Saturday, April 28, 2007

"Happy BIRTH-day, dear Mommy..."

It's my Mom's birthday!

My mom is 59 today. She has one more year before she will stop riding for free as a Senior's Companion with my dad on VIA Rail. Then she also becomes, well, I'll save that for next year's blog post :)

In honour of your birthday, Mom, I give you your Celebrity Look-Alikes:

Yeah, I don't know who most of them are either. But all 9 of you are beautiful! And Liza Minelli - that's pretty cool!

Here's me:

Apparently MyHeritage disagrees with 99.99% of the population and does not think we look alike, or at least that the celebrities that look like us do not look alike.

Warning: I plan on pushing the "I resemble Scarlett Johanssen" line as much as I can from now on. Sweet! On the other hand, let us never mention the fact that I also apparently resemble one of the Olsen twins.

Friday, April 27, 2007

A perfect evening...

Having spent way too long composing the movie review post, I was absolutely starving. I threw a frozen pizza in the toaster oven, and opened the fridge to get a beer. Except I am out of beer. A few words nice young ladies are not supposed to know escape my lips. It's Friday night, it's late, I'm eating pizza, and there's no beer. I drank the last one last night, I guess.

Debating whether or not I wanted to run down to the local convenience store (which is less than a block away) to get some (I decided on "no"), I looked for more drinks in my fridge. And saw a small package of dee-licious looking sashimi that I'd bought yesterday and hadn't eaten. So I am eating it now and ohmygod it is so good, and it suddenly does not matter that there is no beer, because the sashimi is lovely and there's also pizza coming and Julie's mouth is now singing.

Movie review time

Perhaps in an attempt to forget that we cancelled our plans to go to Kyoto last weekend because of rain that never actually ended up materializing, Randal and I watched four movies last weekend, as well as another one last night. I'm no prolific movie reviewer (or movie watcher, for that matter), but thought I'd share my thoughts, scant as they are, on each one. And unlike certain bloggers, who like to make a sport of posting only reviews of movies they think are terrible,* I thought they were all quite good.

So without further ado, in the order of viewing, I give you:

The Corporation

I'd been wanting to see this for a while. Made in 2003, it is a Canadian-made documentary that traces the rise of the corporation from its origins as small, non-limited liability enterprises, to the large monoliths we know today. It was fascinating and depressing at the same time. I'd be curious to hear what a more business-y person thinks of it. The pacing and visuals are a little too snazzy and jarring at times, like a recent film school graduate wanting to show off a little bit, but overall the message is clear and well-presented. It really makes you think. And the guy from the Fraser Institute really makes you shudder. Well, made ME shudder at any rate.


One thing I miss about Ottawa (yes, it is possible) is going to see movies at the Bytowne. It plays rep and indy films, and lots and lots of documentaries. I remember when Murderball swung through in, I believe, the fall of 2005, Randal and I really wanted to see it but for some reason never made it. This oversight has now been corrected.

The documentary follows the lives of a number of members of the US paralympics team. "Murderball" is the original name for wheelchair rugby (which was apparently developed by Canadian quadriplegics). The US team members talk very openly about how their injuries happened, how they cope in life, what their sex lives are like, and how the game has helped/changed them. There is also a recently-injured young man, in rehab, whose struggles to adapt to life in a chair are shown. Finally, quite unlikeable and very disagreeable, there is the new coach of the Canadian team, himself a former American quad rugby champion.

This film was gripping from the very beginning. It pulls no punches, and is just fascinating. It's a real eye-opener into living life with a serious disability, without being preachy or sentimental. An excellent, excellent film.

Dawn of the Dead

Ahh, no movie marathon would be complete without at least one zombie movie. Now let me clarify: This was the recent 2004 remake, not the 1978 original which, so Randal tells me, is pretty terrible. However, it was also apparently pretty much the first movie of the zombie genre. So when dead people start not staying dead, and go around biting and killing other non-dead people, no one turns around and says, "Zombies! Easy! Shoot them in the head!"** It takes a while for them to figure that out.

This is such an enjoyable movie. There are a number of plot holes and weak points, but overall, it was just a real good watch. Sarah Polley (yes, that Sarah Polley) does a fine turn as Anna, the nurse who witnesses firsthand the horror when her neighbour's child takes a chunk out of her husband's aorta, and then he in turn refuses to remain dead and tries to have Anna for lunch as well. No longer will death us part, I guess.

For those of you who run in the other direction when a scary movie comes along, it's worth giving this one a chance. It's actually not scary. There are a few points where your heart may leap into your throat momentarily, but mostly it is a story of survival...against the most definitely undead. Despite its grim premise, the film does a good job of striking a fairly lighthearted tone much of the time (though not as happy-go-lucky as, say, Shaun of the Dead, also from 2004, which is fun to watch, though it bogs down about 2/3 of the way through).

Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room

More corporate exposure. I'm not hugely familiar with all the twists and turns and ins and outs of the Enron story (and I'm still not, even after having watched this documentary), but I'm sure we have all heard of Enron, and the basic outline of its long-lasting meteoric rise on Wall Street, and its spectacular crash-and-burn in December 2001.

I'm biased. I miss being able to regularly see programs like this. I love The Passionate Eye on CBC, and PBS documentaries.

Even if you're not overly interested in the Enron story itself, the sheer magnitude of the greed and misdemeanour involved will astound you. It was truly staggering, in particular, to learn that "Enron", the scandal, did not in any way stop with the guys at the top, whose names we heard daily while the investigation and subsequent criminal trials were ongoing (Ken Lay, Jeff Skilling, Andy Fastow), but that quite a number of the traders on the floor were also heavily involved in this culture of greed. It won't depress you like The Corporation, but it might make you just a wee bit ticked off that this sort of thing could even happen, and will probably happen again someday.

Pan's Labyrinth

Last, but certainly not least, is Pan's Labyrinth. This is a Spanish-Mexican co-production. Set in 1944, in fascist Spain, a young 9-year-old girl with a passion for fairy tales goes with her pregnant mother to live with her new stepfather who is a proud (and ruthless) captain in the Spanish army.

Don't rush out and rent it for the li'l kiddies. While it is a fairy-tale, it's more a fairy-tale for adults. You take what you want from it. Randal and I were left with a sense of unease at the amount of parallels too easily drawn to today's time - where obedience without question is often asked of citizens, and torture too often seen as a valid means to an end. What I liked the most about the movie is how it is unclear whether this is an imaginary world created by the girl in order that she may deal with the reality of her life, or whether this actually is part of the world, but an aspect that we as adults no longer recognize. It's not a perfect story: some of the characters are written fairly black-and-white, but others are shaded just enough that we're not quite sure whether to sympathize or scorn. The movie requires a bit of a leap of faith and suspension of disbelief in order to lose yourself in it, but it's certainly worth it.

* That being said, I cannot agree enough with his assessment of The Illusionist. I read his review before watching the movie. Yet I forgot about this, and watched it anyway. Well, that is to say, I watched it for about an hour, and then complained so bitterly about its awfulness that Randal in fact turned it off and refuses to this day to let me watch the rest of it (he'd already seen it and thought it was okay). Anyway, don't even get me started. I don't even like thinking about it. Watch The Prestige instead. Though the only thing the two films have in common is that they're about magicians, it is quite masterful, in my humble opinion, in every way that the other one was not.

** Like I did one day, a year or two ago, at my parents' place, while watching Randal play a videogame (I think it was "TimeSplitters") on the PS2, when suddenly these zombie-like characters started attacking him and he was having trouble felling them even with a massive sub-machine gun. Once he started shooting them in the noggin, they fell down like there was no tomorrow...and for them, this time, there finally wasn't. In fact, I'm sure this is the only reason why we are still together today - Randal knows that someday, if zombies start roaming the earth, I might just come in handy. So remember: Zombies. Head. Shoot. Good.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Post for Stuart.

*sigh* OK, here goes.

On Facebook, the new evil in my life, Stuart named me as one of the people he wanted to do this quiz. Since I am a sucker, I did.*

Three Names You Go By:
1. Julie (shocking!)
2. Jules
3. Oozle. But if anyone other than my brothers try to call me that, I'll have to send my goons over to beat you up.

Three Parts of Your Heritage:
1. French
2. Canadian
3. uh, French-Canadian? Really, there is no third part! Throw me a frickin' bone here!

Three Things That Scare You:
1. Birds. Holy f**k.
2. Heights. (sometimes)
3. Cataloguing. (LOL - couldn't resist.)

Three of Your Everyday Essentials:
1. Eating something chocolate.
2. Spending time with my dog...which is currently sorely lacking from my life.
3. Facebooking, apparently.

Three Things You Are Wearing Right Now: This is easy!!!
1. Pink fleecy PJ top.
2. Red and white plaid fleecy PJ pants.
3. Blue slippers with white snowflakes on 'em. It's getting late here!

Three of Your Favourite Songs Right Now:
1. Staralfur by Sigur Ros (will always be #1, I think)
2. anything from the Katamari Damacy videogame soundtrack - too perfect to not listen to while walking through Japanese life!
3. ummm, 3 songs? I've listened to the same songs for the past 5 years... OK, "Front 2 Back" by Playgroup off the "Blue Crush" soundtrack. (I'm so embarassed...)

Three Things You Want in a Relationship (other than Love):
1. Honesty
2. Humour
3. Curiosity about the world

Two Truths and a Lie (in any order):
1. I have a weakness for redheads. (Hi, Stuart!)
2. I am a real redhead. (Ask Randal!)
3. My first boyfriend was a redhead. (Have to stick to the theme.)
[answers at the end]

Three PHYSICAL Things About the Opposite Sex that Appeal to You:
1. Hands. (sooooo important that he has good hands)
2. Drownable eyes.
3. Height. (Tall is good.)

Three of Your Favourite Hobbies:
1. Reading a good book.
2. Pretending I can make paper crafts.
3. Sleeping. (My students always put this as one of their hobbies, and I'm jealous - I never get enough sleep.)

Three Things You Want to Do Really Badly Right Now (But Can't):
Other than the obvious ("see my dog"):
1. Eat a Toronto Roll. Holy, do I ever.
2. Watch a hockey playoff game. Especially since (or despite the fact that? I'm not sure) it won't be the Maple Leafs.
3. Retire on the proceeds of the book I'm never going to write.

Three Places You Want To Go: Only three???
1. Vietnam
2. Prague, Czech Republic
3. France

Three Things You Want to Do Before You Die:
1. Travel as much as I can.
2. Read books till my brains fall out.
3. See the northern lights. (I never have! What a bad Canadian I am.)

Three Ways That You Are Stereotypically a Girl/Guy:
1. I was a NKOTB fan. It was a long time ago, and I was young and foolish!!!
2. While I am no Imelda, I am often chastised for not owning any "sensible" shoes. (I own three pairs of sneakers - what a lie!)
3. I believe that videogaming is a perfectly honourable way to pass one's time ... wait a minute. Which of the two gender stereotypes am I trying to prove again?

Three People I Would Like to See Take This Quiz:
On Facebook: Keith, Marie-Lyne, and Brandon.
On Their Blogs: Rebecca and Mark, who can both also Facebook it if they so choose, and Randal, who currently refuses to join Facebook, and I am having no luck in the art of persuasion on that point.

Oh yes. The answers to the 2 Truths and a Lie. I do indeed have a weakness for redheads. I swoon at the sight of them. Archie was my god, growing up. And Rick Astley, oh my. This is largely why I wish so much that I were a redhead. But as Randal and my hairdresser can both tell you (though their information may come from, uh, different sources), I am not. Miss Clairol is my best friend. And Brandon now *has* to carry on this meme, since I was kind enough to mention him as a true redhead (which he is) and as my first boyfriend (which he was). So. The truth is ugly, but well, it's out there.

* If nothing else, perhaps this will stop the incessant Facebook poking. At least for a little while.

A festival from afar

A few weeks back - April 7th, to be exact - I was sitting in my apartment on a mild but slightly grey and slightly rainy day, nursing my yucky non-Hokkaido cold and feeling really sorry for myself, when I suddenly became aware of a ruckus going on outside. I went out on my balcony and saw the beginnings of merriment at the shrine and neighbouring playground on the street behind my building.

Eh, what's up, Doc?

A festival! For the whole morning, I caught snatches of music but not much was going on yet (at least that I could see). I debated going out to investigate, but my misery knew no bounds, so I contented myself with spying from the balcony. (aka, I could stay in my PJs that way.)

Early afternoon, chaos was unleashed. Well, OK, Japanese-style chaos, which is orderly and tidy and subdued.


You can't really see it here (I did the best with my optical zoom), but here the guys on the platform (VIPs of various types) are throwing motchi (sweet(ish) rice cakes with anko bean paste up the middle - actually quite tasty) to the people below. I've been at festivals before where they threw motchi, but never for this long. It went on for almost 15 minutes!

Then, just as my camera batteries started to die, the portable shrines, or mikoshi came out. Panic ensued, but I found replacement batteries, as you can see:

March of the Mikoshi

And they headed straight down the main street past my apartment! Cool. I'm sick, miserable, and unhappy, and thankfully don't have to leave the comfort of my own home to indulge in some Japanese culture, for once.

Down the main street!

Paper lantern shrine

Giant taiko drum?

I believe hiding under that plastic (it was drizzling at this point) was a giant taiko drum.

How to carry a mikoshi

Here's a snippet I took of the procession, including the proper way to transport a mikoshi:

The people at the old folks' home across the street from me couldn't contain their excitement at the merry-making.

Passing the old folks' home

You can see a little old lady in a purpley-grey shirt leaning forward toward the passers-by, with a guy in a white shirt right near her - he was making sure she didn't hurt herself - she was so excited, dancing and clapping and waving like mad at everyone. Later I could see the hospital staff talking about her (as they were bringing in the chairs and stuff).

And then - so soon - it was over.

Bye bye, festival

I went back to my normal life. However, about an hour later, I heard the telltale music once again! I rushed out to the front door, and sure enough, the worshippers were on their way back to Tsushima Shrine, the mikoshi's tour of the neighbourhood completed.

But hark! - what's that sound?

More mayhem

More Tottoro

The end.

And then it was, this time, actually all over. I went back to being Poor Little Sick Julie For Whom Nothing Interesting Ever Happens In Japan (Until Something Does).

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Just for Elliott

You can stop complaining now. By the time you get back from Golden Week* travels, they should be just about perfect! (I'll refrain from mentioning that the sakura are already merely a fond memory here.)

* For those not in the Japanese know, "Golden Week" is the period April 29 - May 5, when there are 4 national holidays in one week. April 29 is Showa Day (former birthday of Emperor Showa, who died in 1989), May 3 is Constitution Day (commemorating the new post-war constitution of 1947), May 4 is Greenery Day (dedicated to the environment - Emp. Showa was a big environment fan, apparently), and May 5 is Children's Day (one of two - this one is for boys - the one for girls is March 3). Many Japanese travel during this week, and prices to go anywhere skyrocket. Randal and I are headed to Kyushu, where we'll meet up for part of the week with Elliott, who is also headed there, and our mutual friend Erin-of-Nagasaki.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Finally, photographic genius

Though my propensity to post a thousand-and-one photos on Flickr might suggest to some that I think otherwise, I know full well that I am not a particularly adept photographer. The vast majority of them, while nice, fall far short of breathtaking.

While going through photos from recent trips (there have been quite a few, and yes, I know I'm horribly behind on updating about them), however, I took a double-take at this one. On April 8, we went to nearby Inuyama ("Dog Mountain"), a castle town, which was having a festival. The cherry blossoms were also at their loveliest. But at one point, I turned my back on the sakura, and snapped a picture of some people sitting on the riverbank in the mid-spring sunshine.

Inuyama Riverside

I won't quit my day job just yet (though I sure want to some days), but I want to take more pictures like this one.

The rest of my photos (from South Korea, Inuyama, and Takayama, amongst others), though not as perfect as this one, will hopefully follow in the next little while. That loosely-worded promise complicated by the fact that we are going to Kyushu, the southern island of "mainland" Japan (ie., not Okinawa) in just about a week. Which means more delays, and - horrors - more photos. I'm never going to catch up.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Dragged from my deathbed* to give you this update

I see from the webcam, that Ottawa seems to be under a bit of snow yet again.**

A propos of nothing entirely, this afternoon when I got home from school, it was so nice out that I opened the balcony door for a bit of fresh air, and, uh, I'm considering sleeping with it open, as the air is just deliciously lovely and fresh and just the wee bit crisp. It is mid-April, after all. We're well into spring.

And tomorrow evening we are headed to the Takayama festival for the weekend. (I forgot to start a countdown clock.) Takayama is two hours north of here by train. Looking forward to it, as we missed their October festival. Except I think it's supposed to rain. Anyway, this means that proper blogging (can't blog, must travel) is yet further delayed ... I know you've all given up hope on me ever properly maintaining and updating this site. In a nutshell, in addition to Hokkaido (which I flickered about, and that's almost the same thing), we went to South Korea mid-March, and Inuyama (a castle town near here which was having a festival) on Sunday. Food was eaten. Sakura (cherry blossoms) were viewed. Portable shrines were followed. A good time was had by all (despite my near-death state at the time).

* I am just finally getting over being sick now. I've also been bitten by the horrid can't-stop-playing-Rollercoaster-Tycoon bug. Very hard to shake.

** Of course, the world is a terrible place, and she who laughs first, or last, or loudest, or the longest, or something like that, is also she who cries. For it's just entirely too possible that this time next year, I myself will be mired in snow along with the rest of the Ottawa suckers.***

*** By which I mean Harper and his gang. Why? Who else could I have meant? And, ugh, even the mere mention of his name makes me shudder. Visceral reaction.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

I went to Hokkaido, and all I got was this lousy cold.

In Hokkaido's defence, however, I think I actually got the cold from Randal, and he was sick prior to our leaving for Hokkaido, thus making the cold in fact a Gifu Cold. At any rate, my head and throat hurts from coughing all day. Poor me. Pity me. PITY ME.

I stayed home today, and spent the first part of the day sleeping (till 12:45 - how nice!) then the second part of the day aimlessly on the web (chatting online with my brother and my mother, emailing Randal, etc.). Coughing and generally being miserable too. Only this evening did I turn my attention to the dearth of photos from Hokkaido on my flickr site. Well, dearth there is no more. Though I noticed that it is perhaps arguable whether I was actually in Hokkaido at all, since I have not yet had a chance to raid Randal's photos and thus there is a distinct lack of photographic proof of my presence in that fair land.

At any rate, if the absence of my beautiful smiling mug has not turned you off altogether, you are most welcome to view my set here.

In the meantime, I must go off and find a small, dark corner somewhere where I can die in peace.