the wonderful world of veena.

09 November 2013

the joy project: week forty-two.

Sunday: met Angela at the Clinton Presidential Park Bridge to say goodbye to Banjo and send some of his ashes down the river and also to welcome little Capone into the family [these are dogs, in case you're wondering]. drove back to Memphis for an early birthday lunch for my mother.

Monday: various errands for our upcoming trip. caught up on some episodes of Criminal Minds. folded the 3 weeks worth of laundry that was piled up on my bed. Grizz boys won.

Tuesday: MUM'S 70TH BIRTHDAY. first post-race run; felt nice to get out for about 20 minutes and find my stride again. Huey's for dinner. Gone With the Wind on television! first time I've seen it in at least a decade, probably longer. definitely going to start incorporating "fiddle-dee-dee" into my daily vocabulary.

Wednesday: spent the cloudy, rainy morning snuggled in bed watching television. sort of began gathering stuff for India.

Thursday: picked up some new red thin-tip Sharpies for an upcoming project [office supplies are kind of like crack for me]. saw 12 Years a Slave in the cinema.

Friday: Waffle House lunch with my parents. packed for the journey. got to chat with Lindso for the first time since the Muffin was born.

Saturday: TO INDIA.

in honour of the 3-week Indian holiday - and since I'll be traveling so much within the country - I am leaving my laptop at home and enjoying a bit of a holiday from being so connected as well. there may be a post or two from my phone if I'm feeling so inclined, but the more likely scenario is that I will post updates once I return. I'll be active on instagram [@vrangaswami] and possibly on twitter [@veen83], if you feel like following my adventures on there.

otherwise, I'll see you kids in 3 weeks.
a happy early Thanksgiving to you and yours.

07 November 2013

movie review: 12 years a slave.

I had heard great things about 12 Years a Slave, and I wanted to make sure to see it before I left for India, so I saw it this afternoon at the Paradiso. It was well worth the visit.

12 Years... is the story of Solomon Northup, a free black man living in New York state with his wife and two children. While they are away, Solomon is duped into traveling to Washington, DC, where he is abducted and held as prisoner until he is transferred south and sold as a slave. How he adapts to the slave life, how he interacts with his masters and his fellow slaves, and how he continues to hope that one day he will be freed and reunited with his family enfolds over the course of the two-hour movie.

First and foremost, I thought the casting was perfect. Chiwetel Ejiofor was great at Solomon, and all those articles you've been seeing about the expressiveness of his face are all true. He doesn't say a word for the first 7 or so minutes of the film, but you can read every emotion that he's feeling on his face. I had only previously seen him in Love Actually, but I had heard good things about him in other movies, and I'm glad I got to see him in a different role.

Michael Fassbender was also excellent. I had actually never seen him in anything before, and he was great in his role as Edwin Epps, Solomon's mean-spirited master. Watching his character devolve in the second half of the movie was fascinating - and terrible - to watch.

And Lupita Nyong'o. She was spectacular. She doesn't have many lines, but she gives a powerful performance as Patsey, one of Solomon's fellow slaves. I don't think that role could have been cast any better.

It's always difficult to say you like a movie about slavery, because the subject itself is so difficult and is shrouded in so much controversy and debate. I thought Steve McQueen, the director, did a great job of trying to show the life of a slave without sensationalizing it, which is not an easy feat. It's a very moving, very emotional movie that relies heavily on the ability of the actors to portray their feelings with minimal speaking. It had me in tears in a few parts, and I cannot remember the last time I cried in the cinema.

On a separate note, it was also interesting to watch this movie just a few days after having watched Gone With the Wind on Tuesday night. It was on TCM as part of Vivien Leigh's 100th birthday celebration, so obviously my mother and I stayed up to watch it. I hadn't seen it in probably 10 years, and I certainly had a different perspective on it that I had watching it as a child. And seeing these two movies nearly back-to-back certainly made for an interesting viewing experience.

The bottom line is this: if you've not yet seen 12 Years a Slave, make some time this weekend to go. It's one of those must-see movies that are becoming more and more rare these days, and it's definitely worth a trip to the cinema.

06 November 2013

solo adventures at disney world and universal orlando.

A few weeks ago, I traveled to Orlando with my parents. They were attending their annual meeting of the American Academy of Pediatrics, and since I am currently fun-employed and have not been down there in 11 years, I decided to tag along. While they attended their lectures and scammed free stuff from the various hospitals and sponsors who had booths, I visited the parks of Disney World and Universal Orlando. This was the first time I'd visited either place - or any amusement park, for that matter - on my own, and it was certainly a different experience to traveling there with friends or family.

Neither is a place you would think of going to on your own. Disney's parks are mostly marketed towards families - especially ones with small children - and Universal is catered toward families with older kids and adults, but both are places you generally visit in groups. Being on my own was a bit weird at times, I'll admit, but it was also fun in its own way.

For one thing, I could visit each park at my own pace. I only visited the attractions I wanted to visit, and I was the only person inconvenienced by a long line [although the longest I waited for any ride was 30 minutes. the benefits of visiting in late October]. I chose my routes around the park, I set my times, and I stopped to eat only as and when I wanted to. I know there are a lot of I's in those sentences, but sometimes you just need to do things for yourself.

I decided to split up the parks by day and tackled the Magic Kingdom on Saturday, Epcot on Sunday, and both parks of Universal Orlando on Monday. The AAP organized for all the attendees and their guests to visit Hollywood Studios [formerly MGM Studios] after hours on Saturday night, so that meant that the only park I missed out on was Animal Kingdom. I was sad to miss it, but there just wasn't enough time.

The Magic Kingdom

This park is a dream for every child below the age of 10. It's still kind of a dream for me, but I love the rides and attractions as opposed to getting to meet all the characters. Having said that, though, the parade is still awesome to watch, no matter what your age.

I got to the park around 10.30am and headed straight for Tomorrowland and Space Mountain. It's always one of the longer lines, and it's on the opposite end of the park from the other things I like, so I knew I wanted to do that first. Also, Space Mountain was my favourite ride as a child, and it still looms as this amazing presence in my memory. Luckily the line was much shorter this time around than the first time I ever got to go on it, and the ride itself didn't disappoint. Although I kept thinking there was this one huge drop during the ride, and even though I kept waiting for it, it never came. Regardless, it was pretty awesome.

From there I traipsed all the way across the park to Frontierland on the other side of the park for Big Thunder Railroad and Splash Mountain. Big Thunder is always another personal favourite, and this time was no exception. Splash is always a crowd pleaser, and I was lucky enough to be in one of the logs that makes the giant splash at the bottom, so it was great.

I had a bit of time to kill after that, so I grabbed some ice cream and some water from a little stand - the lines for real food were way too long, and the real food is seriously overpriced - and walked over to Adventureland to wait in line for the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. I'm not sure what I was expecting, but I have to admit, I was a little disappointed. You sit on a little log and ride along through the water and see pirate displays and listen to sound effects and occasional lines from the actors who were in the movies. If you've ever been on the It's a Small World ride, it's pretty much that but with pirates. I kept waiting for something to jump out of the water or for something generally kind of "scary" to happen, but it never did. I guess it's just that it was really tame, and I wanted it to be something more.

After that it was off to discover the Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse. This has always been another of my favourites whenever I'm at the park. It's nothing much - you walk through a treehouse modeled after the story and see little rooms set up for the Robinson family - but I have just always liked it. I think it fulfills my dream of always wanting a treehouse, and this is the mother of all treehouses.

And that was pretty much my day at the Magic Kingdom. On my way out I picked up a few goodies for various kiddos at the store near the entrance, and I hopped on the monorail to head back and wait for my ride back to the hotel.

Hollywood Studios

The conference organized for all the attendees and their guests to visit this park after hours on Saturday night, which was awesome. Although it took forever to unload us from our buses, once we were in the park we had the whole place to ourselves. The lines for all the attractions were short, and the weather was beautiful.

When we got there, we made a beeline for the Tower of Terror. Since my mother and our family friend who was also there don't like the rides, they waited while my father and I went. My father cackled through most of it, so I'll call it a success.

We wanted to see the Indiana Jones stunt show, but the show was nearly over, so we only caught the last 7 minutes or so, but it was still pretty good. My favourite will always be when my brother was chosen to be one of the extras when we went in 1997. Hilarious.

We found out the Beauty and the Beast stage show was set to begin again at 9.15pm, so before that the father and I went on the Rock 'n Roller Coaster featuring Aerosmith. It's one of my all-time favourites, and my father kept me company. I loved it like always, screaming the words to Dude Looks Like a Lady while we sped and looped around. I didn't hear a peep from my father during the ride, and his hair was all disheveled at the end of it, but I think he liked it.

After that we caught the Beauty and the Beast show, which was great because I got to sing along with all of the songs. And then it was time for dinner, and then we got a bus back to the hotel.


On Sunday I went to Epcot. I slept late and then didn't have as much time there as I would have liked, but it was still fun. I love going on the little "Technology Through the Ages" ride at the very beginning, partly because I'm a nerd at heart, and partly because I love that Judi Dench narrates it for you.

After that I set off to explore the World Showcase and dropped in on Mexico, Norway, China, and the US. There is an international food & wine festival happening right now, but the lines at all the carts were way too long, so I didn't have enough time to sample :(

In Mexico I spent about 10 minutes watching a sweet Mexican lady paint some beautiful knickknacks [but I didn't buy. kind of pricey, and I was worried they would break in transport] and then went on a little water ride. Kind of kitschy, but still entertaining.

In Norway I went on the Norse ride, which is always fun, but I didn't really explore much beyond that. The ride ends with a 5-minute video about Norway, which is pretty entertaining if not for the content then definitely for the dated-ness of the video. I'm pretty sure it's not been updated since the early 80s.

In China I grabbed some "fried rice" at the cafe and then watched a 15-minute 360-degree video about China. It was really interesting, and the 360-degree view gave it a really interesting aspect. We all stood in the middle of a giant circular room, and the movie was broadcast on screens above us that circled the room, so if it showed a street scene, there was traffic both in front of and behind you, making you feel as though you were in the middle of the street. I wasn't thrilled about having to stand through it [my feet were hurting], but it was pretty neat.

And finally I watched The American Experience, which is a 20 minute stage and screen show about some of the history of the US. For a history nerd such as myself, it was pretty entertaining, especially the narration by models of Benjamin Franklin and Mark Twain, but definitely something to be taken with a grain of salt when it exults the wonders of America.

Universal Orlando

And finally, the crown jewel: Universal Orlando.

It's grown so much over the years that it's now split into two parks: the original Universal Studios and the newer Islands of Adventure.

I headed for Islands of Adventure first, as I wanted to spend as much time as I could in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. And it did not disappoint. I spent about an hour wandering through the village of Hogsmeade, visiting the shops and riding the rides. The Dragon's Challenge was my favourite, and the tour through the castle was so awesome that I did it twice [also because there's a separate line for single riders, so I got to skip ahead of everyone waiting]. I also went on the Flight of the Hippogriff, which was pretty fun - you can't beat getting to fly over Hagrid's Hut. I could have stayed there for even more hours, but I wanted to explore as much of the parks as I could in the time I was there.

From there I went to Jurassic Park and went on the river rafting ride. It was good fun, and I ended up pretty wet by the end of it. I was previously struggling with whether or not I wanted to go on both of the other water rides in Toon Lagoon, and I figured at that point since I was already wet, I might as well go big or go home. So off I went to get in line for Ripsaw Falls, where I got DRENCHED on the last drop. And it was pretty awesome. And then I completed the trifecta with a turn on the Bilge-Rat Barges, after which point I looked a bit like a drowned rat. They have these "People Dryers" outside those last two where you can pay $5 to dry off - it wasn't a complete waste of money, but I definitely think the blowers could be placed in better spots. Next I hit up the Incredible Hulk Coaster - you know, that giant green one you always see in all the ads? And it was even more awesome that it appears. And then finally my last stop was in Suess Landing for the Trolley Train Ride. It was alright - I think the 20-minute wait [my longest of the day] combined with not great speakers kind of made it feel a little anti-climactic.

Once I finished on that side, I headed out and over to the original Universal Studios. My first stop? The Simpsons Ride, obviously. It's one of those simulated rides, and it was pretty fun. After that it was time for The Mummy Returns roller coaster, which I had not previously tried out. And it was great. And then I wrapped up my day with a turn on the Rockit roller coaster. Once again I used the "single riders" line to skip to the front of the line, saving myself about a 15-minute wait. And now for the best part: you get to choose your own soundtrack for the ride [the speakers are in the headrests]. I went with rock 'n roll and ended up ZZTop's Gimme All Your Lovin', which was probably the best way possible to wrap up an already awesome day.

So when it was all said and done, I went on 11 different rides 12 times [with the castle journey twice] in just about 5 hours. That's a pretty successful day in my book.

Two things I will say about Universal that sets it apart from the Disney parks: the single-rider lines and the free lockers provided for some of the rides. I think the single-rider lines speak for themselves. It's good when people want to go on a ride but the others in their party don't and so therefore don't have to wait as long. It's also good for groups that don't mind splitting up, especially if it means shorter lines. And it's good for those rare breeds such as myself who actually just visit the park solo.

The free lockers were my other favourite. On some of the rides - especially the roller coasters - loose articles are not allowed. That means no hats or glasses unless you don't mind losing them, and no bags. Sometimes you can just leave your stuff with someone in your party who doesn't want to go on that particular ride, but if everyone wants to go, it can be a problem. Well, free lockers to the rescue! At each of those rides, lockers are provided where you can store your belongings. It takes your fingerprint, which is how you unlock it once you've finished the ride. Based on how long the wait is for the line, you get a certain amount of time free for the lockers, and then you have the option of keeping the locker longer for a fee. It's genius. The only flaw is that these aren't an option for the water rides; there are lockers near those rides, but none of them offer them for free, and I was too cheap to pay $4 for 30 minutes. But otherwise, genius.

And there you have my solo amusement park adventures. Like I said, always more fun with friends, but definitely a fun little expedition.

05 November 2013

book reviews: the secret history; stardust.

A couple of book updates from the last month...

The Secret History [Donna Tartt]. This was our "book club" selection for October, once again chosen from one of those numerous Books You Should Read lists. I had read Tartt's other novel, The Little Friend, a few years ago, and although I was left a little dumbfounded by it, I had heard this one was better. It's certainly a long one, weighing it at around 559 pages. When I first started it, I didn't think there was any way I would finish it within the month, just because of its sheer volume. And indeed, the only reason I ended up completing it is because I spent a lot of time in airports and on flights the last 2 weeks of October. The plot takes some time to get going and then takes a few unexpected twists along the way. Admittedly, I'm still hazy on a few of the things that happened. At a few points, 20 pages were devoted to giving the backstory to something, and then suddenly it was over before you even realised it had happened. I think it was partly because the narrator of the story, Richard, was a passive participant in most of the stories being told, so that's why it sometimes seems as though major plot points were glossed over. I will say, though, that the final 50 pages were really good. There was a twist at the end that I never saw coming but that I thought really made the end of the book interesting. I definitely liked it better than our previous book, but I think I might take a little break from some of those lists and stick to books that look interesting to me.

Stardust [Neil Gaiman]. After falling a little bit in love with Neil Gaiman's voice listening to him read The Ocean at the End of the Lane when I went to Little Rock in September, I decided to use my remaining Audible credits to download 2 more of his books, and I listened to the first on my trip to Little Rock this past weekend. I had seen the movie version of Stardust when it came out circa 2006[?], but I had never actually read the book, so I thought it would be fun to listen to it. And I was not disappointed. Neil Gaiman's voice was as awesome as it was the first time around, and it was fun to listen to the story and be able to pick out which parts were altered for the movie or which details were added in. My favourite part, though? They play music in between some of the chapters, and it just gives it that little extra magical touch that the story so deserves. I like the story anyway, of a boy from a village who crosses a wall to catch a falling star and of the adventures he encounters along the way, and the music was a masterful final touch.

next in line to keep me company on my India trip:

  • The Book Thief by Markus Zusak [Kindle version]
  • Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs [Kindle version]
  • a yet-to-be-determined print book
  • Will's book to be edited if it arrives in time
and for when I return:
  • The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman [scored at our Booktober book swap last month!]
  • The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver
Any good book suggestions out there in the blogging world?

04 November 2013

movie review: runner runner.

While I was in Little Rock this past weekend, Britney and I found ourselves with a few hours to kill on Saturday afternoon and nowhere to go. We were downtown around 3pm and were planning on attending a get-together in North Little Rock around 6.30pm, which left us with about 3.5 hours on our hands. Since we were staying in Roland, a 30-minute drive in the opposite direction, going home wasn't an option. We needed food and a bit of a pick-me-up after a morning that saw us driving to Conway and not finding a dresser for Bee and then attending the Cornbread Festival, spending $10 to get in, and ultimately not getting any cornbread. So Slim Chickens was on the menu. But that only solved part of our problem. Bee wanted to get some sheets for her futon [she's moving this week, hence all the house-related errands] and various other knickknacks, so we decided to find a way to kill a few hours in NLR before going to her friend's house.

And then inspiration struck. The Dollar Theater in North Little Rock!

The Dollar Theater has been a go-to when we've been looking for things to do without having to spend a ton of money. They show "recent" releases - within the last 3-6 months for a steeply discounted price, and while it's not the fanciest of places, it certainly gets the job done. Sidenote: the movies actually cost $1.75, so the name is only slightly misleading.

Upon scrolling through the options, we decided that Runner Runner would be our best bet. The timing worked with our makeshift schedule, it had Justin Timberlake and Ben Affleck in it, and the trailer looked interesting.

And that's pretty much where the positive accolades ended.

For me, the movie was all-over-the-place. The scenes were choppy and didn't blend together, making it seem as though we missed big chunks of the plot or just had to assume things happened without us knowing. The camera work in a few of the scenes was pretty terrible [including one particular awful time lapse shot]. I love me some JT, but he's not a great dramatic actor - although to be fair, his character wasn't great in this movie. None of the characters were well-developed. I don't know enough about poker and online gaming to be able to keep up with the lingo, and buzzwords were tossed around like they're nothing [and we all know how I feel about buzzwords], expecting the audience to have an inherent knowledge of these things. A lot of things are left unanswered. And to be honest, it just didn't make sense.

I walked out of there being so glad that my brother and I didn't go see it over the summer as we intended and that it only set me back a dollar seventy-five. When movies are that cheap, you can laugh it off if they're not good; if you pay full-price, it can be upsetting when they fail to keep you entertained.

There is, however, one good thing I can say about it: it was only 90 minutes long.

remember when flying was fun?

I do.

I remember the days before bag check fees. I remember the days when you could keep your shoes on through the security check. I remember the joy of getting off a plane and running straight into the arms of a waiting friend or family member. I remember when water wasn't considered a threat. I remember when you didn't have to pay for snacks on flights.

But mostly, I remember the days when flying somewhere - anywhere - was an adventure unlike any other.

The anticipation leading up to a trip that required a flight meant sleepless nights and excited chatter. It meant planning who would go to the airport to pick up or drop off visitors. It meant fun.

But sadly, those days are behind us.

These days, flying can seem like such a chore. You have to get to the airport hours early. You have to pay $25 to check in your bags simply because you need to carry liquids in excess of 3 ounces. Security lines are long and tenuous [and often you get stuck behind fellow travelers who can make it even more cumbersome]. TSA officers continue to become less and less friendly. Generally, everyone seems to be in a hurry and / or a bad mood. The food options keep getting more and more expensive [$10 for a salad? you've got to be kidding me]. You're continually told what you cannot do rather than what you can. Before takeoffs, flight attendants seem like broken records constantly repeating that phones need to be switched off, because no one listens to them anymore [I feel bad for them on this one. sometimes fellow travelers can be super obnoxious]. And then, even once you're on the flight, you sometimes still have to pay for food or beverages. That's just overkill. And then, even if you're transiting from one flight to the next, you have to go through Security Check again. That reusable water bottle of yours that the very sweet flight attendant filled on the flight for you to have during your long layover? You have to dump it out. Either find a water fountain - increasingly difficult - or shell out $5 for a plastic bottle.

Somehow the magic of traveling has worn off, and it's really upsetting.

I still love to travel. I love planning trips and booking tickets and getting to see new and familiar faces and places. But the apprehension I feel when approaching an airport can sometimes outweigh those feelings of excitement for wherever it is I am going. When I know what lays ahead of me - sometimes for the next 30 hours - it can put such a damper on the simple joy of getting to go somewhere.

And I know some of it is beyond control. Cheap airlines make it difficult for more expensive ones to stay competitive in certain places. Fuel costs are rising. The general cost of living is rising. Terror is a real concern. But it doesn't help to alienate your customer base by making them miserable before they even get on the flight. Those bad experiences? They stick with us and make us less likely to fly through your airport or on your airline in the future.

I've been to San Francisco and back, Orlando and back, and Atlanta and back in the last 3 weeks, and I'm leaving for India this upcoming Saturday. I can't wait to be back and to see everyone in Coimbatore, Bangalore, and Bombay, but all I can seem to think about is the hassle of just getting there.

I want to go back to the days when flying was a fun adventure.
Who's with me?

03 November 2013

the joy project: week forty-one.

another super crazy but super fun week.

Sunday: took myself to Epcot and explored the World Showcase. spent 10 minutes watching a sweet lady from Mexico paint some beautiful souvenirs, learned about Norway and China, and watched a pretty entertaining stage show about the US. attended the after-hours AAP exhibit and picked up a ton of free swag from various hospitals and other promoters.

Monday: spent the whole day at Universal Studios. immersed myself in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter! because the park was pretty empty - and because of the separate line for single riders - I got to skip ahead of people and head right to the front of a lot of the attractions. I saw the Hogwarts Express, I bought sweets from Honeydukes, I survived the Dragon's Challenge, and I took a tour through the Hogwarts castle and grounds. it was amazing, and I could have spent the whole day in just that part of the park, but I took full advantage of both parks and went on 11 different rides in just under 5 hours. 3 of which were loopy-loop roller coasters. I call that a pretty successful day.

Tuesday: back to Memphis.

Wednesday: finished my book club book with one day to go! India victory over Australia. busy day flying to-and-from Atlanta with mum for our Global Entry interviews, but I got to have a chili cheese dog and a chili cheeseburger from The Varsity for lunch, so it was completely worth it. Grizz season opener!

Thursday: first workout since my race. lunch with my parents at Bharat. road trip to Little Rock. farewell family dinner for Nathan Jesson at Chuy's.

Friday: lunch with Angela at the Heifer Cafe. picked up some goodies from David Monteith for the ladies in Bangalore and Bombay. got to see my Erbach girls for the first time since last May [they've grown so much!]. Clinton School alumni happy hour at Gusano's. had a New Girl marathon at home with Bee.

Saturday: snagged a free shirt at the Cornbread Festival [almost made up for not actually getting any cornbread]. late lunch at Slim Chickens. scored some awesome winter slippers at Ross. small get-together at Bee's friend's house. continued our New Girl season 1 marathon. 2am feasting on some red beans and rice.

it was a busy week with a lot of travel, but it was a pretty fantastic one.