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Wednesday, February 22, 2017

PEARL'S ASHES: Chapter 8 African Safari

Pearl's Ashes #12 occurred on the third and fourth of November 2010.  She always wanted to go on a safari, but I never got around to honoring her wishes, until she passed away.  

There were, actually, five different ceremonies throughout Kenya, with the first being at the Fairmont Mount Kenya Safari Club, founded by William Holden, where in the past Ava Gardner downed gimlets to forget her failed marriage to Frank Sinatra, or where Ernest Hemingway told tall tales.  The equator crosses the hotel property, and this was an obvious site for one of the ceremonies.

We then went on to the Fairmont Mara Safari Club, at the time the third best hotel in the world...and it was a collection of luxury tents.  Armed guards escorted us to our room at night, for the grounds were open to wildlife, and there had been incidents.

The most exciting part of the safari was a small hike to view the white rhinoceros.  They look just like black rhinos, and both are of the same brown color.  The difference has to do with the shape of their mouth.  The danger was that if they attacked, the jeep was a hundred yards away, and there were no trees.  I thought this was an ideal spot to drop Pearl's Ashes, having something to do with bravery.

Next, I quote from my diary:

Today, we were awakened at 4:30AM for a hot air balloon ride.  My knowledge of these contraptions is to hop into a small basket, not unlike in Around the world in 80 Days.  Not so! Our rectangular basket with four compartments (each capable of holding up to three) began horizontal, we had to crawl in and hang on for the balloon to inflate, springing us vertical, then, with a discombobulative whoosing sound (the butane burner was deafening) and concern, we suddenly are off the ground exactly at sunrise.  Up we go, but not fast enough, as our basket crashes into the top of a tree, but we do barely clear the area.  After that, if you blocked out the sporadic noise, the ride was serene and spectacular.

Over tens of thousands of wildebeest, I tossed a capsule.

After we landed, I noticed growing close-by, those sunbursts Pearl cultivated.  This is the flower with Pearl on the back cover of SIMPLE SOLUTIONS Essays, the compilation of my Huffington Post articles I dedicated to her.  It was a spot decision to lay a capsule at the base of one of these flowers.

Animals abounded:  parades of elephants and prides of lions.  Just like those rhinos, the lead elephant can be dangerous.  The hippopotamus, however, is the most lethal animal in Africa.

And, of my, what a life it is for the head lion.  I just can't repeat it here, but click on THIS to read about survival in the jungle.  There is very little sympathetic in nature.  

There was something about sunset and twilight that evoked a calmness and sentimentality in her.  Here, at Masai Mara I dropped off the final ash capsule for the continent of Africa.


Next week Pearl's Ashes on Kauai.  However, the rest of this round the world trip was extraordinary.  Why I did not drop off her ashes is only because I was then focused on specific sites.  To summarize:
  • Nairobi's Jomo Kenyatta International Airport is about as terrible as an airport can be.  I was glad to be out of Africa.  To quote:
I have widely travelled most of my life, so much so that I enjoy most staying at home, where I have total control over my life, don’t have to wonder about the history of the pillow I am using and am not regularly shocked.  For example, today, I get dropped off at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, not the most comfortable place to be.  The Qatar Airways counter is still closed.  After a wait, I check in my two normal suitcases and am told my baggage is overweight.  No problem, as what is $25.  But, aha, I am 15 (33 pounds) kilograms over and need to go to another office to pay the bill.  This seems unusual to me, but I do, and am told the charge is $353.  Great!  What can you do?  I pay the exorbitant penalty and now worry about my Qatar Airways flight from Doha to Oslo, which is almost three times the distance, a factor in the fine.  $1000? 

  • United allows me three 72 pound bags, but non-Star Alliance companies can do whatever they want, especially in Nairobi.  But I arrive in Doha, Qatar:
I was led to a Ritz-Carlton Mercedes limousine, and although it was night, the sparkle (as opposed to Nairobi) of everything, awe-inspiring architecture and swarms of construction cranes were impressive.  The Ritz-Carlton itself is fabulous, the internet is as fast as South Korea and all this will be covered by the Qatar Foundation.  I made a quick internet check and a room costs $500/night.  The Four Seasons is a few dollars less, W Hotel for $300 and Sheraton $275.  The St. Regis opens next year.
Their business class lounge is the largest I’ve ever seen anywhere.  There are two buffet restaurants, plus a bakery with service.  The coffee bar has attendants to make whatever fancy drinks you want.  They serve Laurent Perrier 2000 champagne.  Mind you, we are still in Qatar, and it is not yet 6 AM.  There is a large glassed-in smoking area with no smoke because the venting must be good.  Shower facilities.  Everything looks new and sparkling.  And this whole airport will be replaced with a more luxurious one next year.
  • My next stop was Oslo, and here is where I experienced my first high tech arrival and departure.  Remember, this was 2010.  I also had my best dinner on this trip.  Here halibut with a Barolo, and the chef serving me, Patrick O'Toole...of Minnesota.
  • Next Rome, where I had my Roman Holiday walk and enjoyed my best lunch ever.  Since then, Quadri in Venice gained #1 status.  But La Terrazzo del-Eden, all of 120 years old, is certainly #2.  Located next to the Spanish Steps, their White Truffles Risotto was spectacular.
  • This was one of those trips where I stayed with friends.  Back to the USA, into DC, I spent a couple of nights with the Patils, colleagues from the University of Hawaii.  Whenever I get into the District, I have my regular gatherings with Gloria/Joe and Judy/Cliff, as we will again when get there in April on my next world journey.
  • On to Austin, where I spent some time with Maria and John (who is taking this photo above).  They went straight from college into the Peace Corps to the Philippines, where they adopted two babies, now grown up.  While at Stanford, John (on the right to the right), who lived in Hollywood (and lived a Hollywood life) picked me up in Oxnard on the way back to the campus, and back during holidays.  Pat, Jim and John at our graduation.  Jim was my freshman roommate, who I joined with his friends in Kona last month.
  • Spent Thanksgiving in Las Vegas with my brother, Dan, and his family.  We also went to L&L BBQ.
You would think I should also have dropped Pearl's ashes in the Middle East, Scandinavia, the Netherlands, DC, Austin and Las Vegas, for many of these locations were memorable to her.  Maybe I'll plan a future Around the World to cover many of these sites.

The Dow Jones Industrials rose 32 points to 20.755, setting its all-time high for the ninth straight session.

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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

THE CHINESE ARE COMING...

...The Chinese are coming...and American movie-goers apparently don't care.

But before I continue, for those who read my blog yesterday about John Wick Chapter 2, and have not yet seen the original, it plays TONIGHT on your SyFy channel at 8PM in Hawaii (Oceanic) and, I think, 10PM in the continental USA.  Check yourself for details.

I just saw two more films, both with a Chinese connection:

                               ROTTEN TOMATOES
                                Reviewers  Audiences

Skiptrace                      33             27

The Great Wall             35             55

Low scores, but this weekend #2 in box office revenues was Fifty Shades Darker, and reviewers gave it a 9 rating.  Haven't seen anything that low in a long time.  #1 was The Lego Batman Movie, which got a 91 rating from Rotten Tomatoes, and earned $33 million, but I refuse to go to any lego productions.  The Great Wall came in third, gaining only $18 million.  John Wick 2?  #4 at $16 million.

But I wasn't all that interested in how good these Chinese-influenced films were.  Their productions are still heavily influenced by the ruling leadership.  Can you imagine how our movies would turn out if Donald Trump and the U.S. Congress determined what could be shown?  China is worse.  Some day, redeeming social virtue and stories protective of the current hierarchy will be relaxed, and these Chinese films will really become meaningful.  Today, call it Stage One.

Of all the recent releases, from Star Wars to Jurassic World to Frozen, foreign box office revenues exceeded domestic earnings.  American Sniper was the only exception.  The American movie industry is in a funk.  2002 was the year most tickets were sold, 1.6 million, versus 1.3 million last year.  China is already making a difference and growing:
  • Since 2011, box office revenues have been flat in the USA, but growing 35% annually in China.
  • China his building 26 screens/day to meet the burgeoning demand.
  • In 2012 opened up the market to foreign films allowing 34 non-Chinese films into the country.
  • However, films like Mission Impossible III and Skyfall were edited to minimize any Chinese insults.
Regarding The Great Wall, China revenues just for this past weekend was $170 million.  That is almost ten times more than domestically (U.S.).

Thus Skiptrace and The Great Wall are at the cutting edge of this transition.  Skiptrace is a 2016 Hong Kong-Chinese-American action comedy featuring Jackie Chan, Johnny Knoxville and China's favorite actress / fashion icon, Fan BingBing (left).  but she will be 36 this year.  It is already available free on Netflix.  John Wick, which came out in 2014, is still priced at $3.

Skiptrace is kind of messy, with too much Kung Fu and a bunch of twists, but some, maybe, too much so.  Fan's roll was secondary.  Just another Jackie Chan film.

The Great Wall is not what you would expect, especially when you see Matt Damon heading the cast.  This is a Chinese-U.S. co-production, and the only other name you will recognize is Willem Dafoe.  Jing Tian (right) plays the pretty face...as a general.  The whole movie is a bit preposterous:
  • However, the Great Wall looks fabulous.  The Wall is 5500 miles long.  Imagine the Roman Colosseum, built around 2000 years ago, extending from Rome to Beijing, a distance of only a little more than 5000 miles, and you can appreciate the enormity of this effort.
  • The Wall itself began construction half a millennium before Jesus and was completed maybe 500 years ago.  Thus, there is a hint that the wall was built not to stymie the Manchus, but because of these aliens.  There is a bit of confusing dialogue as to why the bones of these outer space creatures just disappear, so we don't see them today.  As I said, everything is explained to the point of ridiculousness.
  • Aliens are the enemy.  They came when a green meteor crashed into the Middle Kingdom two thousand years ago.  They have been becoming smarter, and attack the wall every 60 years, and in their most recent attack (you got to wonder why they never developed any weapons), had evolved to the point where this was a diversionary tactic to dig a hole under the Wall to reach Beijing.
Matt Damon plays a European mercenary trying to steal the secret of gunpowder.  While torturously crossing the landscape into China and losing all but one mate, he almost unknowingly picks up a simple solution that becomes the antidote for the demise of the aliens.  Not giving much away here, but he turns good guy by choosing to save his comrade, rather than being given permission to leave with this secret.

Yesterday I wished Donald Trump Happy Presidents' Day.  Today, I congratulate him for spurring the stock market, as the Dow Jones Industrial Average reached yet another all-time high, up 113 to 20,738.

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Monday, February 20, 2017

ANNIE HALL and JOHN WICK 2

Happy Presidents' Day, President Donald Trump.

We're less than a week away (Sunday, February 26) from the Academy Awards, so I thought I'd lead up to that evening with two recent films:  Annie Hall and John Wick Chapter 2.  Wick will not be nominated for the Oscar next year, but Annie Hall was the last comedy production to win Best Picture, forty years ago in 1977.  La La Land is a musical, but the last movie of this ilk to be the best was Chicago in 2002.

Woody Allen, of course wrote, directed and starred, with Diane Keaton.  Also in the cast were Paul Simon, Carol Kane, Colleen Dewhurst, Christopher Walken, Marshall McLuhan, Dick Caveat, Sigourney Weaver and Jeff Goldblum, mostly only a few seconds, as many were not yet known.

Both got sterling reviews from Rotten Tomatoes:

                              Reviewers  Audience

Annie Hall                    99            93
John Wick 2                 90            91

Without a doubt, of the 50 or so films and theatrical productions Allan Stewart Konigsberg made over the past half a century, the absolute best was Annie Hall, which won four Oscars in 1978, including Best Actress for Diane Keaton.  She originally was cast in his Broadway show, Play It Again, Sam, in 1969, when their personal relationship began.  She also starred in the 1972 movie.  This film, combined with Casablanca, might well be my favorite twin-bill.  Although they never got married, and their romantic liaison was brief, they have remained sort of friends.  At 5'8", she is two inches taller than Woody.

This movie was written by Allen about Keaton, for she was born Diane Hall.  Keaton was her mother's maiden name, and around the time she auditioned for Woody she sang in nightclubs and spent nine months in the Broadway show Hair, but refused to go nude.  This is the Annie Hall look to the left.

He has had three wives, including his present, Soon-Yi Previn, the adopted daughter of Mia Farrow and Andre Previn, said to have been abandoned in the slums of Seoul.  The Woody / Soon-Yi affair when she was around 20 destroyed the partnership with Mia after a 12-year relationship, involving 13 films.  Mia's parents were director John Farrow and actress Maureen O'Sullivan, and she was also married to Frank Sinatra.  Woody and Mia never married.  Woody and Soon-Yi will have been married 20 years in December.

Does Woody have a Lolita complex?  Well, in Annie Hall he did place in the dialogue his best friend Rob, played by Tony Roberts (who keeps reappearing in Woody's films), having a dalliance with two 16-year olds, at the same time.  Then, of course, the bitter trial with Mia Farrow about Soon-Yi, for which he was found innocent, and a more damaging accusation regarding a younger Dylan, also which legally could not be sustained.  There was also that 1979 film Manhattan (RT:  98/92) with Mariel Hemingway.

About John Wick Chapter 2, it was a good movie about bad people, even Keanu Reeves, as Mr. Wick.  I did not see the original, so did not quite understand the international assassins guild, from which Wick wanted to retire, but couldn't.

John fired 302 shots with 80% accuracy, killing 128.  In the original, only 77 died.  One comparative note is that Annie Hall dissed no one, while John Wick disposed of more than 200, all violently, as his first eleven in Chapter 2 went by way of his hands or Ford, plus two more later by pencil.  The Glock was his favorite weapon.

There will, of course, be a Chapter 3, for John Wick now has become a cult franchise.  Here are thoughts about what to expect:
  • Reeves will be Wick and Chad Stahelski will again direct.
  • We'll learn more about the meaning behind those gold coins.
  • He'll probably get a commendable female adversary, or love, or both, at the same time.
  • There appeared Laurence Fishburne from his Matrix connection, so perhaps Carrie-Anne Moss will be recycled as this counterpoint.
  • Wick's '69 Ford Mustang Mach 1 will make a revival.
One more item of extreme relevance.  Your SyFy channel will show the original John Wick tomorrow night.  Hawaii at 8PM, and, after doing some research, found out that New York has JW at 10PM.  Rotten Tomatoes rated this film at 85/80.



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Sunday, February 19, 2017

LIFE CONTINUES IN PURGATORY

This is Sunday, so I'll be a tad more respectful and even feature a religion.  I'm also considering expanding Purgatory from just 15 Craigside to all of Honolulu.

In any case, we have special meals at 15 Craigside with two sittings, for residents invite friends and family.  This week we enjoyed a fine Valentine's dinner, here in photos:


One of my expensive Stanford wines, plus I went to Marukai and put together a Hokkigai sashimi platter, with shiso, cabbage and Japanese cucumber.  There were 40 pieces at the beginning, for our table of seven.  Prime rib was featured:


We might have drunk three bottles of wine:


Then this weekend I had a wonderful time in Honolulu, beginning with a stop at J-Shop on Young Street:


I got a pound of Japanese Wagyu Beef from Shizuoka:


Yes, the cost was more than $80 for two pieces, and I just fried one piece.  They certainly cut the hamachi (Japanese Amberjack or yellow tail) into large pieces, and the rice was from Gifu.  That is myoga (bud from a kind of ginger plant) to the left above (and cut in half below).



I added sliced onions and Shiitake Mushrooms to the pan.  The accompanying sunset was pleasing.


Yesterday I walked into downtown Honolulu and went for, perhaps, my favorite lunch, Shanghai Soup Dumplings at Chinatown Cultural Plaza:

If you walk to the left, you go to the wrong Fook restaurant.


You need to head in the right (makai--to the sea) direction.  There actually was a line when I first got there.  However, I went up to the really cute girl to add my name to the wait list, but she noticed I had a cane, so almost immediately gave me a window seat.  This is about the tenth reason I now use a walking cane.  I had, of course, first shopped at that Chinese convenience store located close by and purchased a $1 Rolling Rock Beer and a $1.40 bottle of 99-proof whiskey:


Place the dumpling into the ginger-vinegar sauce, cut a hole at the top, stuff in some hot mustard and chili, place the dumpling into a large spoon, then pour in some whiskey.  Heaven, with beer.

I noticed, though, that a police car kept driving by the restaurant:


Keep in mind that this space between the restaurant and the river is not a real road.  Their presence, must have been because black market vendors kept showing up with black bags or wheelies stuffed with contraband.  Here, I thought someone was demonstrating a rather large blow torch:


Turned out he was burning off the safety cover supermarkets use to make it harder to shoplift.  Here a few bottles of Jack Daniels, after the top was removed.  Some of you might remember the posting on My Horrid Day in Honolulu, which might, actually, now disqualify Honolulu from being considered as part of my Purgatory.

There are also animals in the River Street environment.  Here the whitest duck I've ever seen on a rock in the stream:


A short walk then takes you to Kwan Yin Temple, fronting Foster Botanical Garden:

A large yellow flower tree.  So I went in.  Kamaainas (local residents) get charged only $3.  Turned out this was not Pearl's Gold Tree.  


Those petals look awfully close that of the Gold Tree:


Which was not in bloom.  However, purple trumpet flowers were on a bench.  Looking above:


So the Purple Tree is a close cousin of the Gold Tree.

As you enter the garden, you will see a Bodhi Tree, one generation removed from the original brought here 104 years ago:


This tree is adjacent to the direct descendant, which was brought to Honolulu as a gift to Mary Foster, whose home became this park, by Sri Lankan Buddhist monk Anagarika Dharmapala.


Note that the first Bo Tree has number 1.  Prince Siddhartha Gautama in the 6th Century BC achieved enlightenment under an early ancestor of these two trees, becoming the Buddha:


You can discern the yellow Guayacan in the background.  While on this subject, here is Buddha's-Hand Citron:


Sadly, I saw four separate Monarch Butterfly wings on the grounds.  Clearly a bird must have consume the bodies:


However, if you look closely, you will see seven flying Monarch's in this photo:


This purple-colored sugar cane stalk is especially soft and sweet:


A few more interesting shots, including two cannonball trees:


Finally, three more reds (Red Saracen and Red Flame), with a Green Gecko:


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