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September 2021
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photo dump

(Many of these photos were taken by Robin)

Me at the British Museum:


Robin at a yarn store in London:


A nightly ritual in Nerja: Robin eats ice cream at the Balcon:


Moon over Nerja:


The legend, Ayo:


Celebrating Robin's birthday month:


Nighttime in Nerja:





semi-charmed holiday

Must be time for a final post from Spain, although we don't leave here until Saturday. But there's a pre-written, post-dated Music Friday tomorrow, and we'll be travelling on the weekend, so I likely won't have a chance to write again until we get home.

I re-read past travel blog posts, which reminded me that we always do the same thing, and thus there's not much new I can say. I seem to watch a TV show or two on these trips, most famously when we watched the Sopranos finale on "borrowed" wi-fi and thought the wi-fi had gone out at the end (of course, most of the world had similarly panicked thoughts about the cable going out or whatever). This is the trip where I watched Squid Game, partly because Netflix is the only streamer I can access properly from here. (I've only seen six episodes as I type this, with Ep. 6 being the best, partly because of the setup of the first five episodes.)

I've taken a few pictures, and my wife has taken a few more, but I'm writing this on my Kindle and the photos are on other devices, so maybe I'll post a couple next week.

The main thing I've noticed on this trip is my attempts to speak Spanish, although looking back on those older travel posts, I see I always think about this at some point. I feel more comfortable than ever, although even there, I have written on previous trips about my improvements. I guess the main thing now is that comfort level ... I hardly ever think about it, I just talk. A couple of instances suffice as explanation. Last week, the door bell rang, which was odd, so I answered the door and a man I didn't know was standing there. He said the name of someone ... it wasn't Steven or Robin ... and  then, puzzled, asked if I was Spanish. I answered that I was American but that I spoke Spanish. Turned out he had the wrong apartment, but the thing that stuck with me afterwards was the way I said I spoke  Spanish as if I actually did speak it. Then last night at dinner, we did what we often do, with my wife ordering from the English-language part of the menu and me ordering from the Spanish part (she got Iberian pork, I got solomillo de ternera con pimienta verde). The waiters here are all at least bilingual, since it's a tourist town with lots of Brits, and they assumed after Robin ordered that I was going to also order in English. When I asked for the solomillo, the server said, "Oh, you speak Spanish!", and I answered "yes". Again, it was the casual way my answer came out, as if it is perfectly natural at this point that speak Spanish. (I should note that my grammar still sucks, and I often struggle to come up with a particular word, but mostly I've got flow.)

Tonight, our landlords are taking us to dinner, and tomorrow is open, although I imagine we'll spend time packing. Still, I might milk one more post before we leave. Until then, ta luego.

native in nerja

On Sunday, we went to dinner with a friend my wife had made in a Nerja group on Facebook. It was a nice evening with an energetic companion. We spoke mostly in English, but it was interesting that occasionally she and I would lapse into Spanish, or perhaps more accurately, Andalusian (I'll get to that in a bit).

I was fascinated by her perspective, as a native not only of Andalusia but of Nerja itself ... she was born here in 1975. As we ate ice cream on the Balcon de Europa, as we have done so many times over  the last 20+ years, she offered her memories of being on the Balcon when she was a kid. It reminded me of when we once visited Stonehenge with friends who had grown up nearby ... to them, it was mostly just a place to play on as a kid (which apparently you could do back in the day). Our new friend loved Nerja, and in some ways her Nerja was an even more romantic place than for us tourists.

Throughout the evening, she related to the town differently, obviously. Walking past one restaurant, she said she waited tables there for her first job ... it had a different name, then. I asked her if she watched Verano Azul when she was young, and she replied yes as if the answer was obvious. Verano Azul was a Spanish television series, a teen drama shot in Nerja and shown in 1981-2.

She also reflected on the impact of Franco on Spain. One thing I hadn't thought of specifically is that, as she remembered it, Franco hated Andalusia and its people. He had tried to force the country into a unified Spain, forcing Castilian Spanish to be the only accepted legal language, and fighting against the regional cultures that lent diversity to the country. Andalusia was the hardest-hit area during Franco's reign of terror. Our friend said Andalusians felt separated from the country, which thought of them as gypsies at best, a culture that didn't even speak "proper" Castilian Spanish.

All of this added the local perspective to the tourist's view we have experienced in our seven visits to Nerja. It was not just a fun evening, but an instructive one.


the ghost of yotsuya (nobuo nakagawa, 1959)

This is the eighth film I have watched in "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2021-22", "A 33 week long challenge where the goal each week is to watch a previously unseen feature length film from a specified category." This is the 7th annual challenge, and my third time participating (my first year can be found at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2019-20", and last year's at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2020-21"). Week 8 is called "J-Horror Week":

From Wikipedia:

"Japanese horror (also known as J-horror) is horror fiction arising from popular culture in Japan, generally noted for its unique thematic and conventional treatment of the horror genre differing from the traditional Western representation of horror. Mediums in which Japanese horror fiction is showcased include literature, film, anime, video games, and artwork. Japanese horror tends to focus on psychological horror, tension building (suspense), and supernatural horror, particularly involving ghosts (yūrei) and poltergeists. Other Japanese horror fiction contains themes of folk religion such as possession, exorcism, shamanism, precognition, and yōkai."

This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen J-Horror film.

Yotsuya Kaidan has been called the most famous Japanese ghost story of all time, dating back to its first appearance as a kabuki play in 1825. It has been made into numerous films, starting in 1912, and Nakagawa's version is often considered the best. Nakagawa directed more than 100 movies in his career, including several horror films in the late-50s/early-60s. I came to The Ghost of Yotsuya as a beginner ... for me, it was just another Japanese horror movie, since I didn't have the cultural context the story carries with Japanese audiences. It was occasionally hard to follow, but in a good way ... it added to the supernatural elements in the film.

There are murders from the start, but the ghosts only emerge gradually. Much of the film is interesting, but without the horror aspect I expected. It's almost a character study for much of its running time. But when the ghosts come out, the supernatural horror moves to the front, building on what has come before. There is a visual splendor whenever the film moves outdoors, but most of the time, we're inside with the characters.

The Ghost of Yotsuya might appeal more to an arthouse audience than to one looking for gore and horror, but it succeeds on either level.

Among the choices of others for the Challenge was Kuroneko.

joining the rest of the world

In my search for things to watch that were accessible via streaming from Europe, I decided I would join the rest of the world and watch Squid Game.

Squid Game, which was released a little over a month ago, is the most-watched series (from its launch) in the history of Netflix as I write this. It reached #1 on the Netflix TV charts in 90 countries, including Spain ... when I logged onto the service from Nerja, the website said "#1 in Spain!"

With all of this, I admit that while I knew of the cultural explosion around the show, I had no idea what it was about. Nor did my wife, about which more in a bit. I settled in for Episode One, expecting some excess, in line with some of the Korean horror films I'd seen. For the first 40 minutes or so, I saw an interesting setup about some people suffering from immense debt, who agreed to play a large-scale game for a chance to win a lot of money.

What follows here includes necessary spoilers for that first episode. A total of 456 players are taken to a hidden compound. They will play a series of six games, with a big payout for anyone who finishes. The first game is "Red Light, Green Light", a variation on the children's game. They have five minutes to reach a finish line, but they can only move at certain moments; anyone who moves during the stay-still periods is eliminated.

The game begins, the players move forward towards the finish line, the call to stop comes, the players stop, and the ones who move are eliminated from the game. Their elimination results in their being shot down and killed. By the time the five minutes are up, more than half of the 456 are dead.

There are underlying themes about class and money, reminiscent perhaps of Parasite. But I've only watched two episodes so far, and I can't really comment on those themes. In fact, this post isn't really about analysis at all, but rather at the fascinating (and rather sad) reaction of my wife when I explained the first episode.

My wife watches a lot of TV while she knits, often shows from other countries. She chooses shows by browsing, sometimes selecting something Netflix or other services recommend based on her past viewing. She is mostly uninterested in stuff that goes viral, so while she had heard of Squid Game, she knew even less than I did about the series, and didn't have any interest in watching it. I made what I see in retrospect was an insufficient description of the show's concept, so that she didn't know the show is fictional. To her, I am describing a Survivor-like reality show, so when I got to the part where half of the people died, she was disgusted. Not just with the show, but with her husband, who seemed to look forward to Episode Two. She didn't think I was the kind of person to watch actual killing for entertainment purposes, and while she couldn't really believe such a show existed, times are bizarre, and so when I kept insisting that the game's losers really died, saying "it's Korean!" in reference to Korean horror films, she thought I meant there was a show from Korea where people were being murdered.

I admit I was, and am, a bit frightened that she would think I would continue to watch the show she thought I was describing. But then, based on the look on her face. she was just as frightened that her husband of 48 years was the kind of person who would indeed want to watch more.

It's safe to say we were both relieved when I did a better job of explaining that the show was fiction. I went on to watch the second episode, but I don't think she will be putting it on her Netflix queue anytime soon.



music friday: rust never sleeps

Another post written last month, before we began our vacation. On this date in 1978, we saw Neil Young and Crazy Horse in the concert that was filmed as Rust Never Sleeps. This song is particularly appropriate, since it tells the story of the Spanish conquistador who conquered Mexico. Wikipedia tells us the song was banned in Spain until after Franco's death. He came dancing across the water. Cortez, Cortez. What a killer.

kansas city confidential (phil karlson, 1952)

I had downloaded a few movies from various services that I could watch from Europe, assuming those services might not work outside the U.S. But they didn't work as hoped, leaving me with no movies to watch. I finally hit on a solution, and searched YouTube for full-length movies. Kansas City Confidential, a minor cult noir that inspired Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs, had long been in the public domain, so there were plenty of copies, and a couple were of decent quality, so I watched it.

It's a tough little thriller, with some brutal action and a tricky plot about a bank heist. Director Phil Karlson keeps things simple ... when the plot drags a bit, he tosses in some beatings to liven it up. Bosley Crowther's New York Times is review is unintentionally hilarious:

[T]he practice of brutality in this unenlightening dossier on crime is not confined to the lawless and shady personalities that almost exclusively people it. There is an obvious and sickening implication that the Kansas City police are not only rough when they capture a suspect, but they exercise a wicked "third degree." There is one character in this little run-down, supposedly a plainclothes cop, who is as nasty and sadistic in behavior as the hero or any of the thugs. This, of course, does not lend a climate of hope or moral uplift to the film.

The film is enlivened by an interesting cast. John Payne had been a star in some musicals, and was most famous for his role in Miracle on 34th Street. He is effective as the guy who is set up to take the blame for the heist. Coleen Gray had been in Nightmare Alley and Red River. The team of thieves includes Jack Elam, Lee Van Cleef, and Neville Brand at the beginning of their careers.

There isn't much that stands out, although the connection to Reservoir Dogs is easy to see. The film is marred by a happy ending, but up until that point, it's violent enough to keep your attention, if you like that sort of thing.

our current home away from home

This year, we are staying at one of the apartments run by Frans and Nuttee, who we first met when we stayed at their Casa Charlotte some years back. It's hard to imagine better hosts. Frans is Belgian, Nuttee is Thai, and they are lovebirds (they call each other "My Darling"). Nuttee came by today so we could finally pay her ... one example of their hospitality is that we rented the place months ago, and have been here more than a week, now, but we didn't have to pay in advance ("we'll get to it"). She had scheduled a cleaning crew to come today, but someone's kid was sick, so Nuttee decided since she was already coming to get the rent, she'd do the cleaning herself (we're low maintenence and all that was really needed was fresh sheets, although she "Hoovered" the floors anyway). We were running some laundry, and left for a quick stop at the grocery store ... when we returned, she was still there, hanging our clothes on the line.

Part of going on holiday is "getting away from it all", and when you go halfway around the world, you certainly don't expect to see anyone you know. This made it all the more charming when we were having dinner (and sitting outside as we usually do if the restaurant has tables on the street) and Frans and Nuttee walked by. OK, Nerja is a small town, but it was still happily unexpected.

Here is a brief video of our apartment:

devil's partner (charles r. rondeau, 1961)

This is the seventh film I have watched in "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2021-22", "A 33 week long challenge where the goal each week is to watch a previously unseen feature length film from a specified category." This is the 7th annual challenge, and my third time participating (my first year can be found at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2019-20", and last year's at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2020-21"). Week 7 is called "Hades' Choice Week":

What the Hell?!

Alt. take: Beelze-busted!

This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen film prominently featuring the Devil.

Junk, but watchable, if only barely. If you and a couple of friends made this movie and showed it to your other friends, they would likely be amazed that you were able to pull off an actual feature film. But the competition isn't home movies, it's movies like Roger Corman's Creature from the Haunted Sea, with which Devil's Partner was released as part of a double-feature. Devil's Partner is competent, but it completely lacks any of the goofy fun that Corman regularly turned out. This can happen when both of your screenwriters are making their debuts as writers (neither ever wrote another film). Director Charles R. Rondeau was a prolific television director whose five feature films were nondescript.

The plot has an unlikeable old man dying mysteriously in a small town, after which his nephew turns up and insinuates himself into the community. He's up to no good, and soon lots of people are dying in unusual ways (being chased down and stomped by a horse is particularly silly). Rondeau and company do what they can to hold things together ... as I say, it's a competent movie, it just lacks anything beyond that basic competence. The acting is decent, with a couple of recognizable faces (Ed Nelson, Edgar "Uncle Joe" Buchanan). Still, as is often the case with such movies, the best thing is that it's only 73 minutes, so you won't be wasting too much of your time.