Quebec: Week One

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My mom, her friend Dawn, and I left Massachusetts around five o’clock Saturday evening. We arrived in Quebec around one or two o’clock Sunday morning and checked into the Travelodge. The decor of the lobby in the Quebec Travelodge has a very funky decor: bright colors, water running behind glass walls and neon lighting. There’s a restaurant called Cafe Jules Verne which was where we had breakfast before heading over to the University of Laval.

After checking into my dorm room at Laval and unpacked my things, we went and explored the campus. Our first stop was the Pavillion Desjardins, where there is a cafeteria and a convenience store where you can buy bus tickets. Next, we looked for the Pavillion Charles de Koninck, where I have classes. At Pavillion Charles de Koninck, we met a boy named Jordan, who is from Newfoundland. Jordan joined us for lunch at the cafeteria in Desjardins, then to a nearby supermarket called Supermarché Métro, where we bought groceries for the week.

Mom offered to bring Jordan along with us when we went into Old Town Quebec.  We walked down to the lower part of the city via a series of staircases. Quebec is more like a European city than anything we usually see in North America with its narrow, winding, cobblestone streets. One of the streets is canopied by a number of brightly colored umbrellas.

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Mom wanted to find a church called Notre Dame des Victoires which translates to “Our Lady of Victories”: the name of the parish church in her hometown of Sayreville, New Jersey. Unfortunately, the church was closed so we could not go inside. On our way back up, we stopped for drinks at the Pub des Borgias; I had a rum and coke.

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The day ended with window shopping at the stores near Chateau Frontenac Hotel. Across from the hotel is a street filled with booths for portrait artists. I’ve always wanted to have my portrait done, so I decided to come back when I had more time.

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I had classes until 11:30 on Monday morning. Then at one o’clock, I went on a tour of the campus and saw its very impressive athletic complex. At 3:30pm, there was an orientation meeting, then I was free.

I took the bus into Old Town Quebec, intending to return to Chateau Frontenac and have my portrait drawn. Following the directions given by my Google Maps app, I got off the bus at Parliament Hill and looked around for the Gare Fluviale stop, where I was supposed to get on another bus which would take me the rest of the way to Chateau Frontenac. But I could not find the Gare Fluviale, so I wound up on a magical mystery tour through Quebec as I looked for my destination. The Summer Festival was going on this week, so there were a lot of people downtown Monday evening. Some big name groups such as The Foo Fighters, The Chainsmokers, Machine Gun Kelly, Beck, Lorde, Cyndi Lauper, and the Dave Mathews Band were on the lineup.

I met up with Dawn and my mom in front of a restaurant called Bistro 1640. Today was the day I finally had my portrait done. I sat for one of the street artists, who captured my likeness in sepia colored pastels. The drawing was well done but, unfortunately, it looked like me.

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The three of us had dinner at Bistro 1640. The bread was served with pâté; I had never had pâté but it was delicious. For my main course, I had a chicken caesar salad which was served in a very unique way: on a piece of slate with whole heads of lettuce and chicken thighs. Dessert consisted of maple sugar creme brulée which was fantastic. Monday was Dawn and my mom’s last night in Quebec, so I said goodbye to them when the dropped me off at Laval.

My classes were over at noon on Tuesday and then I had to go to the registrar’s office to get my student I.D. I spent the rest of the day at the Musée de la Civilization. My trip there went fairly smoothly until the bus drove past the stop where I was supposed to get off. After the bus dropped me off, I used my phone to find another way to get where I wanted to go. I had originally intended to go to the Musée du Fort but when I looked it up, I found that it was closed, so I decided to go to the Musée de la Civilization, using my phone to help me find the way.

Musée de la Civilization has exhibits which chronicle the history of Quebec. This region is fascinating. Both European and North America, Anglophone and Francophone, and completely unique.

I saw artifacts belonging to the native peoples who lived here thousands of years before European settlers arrived, the belongings those settlers brought with them and imported from Europe when things became more civilized, and items which exemplify Quebec culture, ranging from the 17th century to the present. The territory of what is now Canada was first explored by Samuel de Champlain, who founded the city of Quebec, and immigrants from France settled the area. It was ruled by France until the Seven Years War when the British took it over. The province of Quebec has always stood out among the British Empire, being Francophone as opposed to Anglophone and Catholic as opposed to Protestant. The Catholic Church played a big role in the founding of Quebec and in the formation of its culture and the collection of the Musée de la Civilization has plenty of Catholic iconography and paraphernalia.

Laval University, where I am studying, is named after Monseigneur François de Laval who was the first bishop of Quebec and was made a saint.

I have always been obsessed with porcelain and period clothing and the museum’s collection is lousy with them.

The battery on my phone was running low at the time, so I missed many opportunities to take pictures of the pieces I liked. There is so much that trying to take it all in was a bit overwhelming.

There was a special exhibit called “Ici Londres” or “London’s Calling.” I downloaded an audio guide on my phone which was narrated by a personification of the city of London, who for some reason had a Quebecois accent.  Each section of the exhibit is meant to represent a different area of London which is also a fascinating place with a vibrant and fascinating art scene: a blend of tradition and the avant-garde, of capitalism and anarchy. “Ici Londres” is a celebration of the art, music, and fashion which put London on the map: from 1960s mods, the Beatles, and Mary Quant to 1970s punks, the Sex Pistols, and Vivienne Westwood, to 1980s new romantics and new wavers, David Bowie, and Body Map. I’ve always been an Anglophile and obsessed with music, fashion, and art, so I enjoyed this exhibit. The section of London I was most excited to see was Abbey Road which was dedicated to the Beatles, who made Abbey Road Studios famous.

I left the museum around 4:30 pm and took a taxi back to Laval and had an early night.

After our classes on Wednesday, we had a mandatory excursion to Vieux-Québec. We left campus at 1:30pm. Our first stop was at the Assemblé Nationale de Québec and the Fontaine de Tourny across the street from it.

We then walk through the old city fortifications and towards Chateau Frontenac.

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Behind Chateau Frontenac is a boardwalk which overlooks the St. Lawrence River.

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From there, we walked down the Escalier Frontenac to Le Petit Champlain, the lower part of the city, where Mom, Dawn, Jordan and I went on Sunday.

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We walked through Place Royale, where Notre Dame des Victoires is, and back up Rue de la Montagne, a hike which nearly killed me.

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Back on top, we looked inside the Cathedral-Basilica de Québec. The cathedral has a crypt, which contains the remains of St. François de Laval, but it was closed, so we were only able to look at the main part of the cathedral.

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Jasmine and her family arrived in Quebec on Wednesday and I had been excited to see her. She and I had planned to go out to dinner and then for a swim at her hotel. Later on, she texted me saying that we could not go for a swim because her parents did not want to go out again after swimming. When I got back from my tour of Vieux-Québec, Jasmine sent me another text to tell me that they were too tired from their trip to go out again. So I ordered a pizza and settled down to finish watching season two of Thirteen Reasons Why.

On Thursday, Jasmine and her parents picked me up around noon. I wanted to show her the Musée de la Civilization, so we went there. My reason for returning was to take pictures of items in the collection which I had neglected to photograph on Tuesday. One exhibit tells the history of Quebec in chronological order: I photographed some dresses and hats ranging from the Edwardian era to the 1950s.

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The other exhibit has items muddled together without any apparent rhyme and reason. It has everything from Victorian wedding dresses and 1940s salon chairs to stuffed buffalos and polar bear cubs.

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One thing I was surprised to see was a computer like those we had in my elementary school computer lab.

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I feel much too young to see something from my childhood in a museum. I was able to take photographs of The Belle Inconnue death mask and of the hippy, mod, and new romantic clothing I liked in “Ici Londres.”

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We left the museum around three o’clock because I had to be back at campus for one of the excursions I had booked: a trip to Cabane de Pierre, a maple farm a couple of hours away from Quebec.

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We were shown a Cabane à Sucre, a hut where maple syrup is made.

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Then we had a meal in the main building which included ham, eggs, sausages, pancakes and shepherd’s pie, all drizzled with maple syrup.

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A band played music from the traditional Québec music to a song from the film Titanic, to staples of middle school dances like “the Cotton-Eyed Joe,” “the Hokey-Pokey” and “the Macarena.” I did a little bit of dancing but it quickly tired me out. For dessert,, we had maple candy made from maple syrup poured in shaved iced and then wrapped around a popsicle stick, which was delicious. I read about this type of candy in the Little House on the Prairie books and I had always wanted to try it.

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We arrived back at Laval University around ten-thirty.

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Saturday was my second excursion, which was to Lévis, the city across the St. Lawrence from Quebec. We took a ferry across the river and when we disembarked, I went to an Aux Petits Oignons and bought a ham and cheese sandwich, a bag of chips, and a soda for lunch.

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The first stop on our tour was a former Anglican church, which is now a theater, in Vieux-Lévis. We walked up there via and “escalier” which are becoming the bane of my existence. Our next stop was the house of Alphonse Desjardins, who founded a chain of banks here in Quebec, then we went to a well-known ice-cream parlor and candy store called Chocolat Favoris; I had the dulce de leche which was delicious.

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The second part of our trip was to Fort Lévis. We were shown the artillery magazine and our guide demonstrated how to fire a canon. I was part of the demonstration: I used the brush that cleans out the canon before it is loaded.

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Finally, we went to the Chutes-de-la-Chaudière, a waterfall outside of Lévis. We walked across a suspension bridge to the other side of the falls. The Chutes-de-la-Chaudière are beautiful and I would recommend going to see them. I would also recommend going to a Chocolat Favoris but Lévis is nothing special.

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So far, my trip to Quebec has been tons of fun.

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Clarissa Book 3: Good Girl Gone Bad

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There is a misconception that good people make for uninteresting characters. To an extent this is true. No one likes the goodie two shoes who is always doing the right thing and it does not make for a good character arch. There is also a twin misconception that deeply flawed and immoral characters are more relatable and I also see how this could be true. We like to see ourselves, even our flaws, in fictional characters and for a character to be fully rounded, they need to grow and change. 

In theory, Clarissa Harlow, the heroine of Clarissa: or The History of a Young Lady by Samuel Richardson, would be a flat and uninteresting character. She is presented as a model of virtue who tries her hardest to stick to a moral code, even if one that’s based on ideas that seem outdated by modern standards: that women are supposed to be pure and virtuous and if they are not, then they have no value. I prefer to think of it as Clarissa having too much self-respect to let Lovelace take advantage of her. Clarissa is an example of a character whose good qualities are what get them into trouble. The virtues she is admired for (integrity and dutifulness) are what send her on her downward spiral.

Clarissa writes to her best friend Anna Howe why she believes she is in the mess she is in “Oh my dear! An obliging temper is a very dangerous temper!-by endeavouring to gratify others, it is evermore disobliging itself!”  She has spent most of her life as a dutiful and obedient daughter and sister which has convinced her unscrupulous family that she is a doormat who they can make do whatever they want. Her integrity keeps her from bowing to their wishes that she marry the odious Mr. Sommes, even though they make her life hell to try to get to break. She stubbornly refuses to bend where a weaker spirit would have broken. 

During book three of the novel, Clarissa goes from the ideal child to a warning for potentially disobedient daughters. Anna’s mother, who previously saw Clarissa as a good influence on her daughter, forbids their correspondence. Due to her refusal to marry Mr. Solmes and her elopement with Mr. Lovelace, who they hate, Clarissa’s family disowns her, leaving her completely in Lovelace’s power.

Book three of Clarissa ends with the heroine falling deeper into Lovelace’s trap. She and Lovelace decide to go to London, where he provides her with seemingly respectable lodgings which are revealed to a brothel frequented by his rakish cronies. Clarissa’s desire to keep her independence and integrity and to escape the persecution of her cruel family ironically leads to her being an unwitting prisoner in a brothel, where she will be powerless against Lovelace’s unwanted sexual advances.

 

A Review of The Mark of Athena and The House of Hades by Rick Riordan

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*** Warning: Spoilers *** 

The beginning of The Mark of Athena picks up right where The Son of Neptune ends. We are treated to the long-awaited Percabeth reunion when the Argo II lands in New Rome carrying Annabeth, Jason, Piper, Leo, and their satyr chaperone, Coach Hedge. But their happiness is not long lasting. When an accident reignites the conflict between Greeks and Romans, the seven (Percy, Annabeth, Jason, Piper, Frank, Hazel, and Leo) go off in search of the source of said conflict: the Athena Parthenos statue, which was stolen by the Romans thousands of years ago. They must also rescue Hazel’s half-brother Nico, who is being held captive by two showbiz obsessed giants. 

My alternate title for The Mark of Athena is “Percy Jackson: Civil War,” since one of its themes is the ongoing animosity between the Greeks and Romans. The actual American Civil War was part of the conflict between the Greek and Roman sides of the demigod worlds and the first battle between Camp Half-Blood and Camp Jupiter happens at Fort Sumner, the site of the first battle of the Civil War.

Another one of the book’s themes is romantic conflict since it sets up two love triangles. Jason and Piper and Frank and Hazel are all now dating. Reyna has always had feelings for Jason, who never reciprocated them, which makes Piper feel insecure about their relationship. Hazel meets Leo, who reminds her of Sammy, her boyfriend from her previous life in 1941 who happens to be Leo’s great-grandfather which makes Frank jealous and a bit hostile towards Leo. I read a spoiler for The Burning Maze, the latest in the “Trials of Apollo” series which is a spin-off of “Heroes of Olympus” which says that Piper and Jason eventually break up but they still might have feelings for each other though Jason dies saving her. Reading The Mark of Athena, I can definitely see their relationship not working out. Prior to the battle at Fort Sumner, Annabeth, Piper, and Hazel have tea with Aphrodite in Charleston, South Carolina. Piper notes that Aphrodite does not seem terribly interested in her, specifically her relationship with Jason. Aphrodite only pays attention to someone when she wants to manipulate their love life, Percabeth being her latest pet project, and her not being interested in a couple is a sign that they are not going to last. On a tangential note, I imagine Aphrodite being Mrs. George from Mean Girls.

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Aphrodite having tea with Annabeth, Piper, and Hazel

Jason and Piper encounter Hercules at the Straights of Gibraltar and learn the story of how he was murdered by his spurned wife Deianira. Like his father before him, Hercules cheated on his wives countless times and Piper is warned that sons of Zeus/Jupiter are not the best boyfriends/husbands. Piper is insecure in their relationship with Jason, who is not the most emotionally accessible person. 

On board the Argo II,  Annabeth and Percy meet up in the Pegasi stable, where they kiss and fall asleep together. In the morning, they are scolded by Coach Hedge who is very strict about boys and girls not being alone together.

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Coach Hedge on board the Argo II

This being a novel intended for middle schoolers, details that anything beyond kissing and cuddling happened between Percy and Annabeth are not given but I imagine that the hunters of Artemis are not going to be seeking out Annabeth anymore.

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How I imagine Aphrodite when Percabeth is in the Pegasi stables

The quest of the seven brings them to Rome. Percy and Annabeth encounter Tiberinus, the god of the Tiber River, and his consort Rhea Silvia, the mother of Romulus and Remus, in the forms of Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn from Roman Holiday. Annabeth finds the Athena Parthenos statue in the lair of Arachne, Athena’s mortal enemy.  Arachne was a talented weaver who claimed that her skills were greater than that of Athena herself and was punished for her hubris by being turned into the first spider, hence why Athena’s children suffer from arachnophobia.

A reason why I enjoy Rick Riordan’s storytelling is that the books are pretty much road trip stories with the characters traveling to a specific location and having mini adventures along the way. He takes the time to describe the places where the characters stop (ex. Los Vegas, The Hoover Dam, Quebec) and make the reader long to visit there. It is because of this that The Mark of Athena is one of my favorite of his books. The Mark of Athena has stops in Atlanta Georgia, Charleston South Carolina, the Straights of Gibraltar, and Rome which were the parts of the book that I enjoyed the most. I’ve always enjoyed traveling and it’s fun to journey vicariously with the seven.

The book ends on a literal cliffhanger with Arachne’s lair collapsing in on itself and Percy and Annabeth falling into Tartarus. Among the Heroes of Olympus fandom, this is considered the ultimate example of Rick Riordan having no chill whatsoever.

The beginning of “The House of Hades” finds Percy and Annabeth traveling through Tartarus guided by a titan janitor named Bob. Meanwhile, their friends on the Argo II search out House of Hades in Epirus, Greece, in order to close the Doors of Death and keep monsters from escaping Tartarus.

One of the most interesting developments in the series occurs during a detour at the seaside town of Split in Croatia. Jason and Nico visit Diocletian’s Palace and face off against Cupid, the god of love. Nico has long supposed to be jealous of Percy because of his relationship with Annabeth but Cupid reveals that it was the other way around. Cupid forces Nico to confess his feelings for Percy.  Being born some point in the 1930s, Nico grew up in fascist controlled and strictly Catholic Italy and being openly gay would have been unthinkable for him. On top of that, Nico’s feelings for Percy are complicated. He blames Percy for his sister Bianca’s death and yet has always had a hero crush on him. The episode with Cupid also gives some dark foreshadowing for Jason and Percy’s relationship. Cupids worlds about them finding true love with each other are said somewhat sarcastically.  

Another romance blooms later on in the book. Leo is sent to the island of Ogygia by the snow goddess Khione, who he had a crush on in The Lost Hero. Ogygia is the home of the nymph Calypso, who is imprisoned on the island and cursed to fall in unrequited love with whatever hero washes up on her shores. Calypso is bitter because she had hoped to be released from Ogygia after the gods promised amnesty following the Titan war and on top of that, they send a scrawny runt like Leo to her island. Leo is different from the strapping, dashing heroes who usually end up on Ogygia and leave Calypso broken hearted when they return to the women they really love (like Odysseus to Penelope, like Sir Francis Drake to Elizabeth I, and Percy Jackson to Annabeth Chase). Leo fears that he is stuck on Ogygia because Calypso will never love him. As the days pass, Leo and Calypso grow to care for each other and share a kiss before Leo departs. The flirtatious Leo admits that he was never kissed before and swears on the River Styx that he will return for Calypso.  

The book ends with the crew of the Argo II back together again with a two-week deadline to the Feast of Hope, the date chosen for Gaia’s return. Will our heroes be able to stop her and save the world?

 

A Review of Death on the Nile and Evil Under the Sun by Agatha Christie Books and Films

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There’s something strangely cozy about an old-school murder mystery. A prim and proper setting but with dark secrets hiding underneath the gentile facade.  A familiar formula but with enough twists and turns to keep things interesting. It is just the stuff for a cold and rainy evening spent curled up in a warm and comfortable spot with a cup of tea.

The work of Agatha Christie epitomizes the who-done-it genre. I discovered her work a few years ago during the year I took off from school because of illness. Netflix used to have the entire Poirot series, which is based on Christie’s Poirot novels. After watching the series, I read three of the books: Lord Edgware Dies, Death on the Nile, and Evil Under the Sun. I’ve always loved to travel and the mysteries I enjoyed the most were the ones where Hercule Poirot travels to some exotic and glamorous location such as Egypt in Death on the Nile and the Cornish Coast in Evil Under the Sun. The books perfectly capture the ritual of travel: staying in hotels, eating in restaurants, seeing new and exciting places, and the eccentric people you meet while traveling.

Death on the Nile starts with newlywed heiress Linnet Ridgeway going on her honeymoon in Egypt with her new husband, the handsome Simon Doyle. But there is trouble in paradise: the couple is being stalked by Jacqueline de Belfort, Linnet’s former best friend and Simon’s former fiancee. A cruise down the Nile gathers our cast of suspects together, which includes a sex-obsessed novelist, a kleptomaniac grande dame, and a jewel-thieving mama’s boy. When Linnet is found shot dead in her cabin, the murderer and their motive appear to be straightforward but not all is as it appears to be.

The thing about Christie’s novels is that you do not really care about the person who is murdered. Even if they do not necessarily deserve to die, their death is not a great loss to the world. Linnet is a spoiled brat who thinks nothing of stealing a man from a less fortunate friend. When she asks Poirot to convince Jacqueline to stay away from her and Simon, Poirot pretty much tells her to suck it up and deal with the consequences of her actions for once in her life.  Linnet is not an evil person (she is hinted to be feeling some regret for ruining Jacqueline’s life) but she has few if any redeeming features. The sentimental Cornelia Robson laments Linnet’s death because was “so beautiful” which is pretty much the only nice thing anyone can think of to say about Linnet. 

Agatha Christie is one of the writers who established the standard who-done-it formula: our cast of suspects gather in a specific place, someone is murdered, a detective goes around trying to find clues and piece together what happened, and the detective gathers all of the suspects together in a room then goes over what they figured out had actually happened and points out the murderer. This formula applies to Death on the Nile and Evil Under the Sun. 

The 2004 television adaptation of  “Death on the Nile,” which was part of Agatha Christie’s Poirot, starring David Suchet (who also narrated the audiobooks of Death on the Nile and Evil Under the Sun that I listened to) as the title character, was one of my favorite episodes of the series. It guest starred Emily Blunt as Linnet Ridgeway Doyle, J.J. Fields as Simon Doyle, and Frances de la Tour as Salome Otterbourne and follows the plot of the novel pretty closely. The scenery, sets, and costumes are beautiful and I would definitely recommend it.  

Evil Under the Sun follows Hercule Poirot to a seaside resort on the Cornish coast. Also staying at the resort is Arlena Stuart, an actress with a reputation for being a man-eater and a homewrecker. In toe are Kenneth Marshall, Arlena’s long-suffering husband, his daughter Linda, Patrick Redfern, Arlena’s latest boy toy, and Christine, Patrick’s mousy wife. When Arlena’s body is found strangled on the beach, Poirot finds that each of the resort’s guests has a motive for wanting her dead.

Evil Under the Sun is another case of Christie’s murder victims being less than sympathetic. Arlena is stupid and gullible and thinks of nothing but her appetites, specifically her appetite for men. Like Linnet, she is someone who has no compunction about stealing a man from another woman. No one is terribly sad about her death.

My friend Ashley and I recently watched the 1982 film adaptation of Evil Under the Sun, starring Peter Ustinov as Hercule Poirot and Diana Rigg as Arlena Stuart. It has several changes from the original novel. Instead of being set on the Cornish coast, it takes place on an island in the Adriatic. The characters of Mrs. Castle, the owner of the seaside resort, and Rosamund Darnley, Kenneth Marshall’s childhood friend, are combined into the character of Daphne Castle (played by Maggie Smith), who both owns the resort and is Kenneth Marshall’s old sweetheart. Miss Emily Brewster, a gruff and athletic spinster, is Mr. Rex Brewster (played by Roddy McDowell), a flamboyant writer, in this version. With an all-star cast, the acting in the film is fantastic. Because David Suchet was the Poirot I am most familiar with and who I think of when the character comes up, it is a bit disorienting watching Ustinov play the role, though he does a great job. The Adriatic scenery is gorgeous and makes me long to travel there. The one problem I have is the costumes which are 1930s via the 1980s and a whole lot of what-the-fuck: there are shoulder pads and garish prints and colors up the wazoo. One of Arlena’s beach outfits has a polka dot pattern which looks like the one on a package of Wonder Bread. The loud and obnoxious Mrs. Gardener wears an equally obnoxious outfit that appears to have been made out of a cheap plastic tablecloth. Despite this, the film is enjoyable and I would recommend it.

On Finally Getting to See “Hamilton”

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“I saw her just up Broadway a couple of blocks. She was going to see a play.”

Here ye, here ye! My name is Rachel Lesch and I present free thoughts on Hamilton: An American Musical.

Mom, Aunt Pat, and I took the 11:30am bus into New York City. The trip took about an hour because the traffic was insane, man. We had a quick lunch at Schnippers across the street for Port Authority before heading to Richard Rogers Theater. Because it is June, our Playbills were Pride Month themed.

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“What time is? Showtime!”

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“Alexander Hamilton,” the opening number, received a massive ovation, especially during the entrance of lead actor, Michael Luwoye. Daniel Breaker, who played Aaron Burr, has a hoity-toity snooty sounding voice which was different from Leslie Odom Jr. (the original Aaron Burr) who sang the part with a smooth menace. He did well but I thought he sounded a bit weak during “Dear Theodosia.”

When Peggy (Joanna A. Jones) is complaining during “Schuyler Sisters,” Eliza (Lexi Lawson) puts her hands on Peggy’s shoulders and is like “shut up Peg.”

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Angelica and Eliza during “Schuyler Sisters”

When Peggy (Joanna A. Jones who is double cast as Maria Reynolds) is complaining during “Schuyler Sisters,” Eliza (Lexi Lawson) puts her hands on Peggy’s shoulders and is like “shut up Peg.”  One of the students in the common dances around Eliza flirtatiously at one point during the song. George Washington (Bryan Terrell Clark) sang the lines “Can I be real a second?” and “Elegance and eloquence” a sarcastically during “Right Hand Man.” I thought that Clark’s voice did not quite fit the role of George Washington. It does not have the deep and commanding quality that I imagine the character having. 

There was an “eyes-meeting-across-the-ballroom” moment between Hamilton and Eliza during “Helpless.” Their kiss at the end of “Helpless” was long and steamy, so when John Laurens (Anthony Lee Medina: who is double cast as Philip Hamilton) says “Alright, Alright, that’s what I’m talking about” at the beginning of “Satisfied,” he interrupts their kiss with suggestive pelvic thrusts. The line “I romanticize what might have been” made me think maybe Angelica is looking back on her first meeting with Hamilton with rose-colored glasses. She is making more of her connection with him than there perhaps really was. One of Hamilton’s biggest historical inaccuracies is that Angelica is presented as still eligible whereas in real life she was already married by the time she met Hamilton. According to the show’s logic, if Hamilton preferred Angelica over her sister Eliza, he would have married her instead. Eliza is seen dancing with Burr when she first notices Hamilton at the ball.

During Hamilton’s narration at the beginning of “Stay Alive,” Eliza is seen reading a letter, so his words are meant to be a letter home. Read coat soldiers march in front of where Eliza is standing during “Stay Alive,” so it kind of looks like she is a British prisoner. I imagine that Eliza must have had to be careful since as the daughter of a general in Continental Army and the wife of George Washington’s right-hand man, she would have made a valuable hostage. Eliza and Angelica are frequently seen in the background during the war scenes, showing that Hamilton is thinking of the women he loves.

When King George III (Euan Morton) sings the line “I’m so blue” he stamps his foot petulantly and the spotlight changes from red to blue. When King George III (Euan Morton) sings the line “I’m so blue” he stamps his foot petulantly and the spotlight changes from red to blue. The use of color in the production design is the stuff of lengthy analytical essays. Hamilton’s arrival home from the war and reunion with the pregnant Eliza is lit in blue, Eliza’s signature color, which is calm and soothing. Eliza and Angelica, who wears a pale shade of rose pink, are warm and comforting forces in Hamilton’s life and their pastel shades reflect this. There is an interesting parallel between “Non-Stop” and “Take a Break.” Both songs end with Angelica and Eliza each holding one of Hamilton’s hands and him breaking away from them, first to go and be Secretary of the Treasury, then to stay home from a family vacation.

The dress that Eliza wears during “Non-Stop” and “Take a Break” is a pale turquoise: her blue mixed with Hamilton’s green. As his wife and the mother of their children, her identity is an extension of his. After his betrayal with Maria Reynolds, the sultry siren in the red dress, she goes back to wearing the pale blue she wore before their marriage. Red is a color associated with danger and is used as visual shorthand to say that Maria Reynolds is bad news. It also clashes with green, Hamilton’s signature color, showing that his relationship with Maria is wrong. Eliza, the saintly wife, is dressed in Virgin Mary blue while Maria, the mistress, is a literal scarlet woman. During “The Reynolds Pamphlet” Maria is seen reading the titular pamphlet, in which she is named and shamed, and walks off stage with her head hung in disgrace. Eliza, the homemaker, is pitied by the public while Maria, the homewrecker, is reviled as a whore. Maria Reynolds is a character I loathe and despise but at this point, I almost felt sorry for her.

Hamilton and Eliza are fully reconciled by the bittersweet “Best of Wives and Best of Women” during which Eliza wears a dark teal dressing gown: her blue and his green mixed with the black of the mourning clothes they wore after the death of their son Philip. The Hamiltons are a united front again though sadder what wiser after all they’ve been through. When she widowed, Eliza wears pale blue again, signaling that she is her own woman.

James Monroe Iglehart, who plays the Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson, made his entrance as Jefferson to thunderous applause. I saw him as the Genie in Aladdin and the Tony Award-winning actor is always a joy to watch but I think he did better as Jefferson than as Lafayette. His voice is better suited to Jefferson’s jazz than Lafayette’s rapid-fire hip-hop. The songs that got the biggest reaction were George Washington’s parting song “One Last Time” and Eliza’s break up song “Burn.”

Lexi Lawson sounded broken and tearful during “Burn” which was a different take on the song. Phillipa Soo (the original Eliza) sang it with a steely intensity, using her words as pins to burst Hamilton’s bubble. I have always seen “Burn” as Eliza’s “Letterbomb” from American Idiot, where the love interest is pretty much telling the protagonist “fuck you, I’m done with your shit.” You can imagine that Lawson is going to eat a ton of ice cream and cry which is understandable in her situation. 

The feels hit me like Aaron Burr’s bullet during the second act. I do not think that I have ever had as big of an emotional reaction. The song “It’s Quiet Uptown” is known as a big tear jerker but it never had as big of an effect on me. Hamilton and Eliza’s reconciliation is seen as a beautiful moment of forgiveness but I’ve always seen it as one of the countless instances of a wife being expected to “be the better person” and forgive her husband for his transgressions when he probably would have just kicked her to the curb if she had done the same thing. Upon actually seeing the show, I confess that the scene moved me. You see how completely heartbroken Hamilton is following Philip’s death and how he blames himself (not unjustly) for the chain of events that lead to this tragic events. Eliza is aloof and ignores her husband even as he pleads for forgiveness. When she finally allows him to hold her hand, he breaks down crying and it’s a powerful moment.

The last ten minutes of Hamilton are a masterpiece of suspense as events hurtle at breakneck speed towards the climactic Hamilton/Burr duel. It’s ending is superb with Eliza explaining how she spent her half-century of widowhood carrying on her beloved husband’s legacy. Hamilton ushers Eliza in the spotlight where she takes her last breath and is finally able to join him in the afterlife. I was close to tears as I walked out of the theater.

After the show, we had dinner at the Heartland Brewery in Port Authority before getting on our bus back to New Jersey. We then had ice cream at a place called Magnifico’s on our way home. The perfect end to a perfect day.

I have the honor to be you, obdient servant,

R. Lesch

A Review of The Black Moon and The Four Swans and Poldark Season Three

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I’m awaiting season four of Poldark but it doesn’t look like we’re not going to get it for a while. In between seasons, I like to read the novels in Winston Graham’s Poldark series that the previous season was based on. Season three was based on the books The Black Moon and The Four Swans.

Following Ross Poldark’s one night stand with his former sweetheart, Elizabeth, he tries to patch things up with his wife, Demelza, but stubborn refusal to admit to his failings and the torch he still inexplicably carries for Elizabeth, now remarried to his sworn enemy George Warleggan, prevent them from fulling reconciling. Ross would much rather go on a foolhardy expedition to rescue his friend Dwight Enys, who is imprisoned in Revolutionary France, and bring his cockfight with George Warleggan to the halls of Cornish power. The arrival of Demelza’s two brothers, Sam and Drake,  brings more trouble to the neighborhood. Free-spirited Drake falls for Elizabeth’s bashful cousin Morwenna, who is promised to a sleazy clergyman. Sam, a Methodist preacher, falls for the less than godly Emma Tregirls.

The titled The Black Moon refers to the natural phenomenon under which Valentine, the child that Elizabeth gives birth to eight months after marrying George and nine months after having sex with Ross, is born. Elizabeth’s baby daddy drama permeates these two books. It also is a bad omen for both Valentine and those around him.

Among those rescued from the French revolutionary prison is a handsome young naval lieutenant named Hugh Armitage, who proceeds to romance the long-suffering and long-neglected Demelza, which makes Ross jealous. When Demelza overhears that Ross and Elizabeth shared a kiss, she starts an affair with Hugh. Ross, being a hypocritical eighteenth-century man and an unselfaware blockhead, wonders who she could do this to him. This was the most controversial moment of season three. Some fans argued that Demelza should have been the “better person” and “two wrongs don’t make a right.” but I was glad that Demelza gave her husband a taste of his own medicine.

The Four Swans refers to the four main women in the series: Demelza (Ross’s long-suffering wife), Elizabeth (his lost love), Caroline (Dwight Enys’s wife), and Morwenna ( Drake’s lost love). Demelza struggles with her love for Ross but is seduced by the more romantic and emotionally attentive Hugh. Elizabeth tries to hide the true paternity of her son Valentine. Caroline stumbles in her marriage to the Dwight, who is suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Morwenna is who is married off to the repulsive Reverend Osborne Whitworth but continues to pine for Drake.

I enjoyed the books and can’t wait until Poldark season four.

A Review of Jane Austen at Home by Lucy Worsley

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One of my favorite people on the planet is the historian, author, and television presenter, Lucy Worsley. I discovered her through the documentaries she has made and I always get excited when I hear that a new one is coming out, especially when the latest one was a tie in film for her latest book Jane Austen at Home.  In her documentaries, Worsley has outed herself as a Jane Austen fangirl. Austen is the poster girl for the Regency era and her books are synonymous with the era. In Jane Austen at Home, Austen is presented as a woman both ahead of her time and of her time. The stories she wrote reflected both her own life and the time period she lived in.  

The biggest paradox of Jane Austen’s life is that this godmother of romance novelists famously died an old maid. We have an image of her handed down to us of a prim spinster but Worsley’s biography tells us that she had a number of opportunities to marry. If Jane had married, the demands of running a household and raising a family may have prevented her from writing. Worsley’s argument is that Jane, independent and introverted, likely never had a serious inclination towards marriage. She was happiest when she was left alone to write, which is something I can relate to.

Worsley infectious enthusiasm for her subjects, which is evident in her documentaries, extends towards her writing. I have a difficulty reading nonfiction prose, finding it dry and boring, but as well as being a terrific television presence is also a great writer. Jane Austen at Home is a must read for those interested in the Regency period and for Jane fans in general.

A Review of The Lost Hero and The Son of Neptune

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***WARNING: SPOILERS***

Rick Riordan begins Heroes of Olympus, the sequel/spin-off series to his bestselling Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, in a way which reminds me of the opening number of the musical Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812: with a sense of outside dread and the absence of the character who would typically be the hero “There’s a war going on somewhere out there, and Andrei isn’t here.”  One could easily replace Andrei Bolkonsky with Percy Jackson, who has been missing for several days prior to the beginning of  The Lost Hero. Back at home, a beautiful young girl waits for our hero to return: “Natasha (Annabeth) is young, she loves Andrei (Percy) with all her heart. While Andrei’s is away fighting in the Napoleonic Wars, Percy’s disappearance may have something to do with the reawakening of the primordial goddess Gaia, whose army of giants poses an even greater threat than Kronos and his Titans.

Into this this hot, mythological mess step three new half-bloods: wise-cracking and machine savvy Leo Valdez, son of Hephaestus,  rebellious and feisty Piper McLean, daughter of Aphrodite, and the mysterious Jason Grace, son of Jupiter, who must battle rogue wind spirits, cyclopses, and giants to rescue Piper’s father and the goddess, Hera, who have been captured by Gaia’s forces and discover how they fit into the Prophecy of the Seven:

“Seven half-bloods shall answer the call,

To storm or fire the world must fall,

An oath to keep with a final breath,

And foes bear arms to the Doors of Death.”

Among the new characters introduced in this book, Leo stands out as a favorite. He is described as a short, scrawny, elvin latino with a huge personality who uses his wisecracks as a way of hiding how he feels like a third wheel who never belongs anywhere. As someone who’s insecurity tells them that people find them annoying and grating, Leo was the most relatable character. Leo is a rare child of Hephaestus with fire powers: “Anatole (Leo) is hot”, which caused his mother’s death when he was little, leading to him being passed from foster home to foster home throughout his childhood. His fire powers make him potentially destructive since the last Hephaestus child born with them was the guy that started the great fire of London. Leo’s chapters are a lot of fun because of his jokes and his backstory and inner struggle make him the most sympathetic of the three main characters.

The character of Piper brings up a number of issues that I have with the book. I get the sense that at Camp-Half Blood, the Aphrodite Cabin is looked down upon. They are mostly concerned with matchmaking and makeovers rather than quests and monster fighting and are seen as shallow and frivolous at best and stuck-up and bitchy at worst. Piper is tomboyish, rejects the trappings of femininity and her movie star father’s wealth, and is the token girl in the questing trio. Therefore she is a rare “good” Aphrodite daughter: “Sonya (Piper) is good.” With Piper, who doesn’t care much about her appearance but is still stunningly beautiful (if only we all could be that lucky) and doesn’t fit the stereotype of a makeup and couture wearing, boy-crazy Aphrodite daughter, Riordan is trying to do the “you’re beautiful without makeup”/ “you don’t have to be what’s expected of you” moral that is common in YA fiction but it’s highly unlikely that he would write about a daughter of Ares who wants to do beauty pageants or a daughter of Hephaestus who wants to be a dancer since traditionally feminine things are silly and degrading while traditionally masculine things are important and empowering. In the book’s defense, the negative traits associated with the Aphrodite children are mostly concentrated in the form of Drew Tanaka, the hyper-girly alpha bitch who is Piper’s antagonistic head counselor and  rival for Jason’s affection (“Hélène (Drew) is a slut) while the other residents of the Aphrodite Cabin are friendly towards Piper. And in the last series we had Silena Beauregard, who was girly and romantic but also kind, selfless, and a good enough fighter to get mistaken for her friend Clarisse La Rue, daughter of Ares and one of Camp Half-Blood’s fiercest warriors. I don’t hate or even dislike Piper but her characterization suffers from being defined more by what she is not (not a typical Aphrodite daughter/ not a typical child of a movie star) rather than what she is.

One interesting thing about Piper is that she is of Cherokee descent and the reader gets to learn about a mythology other than the Greco-Roman one most would be familiar with and which is the basis for both  Percy Jackson and the Olympians and Heroes of Olympus.

Jason arrives at Camp Half-Blood with no memory of who is he is or where he came from: “and what about Pierre (Jason)?”. He is revealed to be the brother of Thalia Grace, whose mother mated with the king of the Gods in both his Greek (Zeus) and Roman (Jupiter) forms with Thalia and Jason being the result. Jason being sired by the Jupiter form explains why he knows the Gods by their Roman names and understands Latin rather than Greek. Of the three main characters, Jason is the least interesting but he and Leo serve as excellent foils to one another. Jason is handsome, strong, and very attractive to girls while Leo is short, scrawny, and has terrible luck with his crushes. People find Leo annoying and he fears that he is little more than the sidekick/comic relief in the story while Jason is a natural leader and the story’s designated hero. Being noble and heroic, Jason has few other flaws besides the typical stress and uncertainty which a designated hero goes through.

At the end of The Lost Hero, we learn of another camp near San Francisco called Camp Jupiter which is from Roman demigods and is where Jason came from. The Greeks and Romans have an East Coast-West Coast beef with each other going back centuries. Camp Jupiter is where an amnesiac Percy finds himself at the opening of The Son of Neptune.  There he befriends the awkward but noble Frank Zhang (pronounced Jong), son of Mars, and the sweet but troubled Hazel Levesque, daughter of Pluto. Because he is a greek, the leaders of Camp Half-Blood, the fierce and beautiful Reyna and the sniveling and manipulative Octavian, are suspicious of him but send him along with Frank and Hazel on a question to find Thanos, the god of death, in the “land beyond the gods” (Alaska) and battle Gaia’s army of giants.

The difference between Camp Half-Blood and Camp Jupiter is that Camp Half-Blood is more like a summer camp, albeit one where you train to fight monsters, whereas Camp Jupiter is more militaristic with a strict hierarchy and different cohorts. Camp Jupiter is part of New Rome, a beautiful city for Roman demigods where Percy dreams of living with Annabeth (the only name from his past that he remembers.)

Frank and Hazel have some of the most interesting backstories among the new characters. Hazel is a black girl from New Orleans who, like her half-brother Nico Di Angelo, grew up in the 1940s. She died when she was thirteen and was brought back to life due to the disappearance of Thanos. Frank is Chinese, from Canada, and is not only a son of Mars but a descendant of Neptune. They are much more compelling characters than Piper, I’m a rich girl with daddy issues, McLean and Jason, golden boy, grace.

Heroes of Olympus is getting off to a great start. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the books.