Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Parent Visit aka Sorry for the Late Blog Post

The Slaughter stone...the Heel stone... these are but a few names given the towering megaliths of Stonehenge. Standing before the millennia old blue stones, one can't help but feel the mystic energy the ancients sought to tap into. In fact, in 1921 the amateur archaeologist Alfred Watkins conceived of the existence of ley lines, invisible pathways or "lines" that generate a form of mystical energy. These ley lines were said to have had an important role in ancient societies and that many of the most famous ancient monuments are founded upon the intersection of these psychic currents. The merging of...

"Where are the holes they keep talking about? I didn't see any holes?"
"Mom, they are called Aubry holes and they are all over the place. They are labeled, just look down."
"It says right here in the guide that these might have been built by aliens."
"Dad, that is under the myths and legends section. They are trying to say that one of the MYTHS of Stonehenge is they were built by aliens."

The merging of life forces have intersected at the "Parent Visit."

For the last few months in London I have led my life relatively free of any taxing responsibilities. Sure, graduate school kept me busy but that was relatively enjoyable. Plus, outside of the distractions of London there wasn't much else standing in my way. This has all changed recently, however, as I've begun teaching on a more permanent basis at a London based school. The grading and prepping, while not overwhelming certainly makes it slightly more challenging to keep up with the ever increasing grad school workload. Top it off with a 10 day parent visit and I'm feeling as though I've criss-crossed one too many ley lines.

"Your father won't eat here. It is too gourmet."
"Mark, take a picture of this sidewalk. This is a good sidewalk. I want to show everyone back home."

Oh well, only 2 more weeks until Madrid.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Movie Magic

It's been some time since I've last taken in a movie at the cinema, and tonight, a rainy Saturday evening, seemed as good a time as any...

First step: Buying Tickets

Unlike in the United States, where one can casually stroll into a movie theater, find one's seat of preference, and occupy it, the Brits have a bit more rigid system where seats are allocated beforehand upon purchase of one's ticket. While going against the Darwinian natural order of things, this obviously has a tremendous upside. You can purchase your ticket online well in advance, show up 15 minutes late after the commercials and previews have run their course, and still rest easy with the knowledge that you have a specific seat, hand-picked, waiting for you. It also eliminates the annoying behavior of some movie-goers who think they can reserve an entire row of seats for their tardy friends. There are, however, several drawbacks to this system. First, whether you buy your tickets in advance or at the ticket counter, you still have to wait in the same queue. This means, if you've purchased your tickets beforehand, you have to sit behind several people who need to decide, via a floor plan, where they'd like to sit-- a nauseating and time consuming process. Pre-allocated seats also do not take into account the plethora of variables that go into choosing a seat. Row F, Seat 5 may seem all well and good when previewed on a chart, but is less desirable when you discover that you're sitting behind an asthmatic Big and Tall model. Want to move? Too bad.

Second step: Concessions

Everyone knows a concession stand can make or break the entire movie-going experience. Gummy candy, chocolate treats, thermos-sized chalices of carbonated bliss, and let us not forget the bags and bags of golden buttery popcorn. For the most part, a good number of these treats are stocked in abundance at my local Odeon theater with only a few notable differences. To begin with, the concession counter sold Doritos. OK, I love Doritos, you love Doritos, it's not so strange to want a small bag of faux cheddar magic with your movie right? And it would be OK if they were small bags, but we're not talking small personalized bags for sale; rather the Odeon peddles full regulation-sized SACKS of Doritos. The kind that you accidentally plow through when you're either drunk or high. Still, while strange, I'm putting the Doritos in the "cool category." Other items that join the club are wine, beer, and Ben and Jerry's ice cream. Every concession stand has its dark side, however, and the Odeon's snack counter is no exception.

Upon my arrival, I had immediately noticed the absence of a familiar buttery bouqet. Sure there was rather healthy looking popcorn lying in the display case, but where did it come from? Where were the "popping" machines? I didn't have time to ponder this mystery for very long because quickly THE question was upon me, "What would you like, Sir?"
Instinct took over.
"A small popcorn please."
The interrogation continued, "Would you be liking the salty or sweet kind or perhaps a mix of both?"
"Salty?" I requested/guessed and timidly added, "Would you be able to put butter on that?"
While my attendant mentally fumbled with this question, I overheard the gentleman next to me ask, "Do you have any candy in America?" Those last three word said as though he were speaking to someone with a hearing impairment.
"We have a buttery toffee popcorn but you said you wanted salty," 'my guy' finally coming to. Clearly this was one of those rare instances wherein we were simultaneously speaking and not speaking the same language. Now it was my turn to fumble.
Next to me, I heard the man's wife chime in, "They call them CHOCOLATE BARS here, Dear."
"Oh," he corrected himself, "Do you have any CHOCOLATE BARS in America."
"Salty is fine," I surrendered, trying to preserve what little dignity America had left.
And with that I took my non-buttered, bagged popcorn into the theater...

Third step: The Movie
You can't judge an entire country based on one cinema but screen 6 of the Odeon could be described as either an incredibly shitty movie theater or an amazing one... if it was in your friend's basement. I was, however, pleasantly surprised to be greeted by the soothing harmonies of violins and cellos instead of the customary Huey Lewis and the News song. The lights dim and the commercials roll [1]. Much to my delight, I observed several reserved seating fiascos, as audience members who arrived early had understandably attempted to grab the more optimal seats, thus cementing in my mind America's movie theater seating dominance. After a few previews for movies I had no interest in seeing, it was time for the main attraction... until the lights went up.
"There is a problem with the film," I stated.
Very cutely Jess replied, "Perhaps this is how they do it here." And while I was 90% certain we were experiencing a technical glitch, I wouldn't have been surprised if she were right. One last chance for everyone to grab a pint before the movie starts?
Unfortunately, the usher's announcement confirmed my initial fears, we'd have to wait a little longer for our first movie in England.

10 minutes later and about 45 minutes after the movie's listed start time, the opening credits began to roll. The movie of choice, Ben Affleck's latest homage to Boston, "The Town." The cameras panned over Boston's beautiful skyline, Affleck slipped into a non-rhotic Southie accent, and I drifted into daydream land--- I was home again.

[1] When speaking in the past tense in German, the verb is placed at the end of the sentence. It is sort of confusing because you don't really know what the person is saying until the last word. British commercials are exactly the same. I have NO idea what they are about until the very last image of the company's logo pops up.