Distant Worlds Concert!

My birthday isn’t until the 31st, but this past weekend, my friends and I ventured to NYC for my birthday outing. On Facebook I’d spotted that the Final Fantasy Distant Worlds show was coming to our area again, and when I asked my friends if they wanted to go, they were totally down. We’d been in 2015, coincidentally also for my birthday, and the show was so good we decided to see it again.

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View of the stage from our seats! Taken before the show started, natch.

Distant Worlds is a touring concert series that performs orchestral versions of music from the long-running Final Fantasy video game series. While the orchestra plays, little movie montages play on a screen, with the footage corresponding to whatever game or character the music applies to. I’ll be honest here and say I’ve only partially played three of the Final Fantasy games (four if you count Crisis Core!), but the music is still fantastic even if you’re unfamiliar with the subject material and your friends just happen to have invited you along (as was the case with a friend’s girlfriend who came with us). Final Fantasy already has great music, but there’s something that’s extra great about hearing it performed by a live orchestra.

You might be saying, “Hey, if you already saw the concert, wouldn’t it be the exact same program? Wouldn’t that be boring?” Fortunately not! As of 2017, Distant Worlds has been happening for ten years, and they’ve built up quite a collection of orchestrations by this point. (If I’m remembering correctly, the conductor/director Arnie Roth mentioned that there’s something like 140 pieces of music in the repertoire. Woah.) There are certain classic songs that you can expect, but they don’t announce the program in advance, and I’m sure there are slight variations from city to city.  Additionally, 2017 was also the 30th anniversary of the Final Fantasy series, so they had some special, brand new arrangements to show off, including a new arrangement of The Opera from FFVI and a couple of songs from the recent FFXV.

In 2015 Distant Worlds was playing in Newark, NJ at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, which is in driving distance of where we live. But this year they were at Carnegie Hall, so we decided to make a little bit of a day of it in NYC. There were two performances, in the afternoon, and in the evening, so in the interest of being able to take our time, and not having to rush in a dinner before, and then rush to the train home after, we opted for the afternoon, with plans for dinner after the concert. Also, when we were buying tickets, the afternoon show had ever so slightly better seats within our budgets.

I’d never been to Carnegie Hall before, and I was surprised by how vertical everything was. There were many stairs. (There’s also an elevator, just so you know if you need it.) I’d thought there was one more balcony above ours, but I guess I misread the seating charts, because we were right up there by the ceiling! Walking down to our seats kicked my fear of heights into gear just a little bit, even though we were a good six rows back from the front!

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View of the back/side of the balcony from our seats. Look how close to the ceiling we are! Oof!

My friends had wishlists of things they were hoping would be played, and all of their boxes got checked! Very lucky! The only thing I wished afterwards was that they had played Dancing Mad for us instead of The Opera, but I knew when they did The Opera we weren’t getting Dancing Mad because they’re both from FFVI and both very long. I just didn’t like The Opera as much because I couldn’t understand what the soloists were singing (it was in English, they were just a little drowned out).

(I hadn’t heard the Distant Worlds version of Dancing Mad before I pulled this up to embed it, so I’m assuming the excessive amounts of pipe organ and electric instruments would be an obstacle to live performance, but also I’m SURE they would’ve made a touring arrangement that doesn’t require it, because I’m pretty sure Dancing Mad is a fan favorite. Anyway, moving on, lol…)

There’s something about live music that I really love, especially orchestral stuff. I was a band student when I was in school, played flute for a decade, so I just love getting to watch and pick out what all the different instruments are doing, because sometimes when you listen to a recording you hear something neat, but don’t know exactly which instrument did it, and I’m a nerd who thinks it’s cool to know.

Also, my friends feel that when they hear this music live, they can feel the emotions better than when they just listen to a recording. I get where they’re coming from, and I agree with it to an extent (and so do all the goosebumps I felt throughout the concert!), but also, I’m not entirely wired like they are. Music doesn’t often make me cry, but there are certain chord progressions that plug right into my emotional core and make me well up.

For instance, To Zanarkand, from FFX. I’ve played a good portion of FFX, but got derailed by a tough boss. From the moment I first heard this in the game, I thought it was lovely. But something about this particular arrangement had tearing up pretty badly. The section between 2:19 and 3:00 especially gets me. This section isn’t exactly present in the original version. There is an undercurrent of those eighth notes (I assume that’s what they are?) in the original, but somehow just the way Distant Worlds builds them out and harmonizes them and spotlights them gets my tear ducts going. I’ve nearly made myself cry about three times while writing this post when I was trying to figure out the timecodes for the part I noted above, lol.

The concert closed with an encore that included One Winged Angel (aka, Sephiroth’s theme from FFVII). They used this as an encore at the 2015 show as well, so it’s probably what they always do as an encore, because they must know that FFVII is one of the most popular games in the series and that’s one of the most famous songs. They make it fun for the audience though, by encouraging them to sing along to each of the loud SEPHIROTH’s in the song.

(Although as I recall, the singalong was a little more extensive in 2015, with subtitles on screen for all the Latin, or whatever that is in there. The composer Nobuo Uematsu was there, and he pointed at us when we were supposed to sing. But I think they might not’ve had a chorus at that performance? Or at least not for the second half?)

After the concert we made our way to dinner. And since this was my birthday outing, you bet your ass I dragged my friend’s asses down to Wagamama. Luckily, they all liked it! I would’ve felt bad if any of them said they didn’t like it (and I trust them not to lie to me about that, lol).

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Give me some chili squid and I am a happy girl. The red stuff is some pickled vegetable that my friend let me have because I realized it was similar to the little pickled things you used to be able to order as a side.

And then we basically ran to the train. Not because it was really late, but because it was super cold! I was wholly satisfied with this early birthday outing, and everyone had a good time, which is something that’s important to me. And also, I looked hella cute. All in all, a great day!

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Me and the brick wall behind our table at Wagamama. My friends said the brick lighting makes it look like a texture from a PS2 game, lol.

(If you think you’re interested in seeing Distant Worlds live, you can check out their website here. Not sponsored, obviously, just wanted to make your life a little easier!)

 

The First 10,000 Miles

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In September 2016, I reluctantly gave up my 20 year old Ford station wagon. I didn’t want to get rid of my car, but after years of reliability (I was the third in my family to drive it), it had suddenly decided to need repairs almost every single month. We were coming to a crossroads where the station wagon was coming up on its biennial inspection, and it needed a costly repair that wasn’t life threatening, but which caused the “check engine” light to be constantly on. This little light will cause you to instantly fail inspection.  So after some consideration of all my various options, I decided to go in on a car lease, and my 2016 Nissan Rogue came into my life. It was a big adjustment (being high off the ground being one of them!), but I’ve come to love it dearly.

Recently my Rogue and I drove our 10,000th mile together, a landmark crossed while I was looking for parking at my friends’ apartment complex. (It somehow feels appropriate, lol.) I thought it might be nice to look back at some of the places my car took me in our first 1.25 years together, which also kind of serves as a 2017 retrospective as well! So without further ado:

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This is from Halloween at Target. I’m at Target at least once a week, usually popping over during my lunch.

 

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In October ’16 I housesat for my Aunt, looking after this big boy named Romeo.
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Work. Every fall the people who run my office building put one of these outside both buildings in the complex. I call it the Sacrificial Altar.
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These weird mosaics are in the lobby of the school where the community center housed guitar lessons.
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I was only gonna include one picture from each place, but this bizarre painting in the music room at the school was too good to pass up, lol.
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My favorite locally-owned burrito place!
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This isn’t a place I went, per se, but I this spring I discovered the quiet joy of spending my lunch reading in my car.
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The field that I park in when I want to run away from home, but don’t have the time. I remember I texted this picture to someone and they said, “Don’t get lost.”
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A sad day at the beach, when I really just needed to run away from home and actually did it. Perhaps someday I’ll blog about it.
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Jury duty! Which I actually weirdly enjoyed, probably because I mostly just got to sit in a corner and devour a book all day.
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A happy day at the beach! There were a few of these in this particular town.
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In September 2017 I took a vacation alone for the first time — two nights in one of my favorite faraway shore towns!
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A trip so good it deserves two pictures in this little retrospective. I’ll try to remember to blog this trip soon!

 

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Spent one Friday night on emergency trip to Ikea to replace my beloved lamp, which I smashed in a stupidly clumsy accident. 
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Countless visits to my friend’s apartment to visit them, and their two lovely little bean boys. So precious. ❤

 

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This is from my office’s Christmas party last week! The fancy restaurant we were at had this massive, beautiful tree in the foyer, so you know I had to strike a pose.

As human beings, we mostly tend to take pictures of good moments, so this photo set doesn’t really betray how hard 2017 was for me. But the fact that I was able to revisit all of these good moments when I looked back for these pictures gives me a little hope that next year could have even more positivity in it.

–Krys

Visting NYC!

I took my last two vacation days this year right after Thanksgiving, to give myself a longer weekend, and keep me out of the office for a total of just about a week. I decided that I would spend one of those days in New York City. I live just a short 40-ish minute train ride from the city, but only go maybe once or twice a year because I don’t know my way around very well, have a slight anxiety about the potential of crime happening to me there, and while I usually have a good adventure in NYC, it’s just such an exhausting hassle.

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I had a doctor’s appointment in the morning, where I knew I’d also be getting blood drawn for labwork, so I didn’t have breakfast until just before catching the train. I popped into the locally owned bakery under the train tracks for a hot cocoa and a bagel. The cocoa was kind of meh, but the bagel was real and fantastic. (If you’re from out of state and ever visit me, I will take you for a real Jersey bagel, because they’re just not as good anywhere else!)

After I ate, I bought my train tickets and went up to wait on the platform. While I waited for the train, I popped in my earbuds and did not take them out until I got off the train when I came home. I usually only kept them in one ear, and didn’t play the music too loud so I could still hear things around me, but honestly, it was so nice to be in the big grey city with pleasant music playing, and it actually made for a few somewhat funny juxtapositions during the day (like Lady Gaga’s “Judas” coming on while I was looking at religious art).

My goal for the day was to explore the Metropolitan Museum of Art (aka, The Met). The last time I’d been there, and the last time I’d been in the city in general, was in late February. It was a good day, which eventually has become a bit of a painful memory. And one of the great things about my brain is that sometimes it has trouble letting go of pleasant-turned-painful memories of a place unless I’m able to sort of cover up those associations with new memories It’s weird and kind of dumb, I know, but I’d been fixated for some time on making a trip out to The Met to do a memory replacement of that day. However, the need was not so great that I wanted to deal with weekend crowds, which is why I was devoting one of my two weekdays off to the endeavor.

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I don’t understand how city buses work (although I learned this year that you can use your Metrocard on them!), so after I got off the train in the city, I rode the subway up to the Museum of Natural History and wandered through Central Park, as The Met is just on the other side of the park. Along the way I found this lake, which I think is not The Lake with the Alice in Wonderland statues and stuff, but if there’s anything I love it’s a good water feature.

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I also found this beautiful tree. I love trees with bright yellow leaves like this.

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The line to get into the museum was mercifully short (where on the weekend you might wait half an hour or more). This selfie with the Temple of Dendur is my proof that I actually went on this day trip and didn’t just pull these pictures off of Google, lol. When I was at The Met in February we wound up looking only at historical artifacts and it wasn’t until we got home that I realized that we hadn’t actually looked at any paintings or anything like that, so viewing actual art was my main goal. But I still had to stop and visit the Temple.

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For those unfamiliar, the Temple of Dendur is an actual ancient Egyptian structure that was brought to the museum and rebuilt brick by brick. It’s amazing to me that something like this can still exist and still look so nice! Thank god for curators.

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It turned out The Met was running a big exhibition about Michelangelo’s whole life, featuring a lot of his drawings. The big showpiece for me was this one-quarter scale display of the Sistine Chapel ceiling. Around this room were little displays where you could see sketches that actually corresponded to parts of this painting.

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The exhibition also featured work by Michelangelo’s teachers, students, and contemporaries. This statue wasn’t particularly well marked as to who made it, but look at that hair! That is such a beautifully detailed piece of rock!

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I didn’t look at paintings as well, naturally. I saw people walking through the rooms, taking pictures of every single painting (you’re allowed as long as you don’t use flash). But this is the only picture I took. It’s a Van Gogh, and I snapped it because of the texture of the brush strokes and how they made me feel really bad and sad for Van Gogh. Poor Van Gogh.

After I left The Met, I took another walk back across Central Park, again, because I don’t understand city buses. When I’d been in the city in February, I’d spotted the top of some castle-y looking thing through the tree tops, and was curious about it, but sort of forgot until I accidentally came across it months later during a Wikipedia binge.

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Welcome to Belvedere Castle. On my walk back to the subway, I followed the signage that would lead me to it, because I really wanted to see it. Belvedere Castle is an architectural thing known as a “folly,” AKA a structure built for decoration, but appearing like it might be something more grand and important. It’s really just a mostly empty building — there was a visitors’ center on the ground floor, and then VERY narrow stairs that led up to the two observation decks. (So narrow that they’re only wide enough for one person — if you’re claustrophobic this may not be an attraction for you, friends.)

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The view from the Castle’s observation decks was amazing, though. Look at this picture postcard view!

I took the subway back to Penn Station, but did not hop on a train home just yet because I had one more mission I wanted to accomplish. But because I don’t understand city buses, I figured it was easier to take the subway back to Penn and then do the fifteen minute walk to the place I wanted to go.

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My route actually accidentally took me past the famous Macy’s Herald Square. If you watch the Thanksgiving Parade as religiously as I do, you’ll recognize this street. It definitely doesn’t seem like a wide enough street for all those massive balloons, but I guess everything probably seems bigger on television.

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This is the Empire State Building, viewed from the base. I’ve never been up it because it costs approximately a bajillion dollars (aka, $36 for the most basic ticket package, all that just to go up a goddamn elevator, fuck that). Regardless of the price gauging, it’s a nice building to look at!

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The is the Flatiron Building! Ever since I was introduced to Wagamama on trip to Boston in 2014 it’s been a place that I need to hit up when I go to visits there, because we didn’t have any down here. Until recently, that is. When I was in Boston in March, looking up the addresses on my phone, I’d noticed that they’d opened a couple of NYC locations! One is inside the door covered by that black booth on the lower right (I forgot to take a picture of the front, because I am an A+ blogger). When I was thinking about going to The Met, I knew I wanted to hit up Wagamama if it wasn’t too much of a pain to get to.

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I always get the chili squid. The spice on the squid is great, and the dipping sauce has a sort of hard to describe spicy, savory, sweetness. I love this stuff! They also used to have little servings of pickled vegetables that you could order as a side (the pieces were so small I had no idea what they were), but they’re apparently discontinued? Which is a bummer, because I love the taste of Asian style pickling, definitely a way better flavor than your typical Western dill, bread-and-butter, etc.

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And then I always get ramen, different kinds depending on what I feel like that day. It’s not as good as the small local place my friends and I frequent, but it’s still very tasty! And warm soup hit the spot after walking through the chilly, windy city (and also considering I was three hours overdue for lunch). This is the pork belly variety, and it was great. I need to try making the sort of semi-soft boiled egg they put in ramen, because I love the texture of it.

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After eating, I hiked back to Penn Station and hopped on the next train home. My goal was to be on a train home before 5pm, so I wouldn’t be smushed in with as many commuters, and could maybe actually get a nice seat — I met that guideline by about an hour. So it was a little crowded,  but not too bad. I took this picture from inside of the train, so it’s a little blurry, but I think it’s still pretty. (If you’re one of those people that makes fun of New Jersey for being ugly, I will assume you’ve only ever been on the highways and promptly email you dozens of the photographs I’ve taken over the course of my life as a way of proving you wrong, lol.)

All in all I had a great day! Although because I went from zero physical activity to two-thousand all at once I had sore legs and hip joints for days afterward. Well worth it, though. I should figure out how to get to more places in the city, so I can go on more different adventures!

–Krys