Wednesday, June 29, 2011

We Interrupt this Travel Blog...

For something I need to get off my chest. First off, let me say, that I love England. I love the culture, I love the cities, and I love the people here. Even though they have crap self-defense laws (no guns ever, and mace is illegal. MACE. WTF?!) I'd like to live here someday. I'd actually like to raise my kids here.

But this love of England will never, ever replace my pride and happiness at being born an American.

I wouldn't call myself a crazy patriot. I do not wear American flags on a daily basis, I do not scream, "AMERICA IS THE GREATEST LAND OF ALL!" at random pedestrians. (Although I do look forward to celebrating Independence Day in England...snerk.)

But nothing will rile up my American feathers like people trash-talking my country. This has happened a few times. I had to defend America in class the other day, when someone claimed we constantly meddled in other country's business because Americans had control issues. People constantly forget that people ASK us to come. They ASK for our help.

And most recently, from a friend who I won't name, (if you do read this, friend, I still love you, but your tweet irritated the crap out of me.) who basically announced their intention to forgo celebrating the Fourth of July because they didn't like where America has been, and they didn't like America was going.

First of all, that is an extremely arrogant thing to say. I'm sorry, but it is. It is elitist, condescending, and totally from a first world viewpoint, disregarding people from countries where women are abused daily, forced to hide themselves, and are not even allowed the basic necessity to drive. It reduces anyone who's dreamed of a better life here, who's dreamed of the freedoms this country allows to the human being, as ignorant fools.

Not to mention, it insults every single service man or woman who has fought for their country. My God, it insults the very men and women who DIED for their right to even SAY that about their country. It insults my father, my grandfather, my great-grandfather, one of my oldest family friends in Afghanistan right now, my cousin, my best friend's parents, my best friend's grandfather--I could go on.

I won't deny I have my problems with America. I don't like a lot of America's laws. I don't like some of the rampant social problems we have. I pretty much hate all American politicians. But I will always, always love and respect the ideals and dreams we were founded on, which include freedom to everyone, whatever ethnicity, whatever gender. The freedom to live our lives the way we choose. The freedom for a woman to stand up against patriarchy without reprisal. The freedom for a woman to vote, own her own land, be single, walk outside in a T-shirt and jeans, paint her toenails, kiss a stranger...and FYI, all of these things are punishable by death in several middle eastern countries. The freedom to write whatever we feel like without censorship, something I am passionate about. Yeah, this freedom includes the right to spout off elitist, arrogant statements about America. But don't you dare think that that doesn't come without consequences and offense.

Okay. Back to travel posts.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Oxford Part 1

Obviously, a lot's happened since I've arrived in the U.K. I have several blog posts I want to share with everyone--Worcester Cathedral, Bletchley Park, but I think I'll skip ahead and share what went down on my trip to Oxford. Well, both of them. See, we had a class trip to Oxford, which was only for a few hours, and MY trip, in which I went myself and spent the night there.

First of all, as many of you know, I'd love to study at Oxford someday. I'd love to live there. I'd love to work there. Of all the places we were going, Oxford was the city I was looking forward to the most. I'd been planning a mini-C.S Lewis tour for myself for ages. I was psyched.

Now, when fellow academics and I traversed to Oxford, I was realistic. I knew they'd be ushering us into museums and whatnot, and, because Bletchley Park took so long, we probably wouldn't have much free time. I was okay with this. I had a fresh, crisp ticket to Oxford on the Friday morning train.

However, when our bus stopped RIGHT across the street from The Eagle and the Child, the very pub the Oxford Inklings drank at and talked about their was like dangling candy in front of a small child but telling the small child they could have all the candy they wanted the upcoming weekend. I kept on whimpering and lagging behind the group, just staring at it.

I mean, it was RIGHT THERE.

They dragged us to a few museums, which admittedly were interesting, but I was chomping at the bit for a bit of free time. Finally, when I couldn't stand it any longer, I wandered over to where our student guides, Sid and Katie, stood. I asked if there would be any free time at all because it was extremely important to my sanity and physical well-being that I have a drink at the Eagle and the Child.

They said they'd try, and Sid seemed especially interested (totally already knew about it being the favored place of the Inklings, good for him) and I walked off, feeling satisfied. We suffered through another museum (I usually like museums, and these ones WERE interesting, but I was too excited about the Bird and the Baby to have any investment in them) until FINALLY we had some sneaky free-time. I bought an Oxford hoodie (why prolong the inevitable? Excuse my obnoxiously optimism, Oxford does that to me.) and then a few of us (probably due to my excessive nagging) trotted to the Eagle and the Child.

Which FYI, was AMAZING.

And yes, I was more than a little excited.

And tomorrow--my FABULOUS exploits on my own!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Gremlins Have Stolen My Luggage

In case you're wondering if I died or something--I didn't. But Delta airlines very thoughtfully lost my luggage for about a week.

Obviously, this isn't how I wanted my first week in the United Kingdom to go. I had very carefully packed all of my cutest outfits, my favorite jewelry, my best shoes (minus my bright red high heels, I just couldn't justify the space they took up.) my shiny new digital camera's accessories, and a butt load of European converters, because Europe still hadn't figured out how to make a correct socket. (By correct, I mean one that fits all my electronics)

At first, I figured my loving suitcase would just be a few days late--within three days, three of my compatriots got their suitcases back. Mine was not among them. So began a harrowing saga of me calling Delta, my father calling Delta, us both threatening legal action, me crying, my dad yelling, me really hating the French, until voila! They said it was in the Charlotte Airport, and they would send it along pronto.

Then they didn't sent it along pronto. Atlanta claimed Charlotte never sent it. Charlotte said that Altanta was a smelly liar and they did SO SEND IT TO ATLANTA! Heathrow said stop your bickering, you inefficient idiots, and FIND THAT BAG, or the weepy daughter's scary father will sue our asses.

A very helpful Frenchman (possibly the same Frenchman who wasn't very helpful four days ago) made a few calls today, and apparently my bag is now magically at Heathrow Airport, which means that Charlotte retagged it (I have no idea why) sent it to Atlanta, Atlanta missed it because of the new tags but still sent it along to England. I am supposed to receive it late tonight.

Although, seeing how much Delta has LIED to me these past few days, I'm being warily optimistic.

It is not fun having to constantly borrow clothes and computer chargers from your new friends and feel like a total mooch. It is not fun to stress about buying new outfits when you want to put that money towards souvenirs and traveling. It is even less fun when you are phoneless and have to figure all these things out on my own, while my father loses sleep a continent away trying to help sort it.

So Delta, after this trip, I will never fly you again. Frankly, I had no grudge against you up till now. You were my first airplane. I was eight years old, visiting my Aunt Kit. The stewardesses doted on me and let me take a picture in the pilot's cockpit wearing his hat. I still have that picture. Look what you did, Delta. You have just pissed on all of those sweet memories. You made my eight-year-old inner child cry. She TRUSTED you, Delta.

Assuming my luggage DOES in fact get here tonight, expect more frequent blog posts, I have many many pics and stories to share.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Murphy is Out to Get Me


Look, North Carolina, it's nothing personal. But you are not England. Not even close. You do not have the Kilns. You do not have Oxford. You do not have C.S Lewis. You do not have Stratford, London, the Royal Shakespeare Company, Stonehenge...I'm sure you're lovely generally, but frankly, I'm cranky.

The original plan was to take a quick flight to Atlanta, get on a different plane, and head off to England. The flight was SUPPOSED to be an hour and a half tops.

Murphy's law, everyone. Google it.

First our flight was delayed about a half hour because of thunderstorms over Atlanta. Then we got on the plane, and we hovered over Atlanta for about an hour, because Atlanta airport wouldn't let us land, also due to the weather. Then we ran out of fuel so the plane had to go to Charlotte, NC, to refuel.


After waiting a glorious three hours in a stationary position at the Charlotte airfields, we were graciously told that they were cancelling the flight completely. Even more wonderful, Charlotte airport was closed. CLOSED. I didn't even know airports could close. (This is probably because I'm from St. Louis) No flights in or out. So we get to spend the night in an empty airport as we try and finagle a new flight to Atlanta or Dallas or somewhere that will get us on another plane to England. We are a day late at this point, and life is really sucking.

So now we have me, very sleep-deprived, with cold feet, in a very cranky mood because my Asperger's doesn't like me being late for anything and everything else WANTS TO GO TO ENGLAND NOW.


I have no idea when we're leaving--the leader of my program has been on the phone for five hours trying to work it out, bless his heart. Stay tuned.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Merry Ol' England

In case you haven't been paying attention, this blog is about to go from epic to SUPER EPIC. Why? Well, I'll tell you.


In case you couldn't tell, I'm a wee bit excited about it.

Things I will be doing in England:

1. Traveling all over.

2. Documenting that process.

3. Having high tea with Jane Austen. Ok, not really Jane Austen. Just in a place that Jane Austen used to frequent a lot. And I don't even know what high tea IS!

4. Visiting Oxford.

5. Visiting C.S Lewis' old house, the Kilns.

6. Visiting the pub C.S Lewis used to frequent, the Eagle and the Child.

7. Visiting the church C.S Lewis used to attend.

8. Visiting C.S Lewis' grave and laying flowers on it. (There's a theme for Oxford, in case you couldn't tell.)

9. Visiting Stratford on Avon, Shakespeare's old home. (allegedly)

10. Seeing the Royal Shakespeare Company perform a play.

11. Taking classes at a university.

12. Generally having an awesome time.

Come June 15th, I will be leaving on a jet plane (name that singer) and be out of contact, as I will NOT be bringing my cell phone. But fear not! I will be blogging like a boss, tweeting everything, and taking LOTS of pictures. So keep a weather eye on my blogs, follow me on twitter, @PhoenixTalon, and enjoy the ride!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Mars Needs a Better Screenplay

Let me start off this movie review, (of Mars Needs Moms if you couldn't tell) by saying how much I adore kid's films. Not just Disney--Dreamworks, Pixar, Fox, Studio Ghibli, all sorts. Even when I perform a feminist dissection on them, I still enjoy them immensely. Like the movie Tangled for instance, which my good friend Regan recently reviewed on her blog. Regan and I had a great discussion about it, in which we both brought problematic themes in the movie, things we liked (Regan especially loved Mother Gothel, who I thought was wickedly wonderful as well, albeit suspiciously similar to Frollo from Hunchback of Notre Dame) but we both came to the conclusion that we really enjoyed watching it. This is the case for most of kids' films--I notice and file away issues but in general like it.

But after watching Mars Needs Moms, I was legitimately ANGRY. This movie is extremely insulting to women, families, dads, and especially moms, which is ironic, since the supposed theme is about appreciating your mother.

First off, Mars Needs Moms was the first movie released after Disney made an announcement that they weren't going to create fairy tale movies anymore (i.e Tangled, Princess and the Frog) because they wanted to cater to their 'little boy' audience. This rather infuriated me, because in the movie industry, the only thing females have a large presence in are princess movies. Princess movies may have their faults, but at least they have an unapologetically female protagonist.

So basically, Mars Needs Moms already had my irritation towards it. Still, I was willing to give it a chance. I thought Megamind was going to be a stupid movie, and was very pleasantly surprised at how wrong I was.

So much for being an optimist.

Ok, so the movie starts out with these aliens looking at earth. We see our clear villain, an Evil Alien Queen-like character called The Supervisor. The Supervisor sees a mom she likes and says something to another alien character in a sinister voice.

We cut to Earth. We meet Milo, a bratty little kid that whines and complains about everything. His dad is on a business trip and won't be able to make...I don't remember. I didn't take notes cuz it was too inconsequential. Soccer game? School play? School festival? Something to that effect.

By the way, Milo's mom doesn't get a name. She's just Milo's mom. Macguffins don't get names.

Anyway, Milo and his mom fight and Milo shouts that his life would be a whole lot better without his mom. His mom (played by Joan Cusack) gives him a really hurt look and quietly walks away. I seethe silently because I've been 200 miles away from MY mommy and I can tell you it is NOT FUN AT ALL.

Milo's mom gets abducted by aliens. Milo is determined to save her, so he stows away in the rocket.

I'd like to point out how insulting it is that Disney reinforces gender stereotypes by assuming this caters to boys. Because apparently girls only like princess movies. Girls don't like aliens or robots. Someone needs to have a word with Ursula K. Le Guin and Andre Norton, they must've missed that memo.

Anyway, it's been fifteen minutes and I'm already getting bored. Milo searches desperately for his mom and meets these strange critters, which turn out to be the poor, down-trodden MALE aliens, who are forced to live in a junkyard. Milo tries to explain what moms do--apparently they're glorified servants--and Milo meets Gribble, who I call the Obnoxious Fat Guy. Because that's who he is.

Obnoxious Fat Guy is apparently some kind of hacker. He's been hiding out in the alien junkyard for an undisclosed amount of time and spends his time playing video games and playing voyeur to the aliens.

Obnoxious Fat Guy then explains that Mars needs moms, because their society is an entirely female dominated empire, and because the female aliens are busy working and running the world, they don't have time to raise the baby aliens (which pop out of the ground. LIKE DAISIES! They also separate the girl aliens and the boy aliens, raising the girl aliens to run everything and dropping the boy aliens in the junkyard to fend for themselves.) so they need earthling 'mom-ness' to program their nanny-bots.

Because as we all know, it is entirely impossible for a woman to work AND be a mom. It must be one or the other. There can be no balance. This is what happens when women work, GOD. Never should've given the double X chromosomed bitches the vote.

Okay, so Obnoxious Fat Guy agrees to help Milo rescue his mom, but things go awry pretty quickly. He meets a rebellious female alien named Ki (played by Elisabeth Harnois...who I actually like and am baffled as to why she agreed to do this movie...she was so lovely in Ten Inch Hero!) who has been graffiti-ing flowers on the neat and tidy alien walls. They make friends, yadda yadda yadda.

Obnoxious Fat Guy gets captured and nearly dies by firing squad. Milo interrupts the shooting (damn it) and Ki gets a machine laser gun thing. The Supervisor orders her to shoot Milo and Obnoxious Fat Guy.

Me: Shoot the Supervisor.

Ki looks distraught and torn.

Me: Shoot the Supervisor.

She looks between her world and her two new friends, wondering what she should do.


She unloads the laser gun and flings it away. Because that laser machine gun wouldn't be USEFUL or anything.

Ki, Milo, and Obnoxious Fat Guy dash off in a mad chase sequence. We learn that Obnoxious Fat Guy came here the same way Milo did, trying to rescue his mom years ago. He failed, and apparently a side affect of the extraction process in collecting 'mom-ness' is exploding, so sucks for his mom.

Ki finds an ancient alien cave painting which clearly shows an alien mommy, an alien daddy, and a little alien baby. Ki is shocked, because The Supervisor has been telling them that nanny-bots have been raising their young forever. It's not supposed to be this way! It's supposed to be a mom and a dad and a dog and 2.5 kids! Heteronormativity for the win.

So Obnoxious Fat Guy or Ki or someone (I was only half-paying attention at this point, playing solitaire on my iPod seemed vastly more interesting) rallies the the poor, oppressed menfolk in an uprising against those cruel heartless harpies.

Milo finds his mom and wakes her up. Milo's mom freaks out and starts screaming. You know, for such a great mom, she's kind of useless. If it was MY mom, she probably would've blinked, looked at me, and been all, "Okay, we're on Mars. Let's get out of here." She would've stolen a laser bazooka, shot anyone who tried to get at me, and then baked butterscotch brownies when we got home.

Okay, so Milo and his mom are running toward the rocket that Ki has somehow commandeered and arranged to fly back to earth. But something happens and Milo's space helmet breaks and we get a really close to touching scene where Milo's mom removes her space helmet to save him and then begins to suffocate herself. This actually makes me sniffle a little, but that's probably because I'm 200 miles away from my mommy and I miss her. This is also the only scene I actually liked.

But it's all okay, because Obnoxious Fat Guy saves Milo's mom with a random deus ex machina space helmet. Yay.

The Supervisor tries to kill them again and Ki stops everyone, showing her fellow aliens the picture of the alien cave painting she took with her iPhone. No, seriously. It looks like an iPhone. I'm not even joking. The fellow aliens are furious at The Supervisor for lying to them and drags her off. Milo and his mom go home and live happily ever after.

Before I start with my issues, let me shelve my feminist-ness for a second and look at it from a kid's point of view. This movie was simply not fun to watch. The characters are flat and boring, it starts off to quickly so we have no time to become emotionally invested in the characters, the visuals are cluttered and drab, the background often detracts from what's happening, and it just isn't enjoyable. Compare it to Wall-E, which had a similar production and setting, but those visuals were a lot more remarkable and colorful. I'll grant that one of the subplots was that Ki was obsessed with color and that the alien world was supposed to be drab. But in Wall-E, with the polluted and colorless earth, it still LOOKED interesting. Not so with this movie.

All right, issues time. First are the obvious issues, that women who work are the devil and anyone not raised in a traditional two-parent household isn't being raised properly. It's like the creator decided to combine all the stereotypes of feminism into one character (the Supervisor) and one world (Mars). Feminists hate children and hate raising children. Feminists hate men. Feminists would prefer a female-dominated world. This is really insulting. I'm not saying a female-dominated alien world isn't an interesting setting, but it's so obviously a caricature of feminism it's derogatory rather than intriguing. Not to mention how it seems to deny the possibility that working women can be mothers too...this really angered me because my mom IS a working woman. The entire reason she DOES work at the job she's at is FOR her kids.

It also makes me angry that the nuclear family structure is what's SUPPOSED to raise children. Single dads are in the wrong, so are single moms. So are grandparents who raise their grandkids. The idea that families could come in all shapes and sizes is simply not present.

Then there's the whole 'mom' issue. Hey, I love moms. I love my mommy. But why is it assumed that moms are the caretakers and dads bring home the bacon? Every family is different, but this movie seemed to be presenting the idea of what each parent is 'supposed' to do. The movie actually uses the term 'mom-ness'. What does that imply? Milo goes from saying it's servitude, to spoiling him, to kissing him good night and loving him. Don't dads do chores? Don't dad take you sledding, shooting, to the movies? Don't dads kiss you good night and love you as well? How is this movie distinguishing 'mom-ness' and 'dad-ness'?

But then, dads don't really get a mention, aside from Ki declaring that alien babies should be raised by parents, not robot nannies. She's kind of vague on the dad's role.

I guess my point is that I really don't like how the movie gives parenting mostly to moms and gives dads a free pass. That's insulting to dads, and quite frankly, not true.

In essence, this is not a movie I'll be buying, or even watching again. Flat characters, irritating dialogue, troubling themes, and cluttered visuals do not a good movie make. Clearly I'm not the only one who thinks so, since this movie completely bombed at the box office. Here's hoping Disney learns a lesson.