


Plum blossoms


Toot with a huge stick

Baby birch leaves



Ponderosa Pine about to shed pollen

Daffodils amongst the rosemary


Lavender




The chickens and goats

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Batilda (B&W on the left) talking

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Mackenzie's Momma -- Aww I miss chicks! How did the party go?

Tracie --
Your adoration of Tumnus made my day! I'm glad others think he's as adorable as we do. I hope you saved the picture for your background ;) Alex took that picture of him when he was a baby and perfectly captured his gentle personality. In this video of the chickens, you can see grown up Tumnus watching me curiously.