All of us might wish at times that we lived in a more tranquil world, but we don't. And if our times are difficult and perplexing, so are they challenging and filled with opportunity.

Robert Kennedy

Monday, January 21, 2013

You oughta be in pictures...

It's nice living in a culture/geographical location that celebrates winter. Snow is pretty. And you put on your boots and your coat and your hat and your scarf and coffee and hot chocolate taste a million times better and it's cozy and you wear pajama pants at night and it's nice. Then...a week later, I'm OVER IT!!!!!!! I moved to Southern California from Pennsylvania for a reason and this was it. Winter was meant to be spent on the beach and wearing sweaters instead of winter jackets and boots are fashionable not necessary. 
It's been snowing a lot here, much more than last winter. The things about this country is that if it's too cold, people don't leave their house. It's really expensive to heat places when it's cold so they just stay home. Needless to say, I've been cooped up in my apartment since about the 2nd week of December. 
The positive spin is that I have been doing nothing but watching movies. And since it is Oscar season, it ain't a bad gig! Instead of waking up at the crack of dawn to watch the Oscar nominations (as I do in CA every year) they air hear at 3:30pm which is definitely a perk. Since I'm an award show junkie, this is truly the season.
As far as best pictures, I think the Oscars got it pretty right. I am glad they expanded the category from 5 because sometimes in a year there are too many to not be recognized. However, if they're going to expand the Best Picture category...why not expand the Best Director category? Snubbing Tarantino, Affleck, Hooper and Bigelow is just plain wrong. WRONG, I tell you!
So, my picks for Oscar:
Original Screenplay - I'm biased because Tarantino is a demi-God to me and he just may take it, but I feel like Zero Dark Thirty boy, Mark Boal may take it.
Adapted Screenplay - TOTALLY rooting for Chris Terrio for Argo but It will probably go to Kushner for Lincoln.
Best Supporting Actress - Kind of a lock on Annie. And that's okay. I think if anyone spoils the lock it will be Sally Field. 
Best Documentary - I've seen 3 out of the 5 nominees. Going with what I've seen, Searching for Sugar Man is my favorite. But I think The Invisible War is the most important.
Best Supporting Actor - Totally rooting for Christoph Waltz. He is a force to be reckoned with. And as a friend of mine said "is there anything better than Quentin Tarantino's words coming out of Christoph Waltz's mouth?"* Agreed! BUT, I think Tommy Lee Jones or Philip Seymour Hoffman may sneak in and steal it. Tough category. All perfect performances.
Best Actress - I think Jessica Chastain has it 80% locked although I think she has the weakest performance in the category. Naomi Watts is incredible in the Impossible. I think I'm rooting for JLaw to be the spoiler of the evening.
Best Actor - Let's talk about who would win if Daniel Day Lewis didn't exist. I have a feeling it would go to Hugh Jackman, justifiably, but again, tough category. All great performances. And possibly THE best looking category ever? Can I get an 'Amen?' But regarding DDL, is it possible that one of the greatest actors ever is playing one of the greatest Presidents ever directed by one of the greatest directors ever? I mean, did that really happen? 
Best Director - Ugh, I'm still pissed about the Affleck snub. But I'm sure this will go to Spielberg.
Best Picture - I want Argo or Django Unchained to win so bad! I think Argo's got a shot to be a huge spoiler and an Argo eff yourself to the academy. I will cheer if that happens...but I think it will go to Lincoln. And it's not that Lincoln was a bad movie, it wasn't. It was a sweeping epic just like the Academy loves but in a year that produced Argo and just wasn't the best movie. But the Academy gets it wrong...a lot. I mean in looking back, was Forrest Gump REALLY the best picture that year? In a year that produced Pulp Fiction and The Shawshank Redemption? Uh no.

Other awards that should be given out IMHO:

The "Rip your heart out" award - Amour. You will need to lie in a dark room in the fetal position for a while after this one.
The "Vomit scene that literally almost made me vomit" award - Naomi Watts in The Impossible.
The "I should be riveted but Homeland is way better"award - Zero Dark Thirty. I will again give credit to my friend* for pointing out that films like this are so story driven as they're based on actual events that the characters fall by the wayside. And since I knew the outcome...I'm sure I"m alone on this, but I was a little bored. 
The "Holy shit, DeNiro is FINALLY delivering again" award - Silver Linings Playbook.
The "Holy shit, Bradley Cooper is actually a really good actor" award - Silver Linings Playbook.

The "This movie deserves way more attention than it got" award - Looper
The "This should annoy me with its quirkiness but I actually love it" award - Moonrise Kingdom
The "Are they writing about me in High School?" award - Perks of Being a Wallflower
The "I cannot believe this actually happened/happens" award - West of Memphis, The Invisible War, The Imposter, The Impossible.
The "oh there ARE still good people in the world, thank goodness" award - Craigslist Joe
The "I'm completely ashamed at how hard I laughed at this movie" award - That's My Boy

The "I'm a little embarrassed at how much I LOVED this movie" award - Pitch Perfect, Rock of Ages.
The "Shut up, Spike Lee, you're just jealous" award - Django Unchained
The "Damn, that kicked my ASS!" award - Argo, Django Unchained, Silver Linings Playbook
The "I feel like I should like this so much more than I do" award - Lincoln, Zero Dark Thirty
The "in case I didn't make it clear, these are my two favorites of the year" award - Django Unchained, Argo. 

With a month to go until the Oscars, I have only to see The Master and Les Miserables. I have putting off Les Miserables because I refuse to watch it on my computer and it doesn't open in Romania until the end of the month. I have heard pretty much every compliment and criticism that I care to hear and yet I am still looking forward to seeing it. In the meantime, I wish everybody would just shut up. I don't know why "I don't want to hear about it" signifies someone to say "OK, well let me just say this..." Ugh!
Sigh...I need to get out of the house.

*Aforementioned friend is one Christopher Cadena. He's way smarter than I am.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

New Years in Transylvania


Jesse and I started our journey up to Chisinau at about 3:00 in the afternoon. We had a 3 hour bus ride to Chisinau and then had time for some dinner before hopping on the overnight bus to Romania. The bus was pretty empty and John nearly missed it, which meant we all would have missed it since he had our tickets. But we were 3 of 6 people on it so we were able to stretch out and sleep. It was about a 10 hour ride with a half hour stop at the borders. It was pretty damn cold.


We arrived in Brașov, Romania (pronounced brah-shov) at about 7:30am. It was brutally cold. Our plan was to hop on a local bus, head to the train station, drop our bags off and buy our tickets to Sinaia and then explore the city. Without knowledge of the city bus system, we hopped on the first one we saw. It was immediately boarded by the bus 'security' and since we didn't have a ticket, we were fined 45 RON (about $12). Romania was not endearing itself to us very quickly. We were all pretty irritated but went on with our day. We made it to the train station and stored our bags and bought tickets for a 3:00 train to Sinaia which was about an hour away. We got back on the bus (tickets in hand) and headed into the center of the city. It was quite beautiful.
City center.

Jesse and John enjoying a hot cup of mulled wine.
But it was freaking cold! So we found a coffee shop and warmed up. After that we walked around, found a museum about the local history, had some Chinese food (!!!!) and did some people watching. We headed to the train station and jumped on the was the wrong one. Quickly jumped off, ran across the tracks and jumped on the right one just as it was leaving. (Never a dull moment). It was a lovely ride through the Romanian countryside down to the Ski Resort town of Sinaia. (Sin-ay-ya)

The train pulled into the station and where we had to go was about 1000 stairs up...I may be exaggerating but it sure felt like 1000. It was more like 100 but still...
When we got to the top I was NOT happy, but we found the place we were staying. Our friends Lindsay and Conrad had booked an apartment with Conrad's parents and they were being kind and letting us crash there. They had left a key for us at the front desk. It was a tiny hotel in the mountains with an apartment in the back for us. It was great. 
Our 'apartment.'

The front of the hotel.
The boys wanted to put their stuff down and go for a walk. I rolled my eyes and bid them farewell as I passed out on the couch. I had a nice nap before Conrad's parents arrived. Had a lovely chat with them before the boys came back and soon Lindsay and Conrad joined us after their day of skiing. The group of us headed into town and had dinner together. 
Back at home we all shared a nightcap of "Maker's Mark" that Conrad's Dad had brought for us from the states and we all fell asleep watching 'The Shining.' (I know...)

Staying at the hotel included breakfast, a luxury we volunteers were SO not used to. John is an early riser (and is NOT quiet about it) so he and Jesse got up and went to breakfast early. Lindsay and Conrad joined them soon after. I slept in, as did Conrad's parents and the three of us went to breakfast at around 9:30am, a more feasible time to wake up! We all kind of went our separate ways for the day, which was great. Lindsay, Conrad and John went skiing, Jesse went hiking and Conrad's folks went walking through the town. I bet you can't guess what Jenn did? Yeah...I napped. Ha ha. That's vacation! I was awoken by the housekeepers who were SO nice. They loved that I spoke Romanian and we chatted for a while. After they left, I went for a walk of my own. Walked through the town, people watched and enjoyed the cool but fresh air. 
Yeah...I did a double take too...

A view from the bottom of the hill.
I went back to the hotel and read outside for a while, it was quite relaxing. Everyone arrived back home and we decided we would go shopping and make dinner since we had a full kitchen available to us. Conrad's Mom, Lindsay and I cooked up a dinner of Spinach Dip, Tortellini, Vegetables and sauce. It was a big hit and very nice. The plan was to have dinner and then go out and enjoy some New Year's celebrations but everyone was really wiped out from the day. Instead, we chose to stay in, chat, watch some TV celebrations and enjoy the fireworks outside our front door at midnight. It was way more low key and uneventful than I was expecting, but so much better. The new year was here. We all toasted and each said one resolution we'd like to accomplish in 2013. 

We got to sleep in since the free breakfast wasn't starting until 11:30am. (Of course John was up again at 7...). The hotel had a lovely brunch and we all enjoyed it together before saying our goodbyes. Conrad, Lindsay and the folks were headed up to Brașov for the day and had hired a private car so they had to head out. We all said goodbye and the boys and I headed to the train station. We were going to the mountains. We had to meet our ride at 5:00pm. We got back to Brașov and had some time to kill. We had to find a grocery store to buy some food as the place we were staying was quite remote and we were told to bring supplies. We could not find an open store anywhere. We asked a local and he almost laughed at us. Nothing was open on New Years's day. We got to the train station to meet our host, Joseph. He was the owner of the place we were staying in the mountains and he was going to drive us there. He managed to find an open store and we were able to buy some food for the next few days. The road up to his place in the mountains was very steep and very dark but the stars were SO bright and so beautiful, I don't remember the last time I saw so many. It was great. We arrived and he took us around. It was SO quiet and we had the place entirely to ourselves. It was 7:30pm and we were ready to sleep. And we did!

AGAIN, awoken by John at 7am, but I didn't mind this time since I had been asleep for about 11 hours. When I walked outside, it took my breath away. I literally felt like I was on top of the world. Just surrounded by the Carpathian mountains, fresh, clean air and just silent. It was heaven. I went to the kitchen and Joseph had fresh milk and cheese for us that they had made there at the farm. John and Jesse had decided to go on a hike so they were getting directions from Joseph. I was going to stay behind and spend the day reading. I went outside and sat on the porch and read for about 6 hours. The house dog laid across my feet which normally would have annoyed me but I didn't mind because he was quiet and he kept my feet warm.
My view while I read.
The boys showed back up at around 4:00pm, they survived and we all had a simple dinner together. We played cards for a while and looked at photos that they (and I) had taken during the day. They were pretty wiped out from their hike so again we were all in bed by 7:00pm. We laughed at the absurdity of it but were asleep within the hour. 

One final morning of being woken up by non-subtle John. We woke up and Joseph gave us a full tour of the farm. It is a self-sustaining farm, they don't mass produce anything, it is just for themselves. The hostel doesn't see a lot of business in the winter and we found out we were their first guests in a few months so they were pretty pleased to see us. Joseph is a very smart man who loves the country. He is very interested in eco-friendly lifestyles and asked us a lot of questions about what he could do better. But to be honest, he was doing great. I was very impressed by him. He was a hard worker, he loves his country, he loves his home and yet is not 'old school' at all. He uses the internet as a tool to constantly learn new ways of improving his home and his life and is just a very smart business man. 
The sign at the gate.

My friend that kept my feet warm.

John looking at the mountains.

The front of the common room.

Where we slept.
We left around 1:00. Joseph drove us down the mountain. And I will say, it was a beautiful view...but maybe the scariest drive I have ever been on. It was a single, one lane dirt road down a steep mountain, covered in ice with no guard rails filled with twists and turns. And yes...we did face cars coming the other direction. It was terrifying. I kept my eyes closed the majority of the time. The drive back to Brașov was about an hour and a half and Joseph dropped us off at the bus station. We said our goodbyes and thanked him for a wonderful experience. Jesse and I were leaving that night on an overnight bus back to Chisinau but John was going to meet up with some other volunteers and stay a few more days. Jesse and I tried to buy our bus tickets at that time but they said we had to wait and pay the driver that night. So we headed back into city center and decided to have more Chinese food while we could. John left us and went to drop his stuff off at the hostel he would be staying at. He re-joined us with 5 other volunteers in tow. So the 8 of us had dinner together before Jesse and I had to head out. We went to get on the bus but there was no place to buy a ticket. Having learned our lesson, we wound up walking to the bus station. The bus left at 7:00pm. We arrived at 6:45pm and got the last 2 seats. Whew. It was packed and it was HOT! They pumped the heat so much I was sweating. It was a long ride and this time, since it was full and a big bus, we were at the border for 2 hours. Ugh! We arrived back in Chisinau at 4:30am. There wasn't too much to do and PCHQ doesn't open until 6:00am so we headed to Tucano coffee and hung out there for a few hours. Finally headed there and received a Christmas package from my loving sister. Yay!
New Years. 
So, 2013...I get to go home this year. Only 6 months of service left which is a little weird. I can't decide if it's flown by or dragged on. I am dreading the inevitable goodbyes that will happen but at the same time, I am ready to go home. I miss the good old US of A...especially the cheeseburgers.