#64: Biltmore

A few weeks ago, one of the English teachers and I were chatting at work, and she asked if I’d ever been to the Biltmore. I hadn’t, but it’s on The List, and she was shocked that I’d never been. Turns out she’s a passholder and had a few free passes to the Biltmore, which she gave to me. So Harvin and I went yesterday.

I really enjoyed it (of course!). It’s labeled “America’s Largest Home,” and it was built by one of America’s richest men during the Gilded Age. I expected it to be an ostentious display of wealth that would annoy me, but it was so beautiful and classy that I was mostly just mesmerized.

biltmore-libraryMy favorite room by far was the library. I actually did tear up when I walked in. It’s everything I could ever dream of in a home library–a huge globe, a spiral staircase, a massive fireplace, comfy chairs, and, best of all, two levels containing thousands of books!

Harvin and I also decided that we want to live in round tower bedrooms. Round rooms are just so much more fun than the square ones we live in now. And we’re going to ask Clint, our apartment’s maintenance man, if he’ll build us some gargoyles outside the apartment building. 🙂

After we toured the house, we ate lunch in the Stable Cafe, which has the best cornbread I’ve ever eaten. They also gave us eco-friendly paper straws, which I’ve never had before. It’s a lot different to drink water through a paper straw than a plastic one. So different that it’s worth mentioning in my blog about Biltmore.

We browsed the gift shops, too. I bought a lot of postcards in the Book Bindery, which also features books from tons of Appalachian writers–Thomas Wolfe and Joel Chandler Harris were, of course, the most interesting for us, since we visited both of their houses recently.

All in all, it was a really awesome day. I hung out with my best friend, exploring an amazing house and gardens. And I marked yet another item off The List.

Now it’s time to decide which one to tackle next…

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#77: Thomas Wolfe

Yesterday had the potential to be just another boring rainy day. But we had plans. And while we considered letting the rain ruin those plans, we didn’t. I figure we’re not the kind of people to let a little water get in the way. And besides, rain can make things more fun, right? 🙂

Chris is reading Look Homeward, Angel for his Appalachian literature class. It was a perfect reason for us to do something we’d mentioned a few times: visit the boarding house in Asheville where Thomas Wolfe grew up.

old-kentucky-homeSo Harvin, Ticcoa, Chris, and I headed to Asheville yesterday afternoon in the foggy, dreary rain. We first went to “Old Kentucky Home,” the boarding house run by Wolfe’s mother.

Things I learned:

1. Wolfe had a terribly dysfunctional family–evidently, the kind that makes for good literature. I kinda want to read Look Homeward, Angel now after seeing the place and hearing some of the stories. Maybe this summer, when I’m not overwhelmed with other 20th-century American fiction to read.

2. Women are more morally upright than men. We never contemplate stealing things from a museum. And we never reach across exhibit displays and set the alarm off (even if we think about it). 🙂

3. Author home tour guides are generally very good. Our tour guide at the Wolfe Memorial, Patrick, was very professional and informative. He didn’t give us the quirky little stories that Nannie at The Wren’s Nest did, but that’s fine. He gave us a very good picture of Wolfe and his life at the boarding house and how that life influenced his literature.

After we left the boarding house, we headed out in search of Riverside Cemetery, where Wolfe is buried. The place is wolfe-gravemassive and wonderful! Things I learned there:

1. I was right–cemeteries are more fun in the rain. I got wet and slipped in the mud a few times, but the rain makes it more mysterious (in my opinion). Sure, maybe it wasn’t 80 degrees and sunny, but it was still tons of fun. [Note: This isn’t a photo from yesterday–it’s a lot gloomier in the rain.]

2. I’d like to be buried in a cool crypt when I die. One where innocent youth can climb on the roof, and the door can be left unlocked so they can explore. I mean, why else would anyone want to break into a crypt?

3. Make sure your friends know that O. Henry is a pen name. Sorry, Harvin. We spent a long time prowling a large section of the cemetery, only to discover that Harvin had been standing right near it, but because the stone said “William Sydney Porter,” Harvin didn’t realize it was the right one. But we finally found it. I sat on his grave. It was neat.

4. Gophers are scared of cars and people. They like to live in cemeteries and run into holes in the ground when they see a car speeding toward them.

5. There was a governor of NC named Zebulon Vance. Harvin thinks he looks like a cross-breed of a human and Chewbacca. And the name Zebulon? I can’t decide if I think it’s awesome or just weird.

So we finally left Asheville after that and went toward what we thought was Hendersonville. Things I learned during the rest of the trip:

1. Don’t trust Google maps. Always pull out my trusty N.C. map (or whatever state I happen to be in at the time) and double-check. It doesn’t take an hour to get to Hendersonville from Asheville. Chimney Rock is not on the way. But you know what? It was still fun. It’s a great drive through the mountains. And we listened to the entire Manchester Orchestra album while we drove, so that was awesome, too.

2. Thai food and sushi at a restaurant on Main Street in Hendersonville was a great idea! They had a Boston roll (avocado and shrimp)! But convincing Coa to try sushi wasn’t the best idea. While I’m thrilled Coa was adventurous enough (and trusted us enough) to try sushi for the first time, I’m very sad that Jess got mad because we were able to convince Coa to do something she could never do. I’m sorry, Leisters. Let’s have a re-do, shall we?

3. I need a GPS. Or a chauffeur. I’m directionally hopeless, but I’m glad you guys still let me drive often. When will we learn? 😀

Another adventure marked off the list. Another afternoon with great friends. Life is pretty great.

Happy Thursday!

I took my midterm yesterday afternoon for 20th Century American Fiction (lots of writing in a short period of time). Then, I headed to Educational Psychology to give a presentation and sit through two more hours of class. Rough day. But it’s spring break, and I don’t have class again for almost two weeks!

When I got home last night, I celebrated by supporting Threadless‘ Spring Cleaning Sale! Check out my new purchases (for just $5 each!):

poetic-irony

 

Poetic Irony“:

One of my favorite Threadless designs! And…it’ll be perfect for wearing when we visit Poe’s grave in Baltimore on our way to Boston this summer!

 

 

hide-and-seek

 

Hide and Seek“:

A really creative design featuring fairy tales? Of course I’ll take one!

I’ve waited so long.

Happy First Day of Spring!

Officially, winter must leave now. I’m sure. After overcast, cold, windy days; a random, relatively heavy snow fall; and a few faux-spring days that raised my hopes before crushing them again, spring is here!

I can walk barefoot in the grass now, drive with my windows down (unless it’s raining),  and pretend to do my homework outside while I actually just daydream. I’ve already spent a lot of those almost-spring days exploring in the mountains with my friends, and I’ve started listening to all the happy music that makes me think of spring and summer.

I love spring: fresh grass, sunshine on my face, and sudden rainstorms that make everything fresh and new. Yay! 🙂

daffodils-and-girl-reading

“The earth spins and the moon goes round. The green comes from the frozen ground, and everything will be made new again like freedom in spring.”

– “Golden,” Switchfoot

#76: The Wren’s Nest

It’s spring break at NGU, and for the first time, I have the entire week off. When I found out, Ticcoa and I started planning all these potential daytrips for this week, and she and I, as well as Harvin and Jess took one of them yesterday to Atlanta, GA.

wrens-nestThis beautiful home in Atlanta was the home of Joel Chandler Harris, creator of the Uncle Remus tales (Brer Rabbit, the Tar Baby, etc.). Visiting this place was absolutely fantastic. Our tour guide was a 78-year-old woman, Nannie, who’s worked there for 13 years. She was funny, engaging, overflowing with Southern hospitality, and generally just a delight to be around. She gave us anecdotes from tours she’s given for school children; she also talked up the current executive director (who is 25 and a descendant of both J.C. Harris and Shakespeare) and strongly stressed his young age and English degree to us four girls :).

Seriously, the experience was fantastic. Nannie knows her stuff. We learned so much about Harris’ life from birth to death and about his writing (both journalistic and Uncle Remus). I won’t hesitate in saying that it’s the best author house/museum tour I’ve ever been on (including the one with the delightful Louise at Connemara last year!). I heartily recommend it, and I feel sure I’ll visit again (soon, hopefully…Nannie plans on retiring when she turns 80!).

After leaving the Wren’s Nest, we headed downtown to the Varsity drive-in for lunch. Delightfully retro. And they have great fries.

Next, we got lost with all the freakin’ roads named Peachtree in Atlanta! (And yes, I was driving. I knew we’d get lost…I can’t go someplace without getting lost, it seems.) But finally, we found the right one and headed to the Margaret Mitchell House and Museum in Midtown Atlanta.

Let me sum it up for you: DON’T WASTE YOUR TIME! margaret-mitchell-house

After the fabulous tour at The Wren’s Nest, we hoped for an equally enjoyable experience at the Margaret Mitchell House. We didn’t get it. Our tour guide was, as Ticcoa lovingly dubbed her, an “off-putting cynic.” She preached about the younger generation’s rudeness with cell phones (when we made up half her tour group and had done nothing to provoke the lecture). She tried to be “hip” and use slang that would appeal to the younger generation. She gave more history about Atlanta itself than about Mitchell’s life and writing; in fact, about half the museum was devoted to Atlanta’s most famous native son, Martin Luther King, Jr. (whom I deeply admire…but I’ve seen his house…I was there for Mitchell!). We learned very little from the 50 minute tour, actually. I learned more from reading the displays inside the lobby than from touring the apartment where Gone with the Wind was penned. And, in fact, the apartment contains absolutely no authentic artifacts from Mitchell’s life. It’s an “interpretive museum” with furniture and such from the 20s and 30s when Mitchell and her husband lived there. And after awhile, our tour guide’s attitude and abrasive voice were exhausting. We left pretty disappointed in the whole Margaret Mitchell experience.

But despite that, I had a great time with my best friends. Any day where we can be nerdy English dorks and get excited about literature is a fantastic day. If that day involves miles of driving and a superior photographer, then it’s even better. And I got to mark off my 11th item from The List. Swell. 🙂

You will risk all their lives and their souls.

watchmen1I saw Watchmen tonight. Before I attempt to organize my thoughts about that film into any readable blog, I need to set you up for why I love the book so much.

I never thought I’d be a fan of graphic novels, really. But Watchmen (actually the third graphic novel I read) transcended all my expectations. It made the short list of Books that Rocked My World.

As Myron, Russ, and I stood outside the movie theater tonight, debating the merits of the book versus the film, Myron and I (like always) moved into a discussion of why we love modern and postmodern literature (including Watchmen). Books written in these time frames are (usually) so real, so raw, so unguarded. When they’re good, they strip away all pretense and get to the core of what’s wrong with society, and sometimes (even simultaneously) what’s good about society (example: The Kite Runner).

Watchmen is a speculation on how society could wind up. But the beauty of the graphic novel is in the details. The subplots that run parallel to the overarching plot about vigilantes trying to save the world. The minute details in each frame of the story. The extensive history (and documentation) on each of the characters that explains their motives. And the incredible, paradoxical, infuriating ending.

SPOILER: I’m talking about this film. If you don’t want to get my honest, unguarded, frustrated opinion, stop reading now. I don’t want to ruin it for you if you keep reading. This might be intense…but what could you expect from a review on a movie that I’ve been waiting months for, a movie based on one of the books that I love? 🙂

The Good

To be honest, I got to the end of the movie, buried my face in my hands as the credits started rolling, then turned to Myron and Russ with a stunned expression on my face, saying, “Oh, my God. I don’t even know!” I couldn’t have told you at that point if I liked or despised the film.

There were some good things about that movie. Phenomenal things. It must have been incredibly difficult to take a book that already has detailed, elaborate illustrations and turn it into a film. But Zach Snyder, the director, did a superb job. The characters were almost all exactly as they appeared in the novel. Laurie’s hair, Rorschach’s freckles, even the newspaper vendor…most of them were spot on, appearance-wise. Some of the effects were better than I imagined. (Example: Rorschach’s mask is an ever-changing inkblot. In the book, in each frame, the mask has a different design. It’s a long book–hundreds of masks. In the film, the features of the mask was constantly in motion, and I was quite impressed by the effects.)

The personalities, too–Dan’s hesitation, Dr. Manhattan’s stoicism, Rorschach’s black-and-white sense of justice–almost all of them came across exactly as they needed to. The one exception was perhaps Adrian Veidt. I didn’t quite buy his “brilliant, good-looking man trying to save the world” act in the beginning as much as I did in the novel. I’m sure a lot of that comes from my knowing the ending, however.

The beginning of the movie really had me hooked, too. Within the first minute, I was convinced that I’d been correct in hoping that this would be one of the best movies ever made. Snyder’s effort to make the movie resemble the frames of the graphic novel were excellent. I wish he could have carried that through the whole film without it getting frustrating and tiresome. That wouldn’t have been possible, though. But great job on the beginning!

Some of the music was great, too. I really liked the irony of playing Nat King Cole’s “Unforgettable” in the opening scene with all the violence of the Comedian’s death. Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changin'” was a good choice. And Simon & Garfunkle’s “Sound of Silence” for the funeral. Perfect! (Some of the other musical choices were not so great, as I’ll get to momentarily.)

The Bad

SPOILER AGAIN: Just in case you weren’t warned enough, stop reading now if you don’t want the ending ruined.

Ahhhh! Why change the ending so much?

Dr. Manhattan was not a scapegoat for Ozymandius’ obliteration of most of the global, urban society! The government blamed it on extra-terrestrials, not the only superhero the world had!

And the book did not end quite so happily, with everyone sure that Laurie and Dan would make it as a couple. The book ended rather shakily. When I finished reading, I felt as though part of me were ripped apart, too. I hated the annihilation of so many people, but in a sick, twisted way, it made sense, too. I don’t have Rorschach’s extreme sense of justice, which is what made the ending so difficult for me to read. I wasn’t sure if the truth would ever be told. I wasn’t sure if it needed to be told. I wasn’t even quite sure what the exact truth was…and that is the beauty of a postmodern novel.

That insecurity is there, slightly, at the end of the film, when the viewers are unsure if the newspaper reporter will reveal the evidence in Rorschach’s journal. But it’s not nearly as extreme as it was in the novel, and I think that’s an important detail that needed to be conveyed.

Also, Rorschach. The man is messed up…for good reason. But viewers of the film don’t get that–little of his history is included. You can’t get the full weight of his neurotic, dangerous, demented obsession with fighting criminals if you don’t know his true motives. I knew stuff had to be cut from the novel in order to make the film, but Rorschach’s history definitely needed to be included in greater detail.

The Ugly

First, the scene in Dan’s owl spaceship. There would have been tasteful ways to convey the intensity of that moment. I did not need an excessive, pornographic sex scene accompanied by Leonard Cohen’s version of “Hallelujah,” which cheapened the moment even more. (I don’t dislike the song–it was just completely inappropriate contextually.)

And the violence. Seeing the implications of such graphic violence in the novel was one thing. Even while reading, there were parts that made me cringe and merely scan the images instead of peering closely at the frames. Dave Gibbons often provided just enough detail to make my mind do the rest of the work. That’s hard to translate to the screen, though, I’m sure. Unfortunately, the result was bloody, gory violence that almost made me get up and leave, that left my stomach lurching. And when reading a book where death is a common theme, I don’t have sounds to accompany the images. It was a hard movie to watch (or to sit with my arms wrapped around my head, trying to block out the sounds and the images).

Conclusion

So thank you, Zach Snyder, for making a film that left me wondering if I loved it or hated it (because there can be no in-between here). Thank you for making a film that evoked the same type of reaction as reading the book did–a knowledge that there were exceptionally good thoughts and concepts presented, an infuriating realization that life often cannot be divided into right-and-wrong, and a desperate wondering if it’s even possible to change a small part of the world for the better. Thank you for taking the near-impossible task of converting a beloved graphic novel onto the big screen and making it look almost effortless. (With the exception of the ending, this is one of the best book-to-film versions I’ve ever seen.)

I don’t know if I’ll see it again. Part of me really wants to–I really enjoyed a lot about this film. The other part of me loathes the very thought. I need a few days to let all of this soak in.

It’s 1 a.m.  I don’t know how much sleep I’ll get tonight. I don’t know how much my dreams will be haunted by the Watchmen.

“Never compromise–not even in the face of Armageddon.” –Rorschach

watchmen-banner

The Black Ghosts

the-black-ghostsThis isn’t technically new music, as the album was released in 2007, but it is new to me.

I’ve listened to the Twilight soundtrack a few times, but the album isn’t my favorite, overall. The one song (besides the Linkin Park and Muse songs I already loved), however, that I really love is the song “Full Moon” by The Black Ghosts.

So today, when I got my replacement computer cord in the mail (my original fried–almost literally–a few weeks ago), I logged onto MySpace and iTunes to find more music.

First, check out their album artwork. I find it fascinating and kinda creepy. And a little awesome.

Anyway, I listened to all the tracks up on their MySpace and bought two of their songs on iTunes (the “Full Moon” track is also from their full-length, self-titled album). Those three tracks are spectacular, and if the rest of the album were that good, I’d have a new obsession on my hands. 🙂 I’m hoping that if I listen to the rest of the album some more, it will grow on me, and I’ll love all the songs just as much as I’m loving these three right now.

Beyond the music, the videos that I’ve watched are really amazing.

My favorite song might be “Anyway You Choose to Give It”:

But the video for “Some Way Through This” is phenomenal. Watch it, if only for the Lego reproduction of Edward Hopper’s painting Nighthawks somewhere in the middle: