2018-12-10

Enchanted by Ireland 5

On Day 6 in Ireland we ventured into County Kerry, heading toward the coastal village of Dingle. However, as with many things in life, the journey is just as important as the destination! We stopped for gas at a normal-seeming gas station but it turned out to have an amazing bakery inside! So we continued our drive loaded down with donuts, muffins, and breakfast cakes!

En route to Dingle, we traversed Conor Pass, a high mountain pass from which you can see forever East and West. There was a gorgeous waterfall and amazing vistas in both directions. We parked the car and tried to hike up to the highest part for the best view. This was more difficult than anticipated because the sheep that graze these mountains leave poop all over the place and trying to avoid it made us hop around like Qbert! Still, despite that obstacle - and the blustery wind - it was well worth it for the panoramas.



We finally arrived at Dingle, a charming little harbor village. It was bounded on all sides by rolling green hills so it felt very much like the Shire! After walking a big loop around the village, we stopped for a pint at Murphy's Pub. This was the only time all trip I didn't have Guinness. Instead, I drank . . . Murphy's! Before departing, we also took the tour at Dingle Distillery for some "new school" Irish spirits.

En route to the place we would be spending the night, we had to stop for a herd of cattle crossing the road. Cattle in County Kerry? I guess they were the source of all that awesome, grass-fed Kerrygold butter we eat! They seemed very happy - and not at all in a hurry to move out of our way!

Around sunset we finally arrived at Carrauntoohil Eco Farm near Killarney. This was a really cool farm with goats, chickens, cats, and alpaca, offering several yurts and one "cabin" for overnight guests. Katie and I opted for the cabin but it turned out to be just about as rugged as the yurts - basically a small storage container with a bed and some electric outlets! It was fine for our purposes, though so no complaints.

Carrauntoohil was not merely a farm, though; it was an ecofarm, which meant that it recycled rainwater (of which we had a true deluge that night!), used dynamic, organic farming practices, and . . . used compost instead of toilets with plumbing. That's right, I was far away from my fancy, heated toilet seat with built-in bidet; instead I was just sitting on a hole in the ground with a polite reminder to sprinkle sawdust down the hole after I was done! Actually it wouldn't have been so bad if it hadn't been for the enormous spiders that occupied the outhouse . . .

For dinner that night we trekked into town to Kate Kearney's Cottage. It was a total tourist trap but was good all the same. After dinner there began live music and dancing but the real treat was hearing Danny Boy played on bagpipes. For a tourist trap, you could do much worse.

We settled in for the night back at the Eco Farm and woke up the following morning to mountains completely shrouded in fog. Whether looking out over vistas spanning miles and miles or ensconced in fog so thick you can barely see the Sun, this country is just so beautiful!

2018-12-07

Honoring Paul Farmer

Today we celebrated the life of a great man. Paul Farmer was a patriot, a public servant, a coach, a husband, a father, and a grandfather. A graduate of the US Naval Academy, where he was a multi-sport athlete, he spent his military career as an aviator in the US Marine Corps. During a training exercise in the 1970s, he was forced to eject from his aircraft. Despite his parachute failing to open, he managed to land on his feet, breaking his back but saving his life.

During his hospital recovery, he began courting one of the nurses, Kathy, who soon became Mrs. Farmer. They were married 46 years before Paul died, and during the last 26 of those years, they played a very significant role in my life. I learned a great deal from him about sports, food, wine, and life.



Paul was laid to rest this morning with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery. It was a very moving ceremony with scores of troops, a full Marine Corps band, and, of course, a 21-gun salute. The reception at the Navy Officers Club on base was a real joy. A plurality of Paul's Academy company-mates joined us, as did many of his colleagues, and the stories shared were truly worthy of the exceptional life we were celebrating.

Following is a transcript of the remarks I made at the reception:

I'm Bryan Guido Hassin, and I'm Paul Farmer's other son. Those of you with astute powers of observation may note that my last name is not Farmer and that I don't resemble Paul or Kathy or Nick or Jocelyn. Well spotted! No, I wasn't born into the Farmer family. I met Nick in 7th grade, joined his baseball team - coached by Paul, of course - and we began spending a lot of time together. Throughout middle and high school, Nick’s and my friendship grew into a true brotherhood, I played out the rest of my baseball career on teams coached by Paul, and I spent so much time at the Farmers’ house that they began calling me “Son II” while I called them “Mom and Dad II.”

So I’ve spent the vast majority of my life calling Paul Farmer “Dad II” but, when I first met him, I called him "Coach." To paraphrase a movie from around that time that Nick and I both loved, Coach is the name for God in the lips and hearts of young boys. Indeed, as most of us didn’t have a shot at playing professional baseball, our coach’s primary responsibility wasn’t to develop us into top prospects; it was to help us develop into young men.

Coach Farmer took to that responsibility like a fish to water - not by sitting us down and saying, "Here's how to be a man," but rather by example - and what an example he was: a world-traveled, meat-eating, wine connoisseur, fighter pilot, athlete - what a man!

But you never would have known most of that as he didn't wear much on his sleeve. Mr. Farmer conducted himself with a quiet, determined humility, which is what he taught us on the field: keep your head down, work hard, do your best, and you will achieve your goals.

This applied doubly so in the classroom as it did to the baseball field for Mr. Farmer was one of the smartest, most learned men I've ever known. I have fond memories of sitting around his table playing Trivial Pursuit. It wouldn’t have been much fun for him because he knew all the answers. Instead, he relegated himself to asking the questions and giving us clues that were so clever, they could only really be appreciated once the answer was known.

And yes, I include in my list of examples of Mr. Farmer’s intellectual prowess another of my favorite memories: the time he was summarily ejected from one of our baseball games he was coaching for arguing with the umpire. As soon as we returned home, we looked up the rules and, of course, Coach Farmer was right - he was always right. 

While that memory stands out to me because it may be the only time I ever witnessed Mr. Farmer, the consummate officer and gentleman, really get riled up, he wasn't arguing with the umpire because he wanted to win; he was doing so because had strong convictions about what is right. You don't do something to gain some reward or to avoid some penalty; you do it because it is right.

That strong sense of conviction and duty made Dad II one of the most gallant men I have ever known - a true modern day knight. When my Mom I was seriously ill in the hospital, Paul and Kathy visited her regularly and helped her get better. When my wife and I suffered a devastating pregnancy loss, Dad II was among the first to send us the sweetest, most heartfelt note of condolences.

On the surface he could be stoic and reserved, but underneath was a tender heart and a man who was incredibly thoughtful. They say with icebergs you only see the 10% that's above water but the 90% below is what’s really powerful. I find that describes Dad II very well - all the more so because his aviator call sign was Penguin!

You were one of a kind, Paul Farmer, the best of the best. The Force was strong with you in life and it is even stronger with you in death. You leave behind a legacy of a country that thanks you, friends and colleagues who respect you, and a family that loves you. You live on in all of us who remember you and through your lessons which we are now passing on to the next generation.

I'd like to send him off with a slightly adapted poem, the subject of which was near and dear to Paul's heart since practically the day he was born.

Oh somewhere in this favored land, the sun is shining bright.
A band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light.
Somewhere men are laughing, somewhere children roam.
But there is no joy in Mudville, for Paul Farmer has gone home.

Semper Fi, Penguin.
Semper Fi, Coach Farmer.
Semper Fi, Dad II

2018-11-17

Fantastic Beasts 2 Review

Last night Katie and I went to our first movie in the theater since becoming parents - we're so wild! We didn't love the first Fantastic Beasts film so didn't have very expectations for this one - and that's about what we got. WARNING: THERE BE SPOILERS BELOW!



THE GOOD

  • There are some good visuals, which make seeing this in the theater rewarding.
  • There are some cute and funny creature moments.
  • Johnny Depp and Jude Law are fine in their roles as iconic Wizarding World characters. Neither is really exceptional but they don't really have much to work with either.
  • If tweets using #FantasticBeasts can be believed, the movie seems to be resonating with 17-year-old fangirls, so clearly some people are finding it to be a worthy entry in the franchise.
THE BAD
  • The characters are, for that most part, uninteresting. There are so many of them jam packed into the film that few of them get any development at all. 
  • As a substitute for character development there is a lot of bad, expository dialog. Tell don't show!
  • Even with all the beat-you-over-the-head explanatory dialog, the movie is messy, disjointed, and confusing. It feels like it was stitched together haphazardly instead of edited for a coherent narrative.
  • A number of things that happen in the film - from plot points to character motivations - just don't make any sense.
  • This is sometimes due to inconsistency in the "rules" of magic. The Harry Potter stories took great pains to maintain an internally consistent of the Wizarding World. In these new films it feels like magic is either omnipotent or impotent depending on what the plot calls for at the moment - and seldom in between. As a consequence there is no real tension during any of the pivotal scenes.
  • There are blatant conflicts with established Harry Potter canon.
  • As usual with David Yates, the direction is fine but just kind of paint-by-number.
  • For all of this, the film is, I hate to say, boring.

THE UGLY

  • Like The Hobbit, Fantastic Beasts 2 forces in so many unnecessary references to the previous Harry Potter installments as to detract from the film itself. I mean, really? Dumbledore teaches bogarts the exact same way Lupin (who had a different Defense Against the Dark Arts professor) would go on to teach them 70 years later? *Eye roll* These are more than subtle easter eggs; they're overt, cheap fan service.
  • The Fantastic Beasts series is supposed to expand the Wizarding World but every new character seems to be related to characters we already know. Between this and the preponderance of heavy handed references, it serves to shrink the wizarding world instead.
  • The collective effect is turning the Wizarding World into a soap opera. Who did what now? Oh no he di-idn't! So-and-so had a secret baby with whom? Oh my! Every Wizarding World piece Rowling has written since the Harry Potter novels has relied on these sorts of cheap twists - rather than epic fantasy, it's like we're watching the Jerry Springer show.
The Fantastic Beasts films feel like Rowling wanted to explore what the Wizarding World would be like outside of Britain. She did that a little more thoroughly - although not well - in the first Fantastic Beasts, set in New York. This installment is even more superficial; it is set in Paris but there isn't really any reason for it to be there other than some pretty cinematography. We don't really learn anything about the magic community in France nor do we really meet any French characters of consequence.

I would love to blame Yates but the fault here is really Rowling's. JKR has proven herself to be a fantastic author of British boarding school mystery novels disguised as fantasy but a very mediocre author of stage and film scripts of different genres about the Wizarding World outside of Hogwarts. One of Rowling's motivations is noble. I think her very homogeneous Harry Potter novels don't, in hindsight, mesh with her politics and so she is aiming to "set things right" through prequels. That's a very dangerous game, though, and I can't think of many examples besides Tolkien who ever got that right - and it took him decades of careful work to do so.

All that said, I think you have to reserve ultimate judgement on a middle film until its series is complete. Many viewers were not sold on The Empire Strikes Back when it was released and only upon the final resolution of The Return of the Jedi did they see how well Empire set up a tidy conclusion. It is possible that Rowling has a compelling, coherent narrative about Ariana Dumbledore being an Obscurus, Grindelwald taking inspiration from his big fight with the Dumbledores which motivates him to use Credence as a weapon, etc. but it is hard for me to imagine a anything very satisfying at this point - and especially something that doesn't break all the canon from 70 years later. But we shall see!

At the end of the day this is a pretty, messy, boring film that tries to expand the Wizarding World but actually shrinks it. There are some fun moments and it is worth seeing once by any Potterhead but I probably won't see it again.

2018-11-08

Lovett College Turns 50

Our family traveled to Houston for Rice Homecoming last weekend. As always, it was an excellent opportunity to reconnect with our alma mater and see myriad dear friends in a pretty short time. Additionally, any trip to Houston affords us the opportunity to eat our fill of Texas BBQ and Tex Mex! The weather was gorgeous for our 48 hours in town and it was wonderful to return to our old stomping ground.


In addition to attending all the regular Homecoming festivities, this year we also celebrated the 50th anniversary of the founding of Lovett College. This included two days of celebration events - both informal and formal - and even a special wine tasting. As Lovett was our home away from home during our university years, this year's additional time spent there felt like a true homecoming.

We will probably have to wait 10 years for the next such celebration but frankly we wouldn't mind if we did it every year - EOL RRF!


2018-10-29

Enchanted by Ireland 4

After leaving The Burren, we spent the next day at Bunratty Castle. Now this place was very cool - not castle ruins but a fully intact 15th century castle that was restored in the 1950s.

After lunch at next door Durty Nelly (total tourist trap but not bad), we walked around the castle grounds. There they recreated a medieval village so it was fun to drop by the blacksmith, stables, pig pen, etc. There was even a fairy village - so magical!

We then toured the castle itself and that was well worth the price of admission! The [narrow!] spiral staircases in the stone turrets really transported me to a different time and out on the top ramparts I could survey "my" territory for kms around.



We left Bunratty for afternoon tea at the Savoy in Limerick. The walls were lined with bookshelves so it felt very much like tea in an old library - very charming! Of course I had Guinness with my tea because Ireland!

In the evening we returned to Bunratty Castle for a medieval banquet. We were greeted by harpists, madrigal singers, and mead. Then dinner was right up my alley as there were no utensils! We had soup, ribs, and capon while being serenaded by more singers in period costume. It felt straight out of Game of Thrones!

This marked the end of our time in County Clare but what magical time it was - we must definitely return sometime and tarry longer.


2018-10-28

Enchanted by Ireland 3

After our amazing day at the Cliffs of Moher, we took the following day to visit a nearby island, Inis Oírr. In contrast to the previous day's crisp, sunny weather, this day was cold, gray, and drizzly. Visiting a small island in such gray, drizzly weather reminded me of Cairnholm in Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children. This wasn't the first fantastic literary or film reference that Ireland conjured up for me and it wouldn't be the last.

The ferry we took to the island was called - and I'm not making this up - The Happy Hooker. Upon our arrival we stopped at a (the?) pub for a pint and some biscuitcake to ensure that that we were adequately fortified to walk around the [tiny] island.

Toward one end of the island, the landscape was quite barren, full of smooth rocks with crevasses and rivulets carved out by eons of wind and waves. This landscape seemed almost alien. Still, in a few spots, some green managed to take hold because, after all, Inis Oírr is still in Ireland and that means green!

We happened upon a touching memorial for fisherman who had been lost to sea before walking back to the other end of the island where we explored the ruins of O'Brien Castle. These ruins would have been very fitting for a scene from Highlander but, fortunately, we didn't encounter any immortals intent on decapitating us.

The following morning we went for a run up into The Burren. It was supposed to be a long, steady out-and-back run but, due to the extraordinary picturesqueness of the area it turned into an intervals workout because I had to keep stopping to take pictures and then run quickly to catch up with my running partners!


Only five days into our Ireland trip and we were already hopelessly smitten by this beautiful country!

2018-10-27

Enchanted by Ireland 2

A year ago, Katie and I had a magical trip to Ireland. I began blogging about it but never finished. At long last, here is more of the story!

After leaving Galway, we based the next segment of our trip in County Clare, renting a little cottage in Fanore. The cottage was really charming (using peat instead of logs for the fireplace!) and was situated just at the edge of The Burren, which featured very striking landscapes!

We had dinner the first night at a nearby pub, O'Donohue's, where we had more fish n' chips, more beef 'n Guinness stew, and more . . . Guinness! A lovely twilight stroll back to the cottage took us past many pastures full of cattle who were surprisingly scared of us.

The next day was certainly a highlight of the trip. We spent the first half of the day hiking 18.5 km along the Cliffs of Moher. The grass at the tops of the cliffs was so vibrantly green, it was easy to see why Ireland is called "the Emerald Isle." By contrast, the sides of the cliffs that fell so sharply down to the sea were stark gray rock but just as striking to see.

Some of the trails we hiked were quite precarious - very near the edge with a dropoff of hundreds of meters and/or requiring that we leap over open gaps in the path. This was made all the more difficult by very blustery winds that threatened to blow us off the trail. Still, the weather was generally pretty good and the entire hike was so beautiful that we found ourselves stopping every few steps to take pictures.



A neat feature of the Cliffs of Moher is the visitors center, which is essentially an eco-friendly hobbit hole built into the ground! It is accessible by car so, even if you aren't as into hiking as we are, it is well worth a visit.

That afternoon we took a boat along Ireland's west coast to see . . . the Cliffs of Moher! It was really cool to see from below what we had spent the day seeing from above. From this vantage it was easy to recognize them as the Cliffs of Insanity from The Princess Bride. The boat also brought us close to the Branaunmore sea stack that features prominently in Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince.

That night we dined at Monk's in nearby Ballyvaughan (Excellent seafood!) and slept very, very soundly.