Weekly Wilson - Blog of Author Connie C. Wilson

Welcome to WeeklyWilson.com, where author/film critic Connie (Corcoran) Wilson avoids totally losing her marbles in semi-retirement by writing about film (see the Chicago Film Festival reviews and SXSW), politics and books—-her own books and those of other people. You'll also find her diverging frequently to share humorous (or not-so-humorous) anecdotes and concerns. Try it! You'll like it!

Category: travel (Page 2 of 12)

Christmas in Chicago: Happenings in and Around the City at the Holidays

I came in to Chicago to pick up the daughter (from Denver) to drive her back to the Quad Cities, but good friend Mary Gerace had some other festive ideas for things to do in and around the city, including the free Chicago Youth Symphony concert at Chicago’s Symphony Hall, the Tuba Christmas concert at the Palmer House, and a performance of The Assassination Theater, which purports to prove who really murdered JFK (ending soon at the Museum of Television and other such things.

TubaXmas 013The Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra performance, which was free, was just as good as when I saw them perform with Ben Folds a month or so ago. No Ben, this time, but just as great a performance, with a tour de force performance from a young trumpeter who was voted the 2nd best in the U.S. in a competition.

TubaXmas 057Then came 266 tubas of all ages and sizes. Performers come from all over the state (the youngest was 10 years old) and outnumber those at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Tubas don’t often get to carry the melody, so it was fun to hear that many of them playing well-known Christmas carols. The audience was encouraged to sing along to the second verse. The house was packed. We had to arrive by 9 a.m. to get colored wrist bands or risk being in the “spill-over” room watching it on a TV feed. This was the 30th year for the event.

Then there were the lovely Christmas trees, including the one in Millennium Park barely a mile down Michigan from me, and the one in the Palmer House Lobby.

And, of course, Water Tower Place beckoned with shopping galore. Last night, when I was there, they planned to be open until midnight! Christmas Eve, demonstrators plan to demonstrate on the Miracle Mile, which the shops along there have claimed has cost them at least 30% of their normal business.

Last, but not least, I received word a while ago that I was one of the Finalists for the title of Best Indie Thriller of 2015 and had been named one of the Top 100 from among 12,000+ entries. I was sworn to secrecy until the newest issue of “Shelf Unbound” online magazine was published, however, and the Dec./Jan. issue is up now. I think “KHAKI=KILLER” is on page 58 (or 60?). Here is the link:

You can see the issue here: http://issuu.com/shelfunbound/docs/shelf_unbound_december-january_2015

Khaki = Killer is shown on page 58 or 60.

Lastly, MERRY CHRISTMAS and HAPPY NEW YEAR to one and all, and if you are of a different religious persuasion, as our Christmas card said, “Merry Everything.”

Book People Carrying “The Color of Evil” Series

Book People bookstore in Austin, Texas, was recently named the Number One Independent Bookstore in the United States by “Publishers’ Weekly.”

The Color of Evil series on the shelves of Book People in Austin, TX.

The Color of Evil series on the shelves of Book People in Austin, TX.

I met with store manager Michael McCarthy the day before Thanksgiving, and all 3 entries in “The Color of Evil” series (“The Color of Evil,” “Red Is for Rage,” “Khaki=Killer”) are now on the shelves of Book People.

The book will also be featured on the large table up front, dubbed “the Whale” for 2 weeks and inclusion in the e-catalogue and a book signing may be on the horizon, once we spend more time in Austin.

Playa del Carmen, The Mayan Palace on Nov. 9th, 2015

Beach at the Royal Mayan.

Beach at the Royal Mayan.

The weather here is beautiful and no rain (so far). Forecast does suggest tomorrow might bring showers, but the past 3 days have been great.

On our way to dinner at the Royal Mayan.

On our way to dinner at the Royal Mayan.

When we arrived at Cancun International Airport, however, we were told it had been raining for 4 days straight, and the humidity in the air confirmed that.DSCN1037

On our way to dinner at the Royal Mayan.

We went to the beach today, rather than the pool. However, when it became unbearably hot, we joined a volleyball game in progress and played 3 games, all of which our team lost. (Apparently, I can barely serve overhand).DSCN1023

Another lovely day, with authentic Mexican food this evening at a poolside restaurant.

Playa del Carmen Gives Illusion of Summer for a Few More Days

As part of my birthday cruise in July, I negotiated a week on land, free of charge. I assumed that week would be near the embarcation point (Barcelona), but my husband took the call and selected Playa del Carmen from the list of resorts that RCI would front us a free week on land.

Mayan Palace, Mexican Riviera, largest swimming pool in Latin America.

Mayan Palace, Mexican Riviera, largest swimming pool in Latin America.

So, here we are in sunny Mexico, where the preceding 4 days before we landed were rainy. It was extremely humid when we landed and we learned that the inflated price we had paid for transportation to the Mayan Palace outside of Cancun would have been complimentary, had we identified as RCI owners. However, the main point is that we arrived, safe and sound, and spent today (our first full day) lounging poolside in 85+ weather.

Craig lounging poolside at the Mayan Palace.

Craig lounging poolside at the Mayan Palace.

Last night, on the recommendation of other vacationers, we ate in the Italian restaurant on the grounds. The special was lobster, shrimp and steak, and it was very good. The restaurant was so chilly that my glasses fogged up from the extreme difference in temperature from the heat outside to the A/C inside.

The Italian restaurant within the Mayan Palace.

The Italian restaurant within the Mayan Palace.

The pool here is said to be the largest in Latin America, and that is not hard to believe when you walk along it, as it seems close to 2 football fields long. This area has several resorts (The Grand Luxe is another) built up in the same area and, according to those who own time shares, the place has grown by leaps and bounds. The beach here is also very nice, although not as nice, for my tastes, as the white sands of Cancun proper.

Looks almost like a nude pool, but it's an optical illusion.

Looks almost like a nude pool, but it’s an optical illusion.

It is supposed to stay sunny and warm until Wednesday, so the pool will, no doubt, beckon until then, when a rain shower is predicted and the town of  Playa del Carmen may beckon.

Craig figuring the tip after a great dinner.

Craig figuring the tip after a great dinner.

Michael Moore’s New Film “Where to Invade Next” Steals Good Ideas of Other Nations

One of just three showings in the country of Michael Moore’s new documentary, “Where to Invade Next?” took place in Chicago during the 41st Annual Chicago International Film Festival on Friday, October 23, 2015.

What has lured Michael Moore, the documentary genre’s most entertaining rabble-rouser, back to feature films after a six-year hiatus? Only the future of his country, naturally. Where To Invade Next is a light-hearted, informative, and subversive comedy in which Moore, playing the role of “invader,” visits a host of nations (Tunisia, Iceland, Germany, France, Italy, Slovenia, et. al.) to learn how the U.S. could  improve in coping with similar problems. The director of Fahrenheit 9/11 and Bowling for Columbine is back with this hilarious, eye-opening call to arms. Where To Invade Next demonstrates that the solutions to America’s problems already exist in the world; those solutions are just waiting to be co-opted by the U.S..

The newest documentary offering from Moore—whose films have been among the most profitable documentaries ever produced—won the Founders’ Prize at this year’s Chicago Film Festival. Moore was present to accept it in person on October 23rd.Michael Moore in Chicago.

Attired in his usual rumpled just-fell-out-of-bed baseball cap, tennis shoes and casual gear, Moore looked over the group assembled at the AMC Theater on Friday, October 23rd at 7:00 p.m. and, noting the balcony, said, “It’s like aerobics to get up there.” He proceeded to say this was the first time a Midwestern audience had seen the film, as it had previously shown in the Hamptons and at the Toronto Film Festival, where it was widely praised (only 3 showings, to date).

As the film has not yet opened wide, the capsule above will suffice as a sneak peek, while the Q&A he offered to filmgoers on Friday, October 23rd, gives a look at Moore’s mindset now, 26 years after his film “Roger and Me” about the crash of the Detroit auto industry was filmed with the $58,000 Moore won in a settlement from “Mother Jones” magazine following his termination as its editor (for putting a fired auto-worker on the cover, rebelling against orders not to do so).MichaelMoore2015 004

Q1: How can we in the United States get back our greatness?
A1: Sometimes it’s as simple as voting for a guy from Chicago whose middle name is Hussein. Seventy-eight % of this country is composed of women and minorities. You can turn off the angry white guy vote and concentrate on what this country is becoming.

Q2: (from Chaz Ebert, widow of Roger Ebert, functioning as moderator) Your film seems very patriotic…
A2: Will they say that on Fox News? (Laughs) I get death threats all the time. I get death threats and I’m happy to get them, because that means I can prepare. An AK47 went off in Rockford from some guy who wanted to assassinate me. His assassination list included Hillary Clinton, Janet Reno, and Rosie O’Donnell: a list of lesbians and me! I’m proud, but I’m puzzled.

Q3: You seem to be a one-man band. How much autonomy do you have in making your films and releasing your films?
A3: “Bowling for Columbine” was a Canadian release. “Sicko” was the first film  made with American money out of the gate. Before then, from 1989 to 2007, money didn’t come to me. Then, the Weinsteins and Paramount got into distributing my films. Now, these are entities that I don’t believe in. Money is the most important thing to them. I’ve done nothing but make them money—half a billion dollars worldwide. What is that old saying: “A capitalist will sell you the rope to hang yourself if it makes them a buck.” For this film, my agent broke the Number One Rule for agents, which is not to invest in your clients’ films and his company loaned me the money to make the film.

Q4: You and Steve James (“Hoop Dreams”) started showing the industry that a documentary could be entertaining. Do you have any advice today for documentary filmmakers?
A4: I hate the term documentarian. It’s just a film. We need to honor that. We need to tell a story, as with “An Inconvenient Truth” or Errol James’ work. I’m always making this for the audience. This isn’t finished without them. I’m just their stand-in. It’s just really not what I wanted to do with this body (laughs), making myself 50 feet high. I didn’t make my first documentary until the age of 35. Because of Roger (Ebert0 going to the mat for us, the world of making documentaries changed. Both Gene and Roger teamed up in 1989 and supported me and Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing.” I was discovered by Roger at Telluride. He was supposed to be going to the Opening Night film, “The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover.” They put up opposite the opening night movie in a tiny theater at 1:00 p.m. (the Nugget). But Roger and I found each other at the food in the middle of the street. I begged him to come see my film and he seemed to be offended that I’d pushed so hard, as this was its world premiere, but when he came, he looked at me and said, “Don’t say a word. I’m only here because there was a crazy look in your eyes. Ebert took this picture of me (my first fan picture) with his little camera. The next day, in the Chicago paper, he wrote that “Roger & Me” was “One of the best films I’ve seen in the last 10 years.” So, I really owe a debt of gratitude to Roger Ebert, your late husband.

Q5: Why did you choose to make this movie?
A5: People would say to me, “You point out all the problems we have, but you never point out the solutions.” A documentary is to give information. I wanted to show what’s wrong in the U.S. but none of the film is shot in the United States, except for the archival footage. And I wanted to pick the flowers, not the weeds. It’s been really well received. People say, “It’s a happier film. Mike’s in a better mood…” I think it’s going to reach a lot of people. Obviously, there are 20% on the far right who will never like anything I do. I think I didn’t make this film for a long time because it’s so unbelievable when you go out and find out how other countries deal with the same problems we face. Check my website for factual accuracy.

Michael Moore and producers on the Red Carpet on Oct. 23 in Chicago.

Michael Moore and producers on the Red Carpet on Oct. 23 in Chicago.

Q6: What will your next film be?
A6: I’ve written 2 screenplays and my next film may be a fiction film.

Q7: You visit Germany in the film. What did you think about Germany’s austerity, vis-a-vis Greece?
A7: There’s no Paradise among these countries. My personal opinion is that Germany has been a little bit harsh on Greece, but it’s amazing what the Germans are doing to take in refugees. They are doing some of the most amazing things, including teaching their young people about the Holocaust. They actually have little plaques embedded in the sidewalks outside the homes that were confiscated by Nazis in World War II giving the names of the original Jewish owners. They are not trying to keep their past secret, they are trying to change. If they can change their way of thinking around, certainly we can; we’re not Nazis. I don’t want that to be our new national motto: “We’re not Nazis! We can do better!” (laughs)

Q8: You support the union and there are union logos at the bottom of the screen at the end of the film. Are your films all staffed by union members?
A8: All my films have been made with union workers. During the film on “Capitalism”, I was finally able to convince the camera and sound people to join their unions. I’m a big supporter of people joining unions. There is a tip of the hat in the film to May Day and Chicago, because  Chicago in 1886  was the birthplace of the union movement.

Michael Moore, recipient of the Founders' Award, at the 51st Annual Chicago International Film Festival.

Michael Moore, recipient of the Founders’ Award, at the 51st Annual Chicago International Film Festival.

Palma, Majorca, Spain: Last Mediterranean Stop

Our last day on the one-week birthday cruise to Spain, Italy and France was a stop at Palma, Majorca. (*Note: I’ve seen it spelled as Mallorca, as well.)

Majorca

Majorca

I had always heard the British talk about vacationing there. When I was a People-to-People student at homestays in England (Chislehurst in Kent, Weston-Super-Mare and Birmingham), the locals raved on about how lovely it was on the island of Majorca.

2005 train that traverses the island.

2005 train that traverses the island.

I knew that Michael Douglas and his wife had a place there and asked our guide about it. He said that the place was far away from the only large city on the island (Palma, population 400,000) and that Douglas’ first wife, Deandra, was the one who really liked the vacation home.  His current wife, the Welsh actress Catherine Zeta-Jones, does not like the place as well. According to our guide, the couple (Michael and Deandra) split usage of the home in half and, usually, Michael ends up in hotels, rather than the home he purchased with and for his first wife.

Heart of Palma, Majorca.

Heart of Palma, Majorca.

In order to tour Majorca we had to walk quite a ways to the center of town. It is not possible to drive the tour bus into the heart of the city because the streets are too narrow. In fact, the sidewalks were little more than a foot or two wide, yet cars zoomed down the narrow street putting all of us in peril as we walked to the heart of the city, where a small Cathedral greeted us. 2015-07-24 20.48.52

There is a train that was built in 2005 that you can take around the island. It is the most popular tourist attraction, we were told, and goes through several tunnels that have been built on the island, cutting through the mountains.  2015-07-24 22.39.46

We stopped at a cafe in the heart of the city, right in front of the Cathedral and where the train goes through, and had a Coca Cola and a beer.  The couple seated next to us began chatting with us. He was an I.T. guy from Sweden and she was an elementary school teacher. They used to vacation in Fort Lauderdale, but now have actually bought a place in Majorca, instead.

View from the train en route around the island.

View from the train en route around the island.

Craig said that Majorca was his favorite spot on the tour. That means he preferred it to Rome, Pisa, Naples, Florence, Cannes, Monte Carlo, Monaco, Barcelona, Munich and Pompeii. 2015-07-24 21.24.18

Majorca was not ungodly hot. There was a lovely breeze blowing and it was, indeed, a rustic vacation spot, although it seemed rather sleepy to me, in the same way that Hawaii seems sleepy after  you’ve thoroughly enjoyed the beaches and the beautiful vistas.2015-07-21 01.21.31

4th & 5th Days at Sea: Mediterranean Cruise

2015-07-23 00.37.58

At Cagney’s Steakhouse on board the “Epic” cruise ship on July 23, 2015, on my birthday.

Fourth day was my birthday. We opted to sleep in and miss Florence ( been there/done that.) Heard the crowds were horrible and it was hotter than hell from those who journeyed in, which meant a 4-hour round-trip bus ride.We stayed onboard and used the casino. I was given a $25 free chip to bet (on one hand) which I immediately lost. Nestor, the bartender, set us up with free champagne in honor of the day, which was very nice, but we had the UBP—Unlimited Beverage Package—part of Norwegian’s “perks” to lure us aboard, so the “free” drink would have been “free,” anyway. (Thanks, anyway, Nestor!)2015-07-23 15.11.23

After resting up from the onslaught, we took off on July 24 at 7:15 a.m. for an 8-hour tour of Cannes, Monte Carlo and Monaco.2015-07-23 15.12.34

The first part of that statement strikes fear and loathing into my heart; the latter part (Cannes, Monte Carlo, Monaco) has yielded the pictures you see here.2015-07-23 15.27.58

I think this was my favorite stop of all, with the possible exception of the Pompeii tour (which was only 4 hours long.) Craig holds out for Majorca as his favorite, but that’s still coming up in a post for another day.2015-07-23 15.20.41

So, without further ado, here are some pictures of both the area of Cannes (we had to take small boats in to the port…tinders), Monte Carlo and Monaco.2015-07-23 15.18.03

The lavish casino you see was used to film “Casino Royale.” It should be noted that we saw Prince Albert go by in a limousine and our tour guide, Lucy, (whom no one could understand) was in complete awe, as she had never seen Prince Albert.

A "Winner! Winner! Chicken Dinner! slot machine in Monte Carlo.

A “Winner! Winner! Chicken Dinner! slot machine in Monte Carlo.

We told her to invite him onto the bus and tell him to “leave the driving to us.” (Ha!)

Third Day at Sea: Rome

Our first day at sea was spent cruising. Day two found us in either Pisa or Pompeii after docking in Naples.2015-07-21 15.17.05

On day three, we docked in Civitavecchia, Italy at 6 a.m.2015-07-23 15.03.10

Two hours later, our tour of the city left by bus, facing a one and 1/2 hour trip to the city from the docks (and a one and 1/2 hour trip back). (I just LOVE those early morning tours!)2015-07-21 15.14.48

Mainly, we drove past the sights that Rome conjures up, because the wait time to get inside the Coliseum, for instance, was 2 hours. (Only later, after our return, did I learn about the passes one could have purchased in advance that would have let you cut to the front of all lines, but they were primarily for 2 and 3 days, which would not have worked for those of us on an 8 and 1/2 hour tour of which 4 hours was spent on a bus).2015-07-21 15.16.02

After the extensive, exhausting trek through Pompeii (Day 2), the bus was quite welcome in the 100 degree heat. It was also very humid. 2015-07-21 15.31.52

I did some shopping with a fellow tour member, Deborah Matthews of Washington, D.C., and we were able to find a leather goods shop for souvenirs. We also tried the delicious dessert that our tour guide, Luisiana, went on and on about, calling us “my family” and using the phrase “you must know” to mean, “you should be aware that.”2015-07-21 18.35.27

I enjoyed seeing the area where the chariot races took place in “Ben Hur,” and the window from which a new Pope is announced. We were told by our guide that visiting the Treasures of the Vatican Museum would take at least a week and getting in to see the Pieta or anything in the Vatican requires extensive security, (plus, you have to be wearing something that covers both your shoulders and your knees.) Since my husband had on shorts, that was probably out in the first place.2015-07-21 14.48.16

I spent a period of days in Rome way back when, so the failure to be able to tromp around some more in 100 degree heat didn’t bother me at all.

Barcelona

Barcelona

Pompeii: Buried in 79 A.D.

`We arrived in port at Naples and some went in to Naples (reporting  it 2015-07-20 19.51.38a fairly dirty and not-that-attractive industrial city). Our guide, Carmine, carefully explained the lay-out of the city, including the small doors (approximately 4′ 9″) where gladiators were housed. (One of the corpses found during the excavation was a wealthy woman who had, perhaps, paid to spend the night with a gladiator, which was a common occurrence.)2015-07-20 19.37.24

We opted to visit ancient Pompeii, a city that was buried by the volcanic ash from Mt. Vesuvius in 79 A.D. The inhabitants of the city did not die from lava, but from rocks thrown by the volcano and from the gas.

2015-07-20 19.22.03

Many, in fact, left the city after the initial eruption only to return and die there at night. August 24, 79 AD was the date of the eruption. The violence of the eruption was such that the top part of the volcano collapsed, forming the present broad caldera.2015-07-20 19.34.21

The eruption devastated the entire coast between Herculaneum and Stabia for 3 days and the description of it has come down to us from letters written by Pliny the Younger and sent to Tacitus, to describe for him the death of his uncle, Pliny the Elder, the Admiral of the Fleet of Misenum.2015-07-20 20.00.39

Pompeii remained buried under a layer of ash more than 6 meters deep for more than 2 centuries. In fact the white house pictured at the bottom of this post was the residence of the man who bought the land, not realizing it was the former site of the disaster, which buried alive thousands of people. The house is to be preserved as it was. 2015-07-20 19.40.27

A display of the discoveries made by archaeologists centuries later were on tour at the Field Museum about 5 years ago. It is also true that some of the excavators died from pockets of gas trapped underground, during their excavation.2015-07-20 19.45.45This tour lasted only 4 hours, but was rated a 3, which meant lots of walking in 104 degree heat over uneven surfaces and uphill, with little or no shade.  We also had to hop on stones to cross ancient Pompeii streets, which was a little bit like the ice floe scene from Uncle Tom’s Cabin, hopping from ice floe to ice floe. This was done because ancient Pompeii had no sewer system and residents used the stones in the middle of the open-air sludge to keep from having to wade through human feces.2015-07-20 20.13.12

Birthday Cruise to Italy, France & Spain Concludes

 

The Norwegian "Epic" (holds 6,000 travelers).

The Norwegian “Epic” (holds 6,000 travelers).

Our trip to Spain, Italy and France began with a journey on Lufthansa to Munich and Barcelona. Then we set off on the ship pictured above, which held roughly 6,000 people (5,000 tourists and 1,000 staff) and is the 4th largest at sea.

I would have posted as we traveled to Pompeii, Rome, Florence, Cannes, Monte Carlo, Monaco and Mallorca, but I only had the wireless on the ship to use, so I could not upload the pictures, which I’ll do now with some comment, for my first post(s) since the “Rolling Stones” on the Fourth of July in Indianapolis.

I am still recommending to one and all that they celebrate their birthday MONTH, not just their birth day. If you live to be 100, that only gives you 100 days of specialness. If you live to be 100 and celebrate the entire month in some small way, you exponentially expand your chances for fun (100 x 31 = 3100).

Give it some thought. It doesn’t have to be a BIG celebration (although this one was); it could be something as simple as having a Starbucks or a massage or some special “perk” that you allow yourself to enjoy.

So far, it’s been working out well for me, and I will conclude by listening to Paul McCartney sing from 7:45 p.m. to 10 p.m. at Lollapalooza in Chicago and by taking delivery of 2 new couches there.

My thanks to all who wished me well on my “day(s)” and please be aware that I hope you have as happy a day/week/month as I have had.

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