Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Red Shoes: A Movie Review

I just watched a movie worthy of its very own blog post, The Red Shoes, a British film made in 1948 directed and produced by "The Archers" is a wonderfully artistic film. It certainly isn't everyone's cup of tea, and at a little over two hours, it may seem tedious to some; but for me, it was like watching moving art.
It's about a woman (Moira Shearer) who goes from extra to prima ballerina in her company and stars in a ballet commissioned for her by the company's director called "The Red Shoes," based on Hans Christian Andersen's story in which a pair of red shoes cause its wearer to dance without stopping.

Some don't realize, but Hans Christian Andersen's stories are unique; they are often macabre usually without even delivering a moral lesson.
Anyway, Moira's character lives to dance and falls in love with the composer of "The Red Shoes," and it seems all's well that ends well until she's forced to choose between the role she was born to perform or the love of her life. I won't tell you how it ends (obviously), but overall I thought it was a wonderful piece. It's a relatively simple story, and depends equally on the actors' abilities to pull of a character-based yet plot-driven performance. Moira is certainly not the most beautiful actress to grace the screen especially in this era of bombshells and buxom leading ladies in movie history, but I couldn't take my eyes off her especially given her talent for acting besides her effortless movements as a dancer; a rare combination in hollywood portrayals of ballet.

Note: if you happen to be in the mood for a ballet movie that isn't so dated, try The Company for worthy acting and admirable dancing.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

A Life To-Do List

A woman at my work has a "Life To-Do List" and I couldn't BELIEVE I hadn't thought to make one yet! So here's a short (and non-personal) list of some things I must do before I take my leave of this world. NOTE: If you've done any of these things, please comment and let me know how it went, I'd love to read about your experience!

-Glide down Venice's Grand Canal in a gondola
-Visit every U.S. state (18 to go)
-Do a cartwheel
-Write and publish a play, book, or story
-Learn French (Have my "French for Dummys" CDs in the car)
-Buy an opal in Australia, then wear it to a performance at the Sydney Opera House

-Run a half marathon
-Make every recipe out of the Magnolia Bakery cookbook (albeit a little counter productive to the marathon...)
-Commission a painting
-Live in France for a spell, maybe raise my daughter there for a year or two to establish her in the language

-Read 100 books in a year (only about two a week, no prob!)
-Wear a dress designed by Sarah Knudsen
-Return to Barcelona
-Climb a mountain (a smallish, safe one, I hate heights)

-Conquer my fear of spiders (I'm on my way! Now that I live alone, my choices are to kill the spider myself or to wait for it to stealthily crawl into bed with me later! So I kill.)
-Traverse the Great Wall of China
-Work in a coffee shop
-Read the entire Bible in Spanish

-Become a wine aficionado
-Read everything ever written by C.S. Lewis
-Go blonde
-Hike Machu Picchu (before it crumbles away!)
-Try surfing, for the hilarity of seeing me try to balance on a slab of styrofoam if nothing else
-Ride a mechanical bull

-Stay in an ice hotel

-Work in a book store
-Learn Italian
-See the Taj Mahal
-Own a pair of Manolo Blahniks, Salvatore Ferragamos, or (best yet) vintage Roger Vivier

-Learn to juggle
-Practice a Chopin until it's performance-ready (working on Prelude No. 15 in D-flat Major 'Raindrop')
-Become fluent in Photoshop, InDesign, and Illustrator and create something beautiful
-Learn to play the guitar
-Watch a space shuttle launch onsite
-Send a message in a bottle and give it to the ocean
-Party in Rio at Carnival
-Have a bowl of shark soup
-Find the absolute perfect white T-shirt (then buy 10 of them)
Two new firsts! First parking ticket in San Diego (I was EIGHT MINUTES LATE), and another new fruit! My first blood orange, in honor of Alison b/c last night I promised her I'd try another new fruit. I've had blood orange before as an ingredient, but never on its own as a whole fruit. It's in my lunchbag, I'll let you know how it is.

Friday, April 25, 2008

First Things First

An updated list of firsts for Meg Schudel:
1) Ate "Pirogi" last night for the first time, it's a Russian potato dumpling--my Argentine/Armenian friend made them for was an ethnic and delicious moment for me (Ha! Thanks Natalia!)

2) My first car wash, no, I'm not kidding. I'd been through a couple before with my grandfather when I was a little girl. Back then, I laughed and clapped my hands like I was on a ride at disneyland. But now that I've grown up, I only laughed and smiled like an idiot when the waves of water, suds, and "rainbow wax" drenched my vehicle. This was during my second visit to the car wash, my first attempt was utterly anticlimactic. I just assumed the machine took plastic, so I sat in a line of five cars for thirty minutes waiting for my turn only to arrive at the inescapable entrance and not have any of the needed currency to obtain a wash! It asked for a code or cash, after frantically checking every nook and cranny of my car for dollar bills, I gave up in futility and (I'm not kidding, I get really anxious in situations where strangers are waiting on me) yelled at the machine , "WHAT IS THIS CODE YOU SPEAK OF AND HOW DO I GET IT?!" Nothing doing, and unable to escape any other way, I simply had to drive right through, in the car wash hut and out the other side, leaving the person behind me to think that I was 10 kinds of crazy...which I suppose I am a little. Once her laughter had subsided, the benevolent Alison Selig gently explained the code thing to me later, I get it now.

3) First horned melon. Yeah, check it out, it's the funnest fruit!! It's slimey, brilliantly colored and WAY too much work to fish the seeds out of the juicy membranes you're supposed to consume. It tastes a little like kiwi, honeydew, and a green grape.

4) Got my first business card ever! Scary. And corporate. But embossed on crosshatched cardstock so I suppose I should be grateful.

5) Tried Pike's Place brew at Starbucks, it's everything. Try it (dedicating this one to Peter).

6) On a sort of sad note, I had to cut two friends out of my life. It was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do. I've never done that before. Until recently, I'd always believed that every relationship is salvagable. Then I grew up. I knew these individuals would continue to unapologetically break my heart, and that I had nothing else to offer them either. They already took what I could give them and, let's face it, left me a bit empty handed. In the end, they know I still love and pray for them. To those who've supported me through this, I can't thank you enough.

7) I have my first California library card, I'm feeling more and more like I actually live here! Tip to the poor: rent movies from the library, it's free! I dropped Netflix like a bad habit and hit the library's DVD collection. Libraries tend to have the more obscure books-made-into-movies pieces you can't find other places. No time for movies? Do the books on CD, my mother's discovered them and finds excuses to hang around the house to catch up on her "reading," if you can't get to the library, do librivox for free literature downloads.

8) I left my number for a stranger. I've given it out before, just not in a "call me" scrap of paper way, always verbally. Sarah and I were at a restaurant in Little Italy and the waiter was the sweetest guy, we talked Argentina while other tables seethed at him for his inattentiveness to their appetites (I know b/c the table next to ours teasingly called me out on it when waiter was absent and Sarah had gone to the loo, "thanks for distracting the waiter, we'd like to get our tirimisu sometime today".) Andrew, the waiter, seemed enthusiastic to have someone relate to his Buenos Aires experiences, so I left my number with the tip before I left in case he wished to continue the convo. No, he hasn't called yet, I really don't mind. I was more curious to hear his stories than to date him, promise.
9) Found sand dollars on the beach! I've only ever found seashells! They were sort of dirty looking and cracked around the edges, not like the bleached white ones you see in stores, but I like them anyway.

9) Had to shake sand off of my car mats.

10) Made what I consider to be my first major purchase, a piano. The most I've ever spent on any one thing and I love all 88 out-of-tune keys of it.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

No pictures, please

The Scene
Sarah and I are walking around La Jolla, inland a little where all the high-end shops are where all we can afford are the business cards, and Sarah comes upon a seagull perched on a round, marble water feature in front of a restaurant, slowly waddling away from the top placing it at a precarious angle which is hilarious to behold.

Enter man in black
Creepy guy (who coincidentally looks a lot like a waiter): Excuse me, Ma'am? You're not allowed to take pictures of the seagulls.
Meg: (laughs a little but quietly so the charade can be carried out at her darling friend's expense and knowing enough about men in California to know that this is some bizarre come on from man in black)
Sarah: (yanking the camera to waist level) "Oh, I'm really sorry, I just thought he looked..."
Meg: You're not serious (to man in black upon observing the alarm in Sarah's face)
Creepy: Well I don't know, you guys aren't from around here, are you? (smarminess ensues)
Sarah: Well she is (pointing to me), I'm not.
Creepy: Where are you from?
Sarah: Nebraska.
Creepy: Oh, I'm sorry (with intonation that clearly smacked of sarcasm and pity).
Sarah: (With an admirably defiant tone) Why are you sorry? I'm not!

Creepy guy tries to make graceful exit, fails, Sarah and I duck into Tommy Bahama and laugh about the incident. I think we ultimately decided that it was a good thing NE has such a bad rep, or else creeps like that guy might be tempted to visit.


Monday, April 21, 2008

Failure to Launch No Longer

Having spent a long weekend with my dearest friend Sarah, I'm inspiried to take full advantage of my situation. Therefore, I resolve to:
1) Meet my upstairs neighbor and establish what hours it would be polite to engage in piano playing
2) Once a week, find a new coffee shop to do my leisure reading in the evenings
3) Discover new walk/jogging paths
4) Sign up for a 5k race
5) Cook/bake something new every week (probably based on Linda's recipes which she so diligently posts)
6) Watch at least one sunset on the beach every week
7) Go to a Museum every two weeks
8) Attend one event in the city every month (this weekend, Art Walk in Little Italy!)
9) Continue to pursue finding a church where I can comfortably and enthusiastically worship
10) Pursue mission work with Melissa in Tijuana, para practicar mi espanol y ayudar la gente de bajos recursos

This list stems from a constructive planning/advisory session with the wiser-than-she-thinks Sarah Knudsen. I already miss her sunny-side-up outlook, her effervescent personality, and bubbly laugh so much--but having spent this stolen time with her, I'm left refreshed and empowered. Thanks Kiddo.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

A Forrest in my sunset

I have a story today, I know I haven’t had one for a while. Three weeks ago, I was driving home and took a detour so I’d drive by La Jolla beach. As I could’ve predicted, the ocean worked on me like a magnet, I was compelled to pull over and park, slip on my flip-flops (I always keep a pair in the car now), and run down to the water. I only meant to get my feet wet, but I played in the water, sand, and tide pools from 4:00 p.m. until the sun began to set (about 7:30 p.m. here). I hadn’t even realized how long I’d been out there but seeing that the sun was setting, I made my way back to the top of the cliffs for a better view of the scene, sat on a free bench and decided to have a chat with God.
I’d been feeling a little, okay a lot more distant from God than I’d like to admit and was ready to have quite the little discussion with Him. As usual, I came to him with the sort of indignance and frustration that I know for certain is my own doing, but I like to pretend is his fault. God doesn’t mind, I’m sure. It’s so incredulous and foolish that he can only shake His head and return my fist-shaking session with patience, waiting for me to get the picture. I asked God what I was doing here in San Diego and why I wasn’t meeting more people and why he wouldn’t give me a church and a community.
I was engrossed in this mental vent session when this man suddenly appeared at my side. I was truly startled and looked up to see a grizzled man peering at me from under a fisherman's hat, wearing soiled clothes, and holding an engorged plastic sack in one hand and a tattered backpack in the other.
“I’m having a barbeque,” he said, “but the problem is I don’t have a grill or anyone to share it with.”
Never at a loss for words, I responded coolly (I was more in the mood for conversation with the Almighty than a bum), “That sounds like a conundrum.”
“Conundrum! Now there’s a 5-dollar word!”
I have a curse for using overly large words when in the presence of those who are least able to grasp them. I’m not joking. It’s one of the things that makes communication with children difficult for me. Inevitably, whenever I need to sound eloquent and well-spoken all the richness of the English language eludes me. But put a homeless man in front of me and eureka! It immediately put a wall up between this man and myself, though I hadn’t meant for it to.
I began to say something else but he interrupted, “Do you mind if I sit here?” as he set down his bags and eased himself down beside me—I noticed that the bulging platic bag contained cans and cans of cheap beer. I inwardly sighed and consented though I wished him gone. He began a few more times to make conversation with me and I, while trying to remain somewhat civil, ignored each of his queries and icebreakers. I did a safety scan: were there people within screaming distance? Yes. Were there cars frequenting the street behind us should he choose to attack? Yes. Did I have even a remotely sharp object on me should I need to protect myself? Yes, I loosened the cap off of the pen in my pocket…just in case.
As I wound up my analysis, he expressed his impatience for my disdain and accused me of not even being able to look him in the eye. This I proceeded to do and asked him with equal impatience if he could honestly blame me, a woman on my own, for being wary of a strange man with a plastic bag full of beer. His expression and tone of voice changed immediately. He said, “I’m not really a bad guy, if you don’t mind alcoholics.” I told him I’d not known any so he would be soley responsible for the basis on which I would form my opinion. He cracked open a can and cheered to that.
He repeated, “I’m not a bad guy, in fact, I would like to give you a present.” He proceeded to dig around in his back pack from which he produced a canvas back full of seashells and a length of elastic. He asked me to hold out my wrist, I refused. I was uncomfortable. So he pursed his lips and nodded and encircled his own wrist with the elastic and cut off a length a bit smaller than that. He looked at me and asked, “I don’t have any friends or anyone to talk to. Could you do something for me? Can you stay here with me? You can leave either as soon as the sun goes down or as soon as I finish your bracelet, whichever comes first. But please stay.”
I nodded, and he set to work, his clumsy hands and painstakingly stringing the small shells onto the elastic explaining that this is what he did for a living. It was too hard for me to watch him. The craft would’ve taken young, dexterous hands moments to complete, but his rough hands with scabs and cuts all over them worked so slowly. I had to look at the sunset, I would guess we had about 15 minutes left. He almost completed the bracelet when the elastic broke and he had to start over again. I helped him gather the shells that had flown off. He patiently began again, using his own wrist to measure, not asking me this time. At this point I felt so bad, I offered to purchase the bracelet from him, I only had $3, but he seemed grateful for the offer and accepted. The sun sank faster than I’d predicted and he prattled on about disconnected facts about himself I tried to follow and stories whose meaning was indiscernible. "By the way, I'm Forrest." All the while he talked, I tried to find a way to introduce the subject of God into the conversation, for what could offer more comfort to a man like this? Maybe he could even go to a church for some aid. That's what I was there for right? Isn't that how the Chicken Soup for the Soul books go? There to pray but a serendipitous encounter leads to warm and fuzzies in the end? But he prattled on without ceasing and I never felt like that opportunity presented itself and I inwardly yelled at God for the second time that day, “What the heck am I doing here if you don’t want me to witness to him God? Why this utter waste of my time? Why won’t you help me do what I'm supposed to be able to do?!” I was so angry.
He finally finished, just as the sun hit the water and he held it up to examine it. I started tearing up out of frustration at not being able to introduce the subject of God and at the overwhelming pity I felt for this man, luckily it was getting too dark for him to tell. I handed him the money, and he held the bracelet open for me to slip my hand through. I tensed at once, having no desire whatsoever to touch or be touched by this man. But then a moment of clarity—Jesus never refused to touch anyone no matter what their status or situation, and he was God! He, of all men, did not have to condescend to touch and interact with the lowly. The man’s hands were still suspended in air, holding open the ‘o’ of the bracelet for me and I looked him in the eyes and saw him as an equal, for the first time. I put my hand though, feeling his calloused skin brush mine, and he took the back of my hand, turned it over, and examined the inside of my wrist staring at it and stroked it with his thumb then released it. It was a very intimate moment that could’ve easily taken a on a shade of perverseness, but was very innocent and our eyes met as one human to another, his were clear of any ulterior motive and full of appreciation. Mine still welled with tears. He thanked me slowly and sincerely saying, “Thank you for letting a lonely man share a sunset with a beautiful woman.” I didn't feel beautiful at all, I felt like an insufferable snob who was rubbish at witnessing. I thanked him for the bracelet, put on my sandals and told him to take care of himself.
There's no punch line, I'm about as confused now as I was when I drove away from the beach. I failed to share Jesus with Forrest, but I gave him the only thing that occurred to me that Jesus might give; a touch.

(Photo is, finally, not "borrowed" from the Internet. A shot of sunset on La Jolla beach--not taken on the same day as my meeting with Forrest.)

Cuppa at Pannikin

Pannikin Coffee & Tea is my Sunday afternoon spot today and I’m soaking in my surroundings. It’s a lovely little place with the feel of a backyard even though it sits just off of busy Girard and Pearl streets in La Jolla’s quaint beach community. A white-washed wooden front with slightly protruding bay windows introduce a natural wooden deck with plastic patio chairs and mismatched, wobbly tables, all of which overlooks a small cement and garden patio with umbrella-shaded tables with chipped Spanish-tile tops.

I’m perched at the corner of the wooden deck with a perfect vantage point of all the diners and drinkers, just under the outdoor speaker exuding pleasantly mellow music in a language I don’t recognize, Portuguese maybe. There’s a man sitting in the space across from me on the opposing porch corner smoking and doing what I’m doing. He languidly takes in his surroundings as he smokes and, I imagine, records what he sees in his mental journal. He seems particularly fond of looking up through the leaves of a big tree around which the porch is constructed, with a big hole in its wooden slats with enough room to allow for the tree’s girth as it ages.
Two women sit below me, chatting sporatically over their cold dishes. One has hair color that, even in Dr. Seuss’ world, does not grow naturally on human heads. She separates the components or her salad (alfalfa sprouts, tomatoes, red onion, carrot shavings, etc.), then, spears each in assembly line fashion. Her friend is sipping an impossibly frothy cappuccino and an plate of pita bread, hummus and assorted veggie sides. The smell from the cucumber slices on her plate pleasantly waft up to me.
There are others too, the man sitting at the table directly in front of me is old and a bit grumpy. He, in what must be his 60th year of life, has still not discovered the art of anchoring down loose items that might blow away in the breeze. Since he sat down, he has lost three napkins, the sports section of the Union Tribune and his to-go coffee cup—the latter of which provoked the most grumbling and under-the-breath cursing on his part.
My tranquil setting is interrupted only by the banging of espresso tools and crotch rockets firing down the street I forget is there b/c of the high hedges around the patio and lulling music overhead. I’ve spent the whole last week in bed, at work, and all else is a medicated blur. I did have a few meaningful conversations on the phone, close girlfriends from Lincoln have proven to be as loyal as can be and frequently ring to keep tabs on me. I also had a lovely chat with my endlessly-talented friend, Peter, who has written the most fantastic play. I’ve read it three times now and my liking for it increases each time. Like any good fan, I’m already impatient for his next creation.

(Note: this photo isn't mine, I stole it from the Internet. Again, hopefully this is enough to prevent someone from suing the pants off me.)