Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Ms. Hen reviews the Airbnb she stayed at in D.C.

The Grand Victorian Airbnb
Vermont Avenue
Washington D.C.

When Ms. Hen decided to go to Washington D.C., she wanted to make it as cheap as possible, so she decided to stay at an Airbnb, a service where a guest can stay in a room or a house that is rented by the owner. The hosts rent out space for extra money, and it gives people the opportunity to stay in unique and affordable spaces.

Ms. Hen looked at lots of Airbnbs for the week she was planning on going to D.C., but the complete apartments were mostly full, since it was cherry blossom season. She found a room in a Victorian mansion that was only 85 dollars a night and it was available for the nights she wanted to stay, so she made a reservation.

She had never stayed in one of those places before, and she had some apprehension. She didn’t know if it would be safe, or clean, or if strange people lived there. But when she got there, she found out she had nothing to fear.

When she arrived, she discovered it was beautiful: a brownstone mansion on the corner of a street. The host welcomed Ms. Hen kindly. The room was charming, but functional. Ms. Hen thought it lacked a desk and a mirror. But there was cable TV.

The doorknob on the door to the room fell off the first time Ms. Hen tried to shut it. The door also wouldn’t open all the way, so Ms. Hen had to slide through. She is not a fussy traveler, and most things don’t bother her, but she knew this would bother some people.

The host explained that the bathroom is shared with a person who lives in the house regularly, a man in the Marine Corps. Ms. Hen did not see him the entire time she stayed at the house. She thought it was strange that she shared a bathroom with someone for four nights and never saw him. Ms. Hen thought it might be polite to introduce herself, but she didn’t want to bother him.

Sharing a bathroom does not bother Ms. Hen because it reminds her of being in graduate school in Vermont and also of traveling in Europe. It would bother some people, but Ms. Hen is a hearty hen and is not afraid of sharing a toilet and a shower with someone she has never seen.

The house shone with cleanliness. Ms. Hen wasn't used to being in such an immaculate house. She made toast with hummus in the morning and she was so afraid of getting crumbs on the counter that she made sure everything sparkled when she left.  The host said nobody ever hung out in the beautifully decorated living room downstairs, everyone who lived or stayed in the house retired to their rooms.

The neighborhood was stylish and upscale. It boasts lots of restaurants, bars, coffee shops and stores a visitor could experience. Ms. Hen enjoyed the neighborhood. It is also located only about a six-minute Metro ride to the center of Washington D.C. where Ms. Hen went to art museums, saw the cherry blossoms, visited The Library of Congress and The Holocaust Museum.

Ms. Hen had a lot of fun of her trip to Washington D.C. She doesn’t travel often enough, but she wants to travel more. Now that she has discovered Airbnb, she knows that traveling can be affordable and exciting. A new world has opened with the advent of Airbnb. The world could be ours, if a hen could open her mind.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Ms. Hen reviews The Hirshhorn Museum and gets all contemporary

The Hirshhorn Museum
Corner of 7th St. and Independence Ave. NW
Washington D.C.

Ms. Hen visited the Hirshhorn Museum on a rainy Tuesday in time for a guided tour. The docent directing the tour, Janet, told Ms. Hen that she likes to give interactive tours, having each person give an opinion and talk about the art and what it makes that person think. Only one other person went on the tour with Ms. Hen, a man from Poland who told Janet he was studying art history.

The first piece they looked at was a photograph by an artist named Hiroshi Sugimoto. It showed a picture of an ornate old-fashioned theater with a glowing light where the screen would be. Ms. Hen told the guide that it made her think the artist was trying to say that the movies are a void and he contrasted it with a picture of a beautiful theater. The art history student said he had seen photos like these before.

Janet said that it was an entire film exposed and that’s where the glowing light came from. She said she didn’t know if it was supposed to be a political statement of the movies. But she said the artist wanted to show old theaters that used to be in their glory contrasted with the bright light of an entire film.

The next piece the group looked at was a bunch of what looked like rocks on the floor. Janet asked Ms. Hen what she thought it was supposed to be. Ms. Hen said it looked like it could be bones from animals placed in a circle that meant the circle of life. She also said that it reminded her of pieces of ceramic cows because she used to collect cows.

Janet said they were actually pieces of flint that the artist Richard Long picked up on his walks in the countryside in England. She explained he is an environmental artist and makes art from the natural world. Janet told the group that he sent the stones in a box and told the curator that he wanted them formed in a circle with a nine-foot diameter. Somehow, no matter how they displayed them, they always came out circle with a nine-foot diameter.

The group looked at a piece of art with a mannequin sitting at a desk dressed in African print 16th century period clothes. Ms. Hen cheated a little and looked at the title of the piece, THE AGE OF ENLIGHTENMENT. She told Janet it was ironic it was called that and the model didn’t have a head.

It turned out that this artist, Yinka Shonibare is famous for his art with models of people with no heads. He is a political artist from Africa living in England and makes statements about the history of Europe and Africa by making art like this.

The group looked at another piece of art that was simply the words A RUBBER BALL THROWN TO THE SEA written in large blue letters on a wall, by artist Lawrence Weiner. Janet told Ms. Hen and the art history student to close their eyes and explain what they saw. Ms. Hen said the way it was written was like the ball was bouncing. They also looked at the words on the windows that said REDUCED backwards and forwards. Ms. Hen said it make her think that what was in the museum was reduced and also what was outside was reduced, that it wasn’t worth anything anymore. Janet told them that The National Archives was outside the window and that might have been what was thought to be reduced, like it was on sale.

Ms. Hen doesn’t usually go on tours of art museums, but she really liked this tour. She enjoyed thinking about the art and explaining what she thought of it. It was a clever way to do a tour. She went to this museum on a whim; she wasn’t planning on it, but she was glad she did. She liked being surrounded by things that were strange, because she’s a strange hen that likes art.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Ms. Hen goes to Washington, in pictures

At the Hirshorn Museum
Near the Smithsonian

Cherry Blossoms

Near the Smithsonian Castle

Washington Monument

Ms. Hen meets Abraham Lincon

Library of Congress

Seen on U Street

Ms. Hen at the Capitol

Near the Capitol

Near the Smithsonian

At Busboys and Poets

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Ms. Hen reviews The Folger Shakespeare Library and The Library of Congress and marvels

The Folger Shakespeare Library
The Library of Congress
Washington D.C.

Ms. Hen went on a trip to Washington D.C. simply because she had never been there and she felt the need to see the capital of our country. She loves libraries and she loves books, so she decided to take docent led tours of the Folger Shakespeare Library and the Library of Congress.

She went to the Folger first, since there are only two tours a day during the week, at 11 and 3. She took a tour with Maureen, who seemed very informed and passionate about the subject. She showed the group the exhibit, SHIPS, CLOCKS AND STARS, about the quest for longitude, which Ms. Hen did not find very exciting, since that’s not her thing.

The guide talked about the first folio under glass in the main hall. The first folio is the first printing of Shakespeare’s collected works. Ms. Hen learned that the Folger has the largest collection of first folios in the world, and some of the plays would not exist without these books. The group looked in the reading room at the scholars using the books for research. Ms. Hen hoped the chairs in there were comfortable for the people to able to sit all day and work.

The group looked at the theater from the balcony. The guide explained how it is a replica of a theater in Shakespeare’s time, with a cover over the stage, but not the Globe theater, because that was much larger. She told the group the cover was there to protect the costumes and not the actors because the costumes were the most expensive part of the company.

The Folgers started the library because they wanted their collection to all be in one place so scholars could use it, and they chose Washington D.C. because it’s the capital. The building was built during the Depression in the 1930s, even though nobody had any money, they managed to get donations. Ms. Hen learned a new word at the library, “Shakespearana,” which means the items collected having to do with Shakespeare, i.e. a teapot with Romeo and Juliette.

The Library of Congress is the largest library in the world. Compared to the Folger Shakespeare Library, it is a flashy, glamorous library. A video greets the visitors and talks about the history and uses of the library.

Ms. Hen took a tour with a docent named Ed. She was in the small group with someone in a wheelchair, so they took the elevators. Ed used a red pointer light to show the things he discussed. He talked about the main lobby and all the characters on the stairs and what they meant.

In the library, under glass, are one of three copies of the Gutenberg Bible and the only copy of the Mainz Bible in the world. The Mainz Bible is the hand printed Bible from which the Gutenberg Bible was copied.

Ms. Hen marveled at the grandness of the library. The columns shone with whiteness and the statues gleamed. Ed took them upstairs and talked about the murals on the walls. He told the group since it was a small group, he would show them some extra things.

They went to a map room where the oldest known map with which the name America is printed. The guide explained that the map was discovered in a castle in Germany, and the person who owned it did not want to part with it. But he needed the money, so the library bought the map for 10 million dollars, making it the most expensive map in the world.

Ms. Hen loved both the Folger Shakespeare Library and the Library of Congress. If she lived near Washington D.C., she would go to performances at the Folger Theater, and she would get a card for the reading room at the Library of Congress and go there all the time. She could picture herself there, amidst all the books, looking up at the statues, full of wonder and awe, like a cultured hen should.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Ms. Hen reviews OUR CHILDREN and gets depressed

Directed by Joachim LaFosse

Ms. Hen was shocked at the beginning of this film because it shows a mother in a hospital bed telling doctors that her husband wanted the children to be buried in Morocco. At first Ms. Hen thought the children died in a car accident, since the mother was in a hospital bed as well. It took the entire film to discover what really happened.

Murielle and Mounir are an ordinary young couple in love. Mounir is from Morocco and Murielle is Belgian. He lives with a doctor in Belgium, Andre Pignet, who has been and still is a type of guardian for him. Murielle and Mounir get married and have children. They stay living in the house with the doctor, and the tightness of space constricts the couple. They think they don’t have any autonomy, since they depend so much on his charity.

Murielle and Mounir have four children and they both work. Mounir works as a doctor with Andre and Murielle is a teacher. Murielle tells Mounir that she thinks that they should move back to Morocco so they would only need one salary. He thinks it’s a good idea and he proposes it to the doctor, who becomes irate. Andre tells Mounir that he didn’t sacrifice by bringing him to Belgium and raising him and giving him a good education so he could just move back to Morocco. Andre tells Mounir to think about his girls and what kind of life they would have in his home country.

Mounir and Murielle give in and they buy a bigger house with the doctor. She is overworked and tired and has a difficult time taking care of the children. She most likely suffers from post-partum depression. She doesn’t pay attention and leaves the gate open on the stairs once and one of the children falls.

This film is based on a news story that happened in Belgium. The film depressed Ms. Hen because it showed how hard life could be when you have too many children and are watched by someone who says he cares, but wants you under his thumb. The doctor had good intentions in the beginning, but toward the end, Ms. Hen could see he was wielding his power.

Murielle and Mounir’s children did not die in a car crash: they died because Murielle killed them. She called them up the stairs one by one and murdered them somehow, but the viewer does not discover the method. She called the emergency phone line and told them that she had wanted to kill herself, but she couldn’t, so instead she killed her children.

Ms. Hen enjoyed this film, even though it brought her down. It shows how difficult real life can be. Ms. Hen thinks this is not a film to escape reality, instead it shows bleakness. Someone’s life can be excruciating, though the situation might not be apparent. Some people can think there’s no reason to go on. Ms. Hen thinks there’s always a reason to go on. But, on the other hand, she’s not Murielle.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Ms. Hen reviews MY BRILLIANT FRIEND and swoons as only a hen can

Elena Ferrante
Translated by Ann Goldstein

Ms. Hen thought MY BRILLIANT FRIEND was brilliant. That could be the end of the review right there, but there’s so much more to say.

This novel is about two friends who live in a village outside of Naples in the 1950s, Lila and Elena. Elena is the narrator and we discover that she has always followed Lila. Lila is fearless and brilliant in school, even though she only finishes elementary school. Elena is the one who gets to continue her education, even though she always thought Lila was smarter.

Elena and the other girls in the village blossom before Lila, but Lila was the one who becomes the great beauty. Elena feels pale and fat beside Lila. The teacher tells Elena that Lila would not be beautiful for that long, but Elena would always have her brain. She didn’t like that, because she wanted to be beautiful.

Ms. Hen thought the beginning of this novel reminded her of ANGELA’S ASHES by Frank McCourt, because it is about poverty with humor gracing the narrative. But as the novel went on, it became more of a woman’s coming of age story. And it’s very Italian.

Boys are always screaming and fighting with each other, parents scream at their children and beat them, if a man looked at another man’s sister the wrong way he could get pummeled. This is not a delicate world where these character dwell. It’s a violent, passionate world, dominated by men and the drive for money.

It’s the rich characters everyone envies. Lila decides to marry a rich man who pays attention to her and is kind. The Solara brothers with their expensive car rule the neighborhood. Poverty is everywhere, but the ones with money are in control.

Elena and Lila are always friends, but when Lila is preparing for her wedding, Elena feels like she will lose her friend, since she will be ahead of her in life experiences. But Lila recruits Elena to help with the wedding preparations because she is good at dealing with her mother-in-law and sister-in-law to be. Elena is a skilled negotiator since she has spent so much time at school. Elena is honored that Lila asked her for help. Elena dreads the wedding because she knows Lila will not be hers anymore.

Ms. Hen loved this book and did not want it to end. When she read the ending, she was disgusted and thought, this is how it ends? How can that be? We don’t know what happens to Lila after she gets married!

But there are two more books in the series. Ms. Hen forgot that when she bought the book that there were others that followed. She was so relieved, she bought the second book right away. Ms. Hen read a review of MY BRILLIANT FRIEND that compared the series to IN SEARCH OF LOST TIME by Marcel Proust. Ms. Hen agrees because she was swept back in time to this character’s world, and it’s brilliant. Just brilliant.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Ms. Hen reviews THE ARTIST AND THE MODEL and muses about her time in France

Directed by Fernando Trueba

Ms. Hen watched THE ARTIST AND THE MODEL because she had seen the preview, and it looked like a film she would like: in black and white, about art, in French. She liked it, but the film left her wanting more.

In France, during World War II, Lea, the wife of a sculptor, sees Merce in the town square washing in the fountain, and decides she would be an acceptable model for her husband. She approaches Merce and takes her home and gives her dinner. Lea proposes to Merce that she could be a model and stay in the house on the hill, but she will have to model nude. Lea, her husband and the maid all think that Merce has been in a camp. Merce lets them think her entire family is dead.

Merce becomes a model for the arist Marc Cros. She is a fidgety model, and Marc chastises her. He has not done his work since the war began, and he tries to get his skill back. But Merce has secrets. She is not a refugee from a camp, but a guide who helps Jewish people and others escaping the Germans cross the mountains to Spain. When this was revealed to Ms. Hen in the film, she was disappointed. She wanted more danger, but she didn’t sense any.

The nudity did not bother Ms. Hen, but the eroticism did. Ms. Hen did not think it was sexy that the old artist was interested in the young model. A man would like this, but not a woman, or a hen. The long-winded speech about how a woman’s body is made by God is babbling nonsense to Ms. Hen. Anyone who still believes in creation or in an idea like that is foolish. Of course, this took place in the 1940s.

Ms. Hen was a little disappointed that even thought this film took place in the country, and in France, there were no hens or chickens around. The French love their hens. There were some dead pigeons in the beginning, and there was mention that the Germans were taking the homing pigeons to eat, so maybe there were no hens in the area at that time.

Even though Ms. Hen did not like a lot of the film, the aspect she did enjoy was the scenery. Some of the film was made in Perpignan, France, which is near the coast of the Mediterranean. Ms. Hen stayed somewhere much like this last year, at a place called La Muse, in a village called Labastide Esparbairenque, near Carcasonne. When Marc, the sculptor, opened the windows of his studio, Ms. Hen was in La Muse again. She could smell the old building and the fresh air of the mountains.

Ms. Hen thought that even if she didn’t like the film that much, she loved the feeling of being back at La Muse. The sensation of the sights of the buildings and the scenery was so real to her that she felt she was in France again. She got distracted from the film and remembered France. This doesn’t usually happen when a person, or a hen watches a film. Most of the time we’re in the film. But Ms. Hen loved being swept back to the mountains, with the changing light and the perfect air. This film is mostly a waste of time, but for Ms. Hen, it was time well spent because she got to relive her time in France.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Ms. Hen reviews A TALE FOR THE TIME BEING and learns to just be

By Ruth Ozeki

Ms. Hen received an Amazon gift card for her birthday, and she didn’t know which books to buy until she read an article about women writers to read during Women’s History Month. A lot of writers Ms. Hen had never heard of were in that article, so she bought a lot of them, including this one.

She bought the paperback and it is a sizable book. Ms. Hen doesn’t like to carry books that are large around with her because she has a lot of things to carry, but she couldn’t stop reading this, so she bore the extra weight.

This novel is about two people: Nao, a schoolgirl, writing a diary in Japan, and Ruth, who discovers the diary and is reading it on an island in British Colombia and thinks that the package she found was swept ashore by the tsunami. Nao says that she is writing the diary because she is going to commit suicide soon, and Ruth worries about her, even though Ruth does not realize at first that the diary is about the past.

We learn about Nao, a Japanese girl raised in America, who moves back to Japan because her father lost her job. Her classmates torment her because she is a foreigner and is not as wealthy as the other students since her father doesn't have a job. Her father continuously tries to commit suicide, but unsuccessfully. Nao is sent to stay with her great-grandmother, a Buddhist nun, and learns the way she lives in the temple. Nao initially meant to write the diary about her great-grandmother’s life, but it turns out she writes about her own life.

Ruth reads the diary and becomes obsessed with it. In the package, inside the Hello Kitty lunchbox that swept onshore, was the diary, written in a copy of IN SEARCH OF LOST TIME converted into an empty book, a journal written in French and some letters in Japanese. Ruth and her husband Oliver live in a house on the island where everyone knows everyone else’s business. She is a writer and he is an artist.

There are no hens in this novel, but there are cats, which Ms. Hen loves as well. Pesto, Ruth and Oliver’s cat is a little pest who loves Oliver. Chibi, the cat at the temple, entertains Nao, and keeps the nuns company.

This novel is magical in the way that it opened up Ms. Hen’s eyes to possibilities that she didn’t know existed. The writing and the style of the novel are reminiscent of Haruki Murakami’s writing. It is another world, full of people who are living a positive life, but there is also the dark side of that world. Nowhere is perfect. Ms. Hen felt sorry for Nao, who was raised in sunny California and is thrust into a culture that is foreign to her, but at the same time is her culture.

Ms. Hen has a difficult time writing about things she loves. She is quick to write about a film or a book that she doesn't like, but she puts off writing about things she loves because she wants to be able to do them justice. Ms. Hen loved this book and couldn’t put it down, not just because she wanted to know what happened, but because she loved being in this world. That is what great books should do: they make the reader love existing in the space where the book lives. Ms. Hen was sad to leave this world, but it always exists somewhere.