Saturday, April 26, 2008

Diving in Bonaire

You may have already heard how earlier this month I went on a trip to Bonaire with the dive club I joined. So I figured I’d write this post to tell you all a bit about the trip and share some of the photos I took topside and underwater while I was there because (a) some of you might care and (b) if I want someone to pay me someday to travel the world and write/talk about it I’d probably better practice the traveloguing.

The Island of Bonaire

Together with Aruba and Curacao, Bonaire is one of the “ABC Islands” which lie in the southern Caribbean off the coast of Venezuela. It is part of the Dutch Antilles (along with Curacao, St. Maarten, and some smaller islands) which is, in turn, part of the “Kingdom of the Netherlands.” Apparently the “Kingdom” is going to be reorganized in December 2008, with St. Maarten and Curacao opting for greater autonomy (as Aruba has already done) while Bonaire, Saba and other small islands will become legally akin to municipalities in the Netherlands like Amsterdam or Delft.

At various points in its history, Bonaire was ruled by the Spanish, the Dutch and the British, however none of those Empires did much to colonize the arid island. The Spanish enslaved the indigenous Caquetios people and shipped most of them off to work on sugar cane plantations in Santo Domingo. They’re also responsible for transplanting wild goats and donkeys to Bonaire, the descendants of whom still roam the island today. The Dutch West India company began the commercial production of salt (which is still Bonaire's #1 export) in the 17th century using convicts, Native Americans, and Africans for slave labor.

Today, most of the islands inhabitants are of mixed African/European ancestry but there is also a sizeable percentage of Dutch Europeans. The official language is Dutch, but a lot of people speak this Creole language called Papiamentu which combines Dutch, Portuguese and Spanish -- it even has some words whose roots come from English and Italian as well as from African and Native American languages.

As I said, Bonaire has an arid climate, so it's not a green island known for its fresh produce. Wandering around you see a lot of tall cactus fences that people have cultivated to seperate their property from the road. But despite the desert clime, I was struck with the diversity of animals I saw on and around Bonaire. On land I happened upon some of the wild goats as well as iguanas, salamanders, small amphibious crabs that scuttled sideways back into the water, a parrot, a pelican and a white flamingo. Flying fish jumped out of the waves in front of the dive boat. And underwater, Bonaire is surrounded by reefs which support a thriving, colorful ecosystem.

Diving


Most of Bonaire's tourism industry is centered on diving. While I was there, staying at Captain Don's Habitat resort, I went on a total of 14 dives. In addition to a multitude of different kinds of fish, coral and sponges, I saw some a bunch of coral shrimp (did you know they like to clean fish by eating little things off of them? I don't think I knew this), a few turtles, a lobster, a sting ray, and a couple of dolphins! (granted they were like 50 feet away, they seemed like they were in a hurry to get somewhere -- no time to play for these guys).

I went on a wreck dive of this sunken 80s drug smuggling ship (sounds pretty Miami Vice doesn't it?) called the Hilma Hooker which was pretty cool. According to the dive computer I was wearing, I got down to 96 feet and we got to swim through this opening in the ship's cargo hold. Equally other-worldly was the night dive I went on. At night (I guess this is obvious), the water is dark except for the flashlights carried by the divers in your group and these huge tarpon, who were maybe attracted by the light and which I liked to think of as "ghost fish," kept on swimming by us. Also on the night dive I saw a slipper lobster and this big crab that looked like it was delicious.

Anyway, I made a slideshow of all the photos I took (with captions and all) so check it out if you want. Oh also, at one of the dive sites ("Something special" which is right by Kralendijk's harbor) we swam by this webcam at 50 feet. You can check out live images from the cam here.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Meeg at the Movies: You Stole the Sun from my Heart

I watched Sunshine on DVD a few months back. It was released in 2007 and directed by Danny Boyle who also filmed Shallow Grave, Trainspotting, and 28 Days Later.

This is a sci-fi film set 50 years in the future. The Sun is growing dimmer thus threatening life on Earth and pool parties everywhere; so mankind sends a spaceship called the Icarus II on a mission to drop a nuclear missile into the dying star in hopes of reigniting it and -- if there's time -- to bring the crew back safely. The Icarus II is manned by an international team of astronauts and scientists: Michelle Yeoh (from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) is the biologist responsible for the garden that supplies them with oxygen; the lithe, androgynous Cillian Murphy (who was in 28 Days Later) is the physicist who designed the ship's nuclear device; and American, action movie guy Chris Evans is... kind of a douche. Oh, and Hiroyuki Sanada who starred in Ringu plays Captain Kaneda, whose name is a clear shout out to Akira.

Everything is going according to plan until they pick up a distress transmission which seems to be coming from the Icarus I -- the vessel's predecessor that was sent out on the same mission several years ago never to be heard from again. The crew decides to divert from their preplanned course: some are curious to know the previous ship's fate, and some think they must rescue the survivors in the unlikely event anyone's still alive, but they ultimately decide to follow the signal because if they can retrieve the Icarus I's nuclear payload they'll increase their chances of success by 50%. After they go off autopilot, human error enters the picture and things start going very wrong very fast.

A firm basis in hard science (physicist Brian Cox from Manchester University acted as the movie's technical advisor) makes the film very interesting and very realistic, and at times the cinematography is poetic. But then about 30 minutes from the end, when the "monster" is revealed, Sunshine started to lose me. When I was reading reviews of the movie, back when it was first released in theaters, I saw that many critics had the same reaction that I did. I feel as though the filmmakers probably thought they were ratcheting up the tension for a dramatic conclusion (and it was kind of a rollercoaster ride) and also that they were raising interesting metaphysical/theological questions in the finale, but compared to everything that came before it the ending seemed to me more run of the mill and less realistic.

Yet despite this somewhat disappointing conclusion, I would say Sunshine is certainly worth seeing not only for the action and the science but also for the philosophical questions it raises. The crew's psychiatrist gets addicted to gazing out the ship's window and staring into the Sun despite the obvious dangers (you can see blisters on his face). You wonder what he sees: beauty? power? the source of life? or maybe he's just getting high off the UV rays.

Also, as the team's mission falls deeper into jeopardy, I put myself in the mindset of the characters. It was of the utmost importance that the Icarus II somehow complete its mission and drop that atom bomb into the Sun, and compared to that necessity whether or not I myself survived was really beside the point. It's interesting to think about being in that rare (or should I say hypothetical) situation where the lives of a large amount of people (in the case explored in Sunshine the lives of the entire human race) depend on you fulfilling some goal, and thus a logical person would risk or even sacrifice his life to do what has to be done.


Image of Cliff Curtis in the observation deck of the Icarus II in the movie Sunshine (Fox Searchlight Pictures)

3 Ideas for Band Names

While I was in the office today (Saturday), I stumbled upon this post on Used Wigs (the site's tagline is "Quality Workday Distractions") called Free Band Names. This started me thinking about my brilliant ideas regarding names for hypothetical musical groups that I might belong to or manage or something someday. And, hey, I have a blog so why not share these gems? So here's my top 3 suggestions for band names. If you happen to have a nameless fledgling music group feel free to steal one, but you totally have to leave a comment and a link to your myspace page or whatever. Anyway, here it goes...

3. Jason and the Cosmonauts: band names following the "Given Name and the Plural Nouns" formula harken back to old school rock and roll groups. Plus, this name references the legendary voyage of the Argos and its motley crew as well as the Soviet/Russian space program -- both of which are very cool things.

2. Last Exit Before Toll: I always thought those signs were deep when I rode past one -- plus no one wants to pay the toll. This makes me think about that time I dropped Amanda off to babysit for someone and on the way back to our apartment in uptown New Orleans I somehow accidentally crossed the bridge to the Westbank (or the Wank, if you will). Then I had no money in my pocket to pay the toll to get back to civilization, and Nicole told me I was going to have to make a detour and cross over the scary Huey P which was free, but then Amanda informed me of the emergency Taco Bell money she kept stashed away in the glove compartment. Ah, good times. Also, you could maybe call yourself "Last Exit" or "LEBT" for short.

1. Article 28 (former Article 30): My personal favorite although it's probably the dorkiest. It's a reference to European Union law and the Article that bars member states from placing restrictions on imports from other member states. The powers-that-be made some changes and switched the order of the Articles around between the original Treaty of Rome and the later Treaty of Maastricht just to add to the confusion (because the whole speaking different languages thing wasn't bad enough). But really only your hardcore fans need to know the origin of the name, everyone else will just think its fun to say. And I would totally call my first album Cassis de Dijon after this important European Court of Justice case which settled vital questions regarding the ideal alcohol content for liquers.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Meeg at the Movies: The Party's Over -- Have a Nice Apocalypse


I think I like movies more than your average person. I get out to the cinema on occasion, but I also have a Netflix account which I use to rent all kinds of stuff. Often after I watch a movie I find myself wanting to discuss it with someone and then I run into a brick wall because none of my friends have seen it yet. As a result I sometimes end up harassing people trying to convince them that they need to see such-and-such-a-movie.

So anyway, I've decided I should really start taking advantage of the blog as an opportunity to have a monologue (remember how one of the founding purposes of this blog was to serve as an outlet for typographical masturbation?) about those movie's I've watched that have made an impression on me (that expression sometimes makes me think that experiences are like rubber stamps which leave their mark on the spongy grey matter of my cerebrum). Plus, who knows, maybe other people who've seen the movie might join the discussion. This might even aid me in my continuous quest to get friends to watch stuff.

Southland Tales is a particularly good movie to start off this potential thread of future blog posts since I think that a lot of people have either (a) not even heard of it or (b) heard that it was horrible and something to be avoided. Released last year (2007), this is director Richard Kelly's first film since the much lauded Donnie Darko. If you haven't seen it, Donnie Darko was a thought-provoking movie where Jake Gyllenhaal explores time travel, alternative universes and theoretical physics and is goaded into committing acts of mild terrorism by a freaky-looking giant bunny that's only in his head. Also, Mary McDonnell (aka Laura Roslin) played his mom and Drew Barrymore basically proved she's not smart enough to convincingly play a high school English teacher. A lot of people probably had high expectations for Southland Tales but it was booed at Cannes (hey, they booed Sofia Coppolla's Marie Antoinette too so I guess it happens). Lots of critics hated it including Roger Ebert who basically made it sound like a crime against the moviegoing public.

When I uncovered all of this information I thought that maybe I made a big mistake by putting the movie at the top of my queue. But after watching it I'm going to say that all those geezers at Cannes were just looking at the movie from the wrong side of the generational gap. This is the type of cult movie that I know I'm going to rewatch.

Southland Tales is a comic strip satire set in a dystopian present. After a terrorist nuclear attack in Texas, the country is thrown into a panic. The Republican dominated government passes the patriot act on steroids which includes a system of interstate visas and military checkpoints between state lines as well as a homeland security-style government agency which presides over all law enforcement, surveillance and the internet. Dwayne "the Rock" Johnson (who is totally not bad) is a movie star with ties to the Republican party (he's engaged to the vice presidential nominee's daughter played by Mandy Moore) who is kidnapped by Sarah Michelle Geller's character, a porn star turned mainstream celebrity/entrepreneur. Seann William Scott (aka Stiffler) plays a cop and his twin brother (or are they the same person?), Justin Timberlake is a druggie Iraqi war veteran, and Miranda Richardson (!) is the first lady -- an ex-beauty queen who now runs homeland security. Everyone is somehow mixed up in a conspiracy by the neo-Marxists (the last bastion of the radical left in California, played mostly but SNL alums) to... ensure the Democrats win the election... or blow something up... or something?? Oh and the "inconceivable" guy from the Princess Bride (Wallace Shawn), assisted -- I kid you not -- by the little lady from the Poltergeist movies (Zelda Rubinstein) and Bai Ling, has harnessed the power of the ocean and turned it into the ultimate alternative energy source which he's dubbed "Fluid Karma".

Is this movie confusing? Yes. Campy? Yes. Flawed? Yes. But I do not understand how anyone can dismiss a movie which contains as many compelling ideas (even if many of them are only brushed upon) as this one. It's not perfect, but Southland Tales gives you a lot to chew over and it begs for repeat viewing. Not only that, but parts of it are really entertaining. I particularly enjoyed a scene where Justin Timberlake shoots up and is transported into a musical number as well as Sarah Michelle Geller's dialogue (highlights include "All the pilgrims did was ruin the American Indian orgy of freedom!" and "Scientists are saying that the future will be far more futuristic than they originally predicted."). And the final act kicks off with Rebekah Del Rio singing the national anthem in Spanglish with a gothic string accompaniment.

To be totally fair to the audience at Cannes, I heard that Richard Kelly seriously reworked the film after it showed there in 2006: adding exposition, polishing the visual effects and removing 20-25 minutes of footage. I have no doubt the theatrical release is a marked improvement, but I'm now burning with curiosity to see what was cut out (The NYTimes' film critic, Manohla Garvis, says she misses the deleted scenes and Janeane Garofalo was featured).

In summation, watch Southland Tales if my synopsis intrigued you and you're not turned off by weird or confusing. This could totally be a stoner classic, it will achieve cult status, and it may do the best job of capturing the zeitgeist of post-9/11 America of any movie I've seen so far. Oh and imagine my surprise when I heard the Blur song "Tender" (off the album 13) playing over the closing credits!

Image is UK quad poster for Southland Tales found on movieposteraddict.com.