Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Afternoon at The Grand Budapest Hotel

Even though we might like to travel all summer long, we don’t always have the time or opportunity to do so. In that case I offer a great way to travel this summer by going as far as your local theatre where you might still be able to catch The Grand Budapest Hotel. (Since the movie came out in late March, it should be out in DVD soon.)

Warning: May contain spoilers.

When I went to see the film, all I knew was that it had gotten good reviews, that a hotel was part of the setting, and that it included some oddball characters. As is often the case, I was quite glad I didn’t know any more than that, for each scene offered an unexpected surprise. It included a welcome cast of actors, many of whom are quite well known. It featured Ralph Fiennes as Gustave M., but when I walked into the theatre, I didn’t even know that much. I had such a busy spring I didn’t even notice the film’s promotion!

I loved many features of this film. It was clever. It was surprising. It was funny. It was one of those movies that makes me think: I wish I’d been clever enough to write this script. But from the travel point of view, the film is luscious because it offers so many fabulous settings starting with a mountainous European country that was “formerly known as Zubrowska.” (This is not to be confused with Zubrowka, which is an herb-flavored vodka.)

The hotel is a fabulous vacation setting. From its brilliant terrace, the hotel commands a view of wondrous mountains on three sides. It’s in such a beautifully isolated spot that people use a funicular to reach the entrance. The inside of the hotel is another wonder. It has a lobby that calls for high life and thermal baths to soothe the roughest customer, lush rooms to please the pickiest millionaire, and grand staircases that carry you farther into the scene and into the imagination.

To my surprise, however, much of the film takes place outside the hotel. The characters get themselves into such scrapes that they have to visit many other settings. They have to take long train rides, brave border crossings, and improvise transportation methods. One character even hides in a huge museum complete with sarcophagi. All these spaces look wonderful on a large screen: the lonely cities, the silent houses, the long, narrow lanes leading into mysterious ways of the heart and mind.

The international cast doubles this travel setting by presenting a smorgasbord of both Eastern and Western nationalities, lovely accents, and multiple languages. When Gustave H. is at his lowest point, he even calls on concierges from famous hotels in other parts of Europe; within moments we travel from Italy to France to England and back to Eastern Europe again.

By the time I left the theatre, I felt I’d been on a trip of the finest sort. I’d seen looming mountains topped with snow and gone over dangerous bridges. I’d enjoyed all varieties of both interior and exterior spaces. I’d gone back and forth between so many settings that I found the interior of the hotel strangely comforting even when it was the site of violent outbursts.

In short The Grand Budapest Hotel is a perfect remedy for an afternoon in which you might rather be somewhere far away. Wes Anderson’s film has the power to take you to places you’d never dreamed of, but most of them (not the jail!) are places you’d really like to go. This summer I’ll be doing some European traveling myself, but if a rainy day curtails my activities, I’ll head straight to the theatre, eager to enjoy this fine film all over again.

Note: If you'd rather travel via novels, my latest murder mystery, Island Casualty, takes place in Greece. My latest romance, Thai Twist, takes place in Thailand. http://www.drransdellnovels.com

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Summer Travel Advice

For some lucky students, graduation is around the corner. For me it's almost that good too--it's summer vacation! The question is: where's the best place to travel to? I would usually answer that with "Any place!" I enjoy living in Tucson, but when I have free time, my vagabond feet yearn for uncharted territory. The problem is this: we don't have unlimited time or resources, so how can we decide where to travel to?

Dun Laoghaire, Ireland

For some of my friends, vacation means lying on the beach. There are lots of good places for this. There are plenty of good beaches in Florida, the Caribbean, the East Coast, the West Coast, Hawaii, France, Italy, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Ireland, and Greece--and those are only the ones I know about!

What are your own beach suggestions?

I'm partial to Greece because the scenery is so striking. Many of the beaches are rocky. The blue waters are deep and clear (although sometimes they come complete with jellyfish). One of the many advantages to "beaching" around Greece is that you can base yourself in one town on one island and explore different beaches every day. Instead of moving around a lot, you can appreciate all the beauty that you can imagine. There's a wonderful pleasure in getting up in the morning and having no goal more strenuous than heading to the beach!

Phuket, Thailand

In ISLAND CASUALTY, my new Andy Veracruz mystery that will be published next month, Andy goes to Greece for that reason--to have a chance to relax. He wants to visit Rachel as well, so he's hoping to have some flirty fun, but what he really needs to do is simply sit on the beach and have peaceful ocean swims. As you might guess, things won't work out so well for him, but his intentions are good!

In the book, the island Andy visits is called Amiros, but while I was composing, I had Kalymnos, a small island in the Dodecanese, in the back of my mind. He erroneously thinks he's going to an island paradise.

What would be your own favorite paradise?

South Coast, Sri Lanka

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