Thursday, August 28, 2008

An eon or so ago ...

Last night, all was in an uproar on the evening of our wedding anniversary. R had a difficult day trying to navigate a stressful work schedule and an ailing child at home. J was not well and has a very low tolerance for pain (ai yi yi). There was much to-ing and fro-ing on R's part as she spent the day curled up on the couch. I could not leave work as I am acting manager this week and we are very shorthanded. I had been fighting fires all day and pushing through the work that had to be done. R and I had a silly squabble over the phone. I had my troubles, he had his, and I don't think either was in the mood to listen or commiserate. We were all fairly miserable when I came home bearing a peace offering of a cinnabon pastry for us to share after dinner...

I had had higher hopes for our wedding anniversary evening even though we were only to have a quiet night at home: home cooked meal, open small gifts, rest. It's been a busy summer.

Eons or so ago (possibly more) ... R and I married at LIUNA Gardens in Winona just outside of Hamilton where I grew up. In a white gazebo which faced Lake Ontario, we tied the knot before forty or fifty family members and friends. We shocked the minister by requesting that no mention of God be made in his portion of the ceremony and the poor man insisted that he had to slip in at least one reference!

The video camera, so expertly handled by my cousin L, revealed me to be preternaturally calm before the ceremony which was extremely unusual. R appeared equally relaxed when L panned down and saw the four bottles of beer consumed by R and the best man, his brother T, prior to the ceremony.

The bride wore ivory and a wreath of baby's breath; the groom had a very punky hairdo at which we stare in amazement when we now watch the old tapes or look at old photographs as did some of the alarmed guests, notably my old boss D and his wife.

We both had moist eyes when we said "I do" and R had the most loving look I had ever seen on a man's face (in my limited experience of such things!).

I remember a wonderful feeling of relief when the ceremony ended. It had been a turbulent year. R's father had passed away just six months before. Some family members were unhappy about the wedding proceeding but the plans had already commenced when R's father fell ill. We were all quite shocked when he succumbed to cancer so quickly in April of that year.

I said to R, with tongue firmly planted in cheek: "Thank you for all these mostly happy years!" to which R retorted, "Come on, really, it was only unhappy days wasn't it? Maybe even hours." Well, I love the way R's mind works, just blocks out all the nasty stuff ... if only I could do that. The truth is that we have weathered financial difficulties, family dissent, culture clashes, overbearing in-laws on both sides, a miscarriage, infertility woes, sporadic unemployment, health issues, and multitude of other things best left unsaid.

But we are both stubborn as mules and don't believe in giving up on a good marriage despite the periodic lows. For this, I thank Antonia and Francesco (my parents) and Rob and Sue (R's parents) for setting good examples of how a marriage should work and sticking it out through the tough times.

Grazie genitori per tutto che avete fatto per noi!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Disney Post-Script

Ah, the offspring is suffering from Disney poisoning I fear! Too much hot weather, exertion, rich food, desserts. She was not well yesterday - worse today - suffering from a tummy ache and general malaise. I think a birthday party yesterday tipped her over the edge. I blame her moronic parents! More moderation is required but that's okay. I told J that we would not return to Disney until she had children. I'm hoping for a good 15 years or so on that promise.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Day 8 At Disney World: Andiamo a casa

This image to the left is a joke at my own expense ... I have been fairly brutal about the whole Disney experience and this poor little mouse is now paying for it. I realize that I sound very misogynistic and cranky in these entries and had approached Disney with trepidation. I am still disturbed by the commercialism - with every major ride dumping you into a junk emporium of Disney merchandise and the silliness and cost of the merchandise. The parks that are filled to over capacity in peak season testing the patience of the most zealous Disneyophile. The exorbitant, ridiculous amount of food that is served and consumed. The cost of the whole Disney experience.

I am disturbed by the amount of waste produced -where does it all go? At the Orlando airport I asked an employee where the recycleables went and she said to throw it in the trash and that it is sorted later ... is this also how Disney deals with the waste? I think I will follow up on this.

I also resent the princess fantasies that the Disney corporation perpetuates for small girls. The simpering sweetness that sometimes passes for femininity. What does a princess do? NOTHING. A princess is admired for her beauty and waited on by underlings. Is that what we want our young women to become? I do not. Absolutely, I do not wish this for my daughter. It is a relief that she has no interest in this aspect of "femininity" at all.

Then again, when I was moaning to a friend about this he replied, "Why go if you don't embrace the whole thing?" True enough. And I am still susceptible to the Disney sentimentality. A recent re-viewing of Dumbo literally reduced J and I to tears. It certainly knows how to pull on the maternal heart strings. I have enjoyed many of its films - if only it wasn't attached to all this extraneous, useless stuff: the clothes, toys and useless knick knacks.

But I do see that it does bring people a great deal of pleasure. I can't deny that. Yes, I saw overburdened parents melting down at the parks, kids acting very badly, surly employees, exhausted families. But I also saw people who were absolutely thrilled to be there and working people who really seemed to like their jobs, genuinely. I don't oppose capitalism, frivolous consumer spending or pleasure (or the mixing of all three). I think it is the excess that concerns me most.

It was with a great deal of relief that I anticipated our trip home. We hustled to be out by 11a.m. and took one last trip to the Riverside Resort for an early lunch. Afterwards we rented bicycles for two and drove the girls around, clanging our bells, racing each other and generally acting like goofs around the perimeter of the resort.

We took the riverboat back and dipped into the pool one final time. We all had our last minute tasks: converting final meal credits into food we could take to the airport, last minute gifts, getting the girls out of their wet clothes. We left for the airport around 4p.m. as our flight was at 6.50p.m.

We have a travel Scrabble that we have been using all week. The games last forever. My goal is to whup my in-laws who are the king and queen of Scrabble matches (no easy task). The games last forever largely because we are hugely competitive and take our sweet time taking our turns. We played at the pool, on the bus, at the airport, on the plane ... at last count the s-i-l was whupping our butts.

The flight was pleasant and uneventful. The girls drew quietly while we played Scrabble and a woman on the plane complimented me on how sweet the girls were as we were leaving the plane. We landed just after nine and drove straight back to Toronto from Buffalo. At the airport we were already planning our next trip ... west coast? east coast? Europe? We work well together and I appreciate these trips with family. Home at 1.00 a.m. - how wonderful to sleep in your own bed!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Day 7 at Disney World: At a Premium

Bad start to the day ... J with a stomach ache and not in a good mood (Disney overdose perhaps? This has occurred to me). Stupidly, I try and cajole her out of it, which is silly to say the least, and then get upset when she doesn't come around. My s-i-l has persuaded us to go to the Premium Outlets Mall outside of Orlando. Pretty fancy stuff here: Ann Taylor, Barneys New York Outlet, Burberry, Coach, Diesel, Fendi, Gap Outlet, Giorgio Armani, Kenneth Cole, Lacoste, MaxMara, Nike, Polo Ralph Lauren, Salvatore Ferragamo, Theory, Tommy Hilfiger ...

I am not a good shopper usually. I hate malls, I am stubbornly cheap at times and impatient with crowds and other shoppers. This is not a good mix but she has persuaded me so the three of us adults and my niece venture out. R stays with the ailing J with the hopes that she will come around and they can get a bit of fresh air at the pool. I must admit, this was a good mall as malls go ...

For R because I felt guilty that he was at the hotel: Calvin Klein Summer cologne. He was "forced" to give up any kind of scent when I was pregnant with J as it made me very ill. Strong scents had that affect on me, pleasant or otherwise. The spouse still brings this up but, hey buddy, that was TWELVE years ago. Let it go. A special anniversary gift which will remain undisclosed for now.

For la famiglia: two pieces of sleek, silver Samsonite luggage as we have been dragging around these ugly godforsaken cloth pieces of luggage for the length of our marriage (again not to be disclosed here) which we received as a wedding gift.

For J: orange flip flops from Diesel - but there is a lack of cool stuff for funky daughter; perhaps mother did not look hard enough? Everything looked too girlie for my girl.

For me: two black DKNY tank tops and a CK black passport wallet (men's style).

I could have shopped for more but I wearied. I had reached my shopping limit after 2 1/2 hours which is pretty good for me and I felt uncomfortable about J being ill and at the hotel.

When I returned all had been forgiven despite my snappish behavior. We spent the rest of the day by the pool and had dinner at the Riverside Resort. We raced to Downtown Disney by boat to catch a viewing of Wall-E at the AMC Theatre and then raced back to the boat to catch the last 11.30p.m. boat. Just barely and met a lovely family from Orlando who told us stories as they have been going to Disney for years. The worst was an anecdote about a Mickey Mouse character smacking a whining child in a line up then getting back in line to talk to the other kids. Ai yi yi ... There was also another story about their boys swimming with Lindsay Lohan at a hotel pool when she was shooting in Orlando (she was twelve).

The river was dark and moody. Florida vegetation is so lush, so beautiful, but I could not withstand these temperatures for long.

Tomorrow we go home!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Day 6 at Disney World: To Infinity, and Beyond!

This was the most successful day so far (likely our last as we are theme parked out!). We went to the Epcot Center. We tried something new - hey it only took us six days to figure this out. We got up at 7.30 a.m. and raced to the park for 9. It was a rainy, moody day, not the best for an outing but it did seem to keep the crowd numbers down. The girls got rain ponchos and we soldiered on.

This turned out to be (for me) the most interesting park for rides and I am not a science or tech person at all. Try Mission Space which takes you to Mars and the more aggressive alternative Mission Space Advanced Training Lab. You sit in a "capsule" with three other "astronauts". Each has a role: engineer, commander, pilot, navigator. It simulates take off in a rocket ship and travel in space, landing on Mars and dealing with travails while on the red planet. The latter ride is more "aggressive" there is spinning and it is a bit rougher. It is narrated on video by the actor Gary Sinise who keeps a pretty straight face throughout - he is your commander guiding you through the mission.

Soarin' is also incredible - you sit in a sort of carriage which swoops you up into the air and close to a screen from which you view crystal clear images as you "soar" through the sky. It's a simulation of paragliding over mountains, cityscapes, deserts, and ends with a flight over the Magic Kingdom and puts you right in the middle of a burst of fireworks. I loved it!
Test Track is a heart attack and a half ... oddly I did not opt out of this one as a couple of our party did. The premise is that you are "testing" a GM vehicle so you go through a series of exercises, checking the brakes, stopping with precision, speeding, avoiding obstacles, etc ... Billed as the longest and fastest ride at Disney I had my fears and the last bit of the ride which is on a race track and circles outside at 70 miles an hour is a bit harrowing but I did it!
The crazy circular orb pictured above is called Spaceship Earth. We grudgingly waited for 20 minutes in the rain with gritted teeth (okay maybe that was just me) to get on the ride which was rather quaint. It is an old fashioned slow ride through the centuries which shows the development of communications.
Then there was the sweet kiddie ride The Seas with Nemo and Friends which wasn't that amazing but as you leave the ride you see real exotic fishes in tanks, dolphins and manatees and beautifully coloured fish in these various tanks and that was really impressive.
We were home by 4.45p.m. and then it was off to the Riverside Resort again for dinner to save some cash ... only a day and bit to go and we go home!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Day 5 at Disney World: Lights, camera, go home the lines are too long

I’d have to say that the Disney Hollywood Studios Park (formerly known as Disney MGM Studios) was my favourite theme park in terms of the architectural style and configuration of the park. I loved the look of it. R says it was bought by Disney recently. It really had the look of 30s and 40s old Hollywood in the design of the stores that were meant to resemble diners, old cinemas, soda fountains, California style hotels, etc … and of course were full of a great deal of the Disney junk.
I rushed into a store resembling a small town cinema (just gorgeous outside) in anticipation because it proclaimed it had classic film memorabilia for “all the stars” and found a whole bunch of teenage clothing and paraphernalia on Miley Cyrus and the Jonas Bros (ech!). What a let down!
And it was still a challenge getting on the rides. There was the 15 minute Little Mermaid Show in a seacave like, small auditorium for the younguns (fairly entertaining), the Great Movie Ride which is a slow, somewhat dated, ride through various old movie sets and scenarios with a cheesy hostess narrating the whole thing and the frighteningly fast Rock'n'Rollercoaster.
This last ride has a great premise: you enter a sort of recording studio and are addressed in a video by the rock band Aerosmith welcoming you as if you are visiting them while they are recording. Illeanna Douglas, the actress, plays their manager and the band asks her to rent a limo to accommodate their "friends" (us - the viewers of the video). The coaster is very fast and takes off like a bullet. I almost bolted from the ride as I was a bit intimidated. The ride inside a tunnel is very black and psychedelic and pumps this super loud rock music during a fairly short, intense ride. I have to admit my eyes were closed for most of it!
Finally there was some merchandise that J liked in the stores: a skull and crossbones necklace (!), a black toque, a stuffed Dumbo (this was her first Disney character on film when she was two) and new sunglasses for me as I had lost the ones I brought on the darn rollercoaster. We got these great Pirates of the Caribbean hockey shirts (that sounds odd doesn’t it – mixing pirates and hockey?) for the nephews and a cool T-shirt with a guitar on it for the b-i-law who wasn’t on the trip.
The in-laws wanted to go to the Pixar Studios to see how animation cells were made so R and I took the girls to the pool at the resort to cool off.
Dinner was at the wonderful California Grill at the Contemporary Resort. The resort didn’t look like much from a distance, just a boring building from the 60s but I liked it once I was in it. Click on the link above and you will see what I mean regarding how dull it appears.
The California Grill is at the very top floor and has a great aerial view of the Magic Kingdom, the Grand Floridian and the Polynesian resorts. The food was excellent – fresh sushi, great, innovative desserts, artfully displayed, well done food and a very attentive waiter. The resort had a mickey mouse head shaped pool right on the water (hmm .... not my favourite thing but looks neat up close). They show Disney films in the evenings on the beach. There were hammocks by the beach and pool. It seems like a more adult resort. I loved the feel of the place I had to admit. This was my resourceful s-i-l's first choice in resorts but we were unable to get into it.
After some confusion on the Monorail we scooted home -another long but fun day!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Day 4 at Disney World: Have a Magical Something!

Many times the helpful Disney employees sign off with “Have a magical day!”… well gosh darn it we are trying but the inability to ride more than a handful of rides per day is frustrating. Today we will tackle Space Mountain at the Magical Kingdom with the fast passes from Mary Lee that I received yesterday. The old school rides can be a lot of fun – R and his sister remember the ride from more than 30 years ago. To think there was only the Magic Kingdom when they first came. This is only their second time back in many decades.

We had another Disney “character lunch” at 1400 Park Fare at the Grand Floridian Resort featuring Alice in Wonderland, Mary Poppins, the Mad Hatter, Tigger, Pooh Bear … actually it was pretty cute and the offspring was a little more comfortable as there were no princesses involved. The actors hired for these meals are often quite good, always "in character", and impeccably made up to resemble the original – particularly good here were Mary Poppins and the Mad Hatter. Except for a few shaky British accents I’d say they did a great job.

Back into the Magic Kingdom for Splash Mountain (pictured above) – this time the s-i-l got the worst hit of water! Makes for a refreshing change, no sistah? An unflattering photo was taken of all for an exorbitant price. We caught the Walt Disney World Railroad back to the exit to catch a bus home. Just my speed.

We went to dinner at Boatwrights at the Port Orleans Resort –Riverside, the resort closest to ours and the place where R’s brother stayed last October. It is beautiful resembling an old style plantation with stately guest units on the Sassagoula River, a terrific pool and playground and bicycles for two or four you can rent.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Day 3 at Disney World: In the jungle, the mighty jungle …

A late start this morning … We are all definitely on holiday mode and are taking our time getting ready and leaving for the busses that take us to the park du jour. This is a fatal error here (the lateness I mean). It was horrendously hot and crowded when we reached the Animal Kingdom Park but we were in a very beautiful physical environment which tried to recreate gorgeous exotic locales in Asia and Africa and largely succeeded: lush vegetation, Buddhist shrines, gorilla habitats, weathered colonial outposts which had seen better days – utterly convincing in their presentation.

But by the time we had arrived we only had the chance to sign up for two rides through fast passes and those were hours away, hours! There did not seem to be as many rides I believe in this park. The Kali River Rapids is a white water rapids excursion with a circular raft, which seats nine or ten, and sends you down a swift current. “You may get wet” it helpfully states as you enter the ride and wet I did get – are you detecting a theme yet? It was as if someone had poured a large bucket of water right over my head as we hurtled down the rapids. J was the next wettest as she was sitting beside me. More entertainment value for la famiglia!

Later standing outside, sopping wet, I think I attracted the attention of another couple Mary Lee and her (I presume) husband from Massachusetts. We struck up a conversation. They were there with their four kids and were to leave the next day. She very kindly handed me some fast passes for the Magic Kingdom and youth passes for the Water Parks. Americans are, we found, in general, very friendly, very kind. Certainly more approachable than their chilly northern cousins in scenarios such as these. I will e-mail Mary Lee to thank her when I get home.

We also had fast passes for Expedition Everest a rollercoaster ride which would be available after our dinner reservations at BOMA, the restaurant at the Animal Kingdom Lodge just a few minutes away. Usually these exotic decors do not appeal to me but this one in the lodge did – dark wood, animal motifs, oversized furniture, restaurant staff in colorful “African” clothing, clean, modern design. I usually feel like "why do I want to go somewhere that is pretending to be something else entirely different than its true location – how is that fun or interesting?" The buffet was excellent, the best so far, with a wide variety of food and tastes. The table service was quite good and the staff very pleasant.

I was still soaked from the ride and really did not relish the idea of the Everest rollercoaster ride so I headed back to the hotel by bus by myself and the others ventured on. (I have just watched a youtube video of the ride and am nervous just looking at it).

I had a quiet two or three hours by the pool where I wrote, read, watched the kids playing in the pool and was joined by a happy and tired family a while later at dusk just as the sky was fading into deep blue.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Day 2 at Disney World: Lady Tremaine develops some attitude

We arrive too late to the Magical Kingdom on Sunday to ride the rides we want to get on but just in time for our lunch at the Royal Table held at Cinderella’s Castle. We are squeezed into the entrance of the castle in ragged, confusing lines, some on the left, some on the right, with Cinderella and an official photographer in the middle section awaiting our entrance which actually takes quite a bit of time, at least 20 minutes to process us. TF, my s-i-l, has affectionately (I hope) started to call me Lady Tremaine after Cinderella’s stepmother because I am getting cranky at certain Disneyesque excesses. Guilty as charged sistah

“PLEASE royal families you MUST line up TOGETHER in order to be photographed with Cinderella!” a desperate royal attendant yells not once, but several times, into our captive ears. My, the royal attendants are cranky this afternoon, and who could blame them? The space is smallish for this crowd, hot. We are many, they are few.

Then you are led up a flight of stone steps into the main dining hall of the medieval castle to the Royal Table to lunch with the Disney princesses: blonde haired Aurora (Sleeping Beauty), sweet faced Belle in a bright blue dress (Beauty and the Beast), the epononymous and syrupy Snow White, scantily clad Jasmine in green harem pants (Aladdin) graciously signed autographs and posed for pictures with the small princesses and princes. The larger princes (i.e. husband and TN, our b-i-l) also seemed particularly keen to be photographed with Jasmine so we obliged them.

Yesterday I saw one little girl of seven or eight, dressed in full pink princess regalia, walking around stroking her false blond hair piece, lovingly, proudly, as her parents ate on obliviously. Dressing up is fun, imagination and fantasy are fun but do the little girls have to acquire the sexy embellishments of grown women to do that? The lipstick and high heels? The eyeshadow? Why, to what end?

A plenitude of small princesses abound at the lunch… with sparkles in their hair, frosted lip gloss and chiffon dresses which must have been a killer in this 90-95 degree heat. They seem inured to the discomfort. I am shocked particularly as I start to spot a trend. Based on appearances only, the little girls do not seem to come from affluent families, quite the opposite, and I wonder (I’m trying not to stereotype here) what is the psychology of this? Is this a way of saying that my little girl is as special to me as any little girl with more advantages, my little girl is worthy of the princess treatment? Am I making it too complicated, do they just think a six year old with lip gloss is pretty? Frighteningly, one always thinks of Jon Benet’s little face in these scenarios.

I have to say the castle was fun to look at and observe up close with its faux “medieval” banners, stained glass windows, high ceilings, good linen napkins emblazoned with fleur de lis, the serving staff smartly dressed in era-appropriate clothing. The food and service was very good (worth the 2 meal credits). As we left the next Cinderella was in the lobby waiting for her shift, smiling sweetly, practicing twirling her dress, oblivious to onlookers, lost in her own sugar-filled dreams …

On to Tomorrowland (shown above) within the Kingdom with its futuristic 50s architecture that I actually really like; it was like a Bugs Bunny cartoon vision of the future from the 1960s. The shapes of the buildings and the rides were pleasing to the eye, it reminded me of being a kid and thinking of what the future would look like. We wanted to do the Space Mountain ride but it was closed for repairs.

The “fast pass” system for rides only works in theory if you are at the park early enough to circumvent the crowds which we were not this day. You insert your lavender coloured Disney ID into a fast pass machine and it spits out a time when you will be permitted to ride (usually an hour in range). BUT due to the crowds, it could be two or three hours away, sometimes five or six. Also, the fast passes cannot overlap in time. Hence, you must fill your time with sedate rides and entertainments for the very young or the very old (such as ourselves): the cheesy Carousel of Progress which is so dated it should be mothballed, the gentle and boring Tomorrowland train which circumnavigates the grounds above you and the more popular and current Stitch ride.

Ah the Stitch ride! I love to provide entertainment for my family. The premise is that you have entered an extraterrestial military compound which has captured a “level 3”monster (Stitch), the most dangerous monster of them all. You are cast as observers who watch his interrogation. He materializes in a capsule before you in animatronic form and occasionally he “spits” at you the audience. Well, who got a douse of water right in the face? Yes, Lady Tremaine ... I think it was the high point of the day for my relations.

We took a bus back to the hotel and lounged by the pool, which favours a serpent/alligator theme in turquoise, blue and pink. The pool was filled with kids and families, really the best part of our day, watching the girls go down the slide and just thrilled to be in a cool, comfortable environment.

My b-i-l TN suggested a riverboat ride to Downtown Disney. The 15 minute ride at night along the Sassagoula River is quite romantic, quite beautiful actually. Downtown Disney is just a carnival of stores and restaurants, mostly chains and crowded, very crowded. It held few delights for me.

Off to bed and a solid, quiet sleep. I must say that the resort is very dark and very quiet at night. On to Animal Kingdom on the morrow!

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Day 1 at Disney World: Wall-E meets Walt E. Disney

In the animated feature Wall-E, a lone robot works tirelessly to clear a deserted, trash filled metropolis created by a mega-corporation named Buy n Large (BnL) and abandoned by its earthly inhabitants. Humans now live, morbidly obese from junk food and lack of exercise, moving on airborne scooters, barely able to walk, sucking on junk food produced by BnL through straws. They are subject to relentlessly cheerful ads about life on the spaceship they now inhabit where a more svelte, happier version of themselves cavorts on a picture perfect, scrupulously clean spaceship.

Did I mention that this was a Disney film? I don’t know how this got past the Disney executives ...

Welcome to Disney World in Florida. This struck me more forcefully as I sat watching the film for a second time in Downtown Disney, part of the Disney World complex in Orlando, Florida. More on that later ...

I had my reservations about going as I do about all things Disney. I also had reservations about being the parent that killed the dream for my eleven year old daughter J. I wasn’t about to take that bullet. So it was off to Disney for eight days with my sister-in-law, brother-in-law and six year old niece K whom we adore and love to holiday with. Come on girl, take one for the team I told myself. So I did. My s-i-l, the super organizer, managed the details for the whole trip with a little assistance from super-spouse R.

We woke at 4.15 a.m. in Buffalo, NY and caught a 6.20 a.m. flight. It was a tricky night as we could hear a visiting baseball team carousing during the night through the paper thin walls. But we were in Orlando, Florida before 10 a.m. and landed at the Port Orleans Resort - French Quarter in Disney World.

Luckily our rooms were ready … the style is old New Orleans with lush vegetation on the grounds bordering the beautiful Sassagoula River through which small ferry boats carry passengers between two or three destinations. This ferry actually linked us to the resort that my other in-laws stayed at last October, the Port Orleans Resort - Riverside. The seven guest buildings had multi-coloured trellises, a Mardi Gras theme throughout, a great kid-friendly pool, and, in the Disney tradition, it was very clean.

We had an early lunch. We were on the meal plan where you are entitled to two meals a day and one snack each (21 credits per person) but the meals must be purchased from specific locations with a specialized Disney ID card the size of a credit card. This included a main entrée, a drink and a dessert (for every meal - crazy!) You can't opt out of those three choices if you want it to count towards your meal plan, you must take the food and eat it or throw it out. And the portions are gargantuan … as were the people I began to notice with some alarm.

And the waste we produced – everything, every single thing we ate at the Sassagoula Restaurant at the resort was served on a plastic or paper container, an unrecyclable dish or cup with plastic utensils, which all went into the waste. I found one, ONE, recyclable bin in the whole resort for bottles. I have to be careful here as I write. I went to the Sassagoula Restaurant and all I could think of is how much waste we were producing and where it will all end up and I can’t enjoy myself. Is that responsible thinking or verging on a bit crazy?

And am I imagining this or does Disney World have a disproportionate number of morbidly obese people? Does Florida or America? It is not unusual to see three generations of overweight families, the grandparent(s) literally in wheelchairs or scooters, the heavyset father and mother, and, the overweight children.

After lunch we crashed as we had had less than four hours sleep (J watched TV too wired to relax I think).

We had a dinner reservation at 1400 Park Fare, a restaurant at the Grand Floridian resort, which is described as a “Disney character” meal where you get to meet actors who are dressed like Cinderella, Cinderella’s mother Lady Tremaine, her two step-sisters and Prince Charming and get their photographs and autographs. The resort itself is grand, very Southern in feeling with a high ceilinged lobby, spacious, well manicured grounds, and expensive furniture in the lobby to lounge in, obviously on the deluxe end of the Disney resorts.

I was a little horrified with the prospect of the dinner but immensely charmed with Lady Tremaine, the evil stepmother and the arch-enemy of Cinderella. The actress was a beautiful black haired Amazon in full wig, who towered over all of us at well over six feet, and played the role with icy perfection, condescending to parents and children, haughty and arrogant, disdainful of simpering Cinderella and her sugary sweetness. She “ordered” J to come and take a photograph with her cousin K: “no excuses” she intoned frostily. She cut through the saccharine silliness of Cinderella.

Everyone, old and young, seemed thrilled to be there. Small girls were running around in princess dresses with false blonde hair pieces dyed bright Barbie pink and rhinestone tiaras perched on their tiny heads. Little girls were often addressed as "Princess" throughout the park by employees - must have been a Disney mandate. I wasn’t aware that small girls could get the full princess treatment purchasing princess dresses and tiny high heels, having their hair done in little buns and ringlets, painted nails and makeup (!). There were tiny Cinderellas, tiny Jasmines in green harem pants, minute Snow Whites in blue and yellow and shiny green Tinker Bells spotted here and throughout the Magic Kingdom.

There was even a mother/daughter duo in the restaurant in denim cutoffs, white beaters and rhinestone tiaras who kept jumping up and down and getting their photographs taken with the characters, giggling all the while and running about.

The food coupled with a deadly martini called a blue glo-tini (complete with a fluorescent blue synthetic ice cube flashing intermittently which my daughter was anxious to keep) had a lulling effect on me, which I needed, apparently, for our entry into the Magic Kingdom.

We took the Monorail into the Magic Kingdom from the Grand Floridian – strange to actually ride it as I had a flashback to the hundreds of times I had seen it on the Wonderful World of Walt Disney on television when I grew up. I was dubious about how J would do as she had had the least amount of sleep but she was anxious to go on the rides.

J is at that precarious age … halfway between eye rolling embarrassment with her parents’ seeming faux pas and sleeping with a stuffie at night.

Crowded, hot, weary, we made our way into the Magic Kingdom going through a physical bag check and then inserting the all-purpose Disney ID through a machine, and then verifying it with the fingerprint of your index finger on a tiny blue circle of glass attached to the entrance machines. A post-911 innovation? A Homeland Security measure? We were in a state of orange alert while we were there. I was curious as to when these measures were instituted.

Past Main Street, an idealized historical reproduction of small town stores from the turn of the century, filled with barber shop quartets, endless parades, period costumed actors. Down the main avenue to Cinderella’s castle. Again, surreal to see it up close with the scrupulous clean streets that you hear so much about. I must admit I liked Cinderella’s crib. J is a bit too old for all this; she wondered aloud if the actors playing the Cinderella characters lived in the castle, not the characters themselves.

R said, “You really see a cross section of America here” as we entered the park and he was right. Hijabs and hot pants, upper middle class families and the not so wealthy, wheelchairs and the scootered elderly, Iraq veterans, saris and sandalled hippies. The representation of the American population was amazing.

We did manage to squeeze in a few kiddie-ish rides late in the evening: Aladdin’s magic carpet ride, an old fashioned carousel, the eerie “It’s a small world” boat ride which J described as scary – yes my dear it truly was - with all those animatronic small dolls dressed as Indians and South Americans and Norwegians in their native dress. An odd time capsule of what these nationalities were perceived to be in the 1960s. You judge the creepiness level here.

Then we saw the ten o’clock light show that floated by on the “moat” surrounding Cinderella’s castle and made our way home by bus, a fifteen minute ride. A long day, a surprising day ... but there was much more to come!

Sunday, August 3, 2008

The Savages (2007)

The Savages (U.S., 2007) by Tamara Jenkins
Director Tamara Jenkins, more famous perhaps for her film Slums of Beverly Hills, is the writer and director of this film. The premise may sound depressing; I suppose it is, but it is uncomfortably real as well as we watch Wendy and Jon Savage, two siblings played by Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman, confront the decline and death of a difficult, unforgiving father Leonard Savage (Philip Bosco).

She's a temp and an aspiring playwright in NYC working on an autobiographical play. He is a professor, living in Buffalo, finishing a book on Bertolt Brecht. Their father lives in Arizona with an elderly girlfriend who has just expired. The father is forced to move and the sibs must reluctantly sort out where he will live.

They settle on a nursing home in Buffalo and Wendy temporarily relocates to be near her father.

He is a miserable such and such: rude, volatile, unpleasant, unkempt. Wendy is insecure, sensitive and slightly in awe of her better educated emotionally unavailable brother Jon. Linney''s customary brittleness works to brilliant effect. And for once, Hoffman's grumpy superiority as an actor meshes perfectly with the character.

It's not pretty but it's real ... Leonard's decline is slow and painful, the sibs are bewildered, upset, unable to negotiate the emotional territory of a difficult parent's death. And it's cleverly done. You can sense that Leonard has been a lousy parent but you have no real proof on screen until the very end and you see how brutally he has treated Jon and what he has actually done to him.

The Savages: not for the faint-hearted but very well done.