Monday, March 31, 2014

The Walking Dead Ep. 416: A

The Walking Dead, Season 4, Episode 16:A

TV rating


ZPAA rating

Adults with high tolerance

Offensive content

Usual zombie decapitation/mutilation; human on human violence including biting faces and necks with very bloody gore; attempted rape (including of a child); a brief flash of bloody skeletons.

Synopsis & Review

A season finale is always a chance to go for a big dramatic ending. It seemed like they already did that back when the Governor attacked the prison at the mid-season break. Instead of ramping up the physical drama with another big battle scene, this episode ramps up the moral drama with a big moral conflict for Rick.

The episode includes numerous flashbacks to life at the prison, specifically at the point when Hershell convinces Rick that he needs to be a farmer rather than a hunter-gatherer. Such a change is good for Rick but even more important for Carl, who needs to learn how to live in their world. Rick tries it out because he knows that will be better for everyone. But it just doesn't work out because the Governor doesn't have the optimism or the willingness to work with (and for) others.

The episode begins with Daryl and his group catching up with Rick, Michonne, and Carl. The group wants to kill Rick because he killed one of theirs back in an earlier episode. Joe, leader of the group, is about the execute Rick when Daryl walks in and offers himself in Rick's place. Daryl says, "These are good people." Joe thinks it is a lie since Rick killed one of theirs, so he has some of the group start beating Daryl to death for lying (as per their code) and Joe promises to rape Michonne and Carl before killing Rick. Rick does the only thing he can and an extremely brutal fight happens. Joe's gang is wiped out. The next morning Rick explains how monstrously violent he was by saying it is all to protect Carl. They head on to Terminus where, unsurprisingly for the show, things are a lot worse than they seem.

At the beginning of the episode, Rick seems stunned by how brutal he has become, how far away he has traveled from the hoped-for peaceful farming life. The flashbacks are like memories for him. He is aware of what is happening to him, the coarsening of his personality, the despair winning out over the hope. By the end of the episode, he seems to embrace the brutality, which I have mixed feelings about. If they really give up hope, or worse, put their hope in being hardened self-preservationists, they could wind up like Joe's gang.

Kaaswaag, Gouda, The Netherlands

In the Northeast end of the Markt in Gouda is the Waag, a seventeenth-century building that was the cheese-weighing house and is now a museum dedicated to Dutch cheese.

Kaaswaag, Gouda

Back of the Kaaswaag

Just over the front door is a relief of cheese weighing in action. This sculpture is a copy of the original which is now stored inside, where it shows its signs of weathering.

Bas relief of cheese weighing

Original inside the museum

The ground floor of the building is a combination tourist center, shop, and a slice of the museum.

The shop

Cheese weighing and stained glass!

Cheese and a Dutch girl

Cheese press with L's cheesy smile

Visitors pay a modest fee to go upstairs for the rest of the museum. The friends who came with us were mistaken for relatives and we paid the family rate for everyone.

The first floor had exhibits about Gouda specifically and that's where the original bas relief is found.

Ye olde mappe of Gouda

Up another flight of stairs is the exhibit on cheese making, which includes a video in Dutch with English subtitles. J and L loved watching the video which let us examine the cheese-making items in the room.

Standard cheese-making equipment

Standard cheese-consuming equipment

The process starts with cows though historically experts think that the first cheeses were made by accident. Ancient man stored milk in sacks make from calves' stomachs. As the milk sloshed around, the enzymes still in the stomach caused the milk to separate into a liquid and a white mass. The mass was taken out and then pressed to get additional liquid out, forming the first cheese. Cheese was (and is) handy since it is edible much longer than the milk from which it is made. The museum display continues on with the Dutch methods.

The first step is to have the right shoes!

Anatomy of a cow

Tools for milking

With the milk, the next step is to mix it with rennet (based on the enzymes from the cow, though rennets have been developed from other sources for vegetarians), which will thicken the milk and separate out the whey (the liquid part). Also, lactic acid is added to help the rennet, to provide flavor, and to kill bad bacteria.

Mixing tools

The next step is to remove more whey by putting the cheese in molds and pressing.

Cheese presses and molds

After pressing, the cheese is cured in salt water. The salt helps to provide flavor and makes it stay fresh longer. A cheese mark may be added at this point to identify who made the cheese and where.

Pressed and cured, now for the aging process

The cheese is then aged. Young cheeses are mild and creamy while older cheeses are more flavorful and drier. The maturing process can go from one month to one year or more. Once it's ready for sale, a label is attached and it's off to market!

Many different local cheese labels

The Netherlands is an ideal area for cheese-making, since the low, moist lands provide excellent grazing for dairy cows. Farmers would often make cheese and then bring it to market day to sell along with their other produce. The Gouda city council was granted the right to tax cheese in 1667. They built the Waag in 1668 to weigh the cheese and determine how much tax should be paid.

More cheese-weighing equipment

The exhibit has a small display on butter making as well, though that was of much less interest to everyone.

Butter-making tools

After the second watching of the video, the kids went around admiring everything. They were done in about two minutes, so it was lucky for us that we had more time!

J ready to eat!

We also noted the industrial, table-mounted cheese grater.

This would be convenient

Soon enough we went back down all the stairs and bought some samples to take back to England. Truth be told, we ate a bunch of it on the way back to England.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

De Sint Janskerk, Gouda, The Netherlands

De Sint Janskerk in Gouda is named after John the Baptist, patron of Gouda. The first church here was built in 1280. The current cross-shaped basilica was constructed in the 1550s after a lightning strike caused a fire in the old church. It was a Roman Catholic church up to 1573 when the Protestants were given jurisdiction. It still functions as a Dutch Reformed Church, with two services on Sundays.

The church is surrounded with buildings making exterior photography difficult. 

Church spire seen from the town market

The main entrance

Near the tourist entrance

The "road" on the south side of the church

Photography is not allowed inside. The nave is the longest is The Netherlands at 123 meters. Many of the decorations were removed by the iconoclastic reformers but they left the famous "Gouda Windows" in the church. Some of the windows were made from 1555 to 1572 while the church was still Catholic; the rest were made from 1594 to 1603. The windows follow both biblical and national themes. The set around the choir shows the life of John the Baptist. Happily, post cards were for sale and I've scanned some of them.

John baptizes Jesus in the Jordan (click to enlarge)

The Last Supper (click to enlarge)

Judith beheads Holofernes (click to enlarge)

Jonah and the Whale (click to enlarge)

I didn't buy any cards of the national windows. They include some royalty and some famous battles and political events from The Netherlands's history.

Down a small hall is a study chapel with seven small stained glass windows from a monastery near Haastrecht. That monastery was where Erasmus was ordained as a priest. In 1551, the monks moved to Gouda for safety reasons. The chapel was very quiet and cosy, even though the theme of the windows is Christ's passion and death.

Scourging by the Roman Soldiers (click to enlarge)

The children enjoyed visiting the church especially since we bought the cheap binoculars from the gift shop. The binoculars help to see the windows. J and L used them to look at just about everything. They'd try the binoculars the right way and then flip the over and look through the wrong way. "You're so far away!" J would shout. Luckily we were just about the only visitors so the children's noisiness was less troubling than usual.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Book Review: The Book of Revelation Adapted by Matt Dorff

The Book of Revelation translated by Fr. Mark Arey and Fr. Philemon Sevastiades, adapted by Matt Dorff, illustrated by Chris Koelle

I'm fasting from fiction for Lent, so the graphic novels won't be back till after Easter, but this is graphic non-fiction...

One of the most difficult books to understand in the Bible is the very last one, the Book of Revelation, also known as the Apocalypse. The disciple John on the island of Patmos has a vision of a time of great tribulation ending in a new Heaven and a new Earth. The imagery is rich and cryptic, full of numeric and pop culture references that are alien to readers two millennia later. The book makes fascinating but not necessarily satisfying reading.

This new translation of the book comes from two Greek Orthodox clergy who provide a precise, timeless English text. The drawings are very evocative. The visual tone is like a horror comic, with lots of black, grey, gold, and red dominating most of the pages. The illustrations are just that, illustrations of the text and not interpretations. When warriors are depicted, they look like Roman soldiers as befits a text written in the first century AD. The one bit the illustrator has taken from contemporary art is the use of reaction shots from cinema and television. As John is shown fantastical things, occasionally his reaction can be seen in a frame--sometimes wonder, sometimes horror. It works well in the text.

I found this graphic version of Revelation hard to put down. The images are well paired with the text, neither overwhelming the other. The book gives the reader a more visceral experience of the text, which may be a better way to understand it rather than trying to intellectually decode it.

SAMPLE IMAGE: Sadly for you readers, I've chosen the bit that made me say, "Hey, zombies!" Other illustrations are better representations but I've got to be me.

Click to enlarge

Catharina Gasthuis, Gouda, The Netherlands

The Catharina Gasthuis was a hospice for the ill until 1910. It became an art museum shortly thereafter. Many works of art are housed outside as well as inside. We never went inside but did admire the outdoors works.

The most striking part is the back entrance over the canal. It's the Lazarus Gate from 1609. It was part of the local leper hospital but then moved here.

The Lazarus Gate of 1609

Detail of the gate (click to enlarge)

It's a nice representation of Jesus's parable of the rich man who had a feast while poor Lazarus suffered outside, being licked by dogs. Up above is the end of the story for Lazarus, being held by Father Abraham in the afterlife.

Back of the Lazarus Gate

We enjoyed the open-air part of the museum because the kids could run around without embarrassing us too much. We saw many fine sculptures.

A harp and the Gouda Coat of Arms in the back

Not sure what this is

Stone beehive

We liked the lions; the kids like the big pile of leaves

The walls by the back entrance have several striking decorations representing the three theological virtues. I'm not sure why the women had to be topless, there's no explanation. Maybe it's like the story of the mule who does whatever its owner tells it. He loans the mule to a friend who can't get it to do anything. The owner comes over to figure out what's wrong. The first thing the owner does hit the mule across the face with a two by four to get its attention. Then it does what it's told.



Love is fundamental!

Another wall decoration shows some nice swans.

Swan's town?

The children did settle down enough to pose with another wall decoration that was at their level.

J, L, and the Gouda Coat of Arms

As usual in Gouda, canals are nearby.

Exit for aquatic visitors

Friday, March 28, 2014

Writing Exercise: Spring Forward!

Our writing exercise comes from The Write Brain by Bonnie Neubauer and is a simple prompt: "Finish the story. Start with: Sometimes you just have to take a leap of faith..."
Sometimes you just have to take a leap of faith. Sometimes it's a big leap, like off a tall building. Sometimes it's a short leap, like when I reached the top of the ski lift. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

My first skiing trip was a day trip to the mountains (if you can call them that) of Pennsylvania. A friend and I drove off early in the morning to get to the resort in time for the opening of the slopes. I didn't have any experience or gear or fear or reluctance. I had an initial leap that was easy to make.

The line for skis and poles was long but not very bad. I didn't realize I'd need special shoes too, which added to the prep time. I put my regular boots and whatever I didn't need into a locker and put the key in my inside pocket. Losing that would be bad news.

The new boots were the big, clunky, Frankenstein-style boots that basically immobilize your ankles. They provide good protection but not much assistance with snapping onto the ski. Luckily, technology has come so far that most any boot locks into most any ski with ease. Or at least the resort's equipment was that way.

We started swishing our way across the snow-packed ground. The next beginner lesson was 45 minutes away, so I decided to get on the slopes right away. The line for the ski lifts was long, about 20 to 30 minutes wait just to get on. Getting on was no problem, the chair picked you up with ease. The trip up the hill was uneventful; the views of the mountains and the other skiers coming down were encouraging. After a few minutes it was time to get off.

The ground came closer and closer. Eventually I could see skiers getting off. A small mound of snow was piled up under the lift. People hopped off and went down the mound, turning left or right to get out of the way of the next person. Easier seen than done, I was about to discover.

Our turn came and we both made the jump. A lot of thoughts ran through my head just before the last second: "Keep your weight evenly distributed; keep the skis parallel; don't let one foot get ahead of the other; turn to the left as fast as possible; don't drop the ski poles; use them for balancing and pushing." I wobbled my way around with as much dignity as could be mustered. I must have had beginner's luck because it came off well. If only I had been so lucky on subsequent disembarkments! But that's another story.

This weekend Britain loses the hour for daylight savings, hence the blog post title!

Movie Review: The Flowers of St. Francis (1950)

The Flowers of St. Francis (1950) directed by Roberto Rossellini

The Flowers of St. Francis is not a bio-pic of that most popular saint of the Medieval Ages. It is a collection of vignettes just after Pope Innocent III's blessing and acknowledging Francis's fledgling order. In the opening sequence, Francis and his monks return from Rome to Rivotorio in a soaking rain. They discuss a bit of the spirituality of the order and their purpose. About ten other short, barely connected stories follow, showing Francis and his early followers in action.

The blend of comedy and seriousness leans over on the comic side, which is not a flaw. The movie examines the spirituality of Francis which leads to a way of life absurd by typical secular standards. Francis follows and hugs a leper. His monks gather hundreds of flowers to make a sweet smelling carpet when St. Clair comes to visit. A sick monk wishes for a pork leg to eat and another monk goes to a herd of swine asking, "Brother Pig, will you let me have your leg?" An authentic Christian life leads not only to a radical conversion for the self but also to a new worldview and way of dealing with others, including the natural world. The movie expresses the Franciscan charism and the monks' joy in living this radical life quite well.

Part of the success of the film is Rossellini's use of actual Franciscan monks to play Francis and his followers. The film's style is very natural and realistic which heightens the contrast of their lives to the rest of the world.

If you are looking for a biography of Francis or a plot-driven narrative from his life, this movie is not for you. But if you want a glimpse into the Christian life through a Franciscan lens, this movie delivers the goods. I recommend it highly.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Wisdom Books: A Translation and Commentary by Robert Alter

The Wisdom Books: Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes, A Translation and Commentary by Robert Alter

This book is another volume in Robert Alter's ongoing series of bible translations and commentaries. Here he focuses on the Wisdom literature, books that grapple with larger issues or present practical maxims for life. Alter presents Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes, though typically Sirach, the Book of Wisdom, The Song of Songs, and the Psalms are included in lists of biblical Wisdom literature. Alter has written a translation and commentary of Psalms (see my review here) and does acknowledge some psalms fall into the "Wisdom literature" category. Sirach and the Book of Wisdom are deuterocanonical texts which is perhaps why Alter doesn't include them. The Song of Songs is attributed to Solomon (the wisest king of Israel) though it has more the character of the Psalms and is a bit of a biblical odd ball (it's a love poem that can be interpreted theologically). I suppose Alter has material for a sequel if he wants.

What of the books he does cover? Job is the classic biblical text that grapples with why good people suffer. Job is an upright and pure servant of God. In the framing story, the Adversary (hasatan in Hebrew, where we get the name Satan from) comes to God's court and challenges Job's uprightness. Take away all the good things you have given him and surely Job will curse you, the Adversary argues. God lets the Adversary take almost everything away, leaving Job covered in sores sitting on a ash pit. With him are three friends who argue the standard pietistic conclusion that Job must have sinned or else why is he punished so grievously? Job continually claims his innocence. The translation is smooth and Alter's notes are very interesting. He considers this some of the finest poetry in the Bible and does his best (which is quite good) to render it into English.

Proverbs is an anthology of some longer and shorter wisdom works. Famous parts where Lady Wisdom invites all to take her gifts or the acrostic poem praising a "worthy woman" at the end are stronger poetry than the massive collection of one- and two-line bits of practical advice or moral observation about the world and people. Being shown the discreet units within the book helps to understand them individually and to highlight their differences and similarities. Alter's notes and comments are helpful in comprehending a varied text.

Ecclesiastes (which Alter refers to as its Hebrew title Qohelet) includes both a challenge to received wisdom like Job and strings of aphorisms like Proverbs. It is not however a synthesis of the two books, but a search for meaning in life while constanty aware of the brevity and transience of the things and people in this world. Riches and intelligence don't guarantee happiness; folly could be just as valuable as wisdom in bringing relief to life's miseries. Alter re-translates the King James "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity," with "Merest breath, all is mere breath." He explains this is technically more accurate (the concrete image of an exhalation or sigh as opposed to the abstract image of emptiness). The switch is jarring in the good way of making the reader think more about the meaning and intent of the words. The only problem I had was that his phrase lost its evocativeness very quickly (since the phrase is repeated constantly in the text). It comes off more like a refrain than reassertion of the fleeting nature of everything described by Qohelet. I think Alter misses the mark here, but even his mistakes are interesting and thought provoking.

Overall, Alter's translation and commentary are fascinating to read and helpful to understand the texts in a literary light.

Fear the sword,
  for wrath is a sword-worthy crime,
    so you may know there is judgment. [Job 19:29]

Markt and Stadhuis, Gouda, The Netherlands

Like most European cities, Gouda has a central market place (the Markt) which is the hub of activity since the medieval times, when cloth, cheese, and clay pipes were the hot local commodities. Gouda's Markt has the Stadhuis right in the middle of it, marking it off as the civic center as well as the economic center of town. Surprisingly, it is the largest market square in The Netherlands.

Entering the Markt from behind the Stadhuis

More of the Markt

A typical cheese shop just off the Markt

We found a cafe for a hot drink since the October weather was quite chilly. The cafe gave a rather fancy presentation for their tea.

Tea in a large bag with a little biscuit

Fortified for the cold, we went to admire the Stadhuis. It was built around 1450 and is a splendid example of Gothic exuberance.

Three-quarter view

The back with my family not posing

The front has a nice porch from which it was easy to imagine the local burghers talking to the townsfolk.

Townfolks' view

Nice detail on the porch

On the east side of the building is a clock with bells and a bunch of figures who come out and dance to the ringing every half hour. They represent the chartering of the town by Count Floris V in 1272, though the figures themselves were installed much later, in 1961.

Another proclamation point?

The dancing figures