Some Thoughts on Hotel Beau Séjour

I would say things have been busy (and, I mean, they have), but they haven’t been so busy that I haven’t been able to procrastinate away ten hours worth of time, during which I watched the entirety of Hotel Beau Séjour. This was, in my defense, done over a number of days, and not all in one sitting. I just finished the series, and…well…I have many thoughts. Like, why? Just…why? What just happened?

Let me back up a bit, and start from the beginning.

Hotel Beau Séjour (henceforth HBS) is a ten-episode series recently loaded on Netflix. The story follows a Belgian teen, Kato, who wakes up to discover she has been murdered. As she tries to figure out what happened, she discovers that only five people can see her (give or take a few at various moments) and that she is, in fact, a ghost. In this one-foot-in-this-world-one-foot-in-the-next state, she works to unravel what happened to lead to her death, as she has absolutely no recollection of her last day alive. Of course, the five people (or six or seven or maybe even eight) who can see her all have reasons why they can see her, but are loathe to admit their part in the matter. Their seeing her eventually comes down to the fact that if any one of the six had done something differently, the seventh would not have been able to kill her (the eighth person only sees her for about 30 seconds, and only sees her in the next-to-last or last episode, when she realizes she was partly responsible for Kato’s death, so I’m kind of ruling her out here).

This paragraph contains spoilers. If you wish to know the spoilers, start highlighting here.  The ending, of course, has a twist, which I’m not going to tell you, and a red herring, of which I’m still unsure of the importance. Like, there was absolutely no reason to suspect that character prior to the ending, especially when we’ve known since episode one that he can’t see her, and then suddenly it’s all “Look at him! He did it!” But, anyway, that’s not what I wanted to talk about. What I wanted to talk about is that, at the very end, after you find out who did it, everyone who can see her stops being able to see her. Ok, great, so she went into the great beyond, story resolved, wish like we’d seen her turn into an angel or something, but I can deal. Then it goes into this whole montage that shows what exactly happened the night she was murdered and how each of those individuals was tied to the murder (which ranges in severity–don’t think of it as a group murder thing), and then…boom. There’s Kato and there’s Charlie, and they’re having a conversation, and she basically tells him “Yeah, I’m still here, but nobody else can see me anymore” and then…the next morning he can’t see her anymore. So, like, what happened? Is Kato still walking amongst us, frustrated by the fact that she’s essentially in a parallel universe? Is she finally at peace? Or is she going to start randomly killing middle aged balding men in ten years, causing an international incident that requires the attention of the Winchesters? I almost feel as if it would have been a lot better if, say, that last bit wasn’t in there, or something like she told Charlie that she was waiting to say goodbye to him before she went. Instead, I’m left imagining that a very frustrated Kato is standing behind me, reading what I type, and going “no, you idiot! Don’t write that! That’s all wrong! GAH!” and then stress eating all my hard baked cookies. (You can stop highlighting here. FYI.)

All of this, then, leaves me with mixed feelings about the series. On the one hand, I think it is brilliantly done in the cinematography sense, and I feel like it is a unique take on ghosts, the afterlife, and justice. There’s also some straight up weird stuff going on in that village, but the weirdness lead to very complex characters who made the story interesting. I never would have guessed the conclusion (which is why I loved Sherlock Holmes as a kid, and being able to guess the conclusion in the show Sherlock is why I have never been big on watching it), but I knew the red herring was invalid because of certain events in the beginning. So I guess that’s a bit of a tie.

I think there are two things that I can say to best sum up how I feel about the series. Here goes.

Number 1: I initially though HBS was in French, which is why I decided to start it, as I haven’t watched French TV in a long time. The moment I realized it wasn’t in French, I normally would have quit, but I was intrigued enough to keep watching…through ten 55 minute long episodes. I quite shows in English after two or three episodes because they’re too meh for me. This held my interest.

Number 2: If they made a second series, I would totally watch it. For the record, I didn’t care enough to watch the second season of Daredevil, which was everyone else’s darling. I just didn’t care enough to. I’d be fine wandering around with Kato for another series or two.

But then again, now I’m feeling more okay with the ending.

Never mind, now I’m not. Or am I? I don’t know, and it bugs me that I don’t know, because I should have solid opinions about these things. I mean, I’ve spent enough of my life analyzing books, films, and TV shows. It should have paid off by now. Then again, perhaps the reason why I like it so much is that I don’t know how to feel about it, and it is very strange for me to finish something and not have a solid opinion on it, and feel like I need to sit and think about it.

I rated it four stars on Netflix. I honestly don’t know why. Maybe it should have gotten five. Maybe three. Maybe I’ll wake up tomorrow morning going “yeah, the cinematography was great, but what a stupid story arc”, but probably not. I did, after all, watch all of it, and have enough left to chew on that I actually sat down and wrote a blog post on it (and a rather lengthy one at that). Thumbs up, Netflix. I gave up on your original content a long time ago, but this just might have restored my faith that you can actually produce decent new content. Now upload a few more seasons of The Great British Bake Off. I know more of them are out there and you’re keeping them from me, and now I need to unearth my mind from wherever Kato buried it, so cough it up.

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Homebound: The Final Journey of Two Very Tired Girls

You would think getting on a train and riding home would be easy.

It wasn’t.

We ended up sitting directly across from a pseudo-Christian woman, who apparently saw a conservatively dressed human being (aka me) as the perfect target. I say pseudo-Christian because while the views she expounded upon were once based in basic Catholicism, but she had since gone through and “discovered” how to correctly translate the Bible, and was working on that project (hint: she knows neither Greek nor Hebrew). The problem is this little factoid was not released until I had other things to clue me in that this woman would never shut up and there was no escape. If you’re wondering, it is a three hour train ride from Dublin to Cork.

In general, I’m quite open to discussing virtually anything if a random person asks me about it and treats me as a real person they are having a discussion with and not as an enemy to be verbally trampled. This apparently is weird, since I pretty much never initiate interactions with people. I argue that this is because I would rather have a discussion where everyone is open minded and really wants to discuss things rather than talking with a bunch of people who just want to convert you to their point of view. I have been told that the former is a more European way of talking and the latter is more American. So far, I’m finding the Europeans as mule headed as the Americans (did I write about my conversation/argument with someone over gun rights? I don’t think I did. It was almost as bad as this one, except I had an escape route open to me).

The worst of it was, apparently MK was bored out of her mind, but wasn’t picking up that I, too, wished to melt into the furniture to disappear, so she decided to be a good friend (she’s an amazing friend) and stuck it out anyway. The woman finally got off the train about three stops before ours (so about 45 minutes before we would get off) and seemed sorrowful to go. I breathed a sigh of relief and confided in MK how scared I was that she was going to go all the way to Cork with us, and we had a good laugh over the fact that neither of us were picking up on the other’s need to escape. But really, the more I think about it, the more I feel bad for the woman. She doesn’t have a family, and if she’s that intense around everyone, I would understand the neighbors trying to avoid her. Who are her friends? If she had more people to hang out with, would she be less intense? Am I going to end up being that weirdly intense stranger on the train when I’m her age?

These questions are, of course, all purely academic, because there is no way to tell, and there is little I can do about it, besides hope she finds a friend. At the same time, if I’m honest, I’m very glad that friend isn’t me–but perhaps the reason she latches on so strongly to someone who seems friendly is because everyone has thought the exact same thing, and no one has stepped forward to be her friend.

All of this makes my head hurt. I have a jar of nutella, I’m behind on Bones, and I am tired, so me and the nutella are going to enjoy an episode and then I am going to sleep, and it will all be better tomorrow.

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National Museum of Ireland, Round ???

Ok, fine, I come to the National Museum probably a bit more than is good for me. But it’s just that it’s so good and there’s so much fun stuff and I never have enough time. Plus, it’s free. And I love free things. Like, despite being an adult who makes money, the best way to ensure I go to an event is to tell me there will be free food. I love free things, and the museum is free. And it has dead things.

img_1547It has things that aren’t dead, too, and actually, most of it is devoted to things that aren’t dead. There’s quite a lot of beautiful artifacts that show the amazing early art styles of the Irish and things that I have no idea how someone could have a hand so steady as to complete. I would have to use a computer to do that sort of thing. A perfect example is the Ardagh Chalice, which is insanely complex and detailed. There’s even a little mirror in the display so you can see the work on the bottom of the Chalice, img_1546which was put in there so that in the few seconds were the bottom of the glass was upturned by the priest, there would still be beautiful detail showing. These sorts of things are interesting, and some are even fascinating, but it just comes down to the fact that I happen to find the dead things an interesting long-term study. Plus, there’s this little issue that I keep having to leave before I get to see the bog bodies, which are the main dead things of interest (and the hip girdles, because those are good things to use to practice determining a skeleton’s sex by sight). Regardless, I didn’t manage to see the bog bodies yet again, which only means that I will have to come back. Again.

What I did get to see is one of the most painstakingly reassembled manuscripts in the history of Ireland–The Fadden More Psalter. If you want to cringe over a lot of research work, you’ll like the story of this one. When they first found the book and opened it, essentially all of the letters fell out and someone had to go through the painstaking process of reassembling the pages like the world’s most gigantic jigsaw puzzle (this is the reason I am not specializing in manuscript preservation–a skeletal jigsaw puzzle is more finite and not in a dead language). The Psalter was also doubly tricky to deal with as it was first found in the same manner as many of the bog bodies: a farmer ran into it while tending his fields, and it was quite waterlogged. This probably helped contribute to the disintegration of the pages. I’m just surprised that the ink handled the situation so well.

We had to leave after going through the viking artifacts so we could catch our train back to Cork. Once we get there (it takes a few hours!) we will finally be home, and we can finally sleep for days. Well, probably not for days, as we have things like class that need to be attended to, but definitely for longer than we have been.

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Of Albion Academy and Coffee Shops

16237739_10154373368938036_1929547110_nI’m currently in a coffee shop between Trinity College and the Department of Manuscripts, enjoying some well-deserved treats before I head over to the Museum (because Bog Bodies!). As it seems every time I go on a trip a friend publishes a book, I’ve been chatting with my friend Elijah David, author of The Albion Quartet, the first book of which, Albion Academy, was recently released. In celebration, I’ve demanded he write even more, and have handed my blog over to him for the day. Thus, without further ado, Elijah David.

Thanks for having me today, Wren!

Since you’re always posting about the wonderful places you’ve traveled to, I thought I could talk a bit about how real-life places show up in my fiction.

I actually have two main real-life settings for most of the stories I’ve published. The John Valley stories (“The Debt-Keeper“, “My Friend the Fish“, “Red: Haunting” and “The Closet”) all take place in a fictionalized version of my hometown in Northwest Florida. Like Ray Bradbury in his Green Town books (Dandelion Wine, Something Wicked This Way Comes, etc.), I wanted to capture something of the world I grew up in, while at the same time exploring the strangeness of life. By writing these stories as fantasy and magical realism, I was able to do more than just retell events I experienced; I could create new stories that fit the setting. In fact, I’m not sure there are any “real” events in these stories. Once I established John Valley, the setting and its characters took on a life all their own. (I should probably note that I have borrowed names higgledy-piggledy in some of these stories which have no bearing on the people who owned them, like my Uncle George’s surname belonging to a haunted house in the Red story. Again, that’s the joy of fiction.)

The other main setting that appears is the setting for Albion Academy and its sequels: Ilium, Alabama. Ilium is patterned (in some ways, but not totally) on the city where I attended college. Even the name is a play on the city’s real name. (The city Ilium is based on also contributed some elements to John Valley.) Here again, I’ve taken liberties by having the town be a fictional version of the real-life city. The advantage of using a real-life location in this way is two-fold. First, I already have a general layout of major landmarks and streets available to me, which saves a lot of effort in the worldbuilding stages. Second, I’m free from the constraints of having to stick too closely to a street map that already exists. It’s having my cake and eating it too.

Using fictionalized versions of real locations isn’t always the best course, however. In Albion Academy, I had to include at least one location that can actually be visited by the readers (although I have sadly not visited it myself). In this case, that’s the Glastonbury Tor. Historically connected to Avalon and Merlin, it was the perfect location to slip into the books. (But you’ll have to be watchful; I don’t name it as such in the novel.) How did I use a place I’d never visited in a novel? Google is your friend, my friends. The wonderful thing about modern technology is that you can find pictures and descriptions of foreign (or just distant) places to help you get the details right. Google Earth and Google Maps have satellite imagery for a lot of places like Glastonbury Tor that can help you get a feel for the scenery.

One thing I haven’t done so far in my fiction is utilize a real location as a main setting without fictionalizing it. I have a story in mind that will do this with Chattanooga, but I believe that will have to wait until after the Albion series is complete.

What real-life locations have you used in fiction? Did you keep the setting strictly in line with the actual place or did you use artistic license? Are there any real locations in fiction you’ve read about where the author made you want to visit?

Elijah David works as a copywriter and content editor at a Chattanooga advertising agency. He holds an MA in English (UTC) and is a member of the Chattanooga Writer’s Guild. An avid reader of fantasy, he started writing Albion Academy when a trio of fictional characters grabbed his attention and wouldn’t let go. He is currently working on the second of four planned books in the world of Albion Academy. In addition, he edits and contributes to the Tolkien journal Silver Leaves. As far as he knows, Elijah’s only magical ability is putting pen to paper.

If you would like to order Albion Academy, you can find the paperback here and the ebook here. I would also recommend visiting Elijah’s blog and following him on facebook.

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The Book of Kells and Trinity College

After we finished at the National Library, MK and I headed over to another well known library, which, unfortunately, is more museum than library (but I really wanted to handle and read some of these books! Ah, such is life). Trinity College is only a block or two away, so we swung down to visit the Book of Kells Exhibit.

Let me preface this by saying the only reason I don’t have any photos is because they asked nicely that we not take photos (and all the pictures I took of actual manuscripts I don’t have reproduction rights for, so I can’t share). Technically, I still could have taken photos, because it’s the flash that’s problematic, not the picture taking, but I’ve learned that if one person does something, suddenly everyone else thinks its their right to do it too, and they generally do it wrong. Since I would prefer for old manuscripts not to be damaged, I kept my phone away, like the virtuous woman I am.

The Book of Kells is absolutely gorgeous, and a ticket to see the book also includes a walk-through history of the book and its inks (which includes things like ground lapis) as well as a look at a variety of other historic documents (like the Proclamation of 1916, which is important to the Easter Rising and Ireland’s journey to becoming an independent country once again–it is very much worth reading if you have the time!). The library also has a variety of busts on display, all of prominent literary authors.

Circling back to the Book of Kells, however, the book is one of the most in-tact for its time period, and is also one of the most lavishly illustrated. It was, in a way, like the ultimate picture book, with the illustrations working alongside the story. In other ways, however, it is quite fantastical, as the illustrations often tell the stories through symbolism, and the symbols on their own could perhaps tell a half a dozen different stories. The book itself is significant because it was created as a memorial to Colm Cille’s death, one of the most revered Irish saints (Padraig/Patrick and Brigid being the other two). While usually only one of the gospels in on display at a time, high-quality scans of a number of pages can be seen throughout the display.

The library itself–which one enters after exiting the Book of Kells display–is one that seems it would be quite cozy, if no one was tromping through it. It was an appropriate place to spend a rainy afternoon.

Plus there’s a coffee shop right nearby. It wasn’t as good as the coffee shop at UCC, though.

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White Gloves and Old Documents

I have come to absolutely love old sections of libraries. It’s like a different sort of library, one where time sort of doesn’t exist. Everything is old and new at the same time, and it’s all so startlingly quiet. With the exception of non-internet enabled laptops (in most cases), there is no other electronic noise, and in some places you wouldn’t blink if a Lord of the Rings cosplay walked by, carefully carrying a book. If you do blink, you’re new. I’ve found the people who frequent these areas tend to embrace rather…unique styles. For whatever reason, they are drawn to research something that you can’t find many modern books about, or they need original sources, so they gather where manuscripts are old and vellum abounds. These libraries–usually located in the basements of normal libraries–are like baby versions of the Department of Manuscripts in the National Library of Ireland.

The Department of Manuscripts isn’t what most people think of when they think of the National Library. The main library has a nice big rotunda and all sorts of pretty dressings to make it look nice. The Department of Manuscripts is almost hidden on Kildare Street, along with a lot of other brick fronted buildings. It’s right near the Royal College of Physicians, which has columns and other fun stuff at the front. But the Department of Manuscripts is, itself, not particularly descript. The interior is older, but well kept, with a few non-manuscript historical artifacts wandering about. There are two parts, one being a sort of showcase museum for old manuscripts, the other being the research area.

The research area–or reading room–is not just a place that you pop up to. This is something where people have to plan ahead so they know exactly what sorts of things they will be looking at when they get there, and when they get there, spend their entire day in white gloves, so as to ensure that the oils and dirt on their fingertips do not transfer onto the page (or, in some cases, sweat). This isn’t just something where you wash your hands and are good to go–no oil, no dirt. In exchange, beautiful information and breathtaking books.

This is only the third such library I’ve been to, and I loved it. It has a different smell than other libraries, perhaps because of how careful one must be to keep the books happy. Perhaps this is something of a modern fairy ring. Fairy rings were supposed to serve as a bridge between two worlds, and if you’ve ever visited one, you sometimes do feel like you’re not quite in this world any more. But books–books are an entire series of worlds, even when they are talking about this one. They’re not just portals between worlds, they’re portals in time. So just maybe today’s fairy rings don’t have to be trees and a clearing, or mushrooms. Maybe brick walls will work just as well.

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No Rest For The Weary: Hello, Dublin

So, I kinda lied. You see, we’re going home, but we’re not home yet. One of my professors had offered to give us a personalized tour of the National Library, which…is not something usual. So, of course, we leaped at the opportunity to take a look at a lot of old books. So we’re making a brief stop in Dublin before we continue on back to Cork and the university. Since neither of us have had the chance to spend much time in Dublin (beside visiting the National Museum two or three times), we’ve decided to do our best to make this one a triple header by visiting the National Museum (maybe THIS time I’ll actually make it to the bog bodies!), Trinity College (which is the home of the Book of Kells, FYI), and the National Library. The National Gallery of Ireland is just around the corner, too, and I’ve heard there’s a great blues dancing place around here (because I still haven’t been dancing since I left the US), but I have a feeling we won’t be able to get quite that far, as we do have to head home in fairly short order and, let’s face it, we’re tired. It’s been a long trip. Home sounds good. Home sounds cool.

Also, yet another one of my friends (who all seem to be much more talented at productive things than I am–my talents seem to lie in getting in trouble) has recently had a book come out, so I’ve invited him to write up a guest post to show off how awesome he is, if he doesn’t mind. Other than that, I have nothing to report, so good week, and good night.

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