Sunday, June 30, 2013

Saint Magdalene Church, Bruges

Saint Magdalene's Church in Bruges was built in the mid-1800s during the Gothic revival. The church building was completed in 1853. The furnishings were not completed until 1910. The church was a great example of the neo-Gothic revival. But things were not to remain untouched. In the 1960s, the interior was completely painted white and many stained glass windows and furnishings were lost. In the 1980s a restoration project began, though the results have been a mixed bag. A group called YOT have been involved in keeping the space sacred though they have put some of their own stamp on the interior.

St. Magdalene's Church, Bruges

Upon entering, one is struck by the immense contrast between the neo-Gothic tradition and the YOT contribution to the interior decoration.

View down the nave

View from the altar

The neon lights spell out, "YES HERE NOW" which according to the description posted in the church is "A spiritual adage that forms the core of many traditions: 'the Kingdom of God' in the Judeo-Christian, the 'nirvana' in the East, 'the void' in Zen, etc. If man is fully present in the here and now the boundaries of time and space disappear and a dimension of 'eternity' occurs." The neon lights did not communicate that idea to me since they are so vague as to allow any personal interpretation anyone wants.

There was no explanation provided for the small pool of water.

At least many of the other furnishings have been well cared for and provide some authentic and grounded spiritual nourishment to visitors. The main altar still provides a worship space not lit by neon.

Main altar

One side altar to St. Joseph is quite beautiful.

Altar to St. Joseph

Detail from St. Joseph altar (Holy Family at Home)

Detail from St. Joseph altar (Flight into Egypt)

Many fine sculptures, including an ornate pulpit, are still found throughout the church.

Cross over the transept

St. Catherine

Detail from the pulpit

Recent addition

The Stations of the Cross are beautiful and well preserved.

Jesus falls the first time

This church left me with mixed emotions. While the preservation work was inspiring and some of the sacred art truly well-done, the modern works that attempt to universalize the religious space leave me cold. Trying to find a "core message" in various religions winds up generalizing concepts and beliefs to the point where they no longer have a concrete grounding in any coherent system of thought or religion. Unifying religions through vague generalities only makes them relevant to people who know little or nothing about those religions. Which, sadly, is the state of many people today.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Bruges Playground in Konigin Astrid-Park

As we wandered around Bruges after our arrival, we found a playground for J and L to enjoy at the south end of Konigin Astrid-Park. And enjoy it they did.

Playground in Bruges

View from the other side, with the church in the background

J was happy to do a lot of climbing, especially up a tower that had a large covered slide for coming back down.

J begins his ascent

L did her share of climbing, though she was more interested in the shorter slide which allowed for quicker repeats. She could climb and slide faster than J. Not that it was a race or anything!

L climbs!

She slides!

They did find a happy medium in riding a turtle. This particular turtle required cooperation, so I'm glad they had each other.

One of these children is heavier than the other

The allure of the playground was so strong that J didn't even go to look at the nearby fountain. We thought the fountain and gazebo looked familiar, maybe from In Bruges.

Large fountain
Gazebo from the movie?

Queen Astrid, for whom the park is named

Neptune on the water

The park was originally part of a Franciscan monastery dating back to the 1200s. In the mid-1700s the French destroyed the monastery and the land fell into private hands. In 1850, the local government bought the land and made a (then) modern park. The park takes its name from Queen Astrid who died in 1935.

After a while we were able to pry the kids out of the park and head off to the train station. We took the afternoon train to Brussels, which was a new adventure! But first, we'll visit St. Magadalene's in the next post.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Book Review: Locke and Key Vol. 1: Welcome to Lovecraft

Locke and Key Vol. 1: Welcome to Lovecraft written by Joe Hill and illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez

The Locke family (dad, mom, two sons and one daughter) is enjoying a more or less carefree holiday at their summer house in Mendocino Valley, California. The dad is a guidance counselor at a San Francisco school and one of his students has shown up with a friend. The friend has an axe and the student, Sam Lesser, has a pistol. They brutally kill the father; the friend is killed by the older son; Sam winds up in jail. At the funeral, an uncle invites the orphans and widow to move back east, to the family home Keyhouse in Lovecraft, Massachusetts. Or more precisely on the island Lovecraft. As you might guess, the house has a lot of supernatural history and horror in store for Locke's family, especially when Sam escapes from prison and comes to find them.

The book is a grim but well done horror comic. The mysteries slowly build up to the ending and you find yourself caring about the characters deeply. The older son struggles with his anger and his suicidal feelings; the daughter just wants to fit in (i.e. not be a freak) with her new peers in Lovecraft; the youngest son discovers a door where, if he goes through, he turns into a ghost, able to travel at the speed of thought to wherever (or whoever) he thinks about. Including the bottom of the well, where that mysterious voice is coming from. The mom turns to wine as a coping mechanism. They all grow more interesting as the story goes on. The larger Lovecraftian mythology of the place is unraveled bit by bit. The art is fantastic. I'm looking forward to volume two!

Parental warning: the book is pretty gory in addition to having tough family issues following on the death of the father. I'd recommend this for mature teens and up. 

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Game Review: Forbidden Desert

Forbidden Desert designed by Matt Leacock and published by Gamewright

Matt Leacock is the designer of the hit games Pandemic and Forbidden Island. Forbidden Island is often described as a "lighter" version of Pandemic. Now his highly anticipated Forbidden Desert has come out. I played it at the 2013 UK Games Expo, bought a copy, brought it home, and have played a few more times.

The story of the game is that you and one to four friends have flown a helicopter to the middle of a desert where an ancient city is buried. You all came to find a legendary flying machine, but a sandstorm has kicked up. The helicopter crashed and now you frantically search for the missing parts, hoping to rebuild the flying machine before thirst or the storm get you.

The game is played on a 5 by 5 grid of 24 desert tiles. Those of you quick at math will realize that leaves one empty space in the grid. This space is the storm. It will move around during the game, dumping additional sand on tiles, requiring more effort to dig out the ancient city. If too much sand piles up (i.e. the sand markers run out), all the players lose the game.

Sample play area from the rules book

Players randomly choose different roles (archeologist, climber, explorer, meteorologist, navigator, water carrier) who have different special abilities. The roles also have a water meter indicating how much water they are carrying. As the storm continues, occasional "Sun Beats Down" cards will cause everyone to drink, reducing their water. Three of the tiles look like oases, where a well can provide additional water. Too bad one of them is a mirage! If one person runs out of water and the sun beats down again, all the players lose the game.

Players perform up to four actions during their turns--either moving, removing sand, excavating the city, or picking up a part. Excavating is required as it will eventually reveal the location of the missing parts. An excavated tile is flipped revealing either a part of the city (the player then draws an artifact that gives a special one-time power), a tunnel (which provides an artifact, shelter from the sun beating down, and the ability to move to other revealed tunnel tiles), the launch pad (where the players must go after gathering all the missing flying machine parts) or a clue to a missing part's location. Each part has two clues, one indicating an up/down axis, the other a left/right access. Once both are revealed, the part can be placed on the appropriate tile where a player can pick it up. If it isn't buried in sand. Then the player will have to dig.

After the actions, storm cards are drawn. The number depends on how intense the storm is. Most cards move the storm around and cause sand to accumulate on tiles. I've already mentioned the "Sun Beats Down" card. Another type of card increases the storm's intensity, possibly upping the number of storm cards drawn. If the storm intensity track gets too high, all the players lose the game.

Top row is storm cards; bottom row is some of the artifacts

The game is a fun co-operative game with really great parts and interesting game mechanics. The tiles and sand markers are thick, sturdy cardboard, much like the tiles in Forbidden Island. The parts for the flying machine are solid plastic components (again, like in Forbidden Island) and fit into the main machine well.

Flying machine and parts

Ready to escape!

The way the storm moves and builds up obstacles works well though it is not immediately obvious how it works. The rules explain it fairly clearly. Game play is fun and exciting like Leacock's previous games with players discussing what the best plan is. The game seems to favor fewer players. On the one hand, two players can't be all over the board. On the other hand, they can support each other better with water resources. With five people scattered in each corner, the sun beating down is more of a problem and the water resource has been the make or break part of the game for the larger groups I've played with.

Zombie Apocalypse Appropriateness: Since this is a co-op game, it could be played solo with any number of the roles taking turns. The game is a little bulky to carry around. It doesn't really give players any zombie fighting or surviving skills, but it is so much fun it will be a great mental diversion from the grimness that comes with living in an apocalypse.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Bruges Wanderings in May 2013

After getting off the boat and riding the charter bus to the Bruges train station, we walked into town to see some sights before our afternoon train to Brussels (where our hotel was). The sights start right across the street from the train station, as we immediately discovered one of the many waterways in Bruges.

L on the first of many bridges

View on the water

The area is called Minnewaterpark and is located near what was the southern defenses of the town. One medieval tower still stands--the Powder Tower, originally built in 1398.

Powder tower

Us with the tower in the background

The park is at the south end of town, so we walked north and soon discovered some of the charming houses built on the canal's edge.

Looks like a normal Belgian house...

but it is really...

ultimate waterfront property!

The canals were a common form of transportation, though now only tour boats motor along.

Swans on the canal

Tourists on the canal

The other popular form of tourist transportation is horse-drawn carriages. We saw dozens of them in the morning. They seemed to follow a regular route through the town, sharing the road with pedestrians, cars, bicycles, etc.

Traveling in style

A horse fountain!

The presence of little shrines over doorways and at corners still amazes me. The Christian faith has certainly left a strong stamp on the town.

Someone's door

Detail of the door decoration

We also discovered a small community, Godhuis St. Jozef, built in the 17th century. It was an almshouse built by a rich family as a residence for the poor and the elderly. Inside is a massive garden with little homes circling it. The garden even has it's own well (which didn't seem functional anymore) and a resident cat. The kids loved petting the cat. A small, church-shaped building at one end is where the poor and elderly would pray for their benefactors.

Outside the community

Inside the community

The well

The cat

The church?

The area also has its share of tourist traps, including this tempting location. At least, it was tempting to me.

Ultimate souvenirs!

We had a nice lunch of waffles and french fries (and beer) and were soon on our way to a playground for the kids to have some fun.

Not the healthiest lunch, but maybe the tastiest!

More later!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Movie Review: Iron Man 3 (2013)

Iron Man 3(2013) written and directed by Shane Black

 Now that we are in the Twilight Zone between theatrical release and home video release, here's my review of the first summer movie!

MPAA rating

Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence throughout, and brief suggestive content.

ZPAA rating

Early teens and up

Gore level

1.5 out of 10--Some scars and a little bit of blood; some burn wounds and burning wounds.

Other offensive content

A little bit of suggestive dialog; live-in girlfriend for the hero; drug references; typical comic book movie violence.

Synopsis & Review

Iron Man 3 follows on the events of Avengers Assemble. Tony Stark is trying to return to his normal life, but the stress of the attack on New York manifests itself in many sleepless nights and quite a few panic attacks. Sure, Tony can tackle problems like how to make his armor more compact and powerful but the problems of the soul are not his forte. He needs help. Being an alpha male, he doesn't really seek it until his back is against the wall.

A terrorist named the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) has been bombing various places across America and the world, accusing Americans of deceit, arrogance, and greed. The hits finally come too close to home and Tony recklessly demands the Mandarin come fight him. After his posh cliff-side home (and almost everything he has) is destroyed, Tony has to rebuild his life from the ground up.

Meanwhile, Stark Industries and Pepper Potts are being courted by a scientific company, A.I.M., headed by Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce). They are working on bio-tech but aren't too ethical about their practices. Killian had tried to get Tony in years before, but he hopes with new leadership at Stark Industries he can woo Pepper into a merger.

The story moves at a good pace and is quite interesting. The dialog is fresh and fast. Performances from the cast are good and the action scenes are exciting if not overly imaginative.

Fans of the comics might object to the handling of the Mandarin (who is well-played by Ben Kingsley) but I thought it was an interesting take on the character and worked well for the story. The theme it suggests could have been played up more in the film. The end of the film is a little robbed of drama by the more or less invincible bad guys fighting Tony and his army of Iron Man suits (which we saw in the trailer). Other parts of the ending just don't make sense. It's as if they used up the movie's quota of smarts in the first two thirds of the film.

All in all, Iron Man 3 is a fun summer action film. It could have been smarter for my tastes but it's enjoyable nonetheless.

Movie Trailer

Monday, June 24, 2013

Ferry to Belgium 2013

We decided to take another trip to Belgium on the overnight ferry from Hull to Zeebrugge, the port just outside of Bruges. The ship was amazingly similar. We could not tell any difference, other than we had a cabin with a window onto the water.

Pride of Bruges, our ride to Bruges

Another new item was a Disney anniversary display that L really loved. J not so much, as you can tell by the pictures.

L as a Disney Princess

Not quite ready for Disney, I think

Leaving England was uneventful. The day was foggy and cold, letting us see little of the shoreline as we left. We did see some interesting things at the port, including a boat with its drive-in ramp open.

One crane-tastic dock yard

Drive on boat

Goodbye, England!

The kids enjoyed the play room on board, which is basically a padded cell with big padded blocks. The walls are decorated with a nice circus theme, so don't be thinking of Gothic jail cells and straight jackets. J and L found a few friends. We didn't take any photos this time, you'll just have to refer to the last cruise. We also strolled the decks.

L on deck and ready for the photo, which is more than we can say for someone else!

Dinner was the same buffet as last year, though we had a drink-spilling marathon. First, J spread most of his orange juice across the table. Luckily it had a cloth tablecloth which absorbed the juice. Then I bumped my wine glass and lost half my wine. The next morning, my wife spilled tea on the breakfast table. Alas, we couldn't blame rough seas because the boat was very smooth on the water this time.

The on-board cinema did feature Iron Man 3 at 2045 English time (Belgium is an hour behind). I watched that and the review is coming soon. The theater itself was pretty small and overrun with teenagers who probably didn't realize they could be hanging out and chatting in the lounge and bar. Instead, they spent their time chatting during the film. The situation was rather annoying, though they mostly settled down after about ten minutes.

Disembarking in the morning went as smoothly as it possibly could. We were soon on the bus to Bruges, where we'd have some adventures before we went on to our hotel in Brussels.