Brooklyn at last, Saoirse

Brooklyn cover imageI finally got to see the movie Brooklyn featuring two-time Academy Award nominee Saoirse Ronan, and it did not disappoint for a moment. Though quickly labeled a chick flick by the two gentlemen who were with me, one stayed for the duration and was glad he did.

In this movie, Ronan plays young Eilis Lacey who leaves her hometown in Ireland to find opportunity in America. I can’t believe Miss Ronan is only 21 years old. Her eyes are absolutely penetrating and so expressive. She had me by the throat when as Eilis she arrived by ship in New York — after the sea-sickness scene to which I can all-to-painfully relate. But her fear and discomfort in a strange place, as if she is the only fresh human among a circling pack of jungle carnivores, really took me back.

My experience was not as difficult as being an ocean away from anyone or anything she knew, but my first weeks as a freshman at college were pretty close. I felt alone, disconnected, as if everyone spoke a different language and all knew what they were doing while I knew nothing. After a few weeks, when an old friend from high school knocked on my dorm room door, he was the only person I knew in the state. I leapt into his arms.

I loved Eilis’s 1950s “costume” as they called it—those sunglasses! And her friend fixing her up for a trip to the beach with her Italian love. And especially the characterizations: the cruel and bitter old shopkeeper in Ireland; the nosy, disciplining house mother in Brooklyn; and the kind Catholic priest who reminded me just a little of my dear friend Eddie in Bandon.

And, I could not hold back the tears when the sister died. How would I feel if something should happen to my own beloved sisters? Incomprehensible.

To leave Ireland at any time must be gut-wrenching. I don’t know of any place like it: so charming, intimate and yet so wild it defies description. And yet, for some and in certain times, it must have been a relief to leave and again find hope for some kind of future.

Although Eilis returns to Ireland and suddenly it seems she can have everything she ever wanted there, she realizes it is an illusion, and she has forgotten the reasons she left in the first place. She breaks free of the bonds of the past, and chooses the new life and love. I wonder is there in everyone’s life, as there was in mine, an experience like this in which you’re given an opportunity to choose: to either hold on (like it or not) to what you know, or to embrace the new adventure.

Because I made the choice, I have ended up writing about adventures—always my dream—and in a place beyond my dreams.

SharavogueCoverIf you love adventures and particularly historical adventures, checkout my novel of 17th century Ireland and the West Indies, Sharavogue. May latest book, The Prince of Glencurragh, comes out this summer.

And please sign up for my newsletter for information about the release and upcoming events.

Thank you for reading this blog!

Five Takeaways from The Martian

THE-MARTIAN-movie-poster2Karl and I watched The Martian on demand last night. We have the book but neither of us had read it yet (so many books, so much research to do, so little time!). It’s the story of an astronaut, Mark Watley (played by Matt Damon). who is stranded on Mars and uses his brain and ingenuity to survive until his crew members return for him.

About halfway through, we were bracing for the painful, horrible, gruesome deaths of those crew members as they went about trying to rescue him. Thank you, Ridley Scott, for taking the high road, letting viewers focus on the magic of the story rather than gratuitous violence and gore.

I woke up thinking about this film and the five takeaways I have from it.

  1. Obstacles happen. Things go wrong.
  2. Prepare. The flight team had considered and prepared for many potential difficulties they might experience on such a mission, and knew their equipment and ship inside and out. Still, life on Mars was beyond their control. They had a contingency plan.
  3. You already have the answers within you. Watley drew from his knowledge of many sciences to survive. Most of us won’t be going to Mars, and won’t have the high level of training he had, but we probably have some learning and experiences to help us through situations we encounter if we use the resources we have.
  4. Ask for help. Watley was brilliant, but no one knows everything, and everybody needs help from time to time. It’s the smart thing to set the ego aside and ask. Using the point and nod technique works just fine if that’s all you have to communicate. My dogs point at the cookie jar, hoping I will nod. Usually I do. It’s all good.
  5. People are more important than missions and money. Okay, partly it was a PR thing–the bureaucrats knew the agency wouldn’t survive if the public learned they’d left a man behind, so they launched the rescue mission. Sacrificing the man seems the more likely thing to happen in reality, and the crew would have had much more difficulty choosing to spend almost two more years in space and away from their families on a risky rescue attempt. But no one would have been able to stomach the deliberate abandonment of Watley. I like to think love conquers all.

What are your thoughts? I’d love to see your comments.

BrandYourselfRoyallyIn8SimpleSteps_Blanton_cropPlease follow this blog if you are interested in updates. Last year my new book on personal branding — Brand Yourself Royally in 8 Simple Steps — was published in paperback and ebook. My new historical novel, The Prince of Glencurragh, is due out in summer 2016.

And please check out my award-winning Sharavogue, a novel of 17th century Ireland and the West Indies, for a fast-paced adventure you won’t soon forget.

My website at nancyblanton.com provides more detail on books and upcoming events. Please visit!

SharavogueCover

Chaos in Ham House

Last night my sister Daphne and I watched the movie, A Little Chaos, with Kate Winslet as Sabine, a 17th century landscape architect, and Alan Rickman as King Louis XIV. It was rather a lovely fiction about a the building of an outdoor ballroom at Versailles Palace (apparently the ballroom was real, but the screenplay was TMU: totally made up.)

In addition to enjoying just about anything set in the 17th century, we were thrilled to see familiar floors, archways, hallways and yes, the magnificent stairway we had seen when we visited Ham House last fall. This house and garden are part of the National Trust located just about 10 miles from London at Richmond-upon-Thames, Surrey.

IMG_1184Ham House is a beautiful place, and I could not get enough of it, literally. Before visiting London I had corresponded with Lucy Worsley, a brilliant person who had recommended Ham as an excellent experience of a 17th century manor house. I had looked it up and thought I had all the details right, my two sisters and I took the train, but when we arrived at Richmond we got caught in a rain shower and ducked into a pub for a while. I thought we still had plenty of time because the place wouldn’t close until 5 pm, and we arrived before 3.

And our arrival was heroic, because my sister Gayle had worn her high-heeled boots that day. She swore they were comfortable to walk in, but we had about 1.5 miles to walk from Richmond, on a dirt path. It was a gorgeous day along the river, but poor Gayle could hardly enjoy it. And when we arrived for our tickets, the agent told us in fact we were late, because the shop would be open until 5 pm, but sorry, the house was closing at 3 pm.

She took pity on us (must have seen three very distressed faces) and said we could just take a quick run through if we would hurry. We did! The floors, the walls, the green closet, the fabulous library, the IMG_1186
gallery, the kitchen and so on. And then the chapel. And the magnificent carved staircase.

Thank goodness when they escorted us from the house I bought the books from their store, because when I saw certain scenes in the movie, particularly the house where landscaper Monsieur André Le Nôtre lived with his very naughty wife, I knew we had been there. The same floors, the same corridors, the arches, the front entry and gate. And the unmistakable balustrade carved with trophies of arms, with carved baskets of flowers on the newels.

Why did they use a house outside of London when the movie is set outside of Paris? My guess is because it was probably less expensive, and also because the Duke and Duchess of Lauderdale lavishly decorated the house to show their high position in rich 17th century society.

IMG_1190I may be whining a bit here, as I wished to linger a while in the halls at Ham House, and absorb the feel of it, maybe see if a ghost or two might tap me on the shoulder. But alas, we had to leave. My poor sister could barely walk back to Richmond, but the Clark’s Shoe Store did benefit because she could not go another step in those boots and bought a lovely pair of patent leather flats. I wonder, if we had been shopping the in the 17th century, would they have been satin slippers instead?

The movie was interesting, mildly entertaining, but lovely for the cast (who does not love Alan Rickman?), the costumes and, of course, the wonderful settings. My only criticism would be that poor Kate’s wardrobe was drab by Louis XIV standards, and her hair was just as messy when she was going to court as when she was working in the garden. Disappointing. But it was truly a thrill to see on the screen the wonderful place we visited, and remember setting foot on those stairs.

SharavogueCoverHam House also serves as the model for a location in my upcoming prequel to Sharavogue, working title Glencurragh. Read Sharavogue and follow this blog for information on new books coming soon. Sharavogue is available on amazon.com, barnes&noble, iTunes for iPad, or Google books.

Celebrate St. Patricks Day with Hair

Woodcut by Albert Durer

Woodcut by Albrecht Durer

If you are looking for a unique way to celebrate the Irish on St. Patrick’s Day this year, consider getting a new haircut. In this woodcut by Albrecht Druer from 1521, you can see the glib or “glybbe” haircut that was once popular with runners and kerns (Gaelic soldiers during the middle ages).

For the ancient Irish runners this cut was a badge of honor, and also a thorn in the side of the English who hated it and wanted to have it outlawed.

To achieve this look, the hair at the back and side of the head is trimmed very short, while the front and top are kept long, giving you a large fringe to fall down over your face much like the forelock of a horse.

carey

Jim Carrey rocks a fringe in Dumb and Dumber, 1994

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A modern Glybbe interpretation

It might have looked a little like this image at left or, depending on the skill of your stylist, the image at right.

 

Whatever their hairstyle, fast and long-distance runners have long been appreciated by the Irish. According to Patrick Weston Joyce’s “A Social History of Ancient Ireland,” Irish kings always kept runners in their employment as messengers or couriers, and sometimes they were women: “Finn Mac Dumail had a female runner who figures in the story of Dermot and Grania.”

In the time of Henry VIII, Pope Paul III had a number of “Rome-runners” (as opposed to “rum runners”) or messengers who traveled back and forth between Ireland and Rome to keep the Pope informed about Reformation activity.

For the Irish Citizen’s Army founded in 1913 by James Connolly, the “Fianna Boys” were trained to act as messengers and runners during the actual uprising.

John Treacy (1)

John Treacy seemed to have a bit of a forelock going on here

And, keeping the tradition going in 1984, John Treacy of Ireland, a graduate of Providence College in Rhode Island, won the Marathon Silver Medal in the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles.

To read more about this, please visit the Irish Archaeology blog post, “16th Century Irish Hipsters.”

And have a delightful St. Patrick’s Day!

 

 

Movies for dreamers

images-3A few days ago I enjoyed watching Ben Stiller’s version of “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.” It was a story I thought I knew. There were some really silly scenes that gave me a good laugh, and unfortunately planted a song in my head I am still trying to discard: “Ground Control to Major Tom…” Arrgghh.

It also brought up some funny memories for me. My father always called me “the dreamer,” especially after the day he was driving to work and caught me crouching on the sidewalk playing with a bug instead of walking to school. “La ta da ta dah dah, there she goes, the dreamer!” I guess he thought I was a complete loser — he was an accountant so dreaming was not his thing — and didn’t think my imagination would come in handy one day.

When I was little I identified with the 1947 Danny Kaye version of Walter Mitty. Kaye portrayed a sweet person, but very passive, and always getting into predicaments because of his wandering mind. Yeah, been there. Stiller’s version is not quite so passive, and a larger part of the movie focuses on the grand adventures he truly has in trying to track down a photographer played by Sean Penn. It eventually recalls a bit of The Wizard of Oz, when he discovers he had in his possession what he was looking for the whole time, i.e. the ruby slippers. images-4

Somewhere along the line I finally got the message this guy got: Why the hell not? Let’s go! And as a result have had some pretty good adventures of my own.

I realized that I had never actually read The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, so I downloaded the short story by James Thurber, with an introduction by his daughter Rosemary. First published by The New Yorker in 1939, it gained wide appeal. There are a lot of dreamers out there, or maybe also a lot of people frustrated by the lovable dreamers in their lives. I think nimages-5o matter how good a life can be, sometimes we all need a place to go.

A Facebook post today from Seattle’s Hay House quotes Edgar Allen Poe: “Those who dream by day are cognizant of many things that escape those who dream only at night.”

While dreaming, I have to say another movie captured my imagination perhaps even more than Mitty, and that was “About Time,” from Richard Curtis. It’s about being able to travel back in time in your life for do-overs. How many times have I wanted to go back and redo a situation so it comes out better? Hindsight, and all that. Particularly where my father is concerned, I have often dreamed how wonderful it would be if only I could go back and know him better.