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Pierre Maspero’s — A Disappointing Taste of New Orleans


Last Saturday we took a flight to Nawlins.  That would be New Orleans, Louisiana, or NOLA for short.  Our reason for coming here was to catch the NCL Star for a cruise around the Western Caribbean, which we’ll get to in subsequent blogs.

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This is something like my sixth or seventh trip to this great little city.  The food is usually good (however you’ll see today that you can, if fact, get a less than stellar meal here) and the photographic opportunities are tremendous.  The people alone make NOLA a street photographer’s paradise.

New Orleans 08 New Orleans 35

Now, about that rather disappointing meal.  After a little internet research, I decided to try something new.  Big mistake.  The restaurant was Pierre Maspero’s, and it had some pretty good write-ups.  So much for the internet.  Ursula ordered a trio New Orleans sampler that included shrimp étouffée, red beans and rice, and gumbo.  The étouffée had little in the way of crawfish, the red beans and rice had even less in the way of sausage and meats, the gumbo was almost entirely broth, the portions were small, and the whole things was neither spicy nor served piping hot as one would expect.  Even the French baguette was disappointingly stale.

Pierre Maspero's 7

My experience was a disaster.  I ordered a seafood platter of fried oysters (the only thing exceptional about this place other than the alligator appetizer), battered catfish, fries, and hush puppies.  Again, the food was lukewarm.  The catfish coating was so soft and spongy that I sent it all back for a retry.  It came back only marginally better.  Let’s face it, Southern-style cooking demands catfish be coated in cornmeal.  I should have been tipped off by the beer batter.  Next time I won’t repeat that mistake.

Pierre Maspero's 6

The fried alligator was great, however.  And the accompanying remoulade sauce was a nice touch.

Pierre Maspero's 5

I will conceded, however, that ambience is in abundance at Pierre Maspero’s.  The wait staff are eager and friendly.  The dining room is absolutely charming.  Alas, charm and friendliness do not tickle the tongue or sate the stomach.

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Now for a few more snaps of Nawlins:

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From Soap to Primetime to Big Time—The Evolution of Barnabas Collins (Movie Review)


Dark Shadows

Drama/Comedy, Gothic Horror, Fantasy; U.S.; 2012; 113 minutes; directed by Tim Burton

Medium:  Currently in Theaters

Rating:  2.5 (5-point system)

Dark Shadows.  Almost nobody my age can forget it.  It gnaws at you.  It takes you by the throat.  It leaves you thirsting for more.  But enough of the vampire clichés and puns.  Let’s talk a little about what this cultural phenomena was for those too young to have experienced it.

Dark Shadows started out as a gothic soap opera back in 1966, and at first it was a certified bomb . Gothic didn’t sell back then, and Dark Shadows faced cancellation only six months after its debut.  Dan Curtis, the show’s creator, decided to go out in style, and suddenly ghosts started appearing . . . in a daytime soap opera!  But things didn’t really take off for Dark Shadows until 1967, with the introduction of Barnabas Collins.  Barnabas was a 200-year-old vampire who had been entombed by his father—a man who could not bring himself to destroy his beloved son despite his horrendous affliction.

Jonathan Frid—the original Barnabas Collins

And how did Barnabas come to be afflicted with this curse?  He severely ticked off the wrong lady.  He had an affair with the maidservant of his fiancée, Josette du Pres from Martinique.  Unfortunately for Barnabas, that maidservant was Angelique Bouchard, a witch whose extraordinary powers were only exceeded by her extraordinary vindictiveness.  Angelique summoned up a bat who bit our hero, transforming him into a hideous and foul creature of the night bent on converting Josette so that she might spend eternity with him.  In her disgust and horror, Josette leapt to her death.  Pretty good setup.  Complicated, but good.

Fast forward two centuries later.  Barnabas is released from his tomb and returns to the family estate as a ‘long lost cousin from England,’ whereupon he meets Maggie Evans, a resident of Collinsport, Maine, and the apparent reincarnation of his love Josette du Pres.  And if all that isn’t complication enough, Angelique has resurrected herself, taken the name of Cassandra Blair, and maneuvered Roger Collins into wedding her and bringing her into the Collins family mansion where she can continue to make Barnabas’ life a living hell.

As one might expect, the ratings shot through the roof.  But the demographics weren’t your typical housewife.  Suddenly, all across the nation, kids were rushing home and tuning in to watch the bloody mayhem.  Unfortunately, back then kids didn’t steer the family budget and what products to buy with it.  Despite huge ratings the series was cancelled in 1971.

But everyone knows you simply cannot keep a really great vampire dead for long.  In 1991 the series rose from the grave and into prime time on NBC with Ben Cross as Barnabas Collins.  Maggie Evans was no longer the reincarnation of Josette.  That person now resided in the Collins family governess, Victoria Winters.  But, despite great ratings, NBC sabotaged their latest hit by shuffling it around their schedule during Gulf War I.  After only thirteen episodes fans were left confused and bewildered by the lack of schedule consistency, and Dark Shadows once again had a stake driven through its heart.

Ben Cross as Barnabas Collins

Until 2004.  WB Television Network commissioned a pilot starring Alec Newman.  This time WB staked our hero and put him back in the ground without ever airing the completed pilot.

Now it’s 2012, and Barnabas has risen from the grave for a fourth time.  This Barnabas (Johnny Depp) however is played with much more humor than in past incarnations.  The characters of Maggie Evans and Victoria Winters have been rolled into one—a former mental patient named Maggie Evans (Bella Heathcote) who has changed her name to Victoria Winters.  Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green) is back as well, and she’s just as vindictive, evil, powerful and even more libidinous than ever.

Johnny Depp’s interpretation of Barnabas Collins

This 2012 resurrection is lighthearted fun.  And that’s the problem.  Dark Shadows was never meant to be lighthearted fun.  Dark Shadows was designed to terrify school children, which is something it did quite well from 1967 until 1971.  Later, it mesmerized these same children, now grown up, in prime time, and introduced the character of Barnabas Collins to a whole new generation of children . . . until NBC programmers sabotaged it.

What’s disheartening here are a number of faux pas that should and could have been easily avoided.

First off, this Barnabas seems to relish in telling all his descendants that he’s a vampire rather than taking the more prudent course of concealing his cursed existence.  The 1972 setting works, but what’s with all the gags concerning ’70s pop culture?  It all seems so out of place in a tale of vampires, witches, revenge, and loves lost.  Sure, there are a few good lines (Caroline Stoddard:  “Are you stoned?”  Barnabas:  “They tried stoning me once, my dear.  It did not work.”), but the humor seems forced and comes off as contrived and irrelevant to the myriad plots and subplots.  And then there’s Mr. Depp’s ridiculous makeup for the part—an unfortunate cross between Count Orlok in the silent classic Nosferatu (check out the long, spidery fingers and extended fingernails) and the pastie-faced zombies in Shawn of the Dead.  Part of the terror was not knowing that Barnabas is a vampire.  One look at Johnny Depp’s version and all doubts are removed—there’s something definitely wrong with this dude.  Finally, the sudden transformation of Caroline Stoddard (no, I’m not going to reveal it) was jarring, distracting, had no logical setup or continuity within the story, and was positively ludicrous in the extreme.  For that one scene alone I deducted a half point from my overall rating.

Fans will probably enjoy spending a couple of hours with a demonic “friend” from the past, but ultimately they’ll leave unsatisfied.  People unfamiliar with the legacy of Dark Shadows may get a few unexpected chuckles out of it, but not enough to carry the day.  In the end it would have been better for all concerned if this Barnabas Collins had been left entombed in Tim Burton’s mind rather than let loose upon unsuspecting theater goers.  It’s definitely worth a rental, but it’s not worth even matinee prices.

Or better yet, do yourself a favor and find a copy of the 1970 film House of Dark Shadows to view instead.  Unfortunately, that one doesn’t seem to be available on Netflix.

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Canon G1 X Review—Part 3


On Wednesday I called the Canon G1 X both evolutionary and revolutionary.  Here’s why:

The G1 X is an evolutionary step in Canon’s long line of G-series compact cameras—cameras designed as secondary systems for serious photographers who already have a DSLR system, but who also at times need something more compact.  But the G1 X doesn’t replace the existing G-series.  Rather, it supplements it.  The G12 remains in Canon’s lineup, and I suspect there will be a G13 to replace the G12 just as the G1 X will one day be retired by the G2 X.

But the G1 X is also revolutionary in that it incorporates the largest sensor ever placed into a compact.  Not only did Canon upsize the sensor, they also switched from CCD to CMOS technology, effectively giving this compact a sensor very nearly on par with their DSLR line.  Indeed, the G1 X sensor has the same pixel density as Canon’s semipro 7D.  Thus, with the advent of the G1 X Canon has raised the stakes considerably in this market segment.  Indeed, the G1 X appears to be Canon’s answer to the blossoming ILC segment in terms of picture quality and creative control.

As far as standard Canon DSLR-like control, the G1 X does differ considerably.  For one thing, the camera does not incorporate Canon’s Picture Styles—Standard (high saturation with a tendency to oversaturate reds), Portrait (warms skin tones), Landscape (moderately high saturation with emphasis toward greens and blues), Monochrome, Faithful (true-color rendition based upon daylight white balance), and Neutral (similar to Faithful, but used to capture the most amount of detail in highly saturated or overly contrasty scenes).  Oddly enough, you can set these Picture Styles in Digital Photo Professional (DPP—Canon’s included raw processing software), but you cannot set them for JPEG shots.

Instead, the G1 X relies more on Scene Modes, and there are a lot of scene modes from which to choose:  Movie Digest, Portrait, Landscape, Kids and Pets, Smart Shutter (detects smiles and activates a self-timer after face recognition or even a wink—great for getting yourself in the shot), High-Speed Burst HQ (don’t get excited—the buffer fills up after only six shots, or in about 1.3 seconds), Handheld Night Scene (combines several sequentially taken shots to minimize shake and reduce noise), Beach, Underwater, Foliage, Snow, Fireworks, and Stitch (panorama) Assist.  Unfortunately, Stitch Assist assumes that the camera will only be held in landscape orientation and that you’ll only be panning from side-to-side.  You’re only option is a rather simplistic choice between right-to-left or left-to-right.  There really should be at least one option to capture vertically or when holding the camera in portrait orientation and panning side-to-side.

In addition to Scene Modes, the G1 X offers something I’ve not seen before in Canon DSLRs—“Image Effects,” or “Creative Filters.”  My EOS 5D can do red, yellow, or green filtering for Black & White photography, but the G1 X allows for:  High Dynamic Range (internal processing of three bracketed, tripod-mounted shots to produce one picture with higher dynamic range), Super Vivid, Poster Effect, Nostalgic (faded colors), Fisheye, Miniature Model (similar to the fore and aft defocusing of a tilt-shift lens), Toy Camera (dark, blurry corners; offset colors), Color Accent, Color Swap, and Monochrome.  Alas, monochrome does not allow for in-camera filtering for reds, yellows, and blues.  This must be done in raw post processing with DPP, or in the case with JPEGs with third-party software such as Google’s Picasa.

One really neat feature is a built-in Neutral Density filter.  When engaged, the internal ND filter reduces light falling onto the sensor by three stops, or about 1/8th the amount entering the lens.  When used in conjunction with a tripod, this allows an extremely slow shutter speed during even bright light conditions.  The result is blurred motion or—in the case of moving water—a soft, flowing effect.

Now for a major rant:  Hey, Canon, when somebody plunks down the better part of $800, they have every right to expect, nay—demand a hardcopy of the user guide.  Making a 242-page manual only available as a PDF on a CD is, quite simply, unacceptable.  There are far too many features and settings on this camera to commit them all to memory, and it is totally unreasonable to expect someone to carry an electronic reading device with them at all times to reference these items.

Other complaints (accessories):  Filter threads should have been incorporated into the lens rather than requiring the separate purchase of a filter adapter.  The optional sunshade will not work while the filter adapter is in place.  The included lens cap will not work over the sunshade.

Other complaints (lens aperture):  While image sharpness and resolution are exceptional, the lens is too slow.  This is especially true at the telephoto end but also a factor on the wide side.  I understand that Canon was trying to balance weight and compactness against performance, but I would gladly have given up some of the former for an f/2.0-4.0 lens over the existing f/2.8-5.8.  Had this been done, the G1 X would have excelled in portrait photography as well as travel.

Other complaints (lens focal lengths):  On the subject of the lens, a really good travel camera should start out at 24mm on the wide-angle side.  So, a 4.5x 24-to-108mm would be preferable to the 28-112mm used.  A 5x lens with a focal reach of 24-to-120mm would be even better, almost perfect.

Stuff others may care about (but I don’t):  A tad slow on focusing—hard to get little Johnny romping around the backyard.  Burst mode/frames-per-second practically nonexistent—forget photographing little Johnny’s baseball game.  Forget about getting intimate with a small subject—flowers, insects, etc—the macro capability of this camera is probably closer to the Palomar Observatory than to a small travel zoom.

Now for some more sample shots, all JPEGs straight out of the G1 X without any post-processing.  Considering that all shots were handheld and that color saturation, balance, and contrast are all untouched, I believe you’ll be impressed with how little you’ll find yourself falling back on raw and post-processing.

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