Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Goodbye 2019...

...and stay out.

I think we all have truly high hopes for 2020 to be the light at the end of the tunnel, to be the uplifting wind of optimism we all need.

We can ensure that change will happen if we make it happen.

Here's to it.

What Are You Doing New Year's Eve? 2019

The sublime songbird Ella sings the ultimate version of this lovely song..."What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?"

I hope whatever you do, you have fun.

Monday, December 30, 2019

Happy Hogmanay 2019-2020!

Hogmanay is the Scottish New Year's celebration that takes place over the course of several days. While the festival and its customs date back to pagan celebrations of winter solstice, the word Hogmanay itself is harder to trace. Scholars have guessed that the word possibly comes from the French, Norse, or Goidelic languages.

This year, the world's largest Hogmanay festival in Edinburgh--Scotland's gorgeous capital city--starts on December 30th with a spectacular torchlight procession.

The event kicks off today at 5:30 with a torchlight procession. Over 35,000 celebrants accompanied by pipers and drummers, fire and fanfare in a river of light will wind through the heart of Edinburgh's Old Town culminating in the historic Holyrood Park. On reaching the Park, torchbearers will form an image of two people shaking hands, which will be captured from the air and broadcast around the world!

Every year, the torchbearers make a different shape when seen from the air...

December 31st is Auld Year's Eve. Street parties, outdoor concerts, indoor concerts, and The Ceilidh Under the Castle (a concert of traditional pipe and drum Scottish music held at the base of Edinburgh Castle) all culminate in an overwhelming firework display at the stroke of midnight.

There are many charming New Year's customs in Scotland. "First footing" is the idea that the first person to cross the threshold of your home is a harbinger of good luck. Starting immediately after midnight, people call on friends, going from house to house for much of the night and even into the morning and next day, with over half the population of Scotland observing the practice of "first-footing." It is good luck for the "first-footer" to be a tall, dark male. Traditionally, this male would bring gifts of a coin (symbolizing prosperity), bread/ black bun fruitcake (symbolizing food), salt (flavor), coal (warmth), or a drink (good cheer). These days, a "first-footer" usually just brings the whiskey!

January 1st is Ne'erday, a contraction of New Year's Day. The celebrating and "first-footing" continue, the annual Loony Dook takes place in the Firth of Forth (a wacky costumed cold plunge for charity), and many Scots still observe the day with a special dinner of steak pie.

Haud Hogmanay, everyone!


Ice Hotel #30

The Ice Hotel in Jukkasjärvi, Sweden is celebrating its 30th year in style. The hotel is built from actual snow and every year, the design for the hotel as well as each of the rooms is different! Participating artists and designers come to sculpt and craft the suites into works of art that one can sleep in. And the rooms for their 30th annniversary season are wonderful.

While the chambers are indeed made of ice, the ICEHOTEL recommends that you spend perhaps only one night in them and the rest in the warm sections of the Hotel!

The website has some helpful information:

One night in a cold room and a couple of nights in a warm room is ideal, as it gives you time to join wilderness excursions on the days when you have a warm room to return to in the evening.

If possible, we recommend you book your first or last night cool, the remaining nights in our warm cabins or hotel rooms, or join an overnight snowmobile excursion (only on select days).

The temperature inside the hotel hovers at a constant of -5 to -7 C. We provide you with expedition-style sleeping bags which are tested for extreme temperatures, so you’ll be fine with just thermals, hat, warm socks and a mid-layer jumper. You are given access to your room at 6 pm, but the heated service building, the Riverside Lobby, is staffed and open 24 hours, this is where you store your belongings, collect your sleeping bag and use the bathroom, shower and sauna. There is a tutorial for guests sleeping cold every day.

Icehotel is carefully designed and handcrafted by artists from around the world so to make the most of your visit, make sure to attend one of the guided tours through the hotel and pick up a copy of the art catalogue to read upon all the details. We recommend that you book activities to get the most of your holiday. Dog sledding, skiing or snowmobiling in winter, or river rafting and cycling in summer, takes you into the vast uninhabited boreal forest. Fishing, midnight sun and northern lights safaris are amazing ways to experience the Arctic. Joining a class with one of our master ice sculptors is of course a must!

* Between 10 am and 6 pm, Icehotel is open to the public. Day visitors and guests have access to see all the rooms (except Deluxe Suites) and join a guided tour. This means overnight guests get their rooms at 6 pm and wake-up call is around 7:30 am when staying cold. (Check-in and out for warm rooms is at 3 pm and 11 am).
* All rooms except the Art and Deluxe Suites in Icehotel 365 have curtain doors.
* The beds in the cold rooms have a bedframe made of ice, slatted bed base with mattress, reindeer skins and pillows.
* There are no bathrooms (except the Deluxe Suites) or storage in the cold rooms. These facilities are housed in a heated service building, the Riverside Lobby, where you also keep your belongings during the cold night. * The service desk is staffed 24 hours.
* You get a locker or cubicle (if staying in a suite), where you can get changed and keep your belongings.
* The changing rooms, sauna and showers are communal for women and men respectively.
* There are no electric sockets to charge your phone inside the cold room, so be sure to charge your phone before going to bed.
* If you’re changing between cold and warm accommodation, there are about 6-7 hours when you don’t have a room to withdraw to. We strongly recommend you to plan one or two excursions during this time as exploring nature and local culture is a substantial part of getting the full experience. Our lounge and shop are open from 10 am.
* Ice is an organic material. We may carry out maintenance and repairs during open hours.
* Icehotel is built in sections, which means that there is still building work going on for some time after we’re open for guests.

Bone Room by Rob Harding
Cabinet In The Woods by Hugh and Howard Miller
Crescents by Elin Julin & Ida Mangsbo
Echoes of the Torne River by Francisco Javier Cortés Zamudio
Feline Room by Brian Alvin McArthur & Dawn Marie Detarando
Gingko by Nina & Johan Kauppi
Golden Ice by Nicolas Triboulot & Jean-Marie Guitera 
Kaleidoscope by Natsuki Saito & Shingo Saito
Subterranean by Daniel Rosenbaum & Jörgen Westin 
The Torneland Bar by Luc Voisin & Mathieu Brison
Warm Up by Aleksandra Pasek & Tomasz Czajkowski
White Santorini by Haemee Han & Jae Yual Lee


Sunday, December 29, 2019

Just watched...

...Terrence Malick's newest masterpiece "A Hidden Life."

Just before the holiday, I had the privilege of seeing "A Hidden Life," Terrence Malick's tenth feature film. Regular readers know I am a huge Malick fan, as evidenced by the presence of several of his films in my All-Time Favorite Films list to the right.

The first thing one notices with this most recent film is his return to a more structured story. I believe his last three projects, "To The Wonder," "Knight of Cups," and "Song To Song" are a trilogy about being lost in a life without meaning in the 21st century. We were witness to a kind of confusion, ennui, and an inability to commit oneself to anything or anyone, including oneself. Malick's approach to this subject matter was even more loose, Impressionistic, and improvisational than he has been in the past and the results were criticized for lacking a clear plot. I have a high tolerance for soft narratives and while it is true that the films show a lot of characters simply wandering around certain locations either staring at each other or off in the distance, I felt the films were a perfect product of what Malick was trying to say and portray.

But with "A Hidden Life," Malick told an audience at a rare Q&A in 2016 that he has "repented and gone back to working with a much tighter script" but went on to qualify that with the idea that "it actually makes it easier to improvise when you have rails underneath you."

Based on the life story of Franz Jägerstätter (played with great presence by August Diehl), much of the action takes place in the little Austrian village of St. Radegund where Jägerstätter and his wife (masterfully played by Valerie Pachner), like most villagers, tend a farm. Theirs is a simple way of life. Of course Malick is a master of the landscape shot (swoon over most every scene in "The New World" and cry with nostalgia at the lovely hometown shots in "Tree of Life") and there are absolutely breathtaking images of Austrian peaks and high-altitude meadows, but what struck me immediately was the backbreaking, merciless, unending work daily life must have been for these people. Seeing them use little hand held scythes to cut down grass as my attention pulled out to reveal an entire mountainside made me ache just watching it.

But this is 1939 and the Nazis have conscripted him to serve in the military. Yet even though they are isolated in a mountain village in Austria, he and his family know exactly what is going on in Germany and the rest of the world, and he knows that what the Reich is, is wrong. He refuses to swear an oath to Hitler and he is taken into custody for a trial. Jailed and beaten, the Nazis eventually kill him. And all the while his jailers, the village mayor, the clergy tell him to simply take the oath and swear loyalty to Hitler because there is no harm in it, he can say the words and not mean them. But Jägerstätter understands the existential dilemma as well as the very real danger of trying to walk such a line. There were thousands who did just that and while they may have saved their lives and the lives of their families, they enabled millions of people to lose theirs. And they have to--or had to--live with that knowledge, that they enabled absolute evil. Principles, morality, and ethics are not concepts that can be chosen or followed only when convenient. But having said that, I am not sure what I myself would have done. Perhaps I would have sworn the oath and then worked with the Resistance. His is a bravery I am not sure I--or many of us--possess.

In fact, the film's title refers to something else Jägerstätter was told, over and over: that one person, one single act, a hidden life out of the view of the world, cannot make a difference. But this film and the story of the real life Jägerstätter proves that it can. (The story of Jägerstätter's life did not come to the attention of the general public until the 1960s...and in 2007, he was declared a martyr and beatified by the Catholic Church. The same church that actually aided and conspired with the Nazis...I'm just saying. Read about his life here.)

Even though there is a tighter script, and a clear narrative with a beginning and end, this is still a beautiful, glorious Malick film with all that entails. The heart and mind are still given equal, albeit dream-like, screen time. The aforementioned concepts of principles, morality, and ethics along with philosophical and spiritual ideas are held aloft in the stunningly beautiful and pristine Austrian mountains. Like I said, Malick really knows how to choose and lens phenomenal landscapes. And even when he is shooting interior scenes, he still composes and shoots them (with wide angle lenses) like landscapes. Look at the scenes in the Bishop's office and the church in "A Hidden Life" and marvel at how a desk and stacks of books can look like the mountain landscape outside. It is a gorgeous and subtle motif.

Recommend? Yes. Beautiful for the eyes but also for the heart and mind. And it is no accident that a film portraying a man refusing to swear loyalty to a sick, egomaniacal Fascist was made and released in this current political climate.


Saturday, December 28, 2019

"Everything Else Has Gone Wrong" by Bombay Bicycle Club

I have always loved Bombay Bicycle Club (previously here and here) but their newest song, "Everything Else Has Gone Wrong" has an intense, profound video!