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The Trouble with Grimm

I know that Grimm is old news now, having ended in 2017, but I never got to watch it when it came out, mostly because I was in college and didn’t have a TV. But I love fairy tales. And I love retellings of fairy tales. And I love new stories in the fairy tale tradition (like Pan’s Labyrinth). I think fairy tales don’t even have to be that good for me to like them (though it’s appreciated). So now that I have finally had a chance to watch Grimm, this is not really an assessment of its strengths and weaknesses as a show, so much as its strengths and weaknesses in its use of fairy tales.

As you can guess, Grimm is heavily inspired by Grimm’s fairy tales. All the “fairy tale monsters” turn out to be people who have some additional animal form that also informs their personality (Galapagos turtle people tend to be peaceful, mouse people are skittish, goat people are carousers, and wolf and snake people are often aggressive and predatory, the list goes on.) And then there are grimms, who who can recognize the animal forms and are tasked with keeping the peace between them and humans (which in the past mostly meant mindlessly slaughtering other species.) 

This is not the first show to lay itself on a foundation of fairy tales, or even on Grimm’s fairy tales for that matter, but unlike some of its predecessors, the creators were not lazy about their choices. First of all, there’s the title of the show. Not only is it cluing the audience in to the fantastical element, it is telling them what to expect. The show is… well… grim. And they make that clear in the first few seconds of the pilot by starting with a quote from Little Red Riding Hood: “And the wolf thought to himself, what a tender young creature, what a nice plump mouthful… –The Brothers Grimm, 1812.” Then there’s the fact that the brothers Grimm were German, which they utilize by giving most of the monsters German names, like blutbad and hexenbiest. As you learn more about the world, more and more terminology is introduced, and the show uses it in ways that wouldn’t work with just any language. German is notorious for its long words, and the show goes as far as to have people tripping over new terms while old hands code-switch between English and German as if expecting everyone to understand. It’s the kind of humor that, surrounded by the terrors outside the door, is reminiscent of running across Clever Gretel wedged in between the likes of Snow White and The Maiden Without Hands in the Grimm’s anthology. But my favorite tonal aspect of Grimm? There is a secret society that kills Grimms, known as reapers, and thus we have the Grimm Reapers.  

But beyond all that, they went there with fairy tales. These are not the Disney stories, and this is not Once Upon a Time. Hansel and Gretel, Rapunzel, and Little Red Riding Hood all receive eerie, modern retellings. I love what they did with Cinderella. And if you care about details, you will find their Rumpelstiltskin a work of art. They include everything from the young queen’s promise to three days to guess the name, from her toying with him once she’s figured it out to him splitting down the middle. They even include the bit where he’s dancing around a fire, along with a reference to the miller’s daughter, and a character named Spinner.

You don’t see this level of detail in TV shows much anymore. Creators tend to skim the surface of familiar stories, which is how we end up with episodes like “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Sam Winchester,” (Supernatural S04E07) and “Look Who’s Barking” (Charmed S03E21)… or for that matter, any episode of Charmed. Don’t get me wrong, it can be refreshing to see a new spin on an old ideas, such as in iZombie, when zombies take on the personality of the brains they have eaten. But it’s a rare delight when someone has taken the care to dig into the source material. And I think there’s certainly room for both of those in one place. Take Sherlock, for example, or since we’re talking fantasy, Lost Girl, which made changes such as making sirens neither strictly evil nor strictly female, while also remembering that though the cry of a banshee predicts death, banshees are not themselves malevolent. Now, Lost Girl is far from perfect. One particularly egregious episode is “Groundhog Fae” (S04E08), in which we discover that’s it’s important to celebrate Christmas in July, and Krampus is a dude in a Hawaiian shirt who creates time loops and turns regretful people into candy…. Which made it all the more satisfying when Grimm depicted a goat-man in a Santa suit whipping children for stealing Christmas presents and then throwing them into his sack.

Of course, Krampus is not a Grimm’s fairy tale. Because once Grimm gets going, it expands beyond the Grimm’s canon, including episodes on The Little Mermaid, The Three Little Pigs, and La Llorona. Or, perhaps, it does this even before it gets going, as episode two is based on the story of The Three Bears, which is actually an English folktale. Now, I don’t begrudge Grimm its right to go beyond the original collection. It’s a show about folklore, and as I said before, the title is as much about the tone of the show as it is about the source material. In fact, having grown up in New Mexico, I was excited about the La Llorona episode because I felt like it was digging into my childhood fears. But remember that quote from Little Red Riding Hood in episode one? Well, those quotes show up in every episode. But after episode one, they never have citations. 

It is as if Grimm figured that, after the first episode, audiences would just assume all the quotes came from Grimm’s fairy tales. And probably most of them do. But one quote is in Spanish (S03E05 “El Cucuy). Another is “Oh Christmas Tree” (S03E08 “Twelve Days of Krampus”) No one is going to mistake these for quotes from Grimm’s fairy tales. Nor is anyone going to mistake an episode about gladiators or La Llorona. And while there’s nothing wrong with having an episode based on The Little Mermaid, especially when you show the level of attention that Grimm does to the original story, there is a problem with failing to note that The Little Mermaid is a story by Hans Christian Anderson. Now it is possible that some of these episodes feature Grimm’s quotes and stories from others, but this doesn’t exactly solve the problem, as it conflates the two stories. The lack of citations seems to attribute each story to Grimm’s, like some sort of second-hand plagiarism.

And why bother passing off another story as a Grimm’s tale when there are already so many Grimm’s stories out there? This is a great chance to play with some of the more obscure fairy tales in the canon. After all, The Donkey is perfect for the premise they set up. Or they could remind us that in the original Frog Prince, the frog is a total creep! And where’s the episode on Fitcher’s Bird? Personally, I prefer a show with an expansive set of folklore, especially if they are going to show that folklore the respect of digging into it properly. But citing sources is also a way of paying respect to the original material, and it is no less important.

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Road Trip in Review: North Carolina

 The last leg of our journey took us to visit friends in North Carolina, first in Raleigh, and then in Asheville. Because it turns out that I know a lot of people in North Carolina (I also have relatives there, who I already saw at the wedding, and another friend who we didn’t get to visit because we were pressed for time as it was.)

The trip to Raleigh was a nice break after walking around DC all day long. It mostly involved us hanging out in Friend’s apartment, playing video games, listening to Disney music, and watching The Princess and the Frog because some people in the room had not yet seen it. Oh, also lots of animals. Friend and her roommate both studied zoology, so they have 2 cats, 2 guinea pigs, and 3 snakes between them. I got to hold a snake! (Because terrified as I may be of spiders, I think snakes are really cool.)

We crashed on the couch, which, oddly was one of my best slept nights on the whole trip. For a couple months before we left, I had taken to periodically sleeping on my couch, so… apparently, I just sleep well on couches.

The next morning, we took our hosts out for brunch at a local restaurant (continuing our goal of not eating at chain restaurants) and then departed. We had meant to go to the Raleigh science museum, but got our signals crossed when IDing it on our GPS, and ended up one town over at a different museum which cost $20. Since this was $20 more than the price of the museum we had planned (which was at least a half hour in the wrong direction), we decided to skip the museum and go to Asheville.

Ashville, it turns out, is a lot like our home of Eureka Springs. And people had told us that before, but now we got the evidence of it. It’s very artsy and liberal and quirky. Oh, and apparently all of the restaurants have neat bathrooms. Seriously–from a mural of cats on the moon, to hand painted tiles, to what looked like a very nice… dungeon? all the bathrooms were pretty fabulous. And so was the food. I mean, we had biscuits the size of cat heads. And breakfast tacos. What’s not to like?

Asheville is also full of local artists. We went through several different artists’ studios, but it was at Zapow! that we bought souveniers for several friends back home. Because this is the place that has art related to pop culture, and sells everything from unicorn greeting cards to $800 chairs that are upholstered to look like monsters. If I had the money and the room for one of those chairs, I would have bought one. Alas, I will have to wait.

Other highlights of the trip include Splasheville–a local splash fountain which was a lot of fun. We were trying to decide if the fountains were on a schedule, if they turned on and off at random, or if someone was controlling them (and if so… from where?) If you know the answer, let me know! Then there was a brief beer drinking at a local brewery. Apparently there are a lot of brewerys in Asheville, but neither Fiance or I is much for the taste of alcohol, so we split one beer, and drank about a third of it between us. Then he drank another third by himself. And this is the most beer I have had in my life. SO after that, we looked for chocolate. There was lots of chocolate. There was a local chocolate shop, where we had brownies and lemon ice cream, and also a visit to a Lindt chocolate store. Now, Lindor Truffles are some of my favorite chocolates, and this was the jackpot. Usually, you can only get assortments in the normal flavors, like dark chocolate, milk chocolate, and white chocolate. But we ended up with a pound of truffles in about 20 different flavors, including mint, which is my personal favorite. We consumed many of these that night while playing Forbidden Island (which I had picked up the same day at a game shop, apparently in record time. Friends were shocked to see that I both bought the game and held a conversation with the game store employees about Matt Leacock and all his beautiful games in about 5 minutes).

And of course, there were the cats, three of them to be exact. One was very scared of us, so we saw little of her. One was tempremental, and took to Fiance much more than she took to me. (I have to admit, I’m jealous. I have often been told that animals that normally don’t like people like me, but I’m losing my reputation to him.) In fact, this cat rather enjoyed biting me. And then there was the giant orange tabby. He was about the size of a sofa pillow. Or a small dog. Probably the biggest domestic cat I have ever seen (and not fat, truly big.) And one of the mellowest, attention-loving cats I have ever met as well. If you sat on the couch, he would just wander over and lay down next to you, as if to say, “you should pet me. That’s what I’m here for.” And if you didn’t he would lay his chin flat on the sofa cushions in the most pitiful and dejected pose he could muster. Naturally, I wished we could have adopted him ourselves.

But alas, he went home empty handed (well, not entirely empty handed, we did have lots of artwork for friends). We secretly hoped to make the 12 hour trip in one go, but we didn’t get out of Asheville until nearly one o’clock, so between 7 and 8, right after crossing into Illionois just long enough to immediately cross into Missouri, we found a town with one gas station, one sketchy looking motel, and one sketchy looking (but not chain!) restaurant. Nothing happened in the restaurant other than the usual, though the bathroom light had one bulb burned out and another that was flickering (we weren’t in Asheville anymore.) We drove a little more until we found a town with a not-so-sketchy hotel, and I busted out my bathing suit to swim laps. We made the last 5 hours of our journey the next day, and though I was happy to be home (especially as I was pretty sure I had another wedding quilt to get to) I was sad to see the end of our little romantic getaway….

…But last week we found a roadtrip notebook in the bookstore, so I think it’s time we started planning our next one.

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Road Trip in Review: Tips for Traveling in DC

Turns out that the family reunion didn’t end in St. Michael’s. Since St. Michael’s is so close to Washington DC, almost everyone went there! We found a lovely Air BNB in Germantown, and took the Metro in from Shady Grove. Turns out Fiance wasn’t totally fond of it because it is loud and bumpy. But I was probably five years old the first time I was on the DC Metro, so I felt home. And I felt even more at home when we emerged in downtown Washington DC. I didn’t realize how comfortable I felt there until this trip. But it felt like being welcomed by an old friend.

The first day, we didn’t do much. We kind of walked around and talked about places we would like to go. And then we met up with the family for a nighttime monument tour. We got back to Union Station just in time to catch the last red line train back to Shady Grove. And then we got off on the wrong side of the station.

Tip number 1: if you use the park and ride, make sure you remember which side of the station you parked on and you are adamant about getting off there. Because apparently at some stations, you can’t easily reach the other side on foot.

Fortunately a local cab driver was nice enough to take use around to the other side, which was like… a five minute drive. And when we got back to the Air BNB… I realized I had lost my ipod. (I mentioned this in last Monday’s video, only I referred to it as “my camera,” because that felt simpler, as it was the ipod’s main function on this trip. And it’s the lost pictures that is probably the worst part of it.) So DC was not off the the best start.

The next morning, we tracked down the Good Stuff Eatery (after trying to find out if Union Station had a lost and found that my ipod may have turned up in. But obviously, it was closed for memorial day.) Good Stuff Eatery was recommended by Cousin, who used to live in DC, and was apparently the buger joint of preference for the Obamas, who not only have their pictures on the wall, but have burgers named after them. So we ordered the Obama burger and Michelle Melt, made a guess about which we liked more, each took about three bites, and traded. Shows what we know about our own taste buds.

From there we hopped into the Library of Congress, mostly because it was nearby and we were looking for a bathroom, but I was very excited to see the Gutenberg Bible. I know that to some people old books in a glass case might seem kind of stupid, but I could have spent all day in the Library of Congress. (Also we went into the… Jefferson Building? There are three Library of Congress buildings, and this one is modeled on the Paris Opera House, so it is GORGEOUS.) But we didn’t spend the whole day in the Library of Congress. We hopped the Metro over to the other end of the National Mall and went looking for the aquarium. I didn’t know DC had an aquarium, you say. It doesn’t. There are just some very outdated signs in that city. For a city that builds a new museum every couple of years, you’d think they’d learn they need to update their signs more frequently. Oh well.

We caught the Memorial Day parade. Well sort of. Because by then, we were determined to do something, so we walked along in the opposite direction of the parade and ducked into the archives. I was actually looking for the National Gallery, and just went to the wrong side of the street, but Constitution Avenue would have been difficult to cross at that point.

Tip #2: If you don’t want to attend the Memorial Day parade, make sure you’re on the right side of the street.

But the National Archives was okay. We got to see the Constitution and the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence, parts of which are so faded now that all you can see are vague imprints on paper. But again–writer nerd wants to see old writey things! And the tour guide the night before had commented that there is some talk that they may stop having them on daily display due to the documents fading. So I was excited to catch them when we had the chance.

We bummed around the in Archives gift shop to see if we could find some souvenirs for friends. I was particularly excited by all the Hamilton stuff they had in front, not because I’m a big fan of Hamilton, but because they had a bag that said something like “Hamilton and Washington and Madison and Jefferson and Burr.” And Burr is in a different color. See, I’m an Aaron Burr fan. And I feel like he gets the short end of the stick sometimes. Okay, he did kill a guy, I guess that’s fair. But did you know he also presided over the first ever impeachment trial in the United States? He set a standard of fairness and justice that has colored the way impeachment trials are handled to this day. But mostly I’m interested in Aaron Burr because there’s a slim chance I’m distantly related. And that’s kind of cool. So I wanted the lone Aaron Burr memorabilia, but it was about $30, and that just didn’t seem worth it. As opposed to the Rose the Riveter purse which was like… $7. Turns out, gift shops are weird. Some stuff seems very overpriced, and some things (like a giant teddy bear) were cheaper than they would be at home. No tip there. Just… weird.

By the time we left the Archives, the parade was over, and we finally made it across the street into the National Gallery. We stopped in the cafe between the east and west wings to get some water before continuing on our journey.

Tip # 3: Bring a water bottle or plenty of money to buy water. Cash doesn’t hurt. There are lots of people on the national mall selling bottles of water for a dollar each, which is cheaper than you’re going to find in most places, and they are out there longer than a lot of the other places are open.

We explored the eastern wing for a while (because I prefer modern art) until we were informed the museum was closing in 7 minutes.

Tip #4: Plan accordingly. A lot of places in DC run on a Sunday schedule for Memorial Day, so if you want to go into buildings, go in the morning or early afternoon. Save the memorials for later in the day because they are outside and don’t exactly close down. Planning is extra important for visiting the African-American history museum, which can be difficult to get into. I really wanted to do this, but we didn’t because we didn’t get tickets early enough. It is free, but you still need a ticket to get in. You can get them online, but you can apparently get them like… months in advance. So when you wake up late on the one day you are going to be in DC, you have slim pickin’s. We could have made it, but we would have been very rushed to get there. 

From there we tracked down the sculpture garden, which being outdoors, was open a little later, and found, at the center, a large fountain that lots of people were dipping their toes into. So we rested on the edge of the fountain and made a plan for the end of the day. Fiance really wanted to see Einstein, so we hoofed it up past the Lincoln Memorial to get our picture with Einstein. We checked out the Korean War Memorial on the way back down because we had missed it the night before. And then we walked all the way back to the Capitol and past to eat dinner at We the Pizza, which was next to Good Stuff Eatery, and also recommended by Cousin.

Tip #5: Wear good walking shoes. We both did, and we still had blisters by the end of the day and could barely make it back to the Metro station.

Tip #6: Get a good Metro map. We could have saved some time and energy in a couple of places by hopping the Metro, but we weren’t exactly sure where all the stations were. Similarly, we sometimes overshot because we weren’t positive exactly where we would end up.

Tip #7: Bring sunscreen. We were out of the better part of the day, on top of having been walking outside the day before, on top of having attended an outdoor wedding the day before that. I actually ended up with sun poisoning, which I didn’t know was a thing until then. Fortunately, it was not a severe case of sun poisoning. My arms broke out in hives, and they were more or less back to normal the next day, aside from the general sunburn.

After downing a great many cups of water and eating dinner, we limped back to our final trip on the metro and drove back to our Air B&B. We settled in for the night, and left the next day for the final leg of our journey.

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Road Trippin’ Part 3: Maryland

 We arrived in St. Michael’s at about 9:30 in the evening. We found Aida’s Victoriana Inn, where the family is all staying, and Fiance turned to me excitedly and said, “I don’t have to drive for at least two days!!”

The fam was gathered on the verandah. I introduced Fiance to my aunt, who immediately started planning our wedding. “So we know when the next family reunion is going to be,” she said. Fiance introduced himself to the “support group” (the spouses of my dad’s family) and confided that the fam did not seem as bad as he was led to believe they would be.

We were led up to our room, and the first thing I noticed was what quickly got dubbed, “the creepy doll” right outside our door. We found out from the owner the next morning that “she just moves around on her own. She’ll be in one place, and the next morning, she turns up in another. She usually ends up in someone’s room.” Apparently, Doll Tag is a popular sport in the Victoriana Inn, and we soon joined in the fun, though we certainly put our own twist on it.

The house itself is absolutely beautiful. Old furniture, more homey than a traditional hotel. There’s a full kitchen, if we feel like cooking dinner (though there are plenty of recommended eats around here), there’s a porch where many of us gather in the morning and the evening, and a large dining table that has a… well… Victorian feel. The whole house feels more like going to visit friends than staying in a hotel, though when everyone staying there is family, it may help a bit.

The owner is a lovely woman. She’s friendly and kind and makes a fabulous breakfast. The first day, we had the lightest quiche I’ve ever eaten, and it kept us full just about until dinner time. The second day, we had French toast. And along with that, there’s coffee, tea, fresh fruit, etc. What’s been particularly interesting for me is that in the mornings, our family tends to gather on the porch before breakfast. As a result, even though breakfast is serves 8-10, we have gathered at the table and eaten family meals together, with our host serving us on these fancy dishes. It makes me feel just a tad like I’m in a Jane Austen novel.

After breakfast our first morning, we walked the area in St. Michael’s. Our bed and breakfast is right in the heart of the little shops, and across the bridge from the Maritime Museum, which is perfect for us because Fiance and I like to walk. We found the walking trail behind the shops and walked until I felt like I was getting crispy, and headed back. There was a nice little covered bridge along the trail, where we stopped and watched the river. It was so lovely to see the little ecosystem below us. There were turtles poking their heads above the water, a whole nest of snakes, and several crabs crawling in and out of the rocks. I told Fiance this was the first time I had seen crabs in real life… well… alive crabs that is.

The first shop we hit up was Olivinni’s–olive oils and balsamic vinegars. Since first discovering the olive oil and vinegar store near us, we’ve become spoiled by fancy oils and vinegars. It turns out we are not the only ones. I’ve met tourists in our town stopping by Fresh Harvest because they’re used to what they have at home. And Olivvini’s delivered. After investigating several infusions we couldn’t get at home, we finally walked away with six bottles. The question is whether or not we’re going to fight over them when we get home.

We wandered further and found a glass store where we investigated stemless wine glasses to go with those we bought on vacation last year (we always look for matching orange and blue glasses. These are our colors, and seems our whole kitchen will be done up in them.) 

There were lots of things–everything from knick-knacky magnets and keychains (though nothing that speicfically said St. Michael’s on it) to wooden clocks with the Chesapeake Bay carved into them. There were clothes and jewelry and lots of antiques. There was also an ice cream parlor near our bed and breakfast. Friance said it may have been the best ice cream he’s ever had. If you end up at Jojo’s, we both recommend the Maryland Madness. Because lemon ice cream is hard to beat. 

For the rehearsal dinner, we got to cruise on the Patriot. The bay was beautiful, and some of the houses out there were stunning. After a while, the whole experience started to remind us of being out on the lake back home–this big body of water with distant land on all sides (and yes, I know the Chesapeake does not have land on all sides, but there is an illusion of this when you are out in the right spot.) But the best part was, obviously, getting to see Cousin. I was down on the lower deck when he walked in. And I waved. He turned to me and immediately hugged me, and all the, “I’m so happy to see yous.” And sure, this is always what happens when you see family after a long while, but truth be told, I had a crush on this Cousin since I was a little kid, and while that’s changed, he and his brother have always been pretty important people to me. I guess it’s because there are eight of us–eight cousins on my dad’s side–and the two oldest are so much older than me that they’re almost a generation ahead, but the next two down, and the two after my brother and I, are much more akin to peers. So I feel a particular attachment to them. So honestly? What I remember best of the cruise (and what was most important) was just getting to talk to family. Even Bride remembered me from eight years ago, which was not long after they started dating. And maybe she should have, I don’t know, but it was nice to feel so familiar with her. Hopefully Fiance wasn’t too freaked out by the family. There are lots of jokes about how overwhelming we can be (especially to my mother, who had no siblings.)

The next day, we mostly hung around the bed and breakfast. We went into town for lunch, but we had a lazy morning. Then we went to the wedding, which was absolutely lovely. It was a nice outdoor wedding (though everyone got a tad sunburned) and simple–from Bride’s simple (but very pretty) gown to the vows they wrote to each other (though there was a mockingbird who wanted to steal the spotlight from Bride.) Even the priest, Bride’s uncle, was simple and informal, making jokes and ensuring that the occasion shouldn’t be that serious. They also had their dogs walk down the aisle with the groomsmen and bridesmaids.

We made a joke at the reception that we were at the kids’ table. It was a smaller table, sort of in the back. And I guess, in a sense, it was the kids’ table because it was the young folks in the family–Fiance and I and the North Carolina contingent–Cousin’s brother and good friends from growing up. I’d say they’re maybe… 10 years older than us? The same age as some of our friends back home. We got to know them pretty well over the course of the trip, which is nice because we’ve already got lots of friends in North Carolina. So its another vacation already planning itself. I bonded with one of them over my favorite tabletop game (Pandemic) and one of my favorite novels (Good Omens, which is getting a screen adaptation on Amazon Prime on May 31!!) And even though we seems like we were the smaller table in the back, we had the best seats. We were right next to the dance floor, so we got front row seats to all the toasts, as well as film of Cousin and Bride’s first dance together. And we were some of the of the first people they came to talk to. I think this is a combination of being right there, and sitting with all of Cousins childhood friends. The food was delicious, and the band was even better. We danced all night long (especially Bride) and by the time we got in for the night, we were worn out.

We got to see Cousin one more time the next day–a short parting chit-chat about life and work and presents. I told Fiance that I feel like even though I didn’t seem that much of him on this trip, I got to know him better than any previous times I’ve seen him. I really hope that one day, we get to meet and just… talk. After a long family goodbye (in my family goodbye is said in the hall, then at the door, then at the gate, then at the car, etc.) we departed for the next leg of our journey… Washington DC.