Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Dual/Duel Review: Dark Horse Super Sampler vs. Vampire Sampler

Dual/Duel reviews are an online smackdown between two books, movies, games, podcasts, etc. etc. that I think are interesting to compare, contrast, and comment on. For a list of other dual/duel reviews, go here.

One of the challenges for the 2013 Graphic Novels Reading Challenge is to read an anthology collection, with stories written and/or drawn by different authors. I thought this might be a bit tricky until I saw on Dark Horse's (they're the publishers of Hellboy) web site that they have some samplers for free download to the Dark Horse app (free for iOS or Android, though the comics can also be read on a computer). I chose the Dark Horse Super Sampler and Dark Horse Does Vampires Right Sampler.

The Super Sampler was published in January of 2013. The "Super" refers to all the samples being from superhero comics. Seven different comics are represented, varying from noir and WWII heroes up to present day supernatural and supersmart heroes. The stories are mostly origin/set-up stories, presumably taken from the first issue of each comic. As with any anthology, some are better than others. I was especially intrigued by The Answer!, which involves a librarian good at solving puzzles and a masked hero who fights crime. They both wind up dealing with a sinister motivational speaker. They are an odd couple of crime fighters and the villain seems pretty original.

Dark Horse Does Vampires Right is from May 2012. The title refers to the fact that their vampires aren't the emo, introspective, sparkling type that seem pretty tame in a lot of modern takes on the vampire genre. Six comics are included, though three of them are from the Buffy the Vampire Slayer line. The bit from the Spike comic is especially odd, since he is on some spaceship run by insectoid aliens with the usual challenges and comedy for him to get back to earth. The other stories are also spin-offs from previous material, including Guillermo del Toro's The Strain novels and the House of Night novels.

The vampires come from other intellectual properties, so there's a certain familiarity (and safeness, if you know how I mean it) to the stories, making them likeable but not surprising. The supers are mostly originals. Two I didn't like at all (e.g., the ultra-violent vigilante X seems like just another layer of corruption in his already corrupt society) but the others had a nice charm or intriguing premises (an ace WWII pilot flies into the Bermuda Triangle and comes out in the modern day has good potential). So I have to give it to the Supers over the Vampires.

Super Sampler

Dark Horse Does Vampires Right

Click the titles above to read these, they are free and you can read them on your computer!

Monday, April 29, 2013

Village Heights Golf Resort

After our first day on Crete, we drove to the hotel we'd stay at for the week. The hotel is called Village Heights Golf Resort, which is full of time share properties that are inexpensive to rent. The kid saw two main advantages in this hotel: a pool and a playground.

The pool area is quite large, with a spacious pool for adults and a smaller lap pool above. Just below the adult pools is a long shallow trench that leads to the children's pool. J and L loved splashing around in this side pool. Both this pool and the adult pool were bitterly cold by any normal human standards, which means the kids were not bothered by it no matter how much they shivered or their lips turned blue.

Kid's pool

L starts off down the trench while J poses

J takes the lead!

The adult pools

Inside the hotel lobby down a staircase is a spa with a heated pool. We all swam down there on the first day. The water was warmer but there was no sunshine; the net result was positive, but not by a lot. When J and I went back to the locker room to get our dry clothes on, we both accidentally bashed into the open locker door. J injured his head; I my back. We were pretty unhappy about that and learned to be more cautious in the future.

The playground is right by the pool. The standard equipment is enhanced by having a ping-pong table, which the kids enjoyed playing even with their lack of skills.

Yay swings!

Boo swings!

Easy rope climber

Playground with a view

The slide and the table tennis

The hotel had lots of fun for the kids. It also had evening entertainment which I enjoyed, but that's a story for another post.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Panagia Arkoudiotissa, Crete

Down a path from the Gouverneto Monastery is a handful of other monasteries. At the very end of the path is the Katholiko Monastery, which is the ruins of a nearly sea-side monastery that was overrun by pirates in the 17th century. The monks moved up into the hills to these other monasteries. We never made it as far as Katholiko but we did find some other interesting things on the way.

The path wasn't too steep and was well built with stones, winding around the hillside providing wonderful views of the mountainous terrain.

L and Mommy on their way

J on a less clear part of the path

Mediterranean in the distance!

Seeing a little structure!

If we had taken a different path, we'd have come to the ruins of the Saint Anthony Monastery. It was visible across the valley and looked like a cozy spot. Here's a closer look, thanks to our camera's zoom.

St. Anthony Monastery

Nearby sheep/goat pens?

Our guide book said the walk to the end of the trail would take half an hour. We weren't brave enough to go all the way. Walking down the hill might have been okay for the kids, but coming back up would be a lot tougher and they are getting a little too big to be carried all that way. At one point, the children and Mommy started back. I was to walk another five or ten minutes to see if I could make it. About two minutes further down, I came across a cave church which I thought was the bottom of the hill. Consulting a map later, it's clear I didn't make it all the way to Katholiko Monastery.

What I did find was a cave church called Panagia Arkoudiotissa. A bit of construction outside the cave hinted at the small community that must have lived there a long time ago.

Some walls from the old monastery

The other side of the walls

A larger room for gatherings or meals?

A path led clearly to the cave, which still has a small chapel that looks to be in use.

Path to the cave

Entrance to the cave

No one was at home, though they must have been here recently

A bell for the chapel

The chapel is dedicated to Our Lady of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple. A feast is held on February 2 each year, with locals spending the night in the cave.

The cave stretches back quite a bit. Natural light fills the first large chamber, which includes many rock formations. The great stalagmite in the center of the cave is, according to legend, Artemis transformed into a bear. So perhaps there was sacred use of the cave even in pagan antiquity! Another legend says that a bear lived in the cave and the local monks, being very thirsty, prayed to the Virgin Mary for a solution. The bear was turned to stone and they could use the dripping waters and pools in the cave.

The bear/goddess leans on some human-hewn rocks

The big stalagmite

Another formation

The cave went deeper than I wanted to go without a flashlight

I soon was headed back up the path, though I didn't catch up to the family till they were already at the top relaxing with a bottle of water. We were soon back in our car driving down the curvy, mostly paved roads to our hotel.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Book Review: The Book of Psalms A Translation with Commentary by Robert Alter

The Book of Psalms A Translation with Commentary by Robert Alter

Having listened to Alter's translation and commentary on the Book of Genesis on the Forgotten Classics podcast, I was looking forward to reading this book and finding out more about the Psalms.

The introduction covers the historical and literary background of the Psalms. The discussion gets a bit technical, especially reviewing the nuances of the Hebrew language and the various purposes, styles, and quirks of ancient poetry. The text is rather dense and requires a re-reading to get a better sense of it all. The effort is worth it.

The translation of the Psalms walks the hard line of conveying both the more literal sense of the words and the (to modern ears) foreign cadence and rhythm of Hebrew poetry from thousands of years ago. Often, ideas are repeated in the Psalms to give them more vividness or more concreteness, such as in Psalm 35: 5-6, where the psalmist prays for his enemies to undergo misfortune: "Let them be like chaff before the wind,/with the LORD's messenger driving. [6]May their way be darkness and slippery paths,/ with the LORD's messenger chasing them." (p. 122)

Alter's comments point out sections where the text is difficult to translate due to awkward constructions, which may be due as much to scribal error as to the poetic license of the author. He's honest enough to admit when he is making intelligent guesses and presents his decisions well enough to be persuasive.

Alter more or less rejects a theological interpretation of the texts and limits such comments mostly to possible liturgical uses by the ancient Hebrews or how they compare to other ancient texts and poems about the gods. On the other hand, he often compares the Psalms to other biblical literature, like Job, Ecclesiastes, and the Pentateuch (as well as other Psalms) to give a context for and a possible explanation of difficult passages or to highlight a contrast. For example, in Psalm 37:25, the psalmist says, "A lad I was, and now I am old,/ and I never have seen a just man forsaken." (p. 132) Alter points out this is the exact opposite of what Job argues in his book, that the suffering of a man is not necessarily because he has done something evil. Alter puts it this way: "The Job poet challenges this received wisdom and proposes a more complicated, indeed paradoxical, moral vision." (p. 132, footnote to verse 25)

The footnote ends there and left me wanting more. More than just saying, "they don't agree." It left me wanting a deeper exploration if not some final say on the matter. The book lays aside 2500 years of Jewish and Christian reflection on the Psalms in favor of the ancient context that is less relevant to our lives today, if not less interesting.  I did enjoy the book but it was not fully satisfying for me. It's a strange result since I liked his translation and commentary on Genesis so much. Perhaps the historical context is more relevant for that book of the Bible than it is for the Psalms.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Chania Playground, Crete

Outside the old town area of Chania is the Public Gardens. The guide books all said this was a great area for children and we soon discovered why.

Massive tree, good for climbing!

As we walked into the gardens, we discovered some large cages with goats inside. Other children were feeding them leaves. J and L soon joined in. We had bought a sesame seed bread ring at the Agora and gave them some little bits off that.

J feeds a goat

L poses with a goat

Goat has a state-sponsored snack

Further on were two pens for peacocks. We still had some of the bread ring and gave them a taste too. Mostly the cages had peahens (the females who are less showy) and only one peacock (who was very showy and had the longest tail I'd ever seen on a peacock).

Peacock who is mostly tail

Just beyond this area was the playground, which was the star attraction of the day for the children. They swung, slid, merry-go-rounded, and had a fabulous time all around.

L was happy that she was lighter than J!

Too many slides to choose from

Not sure who designed those rungs, climbing inside is a challenge

Fun on swings

We couldn't stay long enough to satisfy the children! But eventually we had to go get lunch back at the Agora, and then head off to our new hotel to check in and check out the swimming pool!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Chania Old Town, Crete

Chania is the most populous town in western Crete. It's been home to a significant population since neolithic times. When Knossos was destroyed in the Bronze Age, Chania became the main city on the island. The city started to decline under Arab occupation, but then rebounded when the Venetians took over in 1290. It became so prosperous that they called it "the Venice of the East." The Turks occupied the land from 1646 to 1898. With Cretan independence, Chania became the capital of Crete and remained so until 1971. The result of this historical mishmash is a city full of many influences. We had fun exploring the city one morning. We parked just outside the old city walls and soon found a fountain to J's liking.

Fountain in Chania

The old Venetian Wall

The star attraction of Chania is the harbor area, featuring Arab and Venetian influences. The harbor was fortified by the Venetians. Part of the fortification is a lighthouse by the harbor mouth.
The harbor has since been rebuilt with modern buildings

Harbor entrance with the lighthouse

The harbor has the remains of the Mosque of Janissaries, which looked like it was being rebuilt. It was built in 1645 when the Turks took over. This mosque's minaret was destroyed during the World War II bombing. Later, on one of the side streets we found a different minaret that L assumed was Rapunzel's tower.

Mosque of the Janissaries

Mid-town Minaret

Near the mosque is another building that was bombed out by the Germans during World War II. Why they haven't repaired it wasn't clear from the sign. The building was built into the original Venetian wall surrounding the harbor area.

World War II damage

A maze of streets fans out from the central harbor with plenty of cafes, bars, shops, and history to satisfy any wandering curious person. We stopped in one place that specialized in baked goods. We had three varieties of cookies: chocolate, rosemary, and nut. We also had a fabulous pastry with pralines which was the parents' favorite. After we were done eating, the proprietors offered us some small tastes of fresh baklava. Both the generosity and the baklava were outstanding.

Picking a seat on the street

Yummiest snack ever?

Yikes, an American TV bar!

Colorful side street

Nice buildings with some old brown walls showing through

Buildings with a lot of character

Another popular spot in town is the Agora, which is the covered market in the middle of town. The market has little restaurants, fish merchants, butchers, bakers, fruit sellers, and even some touristy knickknack shops. We had lunch here at one little restaurant that seemed quite full (the one next to it was virtually empty). The restaurant is called Tavern Agapinis. The young man who was waiter and assistant chef invited us in and said all the food was locally grown or raised and the olive oil was from trees in their village. His mom was the cook. We sat down to a delightful lunch. I had a chicken leg with roasted potatoes baked in an olive oil/lemon sauce. My wife had the beef and pasta. The kids had spaghetti. It was wonderful.

Inside the Agora

Outside the Agora

As we were leaving, one of the older ladies at a shop said hello to L. L was too shy to respond. She offered L some shelled almonds. L politely demurred. I accepted the snack on the family's behalf. The lady said she had two children, both boys. "No girl!" she cried in mock sorrow. She said we had beautiful children. We thanked her and were on our way.

Chania also has a nice playground, which we will see in the next post.