It’s Sunday, which means that the weekend is quickly coming to a close and, more significantly, spring break is coming to a close. Spring break, what a term. It implies sunlight, warmth, parks, and maybe hints of summer just around the corner. Boston, needless to say, is none of these things. Okay, it is sunny today, but sunny in a deceptive, wind-rushing-at-your-face-and-pulling-scarves-away-from-your-neck-so-it-can-bite-into-your-still-pale-cheeks kind of way. But that’s okay! Because I didn’t do a normal spring break trip (once again…) and opted to go skiing instead.
My dad and I went to Vail, Colorado for four days of spring skiing, which basically just means temperatures the same as they are in Boston and about as much snow. (Have you heard? Boston is having a crazy winter and we broke the snow record! Oh, you already knew that? It’s been the trending news story across the nation for months? Oh.) Anyway, pictures:
We had an amazing time, skied an average of 17 runs and 20,000+ vertical feet everyday, and experienced all the snow types: ice in the mornings, slush in the afternoons, perfection somewhere in between, dust on crust one afternoon, three inches of powder the next morning…
We also ate amazing food, drank some great wine, met some really fun people on and off the slopes, and generally had a pretty fabulous winter break experience. (spring break. SPRING break. Sorry.)
Stayed silly, too.
Last summer, I posted about Taming of the Shrew, and this summer, Livermore Shakes is back with Much Ado About Nothing. Once again, Livermore Shakes blew my mind with the incredible production, and this ranks as my favorite production of MAAN, and one of my favorite Shakespeare plays in a long time. My dad – a self-professed Shakespeare “disliker” – said this production was the best Shakespeare play he’s ever seen.
It isn’t hard to do a great job when you start with one of Shakespeare’s simplest plays. Much Ado About Nothing is unique among Shakespeare in that there is no murder, there are no characters dressed up as other characters, and there are no deceased/disappeared characters that magically return. It is not unique in that the bawdy humor is forefront, and this production did a phenomenal job of bringing the verbal humor front and center. One of my favorite moments was when Beatrice and Benedick are sparring during the masked dance in act II scene i. Beatrice knows she is speaking to Benedick, though he doesn’t know she knows, and she uses the opportunity to thoroughly lambast him while he cannot defend himself. In this version, I saw something I loved more, perhaps, than any other presentation of any other line in Shakespeare ever. Jennifer Le Blanc, as Beatrice, pauses after the first half of his name, the better to emphasize that he is a “Bene—dick.” And Ryan Tasker‘s response as Benedick is appropriately incensed, coupled with a frustrating inability to do anything. I’m sure this isn’t a particularly creative choice, in that it is probably done in theaters and productions around the world, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t love it.
The best part of this production was almost certainly the staging. Kudos to Lisa A. Tromovitch for her incredible use of the stage, the audience, the vineyard. With a show such as this, where characters are constantly hiding here and there, overhearing conversations they “aren’t” supposed to here, most productions put semi-believable barriers on stage. Livermore Shakes, however, chose to use the trees surrounding the stage and the audience itself as these barriers. Watching the characters fooling each other while an actress sits in an empty seat just across the aisle or an actor using an audience member as a barrier (making her stand up and walk around with him) brings the whole experience that much closer and makes it that much funnier.
The use of physical humor was also pervasive in the show, from Beatrice hiding under her own skirt to Borachio, played by Jeremy Tribe Gallardo, stepping out of his bindings after being arrested, and then later stepping right back into them. This type of humor helps emphasize the comedic aspects of MAAN without detracting from them. A small stage combat section felt almost forced, as my mom explained, and a bit like an afterthought: “It’s as if they said ‘Hey! It’s Shakespeare, and we’re carrying swords. We have to use them.'” The stage combat may have been slightly out of place, but I didn’t mind.
Once again, Livermore Shakes blew me away with their acting talent. Within three hours, I’d totally fallen for Claudio, played by Glenn Stott. I believed that he was wronged by Hero (Kat Cordes), and then believed her when the whole story came out. And within three minutes, I despised Don John (Lucas Hatton). The youngest members of the cast brought vitality and some fabulous funny faces to the stage, and the back-and-forth between Beatrice and Benedick left absolutely nothing to be desired.
I may be biased because I know her, but Jenn Le Blanc blew me away in this production. Her accents, her physical comedy, her brilliance. I could wax romantic for a while, but I’m going to stop less Gregg (her husband, also plays Conrade in this production) comes after me. But she was merely one of many, and the sum is that I sat on the edge of my seat the entire night – even through the cold and wind – so that I wouldn’t miss a single word or expression by any of them.
The Costumes, Props, and Set
One advantage of being in a vineyard is that the setting is already beautiful. The set is no less than an original Victorian-era house, with a raised stage set in front so the actors can actually be seen. With this advantage, the era costumes and props fit right in. To be honest, this set, though beautiful, almost certainly limits their artistic choices – everything has to fit in with the house behind it. However, it is a Shakespeare company, and they seem to do a pretty good job at dealing with that.
The costumes in this show were good, but nothing to rave about. The large hoop skirts gave the actresses a bit of trouble in the wind last night, but nothing insurmountable. Similarly, the props never took away from the production. In a production this good – with such incredible staging and acting, to not be distracting is all I can ask of the costumes and sets.
Unfortunately, I have to complain about the lighting. I know that lighting for an outdoor stage is difficult, especially when the company is using tricolor LED par lights instead of traditional halogens. Combine that with the challenge of starting a production before sunset, and then lighting through the change from normal daylight to orange sunset to night, and I’m ready to give the designer a bit of slack. But the entirety of the show (once the sun turned off) was eerily blue, and the light from inside the greenroom bled onstage throughout the entire second act. The lights took away from the show for me in a couple of scenes, but for the most part I was able to ignore them. Nonetheless, the production was brilliant in spite of – not because of – the lighting.
All of this brings me to one inevitable conclusion – I LOVED IT. Like last year, Livermore Shakespeare has put up a brilliant production this year. There are still 7 performances (June 22, 27, 28, 29 & July 3, 5, and 6), with tickets for as little as $25, and then another 7 productions of Pride & Prejudice in July. I’m hoping I can find the time to go again, if only to drown in the happiness that is an inevitable result of watching those who are better than you in something amazing shoe off their talents.
If you want a nice evening of theater and wine, without going into the chaos that is San Francisco, I strongly recommend you get across the Bay and enjoy a night at Livermore Shakes!
Mom managed to find the perfect melting chocolate. This, when combined with the perfect strawberries courtesy of the Farmer’s Market and the season, makes for the perfect chocolate-covered strawberries:
It starts with some beautiful strawberries, and a bowl full of melted Ghirardelli chocolate. Wash and dry the strawberries, grab the greens, dip, spin, cool, enjoy. There really isn’t anything better.
AKA, My Trip to Malta
I just got back from Malta, where I experienced culture shock and reverse culture shock at the same time. But how is that possible, I hear you ask? Well…
For one, the island of Malta is a relatively recent British baby. By that, I mean, it only gained independence in 1964. As such, they drive on the wrong side of the road, and a lot of the Maltese speak British English. So that was weird. But the bigger culture shock was a result of the way Maltese treat women.
Or, I should say, stare at women.
Because I spent the better part of my weekend feeling slightly uncomfortable because of the stares I was getting in the streets. I wasn’t wearing anything particularly provocative. (This shouldn’t need to be a part of the consideration or a part of this post, but it is anyways…) There was only one point over the weekend where I felt truly nervous, when a guy literally started following me down the street. When you’re traveling alone as a young woman, you expect stuff like this, but it is still a bit scary. Especially when you travel the way I do and enjoy wandering down side streets and abandoned alleys. But I stayed alert, walked quickly, used my highly reflective sunglasses as a mirror of sorts to keep an eye on the guy, and struck up a conversation with the first people I passed so he had to move on.
In other ways, Maltese people are pretty nice. They are always willing to help if you’re asking for directions, or which bus you should be taking. But the constant staring was unnerving, and the first time all year I’ve really and truly felt like I was in a significantly different culture. (It takes a lot for me to feel out of place, because of my experiences in the completely different culture that is Japan’s.)
Reverse Culture Shock
I spent the weekend in Malta, where everyone speaks both Maltese (a strange hybrid of Arabic and Italian) and English. Let me tell you, the fact that everyone spoke English threw me off my game. I would walk up to someone to ask for help, and not know what to say. Or I would walk into a store and not know how to greet the clerks. Or sit down in a restaurant and be unsure if I should just order or also point.
In each of these situations, about two seconds later I realized I could just speak English like a normal person, but it was always a strange realization to have. I haven’t been in an English-first country for almost nine months. Technically, Malta isn’t an English-first country, but it is one of the official languages, and everyone I met spoke at least reasonable English. In fact, the two adorable old people I met were the only ones that didn’t speak perfect English. And so I realized that I went to Malta and experience pre-reverse culture shock.
Is this, I wonder, what going back to the States is going to be like? Am I going to get home and not be sure how to address people in the airport, or wonder how to tell the cab driver from the airport where to go? Am I going to think Dobry Den when I walk into a store before I think Hello? It is an interesting thought that I can’t do much about at this point, but it is also a slightly frightening thought that makes me just a bit nervous about going home.
Other Highlights from Malta
They really like this kind of window. I like them too! More significantly, though, all the buildings in Malta were made of giant bricks that reminded me a bit of the adobe bricks we made back in elementary school. Although I think they were actually limestone. Even though the buildings are all made of these bricks and often showing significant weathering, they all have pops of color – usually in the form of brightly painted doors or bay windows like these.
I liked this window too! Called the Azure Window, it can be found on the island of Gozo (the northernmost of the three islands that make up the small nation of Malta) and is gorgeous. As you can see from the photo above, the day that I went was beautiful, the sky was clear, and the hiking was fun (and easy!).
The Dingli Cliffs, on the South West side of the island, are beautiful. Just another drop-dead gorgeous natural feature on the island, the cliffs also seem to be really dangerous. If you look carefully at the center of the picture above, you can see an old white car that clearly went off the side of the cliff. This was one of about a half dozen cars I saw that had gone over the edge, probably with deadly consequences for the drivers.
I also went scuba diving, which was my first dive since I completed my PADI Open Water certification. I got certified in Monterey Bay, CA, where a good day in terms of visibility is 20 to 30 feet. In Malta (we left from the beach above) our visibility was more than 20 meters. I dove to about 15 meters for about 40 minutes. Not a particularly long or deep dive, but absolutely gorgeous. The name of the dive was Cirkewwa Arch, and it was awesome. I saw jellyfish, poisonous scorpion fish, and all sorts of really brightly colored fish weaving in and out of the grass. All told, best experience of the weekend.
So yeah, Malta is gorgeous.
In the last two weeks, I’ve gone to Cinque Terre and Malta. In both locations, I spent hours on the beach. I got tan, read books, listened to about a dozen podcasts, and generally enjoyed life. But I also saw these amazing animals washed up on the beach and floating in the water. A little googling and I have a new favorite aquatic acquaintance. Everyone, let me introduce you to Velella velella.
Common names include “by-the-wind-sailor” and “purple sail,” but mostly these guys are called simply “velella.” They are in the phylum Cnidaria, class Hydrozoa, and happen to be the only organism in the family Velella.
When I first saw them, I honestly thought they were baby mussels, washed ashore because they never found a rock to stick to. But in fact, these little guys spend their entire lives at the water-air interface, where their stiff sails let them be pushed around by the wind and their tentacles below the surface allow them to catch plankton for nutrients. Their sails also make for a pretty cool photo as a wave gets stuck washing over them…
Every so often, when the wind and water currents are just right (or wrong, I suppose), massive colonies of velella are washed up on shore, and this is what I saw over the past two weeks in Italy and Malta.
Velella is a particularly fascinating species, which I have discovered in the last hour reading about them. It is still debated whether each velella is just one organism, or a number of organisms connected to each other, although the scientific community is coming to a consensus that each velella is a single organism.
There are in fact two types of velella; the sails sometimes are oriented left-to-right, and sometimes right-to-left. Depending on the direction of the sail, the velella colonies will end up stranded on different sides of the ocean. Really, though, they’re just super cool.
I’ve got a really long list of places I want to go, but some of the smaller nations around Europe are high up on that list. I’ve been fascinated by these little countries since I first learned they existed back in sixth grade. Perhaps it has something to do with coming from a giant state in a giant country, but the idea of an entire country that you could feasibly walk across in a day, or even a few hours (depending on the country), really intrigues me.
I remember our trip to Italy, back in 2007 (?), when my mom and I took an afternoon to see the Vatican City. Literally an afternoon, because that’s all the time you need to see the teeny tiny country that is only 0.2 square miles. As I’ve been thinking about trips to take this semester, I’ve been thinking about Malta. How cool would that be, to take a trip to a beautiful island in the Mediterranean that is its own country? And just this morning, I took the Buzzfeed quiz: What European Country Do You Actually Belong In? (Side note: even I am not immune to these stupid things. For example, I have recently learned that my hidden talent is science, complete with a description of myself as “half perfectionist, half spaz.”) Apparently, I should be in Monaco, the second-smallest country in Europe and in the world. And I’ve often thought about taking a trip to Andorra. Not quite as small as the others, it would still make for an awesome trip – hiking, anyone? Or I could go hiking in and around San Marino, equally fascinating and also squished inside a giant neighbor.
I think my fascination with these micro-nations is that I have short vacations while I’m here. When you’ve only got a three-day weekend to go on vacation, you can’t pretend to see the entire country of Germany or France. Hell, you can’t even pretend to see their entire capital cities. But a tiny city-state, one which is smaller than the city I live in back in the bay, could be reasonably explored in a single weekend. My favorite thing to do while on vacation is just to wander. I love taking my keys and my camera and a little bit of money, tucking my map in my back pocket, and getting lost. Only when you put the map away and wander without a purpose that you can find the best adventures. You wander into truly residential areas, passing kids playing on the porch (Istanbul) and random but gorgeous doors (Krakow).
You can get coffee where the locals get coffee and you get to see a more “normal,” less “touristy” part of the city. The problem with this is that it is hard to both wander the city and see what you’re “supposed” to see. This happened to me in Berlin, when I spent every day wondering what I should do – what I “should” do, or what I wanted to do (wander).
I’ve got a list of potential destinations for the rest of this semester that stretches from here to Timbuktu. Not literally, since all my potential destinations are in Europe, but it could happen, right?
I want to visit Ostrava and Plzen.
Leaving the Czech Republic, I want to visit Vienna, Austria and Bratislava, Slovakia.
All of these are potentially day trips, or two day trips. Obviously, I can’t really get to know the culture of any of these cities in a day or two, but I really wanted to get to know Czech culture, hence I live in Prague.
And I want to go further! See more! Travel all around Europe and see as much of the continent as I possibly can!
I want to visit “traditional” European places I haven’t seen yet – Paris or Barcelona.
But I also want to see smaller, less obvious destinations, like a weekend to Florence with a day trip to Siena to visit a friend.
I want to see the glory of spring time in the Tunnel of Love in Ukraine and the Tulip Fields in Amsterdam.
I really want to go to Croatia, to Plitvice National Park, and spent a night outdoors.
I want to visit Andorra and Malta and Monaco and San Marino.
But there’s that pesky little thing called a calendar. And those frustrating things called classes. And all those realities that limit me. I’ve got slightly less than three months left (let’s not talk about that…). Three weekends for my class in Prague, one weekend already booked with a ski trip to Slovakia. That leaves me with six weekends that could potentially be used for travel, and my last weekend to stay for sure in the city.
This is where you come in. I’d be happy with literally any destination on this list, and any combination thereof. So I need you to help me out. I think I want to travel for four of the six weekends left, so you have four votes. No promises I follow your suggestions (for example, I will not go to Paris, Barcelona, AND Florence – I will probably only go to one. Similarly, I won’t travel to Amsterdam if it costs ten times as much as Croatia, nor visa versa.) But I do promise to take the final poll suggestions into account. You have three days; I’ll publish the results of the poll and start planning my trip(s) on Friday, but you’ll have to keep checking back to find out where I end up.
The results are in: By popular demand, my four trips should be Malta, Florence, Vienna, and Paris. No promises that those are the places I actually end up, but if you want to find out, you’ll have to come back, I suppose. I will admit, however, to three of these places being at the top of my personal list, so I think it is safe to say that these are probable destinations!
So much has happened in the last week, and I promise to write all about it shortly. But first, it is necessary to talk about the wonderful beautiful amazingness that is the snow falling and the beauty that is snow-covered Prague.
Long story short, on the bus after dropping Katy off at the airport for her flight back to Geneva, I was staring out the window when all of a sudden we turned the corner, and one of the many valleys that makes up the edges of Prague came into view. If there was ever a time I wished I had my camera, this was it.
The snow was still falling in light, fluffy flakes that drifted down slowly as the bus meandered past, but the sky in the distance had transformed from the monotonous grey of precipitation to the much more varied, though equally grey, of pre- and post- storm clouds. The sun was doing its damnedest to peek out from among the clouds (and failing miserably, I might add), but the light of mid-morning was nonetheless bouncing off the windows of churches with snow-covered roofs and struggling to cast eerily beautiful shadows of the snow-laden branches on the snow-dusted sidewalk.
Did I mention it snowed?
Everyone says snow in cities is disgusting – how it turns grey from the car exhaust and how it ruins your shoes and how if you’re not careful it causes you to land in an embarrassed heap of jacket and gloves at the bottom of a slippery hill or flight of stairs. But I think the snow is beautiful. How it turns the dreariest of mornings into something beautiful, and how it first covers everything in such a fine layer of white as to be almost unnoticeable, but before you know it there are piles of snow perfect for snowball fight forts and sledding.
Perhaps I’m a snow romantic, not unlike Lorelai Gilmore, and perhaps if I was in Boston this semester I wouldn’t have the same pro-snow opinions, but I’m loving the snow here. The way the flakes settle on my jacket as I walk across the street. The way they look as they fall under the streetlight outside my window. The way the snow on the ground gives everyone an excuse to stop on their way to work for a cup of coffee or hot chocolate.
Perhaps I’m a snow romantic, perhaps I’m not. Regardless, I’m looking forward to the next month or two of snow-covered Prague, and hopefully a few opportunities to get some gorgeous snowy pictures of the wonderful city I live in.