Thursday, November 10, 2016

How the Light Gets In

I can't do this anymore.

Like election night, this was going to be a very different post. I was going to sum up my last day in Florida, which was subdued, but made much sweeter by the presence of my wonderful baby cousin, who smiles at everything she sees, and coos along when you sing to her. I was - and am - deeply concerned and saddened by the results of the election. But I had this day with my family, and it was still a vacation, so I decided to just relax and be in the moment. We spent the day at the pool, had a lovely dinner, and had a great time just being family. I noticed that everyone else at the hotel seemed subdued, too.

This morning, I was at the airport in plenty of time for my flight. The TSA was its usual self - confusing and a little gross - but it ran pretty smoothly, and I had plenty of time to listen to Hamilton for the 10,000th time, while sitting at the gate and wondering at how profoundly everything had changed in just five days. Suddenly, nothing seemed steady or certain anymore.

The flight was fine. Sunwing is all right if your flight is short and you want to go cheap. I tried to read my book, but I was feeling a bit scattered. One good thing - the new machines at Canadian customs made the whole ordeal take only a couple of minutes. My bag arrived almost immediately, so I hopped right onto the excellent UP Express airport train, and I was downtown about an hour after landing - which is good, as I had class to attend.

I sat through class, pretending I could muster up the slightest bit of interest in metadata standards, and had a few picky arguments with my professor. To my surprise, I found I was mad, angry at what I can see unfolding but can do nothing about. I stumbled home, tired and looking forward to being home. It looked like it would be a nice, quiet evening. It was a relief to be back on Canadian soil.

Then my mother messaged me, to tell me that Leonard Cohen had died.

I'm not sure why I'm so upset. Though I admired his music and poetry, and enjoyed quite a few of his songs, I was never a very big fan. Maybe it seemed sadder because he was such a profoundly Canadian figure, and his death chips away at my home, my safe and unshakable home. Maybe it was because his frank and perceptive words resonate so strongly in such a tough time. Maybe it was because I really liked his latest album, "You Want It Darker" - an album so relentlessly focused on mortality that his death is really not a surprise. Maybe I'm just tired. Whatever it is, something in me broke. I didn't really fall apart over the election. I'm weeping like a baby over this.

He was an incredibly special person.

We will miss him.

Here's one of my favourites:

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

The Election of 2016

Can we get back to politics?

As we all know, the coverage over the last few days/treads has been on-stop. This is especially true in Florida, the swing state that every candidate is desperate to reach. I don't know how the entire state hasn't died of boredom. It's  been a long haul - but here we are.

When my aunt and uncle invited me down, and I realized which weekend it would be, I knew I had to be there, so I deliberately extended my trip to be there over the Tuesday. I have followed every American election since 2004 very closely, but this is my first in the US itself - well, I was living in California in 1996, but I don't count that because I was five. My dad says it was a pretty boring, heavily Clinton-leaning campaign anyway. But this - this wacky-ass, unprecedented, entirely unusual campaign of madness! The first woman president! Trump! Of course I had to be there. And so I dragged my reluctant relatives down the rabbit hole.

It'a all the more interesting because we're in a swing state so big that it could very well decide the race. It did before (Bush vs Gore), and perhaps tonight it will again. We are riveted, despite the arrival of my cousin and her new baby, who I will admit is substantially cuter than either candidate.

I am unabashedly #withher, because of the symbolic power of her election, her incredible experience and skills, and Trump's record level of unsuitability for the position. For me, it's an absolute no-brainer. He's a total disadvantage for everyone who is not just like him, or is against him. Things are looking good for Clinton, so let's hope.

Here's a recap:

18:22. Slight disappointment as Kentucky and Indiana turn up red, but that was expected, so we keep going. CNN is using 2012 for comparison. I don't see how this remotely compares, except for it being the last one. It's looking like Trump will take Ohio. Georgia is apparently a battleground state now, which is a surprise to me - I assumed it was solid red.

18:30. I feel strange using 24 hr time, though it is natural to me after all this travel. KY and IN continue to be red. I was hoping for a Mondale-style defeat for Trumpy. A girl can dream.

18:51. Good god, why do they insist on updating us every time a state adds another percent? This is interminable.

18:55. Yes, CNN, the rate of college graduates in Georgia has gone up. You can crunch the numbers tomorrow, when someone is headed for the White House.

19:00. Trump gets Kentucky, Hillsy wins Vermont. No surprise there. So far -Trump is at 19 and Clinton 3. I keep drinking.

19:03. CNN, stop dividing the voters by feelings.

19:06. Best thing about an HRC win: four more years of Kate McKinnon.

19:09. North Carolina (swing) has a computer glitch. Much drama. We'll see if it comes to anything. My guess is not.

19:11. Rand Paul wins his seat, ugh. Rubio too. Kelly Ayotte. All around, things are looking very Republican, though it might be the celeb factor.

19:14. Trump appears to be winning Florida. HRC miiiiight be winning Virginia. I have a bad feeling about this.

19:15. I mean, I assumed that since Obama won because Romney couldn't carry anything but straight white males, the same would go for Trump, since he manages to piss off special interest groups like it's his life mission. Right?  Is this misogyny? Being fed up with the establishment? What's going on?

19:17. Ohio coming up. Ohhhhh boy.

19:20. 55 to 41 percent, favouring the orange menace. It cannot be.

19:23. On the other hand, Trumpy's own advisors are still very pessimistic. Far too early to call, I guess.

19:24. Cousin and baby are en route! Should be nice to have a baby girl with us, as long as we bring in a female president at the same time.

19:25. Hillsy takes the lead in FL! At 30%, but I'm taking the hope.

19:30. Trump takes WV. HRC is still at 3. It's early and it went exactly like this with Romney, but I am still shaky.

19:33. Florida goes back and forth. Edge of my seat, folks.

19:39. Four states called. Three red, one blue. None of them are surprising. CNN thinks Trump will need to pull off something shocking to win. Being slightly more cynical, I'm not so sure.

19:59 (after dinner break). Narrow leads in OH and FL! All eyes on these two! Too close to call! 17 states + District of Columbia to close polls now! Pray!

20:00. Aaaand the blue states roll in! MD, MA, NJ, IL, RI, DC go to Clinton! Three states for Trump. FL still too close. and PA,  and OH. Keep rolling.

20:09. BABY IS HERE. Oh, and HRC is leading in NC. Woot!

20:09. Gazing adoringly at baby. 68-48 for HC. Pray.

20:17. HC and DT are separated by 700 votes in FL, and you think your vote doesn't count. 87% in. More poll closures to come. What I want to know is - how did we get this close?

20:22. HC behind 8000 votes in FL. Balls. Leading slightly in OH.

20:23. 13,000. Really?!

20:24. Every state that matters is too early to call. My nerves are frayed

20:26. Rubio gets his seat. Gee, is anyone surprised.

20:27. More floundering in FL. I want to cry. HC takes NC, with any luck.

20:33. 68-66, favouring HRC. How.

20:39. Leading in Texas. whut

20:40. We've turned to FOX. Kill me.

20:43. Tried to get my mom to use her twin telepathy to get my uncle off of FOX. She says it doesn't work.

20:45. Back. Thank god.

20:47. Baby is dreaming and moving around in her sleep. She is a rare source of hope in these troubled times.

20:48. The electoral votes are broadcast on the Empire State Building. Gee, we Canadians really don't make a big deal of our elections, do we?

20:49. Leading in Ohio. And NC. I would be comforted if Florida wasn't double NC's votes. If she wins the two, she is safe.

20:59. Biting my nails.

21:00. HRC carries New York. No one is surprised but it's nice to see.

21:02. 97-84. I breathe a little easier. Just a little.

21:04. OH, FL, GA, VA, NC Trump. Not yet called. But how. NH, MI Clinton. At least she seems to have PA and CO. The drama, you guys.

21:08. How could any being more evolved than an amoeba vote for this dude? His rhetoric is Mussolini verbatim!

21:09. This is baaaaaaaaad you guys.

21:12. If an accomplished, experienced former Secretary of State loses to a budding-fascist buffoon from reality TV, this is proof that women can never win.

21:15. 128-97. I want to puke.

21:19. DT leads in Ohio. This cannot be happening.

21:25. I feel like I have front-row seats to the end of the world. Time for another glass of wine.

21:41. Is this the sequel to Brexit?

21:50. He climbs. Terrified. Simply terrified. CNN projecting ways he can win. May come down to Virginia.

21:52. Michigan stahp.

21:53. VA leaning blue! Pray.

22:00. More states close polls. Rachael gets gray hairs.

22:04. Dow down 500 points. Guys, what have you done?!?!?!?!

22:08. I hear the Disney World fireworks. Feels sinister, somehow.

22:15. Somehow,  I never believed that it would come down to this - I was so sure that the grown-ups would take over and Trump's nonsense would be resoundingly rejected. This...  I was  not prepared for.

22:30. Trump wins Ohio. Barring a miracle, it's over.

22:40. VIRGINIA.

23:00 HAWAII. CALIFORNIA. 190/270.

23:02. WA. OR. NEED PA.

23:03. World markets spiralling. My friend notes that this could lead to similar right-wing victories in Europe. This election could have incredibly far-reaching consequences, even considering the influence America's governance already has.

23:13. Trump takes NC. Clinton tentatively called in  PA. Neck and neck. This could go on all night.

23:28. Paul Ryan wins. No surprise there.  I do think he could show up on a presidential ticket again Ina few election cycles.

23:30. Florida. He took Florida. Byeeee

23:33 Now at 228-209. There is basically no way if PA and Michigan go as predicted.

23:43. I thought this post would go so differently.

00:30. Baby wakes up. We pass her around and as I hold her, I remember, in her world things are still okay.

01:15. Still waiting.

 01:39. I give up and go to bed. Everything is still too close to call. But it looks bad.

It is late here, so let me leave you with this. A reality show star with no political experience, who denigrates every group he can victimize, takes his followers to such a frenzy that they beat up protestors, publicly admitted to sexual assault on tape, and seemingly plans to run the United States as an autocracy, is right now being elected President of the most powerful country on earth.

Regardless of your political leaning, there is something very wrong with this.

Good night, and I hope tomorrow is a better day.

Wingardium Leviosa!

Remember the stress is on the O, not the A.

Well, where to begin? Universal Studios is a huge and amazing place. I was there for Harry Potter, -and judging from the number of people who were wearing shirts proclaiming allegiance to a particular House, so was most of the crowd. My aunt and uncle know the area well and suggested that we get there early, so my uncle and I were in line when the gates opened. Because it was a Monday in the off-season, it wasn't crowded at all - we only had to wait for more than a few minutes on one ride. November is also a great time weather-wise - sunny and warm, but not too hot.  I didn't even get sunburned, which is somewhat of a miracle in my case.  One thing I found off-putting - the park takes your fingerprints when you arrive, at the lockers, and at certain rides. I understand the need for effective security, but this seems over-the -top. Plus the technology itself can be a tad iffy.

My uncle and I booked it to Hogsmeade, which is truly gorgeous - it incorporates Hogwarts as well, so you get all the school stuff from the books. The stores are there, including Honeydukes, and the rides are all Hogwarts-themed - one based on a generic school adventure, and one that is Triwizard Tournament focused. That one is a roller coaster split into two "dragons", so you really have to ride it twice to get the full effect. My uncle and I were split on the Hungarian Horntail (him) vs the Chinese Fireball (me). One good thing is that they make the lines amusing - you're not just standing in a bland space with a bunch of grumpy people, you're already immersed in the world, featuring such funny sights as talking Hogwarts portraits, props from the given movie or series, and in the case of the Simpsons ride, cartoon clips from the classic era. Brilliant.

We did more or less the whole park, so I won't summarize every ride, but here are some highlights. Harry Potter was incredible, definitely the best part of the park. I loved the Triwizard ride, and Escape from Gringotts (narrated by stone-cold fox Bill Weasley), which is more of a motion simulator -they don't move much, but use video and computer imagery to suggest a world of enormous depth. That said, the rides pale in comparison to the "villages", Diagon Alley (which includes Knockturn!) and Hogsmeade. You can buy a butterbeer (a bit too sweet for me) and visit Weasley'sWizard Wheezes, or Ollivander's, or Borgin and Burkes. The original actors voice their characters and appear in the videos, and that gorgeous John Williams score plays wherever you go. The wand demo at Ollivander's is a must-see. The Hogwarts Express, between the two villages,  goes to great effort to make it look like you're travelling between Scotland and London, including an authentic-looking King's Cross station. You can knock on the door at 12 Grimmauld Place, hang out with the Knight Bus driver, or use your newly acquired wand to interact with various points around the park. The merchandise is on point - you can send postcards from Hogsmeade post office with stamps and postmark, buy your own quill and wax seal, and of course all the clothing you could ever want. For myself, I stuck with a nice pair of Ravenclaw winter gloves (I identify with the House that produced Luna Lovegood, how could I not). My only complaint is that they don't have enough Hogwarts stuff, as opposed to the individual houses - I consider it quite rude to presume someone else's House, as this is a very personal matter, so it makes it difficult to shop for others. Note - the stores are small and usually crowded, so people with claustrophobia might want to be careful.

What I liked best was how much the park seems to respect the fans - lots of inside jokes and subtle nods to the books' details. The staff calls us all Muggles, for example. It's a very rich experience, and I'd love to return another time to appreciate it even more. As a devoted Potterhead, this was definitely an excellent experience.

Another highlight was The Simpsons, despite the long wait for the actual ride. Again, the park really respects the fans - there are a lot of nods to the show similar to Harry Potter's details, they've added in all kinds of landmarks from Springfield like the Android'a Dungeon and Moe's Tavern. My uncle and I stopped for a beer at the Duff Brewery, just because. The ride is a very well-done motion simulator. I am almost as big a Simpsons fan as I am a Potterhead, so that was definitely one of the top attractions in my book.

With those two accomplished, we wandered, looked at the different areas of the park, and went on a few classic rides like Jurassic Park (amazing!), Men In Black (Uncle's favourite), the Incredible Hulk (one of my faves), and the Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit, the most intense roller coaster by far, which I love. My uncle is also game for all of these rides, so he had a great time returning to them - he's an excellent tour guide. Universal was one of the earliest Hollywood studios, so it has a lot of classic films and franchises that I adore - old newspaper strips like Krazy Kat, the classic horror films, and seemingly every film that Steven Spielberg ever made. Such fun.

We were there from about 9-6, finishing off with another visit to Hogsmeade, where my uncle (who has the patience of a saint) waited forever for me to pick out souvenirs for roughly half the people I know. I could have spent my life savings there, so it's a good thing we didn't stick around any longer. By the end of the day, we were so exhausted that  it was all we could do to tell my aunt all about the  park, as well as my mom, who also loves Harry and the wizarding world.

After a long night's rest (everyone needed it), it has been a day of sitting by the pool and enjoying the sunlight, which I spent most of the morning doing. Currently, I'm on our back patio watching the egrets, herons and golfers go by. (No gators yet.)

It's probably a good thing I'm taking some time to relax, because we all know what comes next...

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Disney Day

Election news: still shithouse crazy. I'm listening to Hamilton for comfort. Tuesday, guys, only until Tuesday. The Barack came back, to Florida that is (just down the road), and this time he brought Stevie Wonder. Super cool. (Mike Pence was here, too, but I am choosing to ignore that.)

As I mentioned, my aunt and uncle are staying at a huge resort, in more of a villa than a hotel room. There are wild animals all over ("Don't go near the water, there are gators - don't go into the woods, there are snakes), so my uncle shines his flashlight looking for gators on our back lawn every night, and herons come right up to our door begging for food - they make a sound that can only be described as a creaky hinge. Mostly we've seen birds - herons, cranes and egrets.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Ungodly Hours

I have probably said it before on this blog, but I'll say it again - always travel on the early-morning flights. No one else is there, no one wants to be there, and so security and customs are a total breeze (major Canadian airports allow you to do US customs before your flight, and you barely even have to interact with humans). I was essentially waved through and avoided a lot of the meandering and waiting that comes with international air travel.

That said, it doesn't make getting up at 2 AM any easier. I had a hectic week, as is par for the course in graduate school, so I was running on a sleep deficit anyway, and didn't get to packing until late.  Still, my alarm went off and I obediently rose, my stuff carefully placed next to my bed so I could be out of the house in five minutes flat. It took ten, but I still get an A for effort.

Forty-five dollars and a cab ride later (Toronto is one of those provincial backwaters that closes its transit at night), I was at the airport just before three. Even after going through customs and security, nothing was open. Absolutely nothing. Even the Tim Hortons. Any Canadians reading this will know that that is Serious Business. Finally, I found an open Starbucks, and after a coffee and a breakfast sandwich I was much revived. I passed the time with blogging, reading my incredible backlog of library eBooks, and the Hamilton soundtrack, which feels rather topical these days - both personally and globally. We've seen our truly nauseating share of angry politicians, though none of them can sing as well as Leslie Odom, Jr., but more than that, I'm really into personal achievement, taking the chances life gives me, and oh my god I'm about to start rapping in the airport -


In Canada, at least at the major airports, US flights depart separately from both Canadian and international flights. I've flown internationally from Toronto quite a few times, and domestically too often to count, but only once to the US - my previous trip to Florida in 2012, during which I unexpectedly saw Newt Gingrich (why do my trips always include a moment of politics?) - so it's like a whole new terminal. It runs alongside the domestic gates, separated by a glass wall, so I can look out at them and scoff, "Ha, you peons. You're probably going to Kelowna or something." (It is the Canadian endeavour to be indifferent, at best, to everything within one's own country, while knowing absolutely everything about, and idolizing, all the others.)

Side note - I'm going to make my fortune off of my new program, Rachael'a Guide to Efficient Packing. I don't care what you have to bring, three giant suitcases for a weeklong beach cruise can't be worth it. I look super out of place with my teeny tiny red duffel bag, which has served me so very well.

I flew Sunwing, which serves Florida, the Caribbean, and other warm destinations for Canadians. They do a brisk business, as you can imagine. It was my first time on a budget airline in North America, and it was fine. We took off and landed and I had a tolerable cup of coffee, which is pretty much all I ask from an airline. Sunwing is pretty good for its low prices.

Another bonus of travelling early - you get most of the day to spend at your destination. We landed in Orlando at 9:15 AM. My aunt and uncle were waiting for me, and we webt to tthe Orange Lake Resort, which is OHMIGOD FIVE MILES FROM DISNEYWORLD. It's more like a neighbourhood than a resort, full of high-rises and condos and little bungalows, with all kinds of beautiful swimming pools and golf courses and walking trails. It's sunny and warm and I feel like a lizard on a rock. Speaking of which, we apparently have gators and snakes, though I haven't seen any. Today was a day to rest, swim in the pool, and just veg out. We somehow managed to visit two WalMarts and a Target. Florida, I tell ya.

The election coverage here has been utterly non-stop. I am sure the entire state is bored out of their minds. Both Clinton and Obama were in Florida today, which felt really really weird! At least we have Saturday Night Live and its lovely, heartfelt sketch of the week to heal our souls (and Kate McKinnon helps). This is a swing state and anything could happen on Tuesday. It's an exciting time, but frightening, too.

But there are two days to go. And so I will have fun at Harry Potter and look around the city and enjoy being in this lovely sunny state.


I cannot say the name of that city without singing it like in The Book of Mormon. Thanks, musical theatre brain.

So, I really really like Harry Potter. And my aunt, too, really really likes Harry Potter. When she and my uncle were planning their trip to Florida, they invited me to come and join them for a visit, and from what I understand, about 80% of this is so my aunt can go to Harry Potter with another nerd like her. So I gladly skipped a few days of graduate school to go hag out in Orlando. Thanks, Aunt and Uncle.

I have a lot of catching up to do on this blog - several posts covering this summer, a few observations on TIFF, and a BIG ANNOUNCEMENT coming in a few weeks, with any luck. But this week is going to be an account of my adventures in Florida. I have been to Florida before, in 2012, but that was a small section of the Panhandle (an interesting area in itself)  - not the more "touristy" parts. Plus almost everything I know of this state is  elderly Canadians, Florida Man, and Dexter. This week will include lots of Harry Potter. Beaches. Sunlight. But best of all, at least to my politically oriented self...

I am going to be in a swing state for this year's crazy-ass election!

More to follow.