Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Godzilla Therapy


Had a bit of the ick yesterday, so I stayed home from work, watched Godzilla movies, and bundled up under a blanket of cats. Quite therapeutic, this treatment. Today, much better, nearly 100%.

The recent Criterion DVD release of the original Godzilla arrived the other day, so I watched the Japanese version on Friday and spent yesterday's forced seclusion watching the Americanized version with Perry Mason. It's a winner of a DVD set, with beautifully restored prints of both films and lots of special features. To me, the incredible sound quality, particularly of the Japanese version, may be the package's most impressive feature. The booming footsteps and deafening roar is absolutely awe-inspiring. My full review of both the original Japanese film and its Americanized counterpart, based on the Classic Media DVD release from a few years back (which is hardly shabby in and of itself) can be found at my Daikaiju review page. The Criterion release surpasses it in quality, with some notable special features, including several documentaries and commentary by author David Kalat, but the Classic Media DVD's special features are also very worthwhile. It pays to own both sets. I think it's time to update my Godzilla DVD review....

Since I was under the weather (and under the aforementioned blanket of cats), just for good measure, I went on and watched the Japanese versions of Godzilla Raids Again and King Kong vs. Godzilla, and the U.S. version of Mothra vs. Godzilla (a.k.a. Godzilla vs. the Thing). Nothing like a little daikaiju therapy to put everything right again.

And yes, being smushed by cats helps too. A lot.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Faith Rock


An almost uncannily warm January day, so I spent the early part of it geocaching in Franklinville, a little community about 25 miles south of here, in Randolph County. It used to be a thriving textile town; not much left of it now, though the remnants of the impressive old cotton mill still stand on the banks of the Deep River. The trail along the river is quite scenic and takes you to Faith Rock, a spectacular bluestone wall that towers over the river along its southern banks. The plaque at the left is hard to read (it's from 1928 itself), but it tells of an incident in 1781, in which local resident Andrew Hunter ran afoul of the notorious Tory leader David Fanning. Facing execution, Hunter stole Fanning's prized mare, Red Doe, and made his escape by plunging down Faith Rock into the river.

Once you've seen Faith Rock up close, you understand what a feat that had to have been—even allowing for some embellishment of Revolutionary War history. I mostly clambered around the top portion of the outcropping as I was making my way toward "Don't Fall in the River—The Revenge" (GC19H1Z), and had I taken a bad step, I could have shed a lot of skin skidding down the slope.

Also along the river, a bit farther east, one may find the remains of at least one fishing weir built by Native Americans, possibly as early as the 17th century. Weirs were v-shaped rock dams used for trapping fish. Alas, today, the water level was too high for much of the weir near the spot where I was caching to be visible.

Once again, caching has brought me to a neat, historical corner of the map I otherwise never would have seen. Always nice.

This evening, a gathering of strange friends at Casa de Damned Rodan. I'm cooking chili, and so far, there's every indication it'll turn out deadly. Perhaps I'll post the recipe. I even cleaned the house, but I must confess, the tenacity of filth is my most hated thing on earth. No, I didn't actually put any filth in the chili. Not yet, anyway.

Notes on the history of the Deep River may be found here.

Click on photos to enlarge.

Looking down at the river from Faith Rock

Across the river from Faith Rock

Picnic tables for trolls?

View of the old cotton mill from the footbridge across the river

Monday, January 23, 2012

Before You Find the Cache...You See The Ring

That's your predicament when you go hunting for "The Curse of Samara Morgan" (GC1QF2B), over near Chapel Hill, NC. The cache's theme, of course, comes from The Ring—the U.S. version of the Japanese horror classic Ringu—in which scary psychic girl Samara Morgan gets dumped into a well, where she survives for seven days, leaving behind a curse that kills anyone unfortunate enough to be exposed to it. No question, going after this particular cache entails taking certain risks, but then that's typical of the hides placed by some of those dastardly cachers over in the NC Triangle, heh heh heh...

Yesterday turned out very cold and occasionally drizzly, but that didn't stop the team of Bridget "Suntigres" Langley, Diana Hartman, Rob "RTMLee" Lee, Scott "Diefenbaker" Hager, and the old dude from making a big day of going after a couple of particularly challenging hides around Chapel Hill. We started out with "Preparation I: There Is No 'I' in 'Team'" (GC370N8) which required two teams, working in conjunction via cell phone, to find numerous stages along two fairly lengthy trails before rejoining and heading after the final stage.

That done, we broke for lunch at one of my favorite local establishments—The Spotted Dog, in Carrboro. They have a large selection of vegetarian items on the menu, but no shortage of absolutely delicious dead animal as well. I'm quite partial to their turkey burger, fish and chips, and spicy black-eyed pea cakes, though yesterday I opted for a good old bacon cheeseburger, since I figured it might be my last meal. It did hit the spot after the big hike. Their Sunday drink specials were bloody marys, and I do love a good, spicy one from time to time, but I fear theirs were underwhelming, to say the least. Better to choose from their extensive selection of microbrews, I think.

Hunger satiated, we were braced to move on and confront our possible downfall. By the time we arrived at ground zero for "The Curse of Samara Morgan," the temperature had dropped since morning, and the skies were turning ominous. We discovered a picturesque little graveyard nearby, which we reckoned would be handy if the worst should happen. Suntigres had accompanied the previous group to claim the cache, the previous week, and they'd had the advantage of much dryer weather; since then the rain had turned the well site into a muddy morass. That did not stop her from ridiculing us for including a rope in our retrieval recipe, since her team had forsworn such safety measures. No matter. I got myself promptly hooked up and, without undue difficulty, made the descent into the 20 ft. deep shaft. Sure enough, there's the cache. And what else? Mosquitoes. Tons of them. Joy.

Anyhoo, in short order, I signed the logbook and made my way back to the surface, by all the signs unaffected by Samara's curse. I told Suntigres that I had scratched her name off the log so she'd have to go back do it all over again, but she didn't buy it for a minute. (Maybe her mistake, what do you think?)

The cache still lurks out there, waiting for the next intrepid souls to make their way into the dark depths. I've been fortunate not to receive a phone call informing me I have seven days remaining. That doesn't mean you won't, though.

Ground zero

Down we go.

Looking up

Mr. Lee takes his turn.

A nearby option, if the worst should happen.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Space Battleship Yamato


Back in the mid 1970s, my friend Bill Gudmundson (visit Bill's Kitchen) sent me a cassette tape with some music from Space Cruiser Yamato, the Japanese animated TV series and feature film. I immediately went all gaga over the stuff. Composed by the late Hiroshi Miyagawa, the scores are loaded with atmosphere, wistful melodies, and rousing energy. The little bit of information about the series I could dig up fascinated me even more. Soon enough, much to my delight, the two seasons of the series extant made its way to our shores under the title Star Blazers. At the time, I was living on campus at the University of Georgia in Athens, and it was one of those situations where, if I wanted to watch TV, I had to settle for one of the dormitory's community sets. The show came on at 3:30 on weekday afternoons, and this was kind of bad, because those students who weren't in class were all watching General Hospital (which actually snared me for a time, a year or so later, when John Colicos of Battlestar Galactica fame was on board as a mad genius out to destroy the world with his homemade freeze ray machine). Many was the day I had to fight with a bunch of irate young women in order to gain control of the floor's TV set. I usually won out by convincing them to visit one of the other floors, where communal GH gatherings achieved legendary proportions. For quite some time I was known as the geek who shut down General Hospital to watch cartoons.

Yeah, I was a Yamato fan. Back in the 80s, I owned, either on VHS or laser disc, all three seasons of original Japanese TV series, all five feature films, every poster, every book, every model kit from the series. This is good stuff we're talking.

These days, I'm not quite so gaga over the whole business, but I will tell you that, a couple of years back, the announcement of a new, live-action Space Battleship Yamato feature did send me into a minor tizzy. The film was released in Japan in 2010 and has been available on DVD for some time now; I finally got around to purchasing a copy and watched it tonight. I'm guessing the only reason I delayed picking it up was to prove to somebody, maybe me, that I control my geeky leanings; they do not control me. (Did you know that Criterion is releasing a deluxe edition of the original Japanese version of Godzilla?)

Space Battleship Yamato, directed by Takashi Yamazaki, is, at the very least, a handsome enough production, with a decent cast; a mostly engaging story; fair special effects; and a satisfying score by Naoki Sato that interpolates many of Miyagawa's signature themes. The script of the original 1974 Japanese feature film, Space Cruiser Yamato, condensed the storyline from 26 half-hour TV episodes into a two-hour theatrical movie, and this film does much the same thing—at least for about the first two-thirds of its running time—oftentimes faithfully reproducing the original scene setup and dialogue. No doubt due to time constraints, the origin of the title vessel itself is skimmed over; understandable, to be sure, yet nonetheless unsatisfying, for it's the Yamato's unique identity that has historically lain at the heart of the franchise. Rather than building up to the revelation of Yamato, the script, for all intents and purposes, presents the ship as "just another battleship." Until near the end of the picture, one never quite gets the sense that the Yamato is as significant a character as any of the human cast.

To one so familiar with the characters and worlds of the animated series, it is both disconcerting and refreshing to find that the origins of the villainous Gamilas, including their illustrious leader Dessler, and the benevolent Stasha of Iscandar have been totally refashioned. For the benefit of other geeks, I'll not reveal much about these fundamental revisions to the mythos other than to say that, in some ways, they benefit the picture, while in others they fall woefully short. Alas, while much of the CGI in the film works nicely, particularly with the mecha, the alien characters don't fare very well.

As the film progresses, certain elements from the second, stand-alone feature film, Arrivederci, Yamato, come into play, particularly at the climax. These are profound enough to insure that Space Battleship Yamato does not represent the first chapter of an ongoing saga, at least not that could follow any previously established continuity. This was a good decision on the producers' part, I believe; this film need not spawn a whole new franchise.

In the overall, the cast members fulfilled and in some cases surpassed my expectations in their various roles. At first, I was a little dubious of lead actor Takuya Kimura as Susumu Kodai, but as his character develops, I found myself quite satisfied with his performance. Meisa Kuroki as Yuki Mori immediately struck me as better than spot-on; her character is tougher and smarter than her anime counterpart, and she's certainly easy on the eyes. When I first saw the film's trailer, I wasn't so sure about Tsutomo Yamazaki as Captain Okita. I feared he might come off as a mere caricature, assuming statuesque poses and offering stone-faced glares. I was pleased to find his character dimensioned and generally likeable. Also particularly noteworthy are Toshirô Yanagiba as Science Officer Sanada, Hiroyuki Ikeuchi as Company Commander Saito, and Reiko Takashima as Dr. Sado. It's particularly intriguing that the latter character—in the anime, one of creator Leiji Matsumoto's typical pugdy, barely human-looking figures—is portrayed by a fairly attractive young woman, but who expertly conveys many of the character's well-known mannerisms (she even has a cat and drinks sake).

I could have quite done without the closing song by Steven Tyler, thank you very much. The less said, the better.

While Space Battleship Yamato is not without its failings—some of which are admittedly glaring—it's a fun, familiar story, competently acted and directed. To say I was entertained is an understatement. In a lot of ways, this film rekindled the old excitement the original series offered me...back in my long, long, long-gone geeky days.

Space Battleship Yamato poster featuring Takuya Kimura

Meisa Kuroki as Yuki Mori

Poster from 1979 Space Cruiser Yamato film festival

Sunday, January 15, 2012

From High Point to Haw River


Despite the winter chill, I think I've spent more time outdoors than indoors this weekend—mostly hunting and hiding geocaches, of course. Yesterday, my friend Bridget "Suntigres" Langley and I spent the better part of the day on a cache run around High Point, which included everything from simple park-and-grab micros to creatively camouflaged trail hides to terrain-intensive challenges. That's my favorite kind of day—at the end of it all, a fair number added to my total cache count, but a focus more on quality than quantity of finds. Afterward, Kimberly and I did dinner, drinks, and games with the typically uproarious Jenny Chapman and Doug Cox, all of which lasted till one-something in the morning. But lo, four new caches down the road had been published earlier in the evening, so at two in the a.m., I was back out there at it—missing being first-to-find by a matter of minutes. Evidently, I wasn't the only night owl on the hunt.

Today, it was out to Northeast Park, one of my favorite spots along the Haw River, to hide a new cache (a replacement for one of the entries in my Destroy All Monsters series that had been demolished by restless daikaiju). While out there, I decided to bushwhack out along the river for one of the more remote hides, which was actually intended to be reached by canoe or kayak. It wasn't all that long a hike—just under a mile—but a fairly arduous one, requiring a few improvised water crossings and battling legions of briers and thorns. The cache itself, "Row, Row, Row Your Boat..." (GC126G9), is pretty old and in need of owner maintenance, but by gummy, I finally get to cross it off the list. As I've mentioned many times, the Haw River is one of the most scenic rivers in the NC Piedmont, and there are plenty of caches to be found at various points along its path.

Now, I'm a little bushed, but at least I managed to work off a few bites of that oh-so-delicious burger from last night's visit to Lindley Park Filling Station....

Click the pics to enlarge.

A couple of the more entertaining hides in High Point. A little cedar log that
opens up to reveal the hidden bison tube, and a frightfully clever geocacher trap.


Cachefishing, anyone?

You never know what you'll find in the woods. The Northeast Park
Conference Center, perhaps?


One of the entertaining non-traditional bridges I used to cross the water.

The only crossing spot on the Haw River at Northeast Park, which is
not without its hazards.


Aww. These folks took the easy way.


Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Damned Brugger's Thai Spring Rolls

Ms. B. and I often get together to conjure up a variety of Asian recipes—I'm particularly glad she shares my fondness for Thai cuisine—and we've managed a number of very tasty dishes. One of my favorites—which she has undeniably perfected—is Thai fresh spring rolls. We usually stuff the rolls with ground turkey, but last night we tried them with shrimp. While I generally prefer shrimp to turkey, I find I actually like the turkey rolls better...by a slim margin. Life is full of surprises, don't you know. I made up some seriously hot pepper sauce (with fish sauce, lime juice, and serrano peppers), and we also had on hand some sriracha, hot chili garlic sauce, and sweet Maesri brand spring roll sauce. Here's our recipe, or a reasonable facsimile thereof; bear in mind we always vary things a bit in the prepping. The amounts below serve two happily; adjust as needed, but bear in mind that you are responsible for the math, not me. Preparation time is about 30 minutes. It's easier if you have a partner who can prepare the wrappers while the other stuffs the innards.

What You Need:
1 lb shrimp (after cooking, peeling, and de-veining) or ground turkey
1 dozen rice paper wrappers
2 cups chopped cabbage (bak choy or napa)
1 cup cilantro
1 cup diced mushrooms
1/2 cup chopped spring onions
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
juice from 1 lime
2 tbsp hot chili oil
fish sauce
diced serrano peppers (1 to 10, depending on your tolerance for heat)

What You Do:
1) In a large bowl, thoroughly mix cabbage, mushrooms, spring onions, serrano peppers, lemon juice, and about 2 tbsp fish sauce.
2) Pour your Thai chili oil into a very hot wok or skillet. Add chopped garlic and cook for about two minutes, stirring frequently; then turn heat to low.
3) If you're using ground turkey, dump it in now and brown. If you're using shrimp, wait and throw it into the mix right at the end, so it won't get tough.
4) If you're using turkey: once it's browned, dump into the skillet the mixture of cabbage, cilantro, mushrooms, spring onions, serrano peppers, lemon juice, and fish sauce. Let simmer for three to five minutes, stirring frequently. If you're using shrimp, add it to the pan with only about a minute to go.
5) Remove from heat.
6) In a bowl of very hot water, soak each rice paper wrapper for about one minute (you'll probably need to change out your hot water every three minutes or so during preparation). Spread the wrapper onto a non-stick surface (an oiled wooden cutting board works nicely) and blot with a dry paper towel. Then spoon about three to four tablespoons of your cooked ingredients onto the wrapper. Fold the ends over; then grab one of the unfolded ends and roll the bugger into a happy little cylindrical shape.
7) Voilà.

Dip these guys into your preferred sauce, and they'll rock your world—though after about an hour, you'll be hungry as hell again. I recommend a few sticks of crushed almond Pocky to fill that gaping void.

We accompanied our dinner with a bottle of Chateau Morrisette Cabernet Franc, which is easily among this winery's best products. Their Black Dog red table wine is also a winning accompaniment. Of course, hot saké is never a bad accompaniment, either, but we were in a Cab Franc mood....

Monday, January 9, 2012

Pastorale

Too busy and/or preoccupied to blog this past week, apparently. Back to work after the most satisfying long holiday, lots of writing, activities on the caching trail, being social (or something like that). Spent most of the day yesterday across the border in Virginia. Headed out to Fieldale, met up with Tom "Night-Hawk" Kidd, grabbed a new cache (alas, missed out on the first-to-find, though I did get several this week, including one today), and did a little maintenance on "Cachefishing" (GC1PA13). Then it was over to Danville to grab a few new ones, mostly on the Richmond & Danville Rail Trail, out east of town.

I'm never uncomfortable out hiking alone, and certainly not on this trail. Still, there's something about it, more so than many of the trails in this region, that speaks of a certain eeriness...no doubt because it goes way out into picturesque, sparsely inhabited country, where my writer's mind can concoct all kinds of...uncomfortable...scenarios. From end to end, the trail is about five and a half miles; I've biked the whole thing once and hiked portions of it several times (most notably for Triskaphobia, one of the truly memorable cache hunts of late). Yesterday was a temperate but gray day on the trail, and I ended up actually meeting a couple of young women, also geocaching, from South Boston. We found a few together, and then parted ways.

The rest of the hike, I didn't see another living soul. Yet I could constantly hear sounds of distant life: occasional gunshots (lots of hunting grounds out that way), lonely birds, furtive voices, and dogs howling—quite mournfully, which only intensified the impression of remote isolation. All most conducive to mentally composing creepy tales, though my mind was admittedly more occupied with hunting the caches at hand. The trail runs past the very serene Mt. Zion Cemetery, where, I am quite certain, zombies gather in their free time, although I didn't actually see any yesterday. Of course, I stand a much greater chance of being accosted by the unsavory living than the not-so-dead, but then that's what makes the prospect all the more entertaining....

When I arrived back at the Rodan Mobile at the Shawnee Rd. trailhead, I performed my good deed for the day, or...well...for however long. There's a ton of trash out there—the disgusting, inevitable refuse of so much disreputable humanity. I spent about half an hour on cleanup detail and filled up a garbage bag, though I don't think I made a very significant dent in the mess. Come spring, when adverse weather may be less a factor, I think I'll sponsor a CITO (cache-in, trash-out) event at that trail head. Get a few cachers together, and the place will be damn near pristine again.

There's one more cache out at the other end of the trail, which I look forward to claiming in the very near future.

Sure, it looks like a peaceful, serene setting, but Night of the Living Dead started out
in just such a place, now didn't it?

Monday, January 2, 2012

Stonewalled


I've never been particularly fond of New Year's Day and its attendant traditions—as if January 1 is some magic milestone where the world changes, and you suddenly have the wherewithal you didn't have 24 hours earlier to fulfill your every dream. Far as I'm concerned, New Year's Day represents just another step along that ever-fun path to one's inevitable death. Still, I've never had reason not to celebrate when celebration is due, and this year...well, of course I did. Saturday afternoon, Ms. B. and I hauled ourselves and a couple of days' worth of provisions to the mountains of Virginia for a little sojourn at the Stonewall Bed & Breakfast, on the Blue Ridge Parkway near Floyd. Along the way, we stopped at Villa Appalaccia, a small but impressive winery that, to our happy surprise, we found open on New Year's Eve afternoon. Excellent, excellent wine, which, we learned, is made from grapes that are grown in slate earth, rather than the typical clay of the region. Apparently, it makes a significant difference, and I may have never enjoyed a wine more than their Sangiovese and Aglianico varieties.

The Stonewall has several guestrooms in the main house, but we opted to stay in the very rustic, very tiny View Cabin, located some distance away in the woods on the property. Spartan, to be sure; there's an outhouse for taking care of your personal needs—fortunately well-tended—and if you want to stay warm, you'd better fire up the old wood stove. The cabin is wired for electricity, at least, so you can plug in your electronic devices—though you won't pick up the inn's WiFi way out there. (Despite the distance from any population center, cell/3G/4G reception is quite good.) There's not room for much more than a bed, a chair, and a table, but we found it clean, stocked with wood and other necessities, and ultimately quite comfortable.

Once ensconced in our luxurious lodgings, we headed out to dinner at Chateau Morrisette restaurant and winery where Kimberly and I dined last New Year's Eve (and I found the inspiration for a new novella ["Adventures in the New Year"]). If anything, this year's fare at the restaurant was even better than last year's (filet mignon for the old man and peanut-crusted chicken breast for the young lady), and I was here introduced to an intriguing house "winetail" called the Bloody Indy—a concoction of their Independence white wine, tomato juice, and potent spices. A startlingly good drink, though more akin to a Red Eye (an old favorite of mine) than an actual Bloody Mary. This year, there were no uncomfortable after-dinner adventures, and we rather enjoyed our own little private welcoming of the New Year, sans Dick Clark or any other vestige of civilization's noise.

I might mention here that there have been some recent bear sightings on the property, so we were advised to make a lot of noise when coming and going on the path between the cabin and the inn, particularly at night. Thus, we took it upon ourselves, whenever we were out and about, to holler "Bear!" at strategic moments. I don't know that it frightened away (or attracted) any bears, but the squirrels sure looked at us funny.

Breakfast at the Stonewall is something to behold. A massive spread of eggs, bacon, country ham, pancakes, french toast, biscuits, danish pastries, fresh fruit, juice, coffee, several varieties of tea...you name it. I find proprietor Scott Truslow's bacon to be the highlight of this feast. He has his own special method of preparing it, and it's worth raving about. A lot. So don't be surprised if every now and then on this blog or in person, I up and start singing about Stonewall's bacon. Fair warning.

Then, off to Rock Castle Gorge, not too far from the inn. There's a ten-mile loop trail through the gorge, and we did about five miles along the creek at the base, rather than tackling the sheer incline from Rocky Knob, up on top. A couple of caches were involved, of course. The highlight for me was coming upon an old, private farmhouse way back in the gorge, accessible only by the trail, which absolutely could have been the setting—transplanted from the mountains of Vermont to the mountains of Virginia—for H. P. Lovecraft's "The Whisperer in Darkness." The atmosphere here couldn't have been more suited to a Lovecraftian tale, and since Kimberly hasn't read the story itself, I gave it to her pretty near verbatim.

I do understand she slept less well last night than the previous night....

Last night, temperatures dipped well below freezing, but we built a great big campfire and roasted Nathan's hot dogs and marshmallows, accompanied by some of that fabulous Villa Appalaccia Sangiovese. The bitter wind drove us in before too late, though, so we settled into the cabin and watched Larry Blamire's The Lost Skeleton Returns Again on my laptop, which more than hit the spot for us. This morning, another fine breakfast, and the rather sad departure. A few caches along the way—including one at a beautiful little park in Danbury, NC, which involved an enjoyable vertical ascent to a scenic point overlooking the Dan River.

This evening, our friends, the Albaneses, invited us over for dinner and a movie—Case 39, starring Renee Zellweger (to whom Joe refers as "Sphincter Face," an epithet that I gotta tell you, however rude, resonates madly). A most entertaining horror flick, and this little gathering made for a pleasant welcome back to Greensboro.

I hope those of you who drop in here have a wonderful New Year, such as it is. And if you don't stop in here, well, just never you mind, since you're not seeing it anyway.

Click on the images to enlarge.

The View Cabin, a short distance through bear-infested woods
from the Stonewall Bed & Breakfast


This random picture adorns the wall in the rest room of the main house at the Stonewall Inn
(along with a newspaper article about the sinking of the Titanic). I don't know what
this is from, but I love it.


Fun folks with suitably blood-hued vintages at Chateau Morrisette

Brugger took this shot of us in the mirror at the bar at Chateau Morrisette.
I rather like it.
Along the trail in Rock Creek Gorge Old farmhouse back in Rock Creek Gorge. Surely, the very site of HPL's "The Whisperer
in Darkness," transplanted from Vermont to Virginia


The first sunset of 2012 as seen from the View Cabin