Monday, December 6, 2010

Wands at the Ready

Ollivander's Wand Shop
Wizarding World of Harry Potter

The door creaks open and the witch standing next to it ushers 20 people off the line and into Ollivander’s wandshop.  Inside, a small lantern flickers in a dark room.  Cabinets and shelves reach to the ceiling, filled with long dusty boxes each holding a wand.  Pressed into a corner, I peer through through the solemn shadows to see cupboards half opened and an old bell high up the wall.  When Mr. Ollivander looks at us from over his spectacles, everyone—even the adults—come to full attention, hoping that somehow a wand will choose one of us as its mate.

Hogwarts Castle, Harry Potter Theme Park
Harry Potter purists will grumble that the designers of the Wizarding World spliced Rowling’s magical geography in the name of commercial sensibility.  The newest section of Universal’s theme park, the Wizarding World is organized into Hogwarts and Hogsmeade with the iconic red train, idling at the gates.  The castle stands prominently against the treeline, as it should.  But Hogsmeade holds some shops that belong only in Diagon Alley though I admittedly didn’t realize at first, completely overwhelmed as I was by the feeling of stepping into one of my favorite stories.  As soon as you pass through the gates, the jolly conductor from the Hogwarts Express welcomes you.  Don’t ask him to take a picture with your muggle camera.  He has no idea what it is and managed to take a nice shot of his own nose on ours.  He’s so silly—you just want to hug him.

Hogsmeade Shops, Harry Potter Theme Park

There’s Honeydukes, Zonkos, and the Owl Post.  The Three Broomsticks is a high traffic stop for refreshments.  Seating and service is well organized; and while the menu does not include muggle sodas, you can choose between pumpkin juice, butterbeer, or my favorite, Hogshead Ale.  I got an order of fish and chips to accompany my pint and enjoyed them on the outdoor patio.

Eating in Wizarding World of Harry Potter

But it doesn’t matter what you eat or see or ride in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.  Like everyone else, you’re there for the wands. 

Inside Ollivander's Wand Shop

Inside the wandshop, Ollivander chose one little girl to be tested for a wand and the rest of us deflated, stifling our petty jealousies as she picked up a wand made of holly, causing the cupboards and draws to slap open and shut.  We laughed as she then waved one made of oak, causing the bells to chime and echo throughout the store.  Then,  she held the last, made of heather, flexible, 10 ¼ inches.  A breeze kicked up, a light switched on, and I shook my head at the cheesy cheekiness of it.  But the little girl stood where she was, quietly holding the wand that had chosen her.  A small grin pulled at her lips, the satisfied smile of a Harry Potter purist.

Early Morning, Harry Potter Theme Park

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Opulence in an NYC Home

The simple wood entry understates the opulence within.  It's almost like a magical door that hides a treasure  trove.  At One East 70th Street, the Frick House is a portal back in time.  Everything remains as if Henry Clay Frick still walks through the halls on his way out to a steel-tycoon meeting.  

The Garden Court has a frosted glass ceiling that filters natural sunlight into a ethereal glow, roman pillars surround the space, and stone benches sit around a long fountain with frogs streaming water from their mouths.  And this is just one room.  The music room, dining room, oval room, and west and east galleries are adorned with priceless works of art--objects that Frick and his wife collected with (you know) their spare millions.  Inside, there are works by Goya and Degas and three (3!) Vermeers.

My favorites:

The Fragonard Room has regal wall paintings, framed in gold.   Sculptures, bronze works, and gilded pieces decorate the fireplace, totaling $5 million at the time of purchase.  This is a showcase room, a place where Frick had to have smirked, thinking: it's good to be the king...

The Boucher Room is feminine and lavish.  Everything preserved as it was meant to be: a lady's drawing room where Mrs. Frick could spend her evenings among chairs, desks, and paintings all crafted in France during the 1700's.  Maybe it was good to be queen too...

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Sometimes Students make the Best Teachers

Photo Courtesy of WikiMedia Commons

Four years ago, one of my most timid students stood up in front of his class, cued the slideshow and said:  "Aung San Suu Kyi: Freedom Fighter!"

After three long days of presentations, I'd that glazed look of passive observation stapled to my face.  When this presentation began, I snapped out of my haze and sat at the edge of my seat.  Minutes passed like seconds as I listened to my soft-voiced student unravel the tale of Aung San Suu Kyi's life.

Her father was a Burmese politician who helped free Burma from British control by leading the National League for Democracy.  His dedication to Myanmar made him a national hero.

In 1988, after years of studying abroad, Aung San Suu Kyi returned home to help her ailing mother when violent demonstrations broke out against the 25 year reign of the military junta.  Raised on her father's beliefs, Aung San Suu Kyi would not turn away and vaulted into a position of leadership, becoming the voice of democracy and hope.  She stood up for freedom of speech and privacy.  For her efforts, the government has had her imprisoned or under house arrest for 15 of the past 21 years.

Released today, Aung San Suu Kyi walks in the sun once more.  But many are skeptical about what her future holds.  Perhaps imprisonment again.

When I listened to my student's presentation, I heard Aung San Suu Kyi's strength come through in his voice.   Having captivated the entire class, he spoke out about a woman he'd never met and shared her struggles in a militant world he'd never visited.  As he spoke, he became something bigger and better than a middle school suburban kid.

The only shame was that I couldn't give him more than an A+.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Tour Guide to NYC-written, submitted, done!

The best part about researching the Bar Tour of the Upper Westside was realizing how helpful people can be.  On my first day, I met a very-seasoned travel writer named Dave who's publishing his 3rd book on the Caribbean.  He looked happy, healthy, and sane enough for me to realize maybe this could work.  Maybe everything I've done has led me to this moment when I can work for myself, travel, and write articles that are fun!  Dave gave me some good advice: know what the industry is about--the long hours, the research, the publishing.  So far, it's been great especially with Neil's editing and creative ideas.

So my top pick...B. Cafe.  A Belgian Brasserie. I know, it's not technically a bar.  Semantics.

Food is so amazing (mussels--be still my heart!) and the manager is extremely informed about traditional brewing regulations.  For example, Abbey Ales are commercially available beers that are brewed according to traditional methods in Belgium.  However, since they are not brewed by non-profit (requisite 1) monks (requisite 2), they are not allowed the coveted title: Trappist Beer.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Travel Writing

A few weeks ago, I went to a writing workshop that I had no intention of attending.  But Manhattanville holds such affordable workshops that--come on--I can't pass it over.  Plus Neil was really interested in going.  And I'm glad we went.

The focus was about Practical Writing: blogging, freelancing, advertising, and a super morning workshop on genre writing.

So a month later, I'm in a whole new world of writing:  nonfiction.  Something I never even saw myself doing but was immediately drawn to once I started researching all different job listings.  I've done some petty articles--so insignificant and low pay that my name didn't even get printed on the by-line.  

After a week, I realized that I wouldn't even consider a job unless it had something to do with travel.  Then,  things began to evolve.  Now, I'm working on travel guides with a new company in Vegas that works with Iphone.  Very high tech, very travel oriented.  The two together make a perfect match with all the bells and a by-line and--yes--a payrate! 

I'm looking at NYC in a whole new light.  Not as a monolith of cement but as a source for the beginning of something very exciting!!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Live on the Internet

Well, I'm live on the internet!  For only a few weeks I've been taking small, small, small freelance jobs.  Not much to speak about but interesting all the same.  Since I had very little experience, my work was kind of farmed out to big companies who then took it as their own. But I lucked out!  I found the name of one company that I'd written a travel article for.  And BOOM!  Here's my article!  (Dang it if I didn't make 2 tiny spelling errors-grrrrr....)  My guide is on Santander and Bilbao, Spain.

Today, I wrote two articles for a more legitimate company here in the US.  The first one I finished.  It's about the fall foliage in Kyoto. favorite city in Japan.  I'm almost done writing the second article which is about the day Neil and I were on the Bourbon Trail in Kentucky.

So excited!!!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Photos for Illustrated Reading~A Graveyard on Halloween

Thanks to Neil for braving an old graveyard for the new illustrations of my book, King Solomon's Rings.  As I am nearing the final touches to my website, I'm also preparing an illustrated reading of chapter two, where the protagonist is in a cemetery on a dare during Gate Night.

Sasha has always seen things that other's do not.  But this night, her imagination is in overdrive.  Shadows congeal on the night wind and from the gravestones monsters break ground to take over the world.

She can not scream.  She can not run.  Slowly, she realizes this is not her imagination.  This is real.  This is happening.  And she is caught in the middle of it all.

(Thanks Neil for the great shots...though I invent these scenes in my head, I was honestly scared to take the pictures.)

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Freelance Rookie

In taking an firm stance in my writing, I've spent all day today researching the freelance market.  I have to say I'm infinitely thankful to my teachers at Manhattanville.  I've learned so much about the industry from them that when I have days like this (when I am literally in front of the computer wading through piles of data and jargon and acronyms) I feel I have some buoyancy.

I researched two writing brokers, took two tests, and produced one writing sample.  Both websites let me in and now I have access to this behind-the-scenes writing generator.  So once I proved my worthiness, I started searching for jobs.  They don't pay much a penny a word but they are really interesting...and write up my alley.  There are tons of requests for pub/bar, hotel, car service advertisements.

Today, I got overzealous and started researching an article about Metro Ethernet over Fiber Networks.  Fascinating.  I watched youtube videos, read reviews--overall had a good time.  But made a fatal mistake.  i didn't reserve the bid before I started the work.  And--of course--when I went back to the request page it was gone!!! Dang!

But (at the risk of sounding like a nerd), I enjoyed the research.  If your interested, MEF is how the internet is networked through an entire metropolitan area using glass fibers instead of copper cables.  This procedure is more expensive but allows faster speeds within a grid that is not as susceptible to blackouts, hurricanes, and electrical interference.

So anyway, I banged out a baby article instead and am waiting for the admins to approve it so I can collect my $2.  Woohoo! Not bad for 30 minutes and almost on the same payscale as publishing a poem (how does that make sense?).

  I'm hoping another order like the MEF will pop up again.  That was $10 for one page.  But at least I learned something and I'm sure it'll make its way into my SciFi writing.


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

On the Dunes

Nine years ago on Sunday, Neil and I left for Japan.  Six years ago on Sunday, my niece was born.  So on this past Sunday, the family loaded up and headed to the beach.  We skipped rocks, the kids harrassed some birds, and a photographer took our pix.  

On the dunes.  In the grass.

Get them birds!!

Neil on the rocks!

The Old Man and his 1,2,3

We three.

The Birthday Girl and her Dad

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Mile Marker 20

With the start of the school year (and my obvious non participation in it), I had to make myself some promises.  First, of course was sticking to a firm schedule of writing and creation of work that is marketable and entertaining.  Second, I wasn't going to let myself devolve into the blob or pizza-the hut or the guy who sells comics on the Simpsons.


I started running.  Hoofing it on a treadmill.  Watching those dang numbers crawl slowly up.  One mile then two and I'm thinking all I've burned is breakfast!!  How is that fair?  Stubbornness kicked in and I stayed on the treadmill for one hour, jogging, walking, just trying to breathe.  September rolled into October.  Yesterday concluded 6 weeks of slogging it out at the gym.  I finished at a lifetime high score!  Twenty miles in one week!  (at a slow jog but whatever!)

And these are the new kix that I did it in!
Happy Fall!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Modern Art, Death Star, Maryjane

I wouldn't consider myself an art buff.  I like pictures and portraits, even maybe enjoy them when it's those massive sprawling canvas pieces that stretch from one end of the room to the next. Like oil paintings of life during the age of Enlightment or Romanticism.  I can appreciate that.

But one area which has always thrown me ...modern art.  Edgy.  Abstract.  Geometric.  Digital.  Come on.  Are you kidding me?  I can't wrap my head around that.

Until Neil and I rolled into Phoenix AZ.  We'd planned to meet up with our friends (you can see their backsides below).  I walked into the gallery excited but with extremely low expectations.  I was pleasantly surprised.

We joined a free tour and lucked out when it ended up just being the five of us.  Probably a good thing since we're not easily herded through a room.  We tended to stray off in different directions, drawn to certain pieces without consideration of what the tour guided wanted to show us at first.  But we settled into each other and asked the most obvious Q:  What is modern art?

She gave an answer.  We still didn't understand.  Then she showed us.  It became clearer.

It's about artist perspective and movement.  Or in this case, the ambiguity of flow.  I call this the death star.  Pieces of charred wood taken from a church that had been burned down, this exhibit is assembled by suspending the pieces from the ceiling with fishing tackle.  Now is it exploding?  Imploding?

(Nice calves guys!).

This I thought was funny.  It's called Pot Head.

Well off to run errands and write, write, write!
Artwork housed at the Phoenix Museum of Art.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Ear of the World

The highlight of this summer's road trip was seeing the famous red rock monoliths in the Navajo Nation at Monument Valley, UT.  There were tons of buttes, including Mittens, El Castillo (where Metallica taped a music video to i Disappear), and this pic--A giant windhole called The Ear of the World.

Hanging Lamp at Itsukushima Shrine

This image, taken in 2009, inspired my new writing project.  This lamp hangs from the sacred Itsukushima Shrine located on Miyajima Island, outside Hiroshima Japan.

(Hopefully my photo editing skills will evolve with my writing!!)

The writing life

Inspiration for me comes through the senses.  Up and down the Palisades, the leaves have abandoned their verdant summer hue and taken up that golden saffron amber of Autumn.  I can feel the season on my skin.  The high-pressure, crispness of the wind seems to just cut through light sweaters and thin pants nowaways.  Then last week, I could taste fall as my pantry turned over from strawberry smoothies and BBQ delights to lamb stews and pumpkin pies and orchard apples.

This fall, I found inspiration to write King Solomon's Rings.  The story takes place over the Hallowed Days between Gate Night and All Soul's Day, starting in Round Lake, New York skimming through Monument Valley, Utah and tumbling headfirst into Tokyo, Japan.  Fantastic!

The Melange

Melange is the French word for a mixture or combining of parts to create a greater whole.  Like salads or soups or people.

Melange in the realm of Dune is the spice which enriches health, space travel and prescience.

This blog is dedicated to the quest for life that combines health, travel, and writing.  A lifestyle that balances and enriches.  To make this thread of existence something greater than I could ever hope for.