Robin Williams – for me he was the voice of my times

I sometimes don’t do news – it’s so depressing, often boring, frequently silly. So somehow I didn’t know that the world lost Robin Williams until the morning. And it hit me hard. Very hard.

He was just 3 years younger than me – effectively a contemporary. His humor was our humor – we laughed at Mork and Mindy because going into space was something we all dreamed of doing. I remember when Russia looked like it might win the space race – and laughing at Mork was our way of laughing at Russia. And just like his role in Moscow on the Hudson – he captures what we’re afraid of – and makes it funny. Looking back – maybe we shouldn’t have been afraid – but Robin was there for us when we were.

Vietnam was our war – and Good Morning, Vietnam was how I wanted to think of it after the fact. Crazy, nuts, but with real people trying hard to do the right thing – and maybe not winning even a battle. But trying.

I can’t hear it’s a Beautiful World without Robin’s face flashing into my head – so strong is the association between Robin and my history and that movie. And he doesn’t even appear when that song plays.

I didn’t see every movie he made – but I was at Sundance in 2009 when he briefly stopped in to chat about his newest movie – World’s Greatest Dad. In some kind of not very funny world loop – it’s about a father whose son kills himself.

Reach out – right now – and hug someone you love. It’s the best way of celebrating his life and his memory.

Signing off for now – The Soup Lady

The Quest – Hot new TV Show or Boring Also Ran?

Quick guess – if I’m writing about it – it’s hot! The Quest has been described by a local wit as the Amazing Race with a +3 broadsword – and that’s not a bad description. But it is so much more than that – and thus well worth watching.

I suppose it helps if you are a re-enactor, because this is definitely about what it should be like to play Dungeon and Dragons for real.

The concept is complex and that’s part of what makes it a must watch for me!

Apparently a group of bored people who had worked on Lord of the Rings and simply had way, way too much time on their hands (the credits are on the web – I’m not repeating them) decided it would be totally too much fun to create a fantasy world, fill it full of actors and cameras – and then invite 12 innocent, but experienced with re-enacting, people to come and play. Amazingly the

The 12 newbies – dubbed Paladins which shows a lack of comprehension of what that term should mean – arrive and are greeted by the Grand Vizier, the Queen, and a host of other people who play the roles of guards, alarm clocks (I love the guy who goes around banging on the doors every morning), or village inhabitants. There are also “The Fates” who are given the responsibility of meting out punishment for a lack of success by banishing Paladins one by one until there remains but one true hero.

It’s hard to say right now what that one true hero is going to face – but given the bits and pieces of amazing costume design that they’ve showed us – it’s not going to be pretty.

So – it’s a reality show with a story line – or it’s a televised Dungeon and Dragons game with some people in the ‘know’ and other people hoping that they can survive. The Paladins so far have displayed a remarkable willingness to ‘believe’ – and that definitely makes the entire thing even more interesting. Here are normal people parachuted into this world where everyone around them stays in character. And they must best challenges and form alliances – and do all the other things that reality contestants must do – while the story evolves around them.

To quickly sum up the first 2 shows – in hopes you’ll turn in for the third show – (runs Thursday on ABC and a ton of cable channels – 8:00 EST, 7:00 Central) –

1) The contestants arrive – are greeted by the fates – explained the rules – and slowly changed from 20th century garb to faintly medieval with fantasy overtone garb.

2) They run thru the ‘forest’, are chased by a monster, and eventually arrive at a castle where they are thrown into jail to wait for the Grand Vizier to greet them.

3) They are escorted to their lodgings – pair off and relax. In #2 and #3 there is time for each person to introduce themselves to the group.

4) They get ‘training’ clothes – so they are now completely ‘in’ the period. Things look much better when everyone is dressed in period – re-enactors know this from experience! You believe more when you are dressed right.

5) The first ‘test’ is a training exercise where they must aim huge crossbows up and over a brush ‘wall’ to ‘kill’ straw men on the far side. Note that so far the ‘tests’ have been fantasy period appropriate – another cool thing. It’s like Survivor when it first started – the tests fit the times! Bonnie is chosen as the ‘top’ – and kneels convincingly at the feet of the ‘trainer’ to get her badge. Cool. The 3 people in the team with the lowest scores must ‘face’ the fates.

6) If I had a complaint – and of course I’d tell you if I did – it’s the Fates. The group marches to the hall of the Fates – 3 beautiful women who are stern in expression. They announce that the person to be banished will be determined in 2 steps. Step 1 – a contest – the winner is exempt. Step 2 – the remaining paladins vote off the ‘loser’. This is where I have a problem. Allowing the paladins to choose who goes and who stays is going to quickly degenerate into a test of Alliances. Not value, not skill – but alliances. Bummer. But that is from someone who would probably always get voted off the island. (me)

7) The next day there is another ‘exercise’ – this one a jousting mock-up with the Paladins on horseback forced to fire arrows, throw spears, hit jousting targets, and smash a skull. Cool – and seriously hard to do, even if they do hold the horse steady while you shoot the arrows. The loser is the best horse-woman in the field – quickly voted off the island. We are now down 2 women – so what started off as a field of 5 guys and 7 women is now 5 and 5.

8) Now the plot thickens. The Paladins meet the Queen earlier in the day, and are pleased to realize that she is very much on their side. Asking the people of the ‘world’ to make sure the Paladins are comfortable. She even comes out to watch the exercise and jousting tournament – and she joins them for dinner after the meeting with the Fates. At dinner – she is suddenly poisoned quite convincingly!


I can’t wait for next week just to see what devilish stunt they will pull out of their fantasy hats!

Signing off – the Soup Lady.




Napoleon’s Elba – More Dancing, More Food, More Fun – Part 2

To catch up – do read Part 1 of our Elba Weekend first – but to quickly recap – we were invited to be part of a grand ball held in Napoleon’s Honor on Elba – the 200th anniversary of his first ball there. An opportunity we just couldn’t miss! So we didn’t. We went with full period dress – expecting to have a ball – and a ball we had.

The weekend started well – First up – period theatre attended by Paulina Bonaparte, Napoleon’s sister who visited him on the island. She is ‘played’ to perfection by Irina Mishanina a lovely Russian lady with more changes of clothes than I have birds in my yard. Glorious, stately, and very nice. I’m pleased we had a chance to get to know her.

The theatre building was built under the orders of Napoleon, and finished just one month before his daring flight back to France. I can’t say that the performances were worth writing about – but Ben, our very British host who is currently living in Italy, did his best to explain audience behavior during the period. As we are seated in a box seat – we are allowed to visit other boxes – Victor even went to greet Paulina, but got too embarrassed to say anything to her! There is much flirting, waving of fans, and catcalls from the ‘floor’, particularly if one of the men in a box takes off his waistcoat. Simply not done!

After the theatre we had a light dinner (lack of seats was hard on old legs – but I scored one of the 5 tables for 4 that were provided – and we quickly became a group of 8) – and then 2 hours of period dancing under the stars. While onlookers could have joined us – they didn’t. Everyone dancing – and there were almost 155 of us – all period appropriately dressed. Victor was definitely the most dashing in his Marin de la Garde outfit. There were a smattering of other soldiers, many well-dressed ladies, and lots of music, laughter, and fun.

Saturday started early with us getting on a bus to tour the very tiny island. We visited Napoleon’s ‘summer’ house – built-in just 3 months. Perched high on a hill overlooking the main town of Elba, it was small, compact – and hot. Very, very, hot. I was relieved when we were summoned back to the bus for the ride to lunch.

Lunch was a period picnic – sailcloth spread on the ground in a lovely home on a far corner of the island. This was the location, and the house where Napoleon, ever the showman, spent his first night on Elba. He wanted to make a grand entrance into the main city – and needed to ‘freshen’ up after the fairly long voyage. Rumor has it that he spent his last night on Elba there as well.

We sipped champagne, chatted about this and that, waved our fans, and generally relaxed in the shade. My favorite part – meeting other guests! People came from everywhere to attend the event – including Austria, Australia, England, France, Germany. Malta, Russia, and Canada. Ok – we were the only 4 from Canada – out of the 155 – but hey – we looked good.

Back to the hotel for naps (I went swimming), a lovely but too quick dinner, and then to the Grand Ball. Held in the Ballroom of Napoleon’s ‘Palazzo’ turned museum – it was a tiny space for such a large number of guests. This was compounded by the fact that at the last-minute – the organizers were informed that the huge late night dinner spread could not be placed in the Museum proper, but had to go in 1/3 of the already small ballroom. But never mind – we were there to dance, and dance we would.

Many of the women sported trains – some longer than others – so watch your feet was pretty much the rule. The musicians were talented, the dance master tried his best to remind us of the steps required, and the company was simply too much fun. Even though I wore my ball gown, I frequently danced as a man – which just means to the left of the ladies – the steps being exactly the same. Given the heat – I’m glad I wore my silk dress. Victor as usually looked dashing – but found the heat pretty oppressive (two layers of heavy wool over his cotton shirt) and took frequent breaks.

During one of which he danced with ‘Paulina’ at the bequest of the photographer. You can check out the pictures all over Facebook – I think everyone but me got a photo!

Try following this link for pictures:

I danced every dance – Victor and I admired the work required to create all the food, and I slugged down water. At some point during the evening there was a thunderstorm to end all thunderstorms – which occasioned much oohing and ahhing. Lucky for us -we grabbed a taxi home just as the dance ended – otherwise we’d have been soaked and wool takes a really long time to dry! Others were less lucky – either they walked ‘home’ in the rain – or had to wait over 2 hours for a taxi. Timing is everything.

Sunday morning dawned bright and clear – as if the thunderstorm had never happened.  Our hotel provided breakfast – and while it wasn’t the most amazing feast – the coffee was delicious, and I was able to get 2, 3 ever 4 cappuccinos! And most fun – other people we’d met were also eating breakfast there – so we had pleasant company.

The plan on Sunday was to sail on ‘La Grace’ – a completely wonderful new boat designed to look exactly like a 200-year-old sailboat. 2 masts, tons of sails, and hemp lines running everywhere and a crew of at least 2 dozen seamen – we’re talking serious sailboat.

There are 3 sailings to choose from – I convince Victor to sign up for the last – late afternoon sailing. You are more likely to have a breeze, the sky is likely to be glorious, and most importantly – there are likely to be fewer takers – so more chance to take a turn at the helm.

Arduina and Michel take the multiple sailings seriously – including acting the part of parents saying good-bye from the dock as a younger couple wave madly from on-board!

We arrive on the dock about 30 minutes before time to sail – to an adoring crowd keen to get pictures with the gloriously dressed men and women. Who knew I’d married a peacock? Well Victor was definitely the hit of the parade. Literally everyone was keen to be photographed with the brave solider – and of course the solider was pretty keen to pose. I helped by holding on to purses, umbrellas, and light jackets while their owners snapped away to their heart’s content.

Eventually we wave good-bye to our adoring fans and are ‘piped’ on board to be greeted by the captain. We cast off – ‘motor’ around to the center of the harbor – and then – raise the sails and sail off into the sunset. A nice breeze gives us a solid headway – and we pose for picture after picture. I do get my chance at the helm, Victor gets to pose holding the lines – and we even get to watch some of the braver re-enactors climb to crows nest. Not sure I’d try that – definitely not in my dress.

A fight breaks out between 2 of the crew members – to the delight of the guests. Words, Knives, and Swords fly – and the winner is declared. I’m a bit surprised that the captain didn’t call both fighters to task – but then again – this isn’t really 1814!

All good things – including great weekends – must end. And we sail back into the harbor to a welcoming crowd of onlookers. Our group of 6 makes our way – in period dress – to a near-by fish restaurant to relax, de-compress – and enjoy more delicious food. And of course – after dinner – there’s a must stop at an ice-cream parlor. I did mention that the ice cream on Elba is outstanding.

Tomorrow it’s a reverse of our trip in – but with more luggage since 2 of our friends decide to join us in our car for the 2.5-hour trip to Florence. A wonderful weekend with great friends, fine food, super dancing – and tons of fun.

I loved Elba. Probably will never go back – there’s just much else to see in the world – but I’m glad I got to visit this tiny island. And I totally understand why Napoleon was really glad to leave!

Signing off – The Soup Lady