Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Public Service Announcement: Kingdom Hearts II

Today I want to talk to you about a very big concern of mine, one that will soon be consuming the internet.

Kingdom Hearts II.

For those of you unfamiliar with what Kingdom Hearts is, go upstairs. Your children are downloading fansubbed anime. Ask them. They know.

On the chance they don't, KH is a collaboration between Disney Games and Square Enix. Square is one of the giants of the video game industry. They're responsible for the Final Fantasy series and that unfortunate attempt at a feature film Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. Someone came up with the idea to combine Disney characters and Final Fantasy characters. A world where you—playing as the plucky hero Sora, and accompanied by Donald Duck and Goofy—travel through various disney movies, occasionally running into Square characters, on a quest to... uh... stop bad things from happening and find Mickey Mouse. (If it sounds implausible, don't worry, the majority of gamers thought so, too. Somehow the game pulls it off.)

Despite that it won't be released in North America until March 28, inputting its title into the search command on on March 5 yielded 2207 results.

Obviously, the NA release is only going to work fans up into more of a frenzy. Sure, they'll be a brief respite while they all have to take time out to play the game, but soon after they'll return with even more fanworks. Not to mention blogged accounts of their progress and reactions to the gameplay, plot, etc.

So why does the bastard love child of two of the biggest entertainment coporations in the world—Disney and Square Enix/Sony—hold so many of us captive?

Many people will argue it's the nostalgia of beloved Disney movies mixed with the excitement of a Square game or the plot or how watching Sora jump up and down is hysterical or something else along those lines.

While that's a definite factor, there's something all of those solutions overlooks. Or, rather, someone.

Cloud Strife. (If you just went "who?" don't worry, you probably weren't going to be ensnared by KH 2 anyway.)

Admit it. His very name makes you giggle like a 14 year old girl. You love him. It's ok, most of us were so completely blindsided by Advent Children that we forget how badly we wanted to take him out of our party and put someone useful in. You know, like FFVII with a FFX battle system. (Tidus = tanned Cloud on super-happy pills.)

My point is Cloud has an innate fandom. His love child with Vincent Valentine (no, I'm not sure who the mother was, but I bet it was all in vitro and done in an Enix Lab) shows up in KH and we all freak out. Because he looks cool and convinces us that they've taken the good traits from two characters to make one exceptionally badass one. Or something.

His natural born offspring—I suspect Tifa was the mother, but the hopeful can continue to think Aeirth—Sora bounds into our lives with giant shoes, goofy hair, and the magic of Disney that makes everything he does undeniably adorable. FFS, he makes me believe there's some kind of practicality in hitting things with a GIANT KEY.

(Oh, yes, Sora is Cloud's son. If you haven't realized that yet, you really need to pay more attention. Look at this hair. Either he's Cloud's kid or someone else has hair that stupid. Do you really want someone else to have hair that impossibly stupid? C'mon. Think about it. Look at his "best friend." Silver-haired, green-eyed kid who turns to the dark side because he went a little crazy with power. Instant Sephiroth, just add Jenova—I mean the witch from Sleeping Beauty.)

Don't deny it. Sora has the same weird, infectious likability that keeps people watching American Idol or making the pilgrammage to DLand. It sucks you in and makes you its bitch.

I have freely admitted that I like the little weirdo. Giant shoes and all. I can't explain why. It's like I have to like him because he makes me think of Cloud, who makes me think of FF7, which was like the only FF I ever bothered to play through. Plus, he's so damn adorable and that appeals to the KAWAII that Japan instilled in me as some form of survival mechanism. As soon as it's KAWAII, it's required I like it.

Ok, now let's say you're a cold soulless individual that can withstand cuteness. You realize the giant key is impractical, even kind of stupid. That the big shoes are goofy. Not cute. Just strange. You won't touch any of that happy Disney stuff with a ten-foot pole. And you hated FFVII. (Well, mainly because you don't want to be seen as obeying the "popular" voice of liking it.)

Disney hears you. And raises you two Jacks. Jack the Pumpkin King and Captain Jack Sparrow.

If that doesn't win you over, they go in for the kill. It has a TRON level.

If you still manage to escape being sucked in by the appeal of this game, I suggest you spend the next year living under a cyberspace rock. Because it will find you. You don't think Ninja Mickey is standing by to keyblade-whip all dissenters into submission?

Saturday, March 04, 2006

"Tell Us about Paris!" Day Five (Sunday)

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Waking up, KT and I finished what we had left to pack. My uncles and Doug met us in the lobby, where we went out to Demoulin Patisserie and picked up some quiche laurene for breakfast. I put a tarte chocolat, an eclair cafe and a pain au chocolat in a box to take back with me on the plane.

We ordered coffee from the hotel, drank it with our quiche, and enjoyed a quiet, calm breakfast together before KT and I had to check out and get in a cab for the Charles DeGuaille airport.

Parting ways at Terminal 2, I was once again alone to navigate the airports back to home. Everyone in CDG made sure to inform me that my passport was going to expire soon. They are very concerned that I can't return. I was reminded by at least three people.

And those guys with the semi-automatics who were patrolling the Eiffel Tower? They patrol inside the gate areas at CDG as well. Really unsettling to see those kinds of guns out in the open. It makes you wonder if something's about to happen that you really don't want to know about.

Friday, March 03, 2006

"Tell Us about Paris!" Day Four (Saturday)

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Well, Saturday for the main part was the day of disappointing food. Or it could have just been my mood. The weather was permanently overcast, and I always feel drained and easily irritated when I can't see the sun.

We were all a little late getting started on Saturday morning. KT, Doug and I agreed to meet Lyle & Jim at Hotel De Ville. All feeling a little hungry, we looked around for a place to have a petit dejeuner. We ended up at this place called Paul. Now, Paul was busy. Usually that's a sign of a good restaurant. Or at least a scene, you know, a place where people go to be seen being there.

Paul was neither of those. It was expensive, and it was not good. We paid more than what we would pay in our hotel to have coffee that tasted like it had been sitting around for hours. Ewww!

Because the service was super slow (not even the casual French service can explain it) we had to rush out and find my uncles. Once we'd met up, the group went into the BHV which is a department store near the Hotel De Ville. We looked around, and then made our way on the metro towards the Eiffel Tower.

It was a grey, dreary day, but worse than the rain was the wind. It kept turning our inexpensive umbrellas inside out.

Oh, and at the Eiffel Tower, they have Army guys with semi-automatics on patrol. It's eerie. You just want to walk up and go "can I have my picture taken with you because no one's going to believe me?" But they looked unapproachable. I don't think you're supposed to talk to the men with machine guns.

The private lift to Jules Verne was broken, so we waited outside to take one of the regular lifts up. Once inside, it's clear you've come to a very class place. Elegence in the decor, low voices, good taste and money all around.

The first time I went there, I was intimidated. I kept thinking someone was going to throw me out because I wasn't dressed well enough or didn't look that I had enough money to be there. But no, if you're paying, they'll serve you. But if you inconvienence them by... say, being in the bathroom when the appetizers come so they have to wait to perform their syncronized reveal, they get pissy with you. (Pissy is the best way to describe it, because it's that uptight displeasure that's not really called for.)

Ok. They got pissy when KT and I were in the bathroom instead of sitting at the table waiting for appetizers like we were 'supposed' to be.

Also? Women are specifically given menus that do not have the prices on them.

Anyway, since it's on the second level observation deck of the tower, it's a fanastic view—completely sheltered from the elements.

The first time I went to Jules Verne, the food was the best I'd ever tasted. Everything from appetizer to the coffee after dessert was indescrible.

This time... not so much. The appetizer (little poppy seed buns, one filled with crab and the other with lobster) were amazing. The dessert (a raspberry, chocolate and mousse cake with raspberry sherbet) was to die for. The coffee erased all thoughts of the "truck stop/continental breakfast at the Super 8" coffee we'd had at Paul.

But the entree of duck? My uncle makes better duck. The duck at Au Chenziot on Thursday night was better. Plus, the price that the meal came to this time was (per-person) almost triple what it was the last time we were there.

So, it was a bit of a let down for those of us who had been there before.

After Jules Verne, our run of not-so-great luck continued. Jim led us on a mapquest adventure to find a store called "All Things Eiffel." We located the store, only to discover it was closed on Saturdays.

After some debate over what do with the rest of our afternoon, we returned to the hotel to change our shoes/put on warmer tops, and then KT and I returned to Lafayette Galleries. The only time we used the subway on our own, and there's a protest of some kind outside at the Republique. No problems for us, other than some old French man trying to pick me up. Anyway, we made it to the Opera stop without any problems. Looked around and left as the stores were closing, the only success of our trip was me finding a souvenir for my friend Kim and KT purchasing striped gloves.

Returning to the hotel, we learned a restaurant that I wanted to return to couldn't fit us in until 11 pm. KT and I decided that since we had to leave the hotel at 11 am the next morning, that probably wasn't a good idea. (We wouldn't have been home until 2 am because that's how meals work in Paris.)

Instead we went to Barcane, which someone thought we might have ate at on the previous trip or considered eating at. It was...okay. It definitely wasn't Les Petits Marsailles.

After Barcane, Jim and Doug drug KT and I out to see the sights. Since it was our last night there, it was our last chance to see "The City of Lights."

Our plan was to see L'Arc De Triomphe and then walk back down the Champs Elysees towards a metro stop. We did, but on our way to the Arc, we were treated with the on-hour light show the lit up Eiffel Tower has. It's Vegas-Jackpot-Disco-Crazy. The tower strobes. It looks like it's celebrating or maybe high on extasy. It's brilliant in that way that makes you want to laugh at how overdone it is.

It reminded of the little tree we had on the bar at Christmas. It was strung with these rice lights that had a random pattern setting. Every once in a while it would hit what we could only describe as "jackpot disco" where the lights would all flash in a moving pattern. That's right, the Eiffel Tower was trumphed by our bar tree.

We also saw La Place Victor Hugo. It's very close to the Arc.

And the Arc... is huge. Everything in Paris is, actually. It's size makes it real in a way that reproductions at themeparks leave you feeling cheated. (My reaction to the Paris Hotel in Vegas? "The Eiffel Tower is bigger than that." Hell, I think the Tokyo Tower is bigger.)

It's humbling and inspiring at the same time.

The Champs Elysees was packed, everyone walking up and down. None of the stores were open, most had been or had just closed. But there's clubs and restaurants up and down the street, and a lot of people seemed to be doing what we were doing... just walking around taking it all in.

We caught the last train back to our hotel.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

"Tell Us about Paris!" Day Three (Friday)

Friday, February 17, 2006

Friday started with a phone call that jarred me from my sleep, as the phone was right next to my head. Jim was calling to inform us that Doug, the last member of the party, had arrived that morning. We kicked it into high gear to hastily get ready, then met them downstairs. Lyle was abstaining from the trip to Montmartre/Sacre Coeur, so it was the four of us who went seeking coffee and a little snack since Doug had just gotten off a plane.

We found this tiny little dive, playing MTV France, ordered our coffees and had a seat at the back of the room. When I say dive, I'm envoking the memories of the Mets Club in Isesaki, Gunma, my friend Yukiko's favorite bar, and a tiny little room of mostly regular who shared the kareoke machine with the foreigners that seemed to gather there almost every night. I'm talking small, cramped, and a bathroom so old that it makes you hesitate about using it. But the coffee was excellent, individually made—as all good Parisan coffee is—and served up with a little crossiant.

While Jim quizzed Doug about his time in New York, Madonna's Sorry and Robbie Williams' Advertising Space played out over our heads. It was one of those places you'd think twice about going into, get weird looks from you friends when you admit that you did, but feel welcome and pleasantly surprised by what you found. Ok, I freely admit, that the good fortune of a Robbie Williams video playing while we were in there made a noticiably favorable impression on me. Usually I have to see those on DVDs we've dug through Ameoba Records's used room to find.

After we were happily caffienated, we ventured down into the depths of Paris—the metro. Now, since KT and I spent the majority of our only full day in London together trying to navigate the London Underground—a line shut down as we were waiting to take it—I have reservations about subways. Fortunately, nothing like that happened this trip. If anything, we had excellent metro karma.

Pausing at the historic, Moulin Rouge, we snapped a photo or two, and then began making our way through Montmartre—the district made famous by the movie Amelie—towards Sacre Coeur. Jim was on a quest to find La Place Dalida—she was Madonna before there was a Madonna, you know. We had been unsuccessful on our last trip, but this time he found it. Arriving just after a group of tourists and having to wait until someone else finished group the bust's bus—breast to have his photo taken.

Then it was up through the streets, towards the top of the hill. We paused at the Artist's Square, to do a tour around at the lovely but very expensive art, while various characiture artists tried to get us to stop.

Our journey to Sacre Coeur reminded me of how much better shape I was in my last visit to Paris, and when we finally found the massive white stone catherdal, I was even more apprehensive about climbing all those stairs to the top.

We waited in line, gave our euroes to the nuns, and began the climb up the narrowest spiral staircase in Paris. It's a thing of punishment. Dark, clastrophobic to those who aren't normally clastrophobic, and it seems to go up and up forever. The stairs at Notre Dame have little resting places, Sacre Coeur only has rests between staircases. Once you wind your way up, there's more stairs as you journey across the roof and then up again to the tower. With the wind blowing even harder than it was at Notre Dame, it's quite the experience. Not to mention a graffiti-tastic journey. Almost every inch of the final viewing area has names scratched or scawled over it. Paris is odd that way, they don't make any attempts to paint over all the graffiti, so it's like you really are leaving a mark that people will see for years to come how Miko, Aiko, and Momoko from Japan were at the top of Sacre Coeur in 2001.

After Sacre Coeur, we hopped back on the metro to go meet Lyle at the Opera House (the old beautiful one, not the frigheningly modern one.) Lyle had already been walking around, but since Doug and I wanted to go in, he consented to go back inside. There KT, in her brilliance, got the two of us in for the reduced student price. I produced to look around, spazzing, because I just OMG read about this place in The Phantom of the Opera. Cue the complete lit geek moments of "OMG THAT'S BOX 5!" and "That chandelier would totally kill people." (Seriously, the thing is immense. It's hardcore.) The Opera is this beautifully overdone bit of asthetic indulgence that borders on being gaudy, but somehow pulls it off. I'm serious. You go in this one room and every surface is covered with ornate decoration. It's like Versailles, but contained in a small enough building that your senses don't overload.

But it's just... it's mind-blowing to comprehend the decadence of that era and how it's all been preserved. People take care of their things in Paris. How else can you explain 200 year old light fixtures that look like they're brand new?

After being awed by the interior, and completely mezmerized by the shiniest gold statue in all of Paris atop the opera house, we made our way towards the famous Galeries Lafayette. I always thought they were some kind of art museum. I was wrong. They're expensive department stores.

At the slightly less pricely Au Printemps, we climbed to the top floor to have lunch. The place was not somewhere we'd been before, but had been recommended for its view. Yes, its view and not its food, which made all of us sick. It was bad cafeteria food in a city where you think bad food doesn't exist. (We found it. My stomach is turning thinking about it.)

After the lunch, Lyle decided he would meet us at Hotel De Ville at 4:00 pm. So Doug, Jim, Katy, and I looked around Zara and H&M. We noticed that a combination of bad food & red wine was taking its toll on KT. She was pale, her eyes weepy, and she looked like she might pass out. Ever the trooper, she assured us she was ok, she didn't want to spoil anyone's plans. Jim told her it didn't spoil his plans if she went back to the hotel and had a nap, so we put her in a cab and sent her off.

Between this and the distractions of stores, we were late to meet at Hotel De Ville. Deciding we could walk, we were caught in a hail storm and had to seek shelter by The Louvre. A little late, we almost missed Lyle, but managed to meet up with him for another trip in search of our new favorite patissirie on Ille-de-la-citie. I made them stop at Les Fruits du Temps again, and purchased a necklace. With Quiche Laurene in our stomachs, we did our best to find a coffee shop, but the reoccuring problem of Lyle and I being intolorant to cigarette smoke kept us pushing on. We found ourselves back at Cafe des Philosophes, where we sat ourside by a heater and drank coffee with our gloves on. It started to rain again, but we had an umbrella.

In between the rain, it warmed up considerably and was very humid. The walking and wearing a suddenly far too warm winter coat left me feeling a little faint, and I had to ask to sit down in one of the stores. The incredibly kind owner made sure that I was all right, and even offered to call a doctor. (I never thought to tell him that I'm that pale all the time.)

Back at the hotel, I coaxed KT into admitting that maybe it was just bad food or an allergy to red wine, and maybe the stress of her final year had caught up to her. We talked about it, and I think she started to feel better after that. She seemed to have more fun.

Our evening meal took us back to a little restaurant opposite the library we'd discovered the day before. No one had been able to recall the name, but as soon as we were inside I recognized the distinctive red walls. It was the same restaurant we'd had our first Parisan dinner on the trip previous.

Les Petits Marseillais (first review) is one restaurant I don't hesitate to fully endorse. Fantastic food—the best entree I had in Paris was their specialty, the Petits Marseillais steak.

We walked home, unable to hail a cab on the side streets as you have to go to a taxi stand to get one. It was 1 am, and we wanted to get some sleep, since we had reservations at Jules Verne for Doug's birthday lunch the next day.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

"Tell Us about Paris!" Day Two (Thursday)

Thursday, February 15, 2006.

The day began by me waking and asking KT whether we were to call my uncle or if they were going to call us. (See, this is why when I have phone conversations while I'm half-asleep I have to relay what they were about to other people.)

It was also the morning we discovered not to leave anything on the bathroom floor or really anywhere in the bathroom when one was having a shower.

After meeting down in the lobby, we—KT, Lyle, Jim, and I—ventured outside and down the street in search of breakfast—and more importantly, coffee. Coffee is the lifeblood of Paris, if you ask me. One expects it to be good and plentiful. (For the most part, it was.)

One street over from our hotel was Demoulin Patisserie. The second best Quiche Laurene in Paris—from our experience—and delicious pastries like pain au chocolat, chocolat tarte, and the cutest little cakes. But they didn't make coffee, so we continued our search. Which led us to a smoky little pub down the street, where—at 10:00 am—people were already drinking beer. Pretty good coffee.

Then we shopped our way towards our destination. The street we took, which may have been the other Temple, seemed to be composed of camera shops, motorcycle shops, and musical instrument stores.

I was looking for boots, and at Garrice I found a beautiful pair of chocolate brown leather for 90,00 euroes. They're hot, and they make me feel so tall. (I relish feeling tall, it doesn't happen very often.) The reason we got such a good deal on them was because all of Paris seemed to be having a sale, and they were the last pair.

Paris is the city of doors. All the streets have these huge doors that open up and lead into courtyards off the street of business, homes, and sometimes... libraries. Really beautiful ones. The doorknockers are elaborate and romanesque.

Once we arrived in the Marais, near where the Marriage Freres tea shop is located, we had lunch at the delicious and very cool Cafe de Philosophes. How cool is it? Stainless steel toliet cool. Well, maybe "cold" is the more accurate description. Oh, baby, were they ever.

Shopping around the Marais, we passed by Hotel de Ville again. This time we discovered they had created an ice skating rink in front of the building. You rented your skates from an igloo. There was also a little constructed "sledding" hill, but alas, no tobbogans. (That must be just a French-Canadian thing.)

We travelled across the bridge to Ille-de-la-citie, the oldest district of Paris. It's where the city was originally settled. Everything else just grew out from it (or towards it, I suppose.) Our destintation was Notre Dame.

Last time I was in Paris, the top part of the cathedral was closed. This time it was open, so we all paid our 7,00 euroes and waited in line to hike up a windy staircase to the the little walkway between the two bell towers. It was an amazing view, framed by the famous stoned gargoyes. Notre Dame has always impressed me with its sheer artistic wonder. Since the populace was illiterate, the facades of Notre Dame were crafted to illustrate/educate various stories from the Bible. It's really amazing to see, and I'll upload some of the shots we have later.

After Notre Dame, we ventured towards Les Fruits du Temps, my favorite accessory shop. Farther down the same street is where the best Mille Fuelle in Paris is said to be located, yet down the street we found a place that was even better. It had the best quiche lauren as well, and baguettes for only 0,80 euroes that were like a meter long. We saw people come in and buy three at a time. (Real baguettes, not these sourdough things that Americans try to pass off as baguettes.)

Back in the Marais, I tried to force KT to try on expensive overcoats. She refused, and thus, I didn't get photos of her in Dolce & Gabbana. (What, I thought it would have been funny to show her parents....)

After all of that, we headed back towards the hotel, getting caught in the rain. That's when we discovered where the only umbrella I knew to work in the house had gone. I proceeded to try and sheltered KT from the rain, but only managed to keep poking her in the eye/head. In the end she informed us all she was a strong English woman who did not fear this water that fell from the sky. (Her internet doesn't shut down when it rains.)

Oh, by-the-by? I was carrying the boots I bought with me the entire time. Panicking that they were going to get ruined in the rain.

We returned to our room to rest up, bemoaning our poor, poor feet and aching calves from all those stairs. Okay, maybe I was the only one moaning. I think I whimpered, too. No, I'm sure I whimpered. Then I tried to put the fear of Sacre Coeur in KT as I had flashbacks to all those stairs, which we'd be climbing the next morning. No one seemed to know what was happening for dinner, so we found ourselves down in the mod pink funky bar drinking. Coffee for me, tea for her. Caffiene is our drug of choice.

My uncles came down, joined us, and then decided we were going to take a walk to find somewhere to eat. Strolling by a canal, we found ourselves at Au Chenizot. I don't recall what I ordered, but KT says it was duck. I do recall Lyle made me eat a mushroom and I still don't like them. (It's the texture, not the flavour, that bothers me.) I also recall having tiramisu for dessert and then not being able to sleep until like 3:30 am. So I kept KT up, because I'm a horrible person, discussing secrety-spoiler plot points of the second book.