October 29, 2014

October 29, 2014

A Real Frame-Turner

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that the book was better than the movie.

Sure, there are exceptions. Sometimes you see the movie first and are so impressed that you read the book afterwards, skewing your perception in favor of the film that drew you in to the tale. (For me, Jack Reacher. I was so impressed by the movie—yes, I was that ONE PERSON—that I immediately read the entire series and went to see Lee Child in person.)

Generally, though, I think those of us who enjoy book literature and film can agree that the book medium allows for presentation of greater detail, especially through inner dialogue. (When I heard that The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time was being adapted into a play, I needed someone to slap in the face.)

However, since films these days are essentially a license to print money, odds are good that any notable book will end up Coming To A Screen Near You. A shame, since some books are so beloved that nothing—no combination of director, cast, special effects, and/or Tom Cruise—will live up to the version in your mind.

Friend-of-blog M recently asked me if I’d seen Gone Girl, for instance, and I’m really reluctant to see the movie version of my 2012 book of the year. Not because I have anything against Rosamund Pike or Ben Affleck (she was in Jack Reacher!). Rather, I’ve read that author/screenwriter Gillian Flynn make some changes during the adaption process, and that worries me. I barely tolerated the absence of Tom Bombadil in Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings, guys.

Other films I’m afraid haven’t done/won’t do the book justice: The Giver, The Maze Runner, Chaos Walking, and The Fault in Our Stars. All YA books, and mostly YA Sci-Fi, which shows both what I like to read and what gets adapted into movies these days.

Have you ever gone into a film adaptation hopeful and come out disappointed? Or the other way around?

October 22, 2014

October 22, 2014

Gunston Hall

George Mason’s Gunston Hall isn’t exactly atop anyone’s list of famous residences. Graceland, sure. Biltmore, yes. Mount Vernon, definitely. But Gunston Hall? No. Indeed, a great many people don’t even know who George Mason is, and that’s partially his fault.

[Quick primer on George Mason: Considered one of the Founding Fathers, Mason was a Virginia delegate to the Constitutional Convention. However, because the Constitution gave much power to the central government and lacked a Bill of Rights, he refused to sign it. Ironically, the Virginia Declaration of Rights, drafted by Mason in 1776, formed the basis of the Bill of Rights ratified in 1791. Herein lies an important lesson: You can have principles, or you can be famous, but it’s difficult to do both.]

Gunston Hall is in Lorton, Virginia, nearish to Mount Vernon. A Groupon and some classic October weather (sunny but not too hot) led to my recent visit. I started with the small museum, which contained a few displays and a great 10-minute introductory film that I’m pretty sure was on VHS. I learned that Mason’s first wife died at only 39 (aw), but that they had married when she was 16 (ew), and that he married his second wife partly to have someone to “warm his sheets.” Direct quote. Classy.

Next, the house:

Scaffolding not period-authentic.

For some reason that I didn’t catch, all of the furniture had been removed. On the plus side, this meant we could take all the pictures we wanted (pictures aren’t allowed when the furniture is in). On the down side, there was really nothing to take pictures OF. Here, pictures showing what the rooms are supposed to look like:

Unlike some other grand estates (e.g. Windsor Castle), Gunston Hall isn’t huge. The first floor has four rooms for entertaining, and the second floor has some very small bedrooms and closets. You had to wonder how the latter-day residents of Gunston Hall crammed modern amenities like kitchens and bathrooms into the floorplan.

After we toured the house, we checked out the outbuildings and gardens. One of the largest dependencies was the schoolhouse Mason built for his kids, which sort of takes homeschooling to the next level.

One of the best bits is the Potomac River view. Apparently Gunston Hall had its own ship landing back in the day, with even more trees cut back to expose the river. Even now, it’s pretty impressive.

While not on par with Monticello or even Montpelier, it’s not a bad day trip if you’re in the DC area. Maybe wait until they put the furniture back in, though.

October 7, 2014

October 7, 2014

State Fair Showdown: Wisconsin vs. Virginia

Though I’ve been going to the Wisconsin State Fair for years decades, and though I’ve lived in Virginia since 2008, I had somehow missed the Virginia State Fair. I guess it was in my State Fair blindspot, along with the 46 State Fairs that aren’t in Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, or Texas. But in the interest of giving everyone a fair shot (no pun intended), I decided to check it out this year, if only to compare and contrast with my home state’s annual shindig.

Virginia, you never had a chance.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The Contest: Opening Times
The Winner: Wisconsin

The Wisconsin State Fair opens at 8 a.m. This way, you can start with breakfast (the pancakes are always popular) before continuing on to the fried food of your choice. I myself like to arrive shortly before 9 a.m., when the buildings start to open and the deep fryers have been boiling for a while.

The Virginia State Fair opens at 10 a.m. Once I got in the gates, I headed straight for this place, obviously.

One of everything, please.

I approached, but was met with looks of confusion. I reminded myself that this is the South, and that’s sort of their default, so I asked whether they were open. The response I got? “Depends on what you want.” I WANT THE FRIED FOOD ADVERTISED ON YOUR SIGNS, BRO. Never mind that we’ve already cut significantly into my eating time by not opening until basically lunchtime.

The Contest: Food
The Winner: Wisconsin

Now, I’m trying to be objective when it comes to the food, because it’s certainly a matter of taste. Just because I like eating deep fried Oreos until I pass out in a sugar coma doesn’t mean that’s a plan for everybody. Thus I’m using quantity, variety, locality, and quality of fair food selection as my metrics. I was particularly pleased to see Virginia ham and seafood on offer in addition to popcorn, corn dogs, and other festival staples.

Of all the things to do with a peanut, boiling isn't even in my top five.

Even thus, I have to give the edge to Wisconsin on this one. We have an entire building dedicated just to the brands (Palermo’s Pizza, Berres Brothers coffee) and foods (cheese, cranberries, potatoes) of Wisconsin. Plus, the deep fried country ham biscuit was really salty.

The Contest: Activities/Displays
The Winner: Virginia

Though the Wisconsin State Fair has offered a lot of really cool shows over the years (circuses, bike stunts, lumberjacks, exotic animals), rarely does a single fair contain them all. At the Virginia State Fair, though, I got to see a magician and a team of (Yooper) lumberjacks.

He did much cooler stuff than this, but we weren't supposed to take pictures.

He proceeded to chop that log in half while standing on it. 

In addition, the prize-winning produce and condiments were in open-air displays. It’s not that I WANT to touch these things so much as I like to know that I COULD. (I actually did surreptitiously touch the cotton, because I don’t think I’ve ever actually touched a cotton plant.) Also, the giant pumpkin competition, which I don’t think Wisconsin even has:

Think of all the pies!

Wisconsin used to display the three biggest pigs, but that stopped a few years ago. Probably after that whole swine flu thing. Eesh.

Overall Winner: Wisconsin

You did well, Virginia. But you cannot beat the behemoth that is America’s Dairyland.*

* “First in Friendship, Fourth in Obesity"

October 2, 2014

October 2, 2014

Party Like It's Your Birth Month

You may have noticed that October is finally here, bringing with it cooler/warmer weather for those of you in the northern/southern hemisphere. For me, and several of the most delightful people I know, it also brings a li’l something I call Birthday Month. Because I’m a millennial, and we process things only as they relate to us.

It is time, then, for the serendipity to start flowing. Most shockingly, it has. Twice.

First, when I learned that Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. is opening up a location in London. TheBoy and I immediately started planning a 2016 visit because the only thing better than eating my body weight in shrimp while overlooking Times Square is eating my body weight in shrimp while overlooking Leicester Square. My favorite part of Time Out London’s review:

The most upsetting thing about eating here, though, is the service. Well-meaning is better than aloof, but in this case, the over-eager staff, themselves drafted in from every nation, were like wasps at a picnic. Trained to be ‘US-style’ friendly, they were constantly intruding to ask ‘how we were doing’ (‘fine, if you’d only go away and stop interrupting’), annoying us with snippets of Gumpian trivia, and quizzing us on our own Gump-based knowledge, ‘because it’s fun, isn’t it?’ (It isn’t.)

Screw 2016. I’m looking up British Air flights RIGHT NOW.

As if this weren’t enough, Pizza Hut has announced that it is bringing back Book It. With free pizza. For adults. If you’re counting at home, I could have stopped at any of those periods and still been overwhelmed with excitement.

Book It, for those of you who grew up abroad and/or illiterate, was a program that started with getting a pin that looked like this:

After reading a certain number of books in a certain time period, you got star stickers to cover the stars on the pin. Then, at the end of the year, you got a free personal pan pizza from Pizza Hut. I’m iffy on the specific requirements, because a) I always read more than the requirement, b) this was like 50 years ago, and c) IT ENDED IN PIZZA.

Now, we alumni just have to sign up at the Book It website and free pizza is given. This whole thing has made me realize that the very same things that motivated me as a kid still motivate me as an adult. Either I’m a kid in an adult’s body or I was an adult in a kid’s body. Betting on the latter.

Birthday month still has 30 days to go. Hang on to your hats and keys.