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Monday, February 23, 2015

Silent Hitchcock

Last night Othman and I went to an incredibly interesting event—the screening of Alfred Hitchcock's very first film, called The Pleasure Garden. It was held at the 7eme Art cinema in Rabat and was part of a British Council Morocco’s third annual “British Film Week”. British Council does lots more than just hire people like me to teach English, but I don't often get to experience those different aspects of the organization. Last night was an absolutely wonderful exception!

The movie was filmed in 1926 (!!) when Hitchcock was just 27 years old, and is a silent film about two dancing chorus girls and their eventful love lives. Watching a silent film would generally not be the most interesting of activities, but this one was accompanied during its entirety by British composer and musician Stephan Horne, on no less than four separate instruments.

I had never actually seen a silent film before, and it was really more fun than I had anticipated. Sitting in the darkened theater in downtown Rabat, just a few rows away from the musician, I felt transported back in time. In older movies we've all seen theaters full of moviegoers in the early 20th century laughing along with a silent film and its accompanying pianist, and last night I was a part of one of those audiences! Although the movie was most decidedly a drama, and not a comedy, the fact that it was silent meant that there was a fair amount of slapstick humor involved. It was also interesting to note how every gesture and expression had to be exaggerated, similar to stage acting, due to the nature of the silent film. Though the actors' performances were very different from what we're used to in modern movies, they left no doubt of their talent!

One thing that I had never given any thought to before was a very interesting coloring technique used in the movie. Yes it was black and white, but the entire screen would be tinted a different color depending on the setting or the mood of the scene. Outside, nighttime shots were tinted blue, inside shots an unobtrusive yellow, candlelight dinners had an orangey glow. It was a fascinating and very interesting addition to the overall experience!

Another observation I made was how little dialogue is actually needed for one to understand a story. Very often throughout the movie the characters would interact and talk but the audience was simply left to surmise what they said. Amazingly, it worked incredibly well. The shots in which the screen had a static background and words were displayed were used at a minimum to move the story along, and rarely for dialogues. They slows down the story a lot because they were left up on the screen for a significant amount of time to ensure everyone had time to read and understand. At times I even felt annoyed with the words, having already guessed what was written in their content. It was all very far from what I had vaguely assumed going in—namely that every scene would be accompanied by one.

The star of the night, however, was most certainly the composer and musician, Stephan Horne. We ended up sitting just in front of some British Council colleagues of mine who also travelled from Casablanca for the showing, and we were directly behind Mr. Horne. Throughout the film I kept an eye on him, watching his seamless transitions from piano to accordion to mini-harp to flute, and often marveled at how he would play two instruments at once! (The flute-piano combination was rather mind-boggling.) At the darkest and most intense parts he even started banging on the strings on the INSIDE of the baby grand! He never faltered, and matched the mood of the movie incredibly well, and even provided sound for the inevitable-in-Hitchcock-films gunshot. Apparently he’s somewhat of a Hitchcock aficionado which made his contribution even more special. After the film ended and a bunch of British Council attendees has made a circle outside the theater to discuss it, he made an appearance and we were able to express our admiration and ask a few questions. He said he’s a full time musician and right now his main source of work/income is travelling around the world to silent film festivals and doing what he did last night! What an incredibly interesting niche market job! If anyone reading this will be in San Fransisco in April and May he said he’ll be there for a festival then.

Blurry, but look at that talent! 

This link has more information about the film week, which extends through Wednesday in Rabat and will also be travelling to Agadir and Tetouan in the coming weeks. Don’t miss it!!

Saturday, February 21, 2015


My aunt and uncle have a zoo in their backyard. 

That was one of the go-to "interesting facts" I had about myself that I liked to use during lame highschool icebreakers (being cooler than "I've been homeschooled" of course). 

Once my uncle wrestled with an alligator in my front yard.

That was another one.

This is lil sis Tessie because this picture was
easier to find than one of me in a similar pose.

My uncle is named Dave Kleven but often goes by Critterman, and for the past many years has been spreading Animal Edutainment throughout North Texas as well as many other areas of the US. 

His backyard isn't exactly a zoo, but visiting Aubrey, Texas as a kid and getting our obilgatory tour, seeing old favorites and new additions, it certainly felt like one. I remember a cougar, a wolf, owls, an albino boa constrictor (seen above, along with some more colorful friends), two baboons, praire dogs, a giant black and white african porcupine, even a parrot that would complete the three Rs-- after reduce and reuse she'd sqwak RECYCLE for a peanut. And that's only the beginning. There have been lots of animals I don't really remember because I've never really heard of them outside of his backyard!

Explaining what exactly does takes a bit of time, but here's a short documentary about him in case you feel like watching something instead of reading the rest of this post!

Critterman travels around with his "animal ambassadors" spreading knowledge of and respect for the animals through engaging and fascinating shows. His shows are aimed at children but teach the grown ups quite a bit too! He brings live animals, chosen around a theme (like Texas Tails or Squirm Factor or Safari Guide) and presents them to the kids who sit with bated breath enthralled. They learn about the animals' habitats, habits, and how to be safe around them. The braver, or luckier kids even get to come touch the animals in front of the crowd! 

Critterman in action!

Apart from the fun shows we lucky neices and nephews got at holidays and family reunions, Critterman does birthday parties, school and library shows, and much more. He even does many that are free and open to the public in the greater Dallas area! 

Uncle Dave is married to my dad's sister, Aunt Sue, and they met at a college nicknamed "America's Teaching Zoo". After working together to build Animal Edutainment, "Safari Sue" left Animal Edutainment to become the director of the Frank Buck Zoo in Gainesville, Texas, about ten years ago, and has really turned the place into somewhere great. 

Daddy and Aunt Sue!
Critterman, however, is still going strong, and not only has won many regional awards but has also appeared many times on TV and worked with wildlife celebrities like Jack Hanna, Jeff Corwin, and the Kratt brothers. Jack Hanna had this to say about the company:

"I would like to recommend the education programs that are very professionally presented by Animal Edutainment. This organization is dedicated to the preservation of our earth’s wildlife, and by teaching young people about our valuable resources, they hope to make the planet a better place to live. It’s organizations like Animal Edutainment who will provide the education for future generations. I highly recommend them for a program or presentation for your group." 
Jack Hanna 

My aunt and uncle are amazing examples of people who found their passion in life and turned it into not only a way to make a living, but a lifestyle in itself. From nursing baby Fennec foxes in their house to living with dozens of wild animals all requiring individualized care, they never stop working. I'm in constant awe of their dedication to their mission and their animals! And the fact that in the middle of all of that, they've found time to not only come to my American wedding but also the Moroccan one! It was so much fun having them here last August, and Uncle Dave even made, translated, and brought little introductions about their family to share with Othman's extended family.

Couscous with my fam, Dave, Sue, and my cousin Brenna!

Right now Critterman is having a GoFundMe fundraiser which is off to a bit of a slow start. The money raised is going to go towards providing free shows for charities in Northern Texas, and it's a great cause. 

Also, feel free to take a look, contribute if you feel so inclined, and check out their public shows and see if you or your loved ones can attend any! To get a full list go to, click on catch us on the lefthand side bar, and click on community. There's even one in Nebraska, and the list is through October, so check it out to see if there's one happening close to you!

Remember the aforementioned alligator? Wasn't kidding!
Remember the 
aforementioned awards? Wasn't kidding about them either.

Friday, February 20, 2015

A technological facelift


And after!

Forgive the bad quality pics-- I don't have Picasa on my new laptop yet! Very excited about the new addition. I got it secondhand for a very good price, and according to hubby who knows about these things it's a good computer. I saw a woman advertising it on Facebook, and tired of a laptop that shocked my wrists if they were bare and inched its way to progams, I jumped at the opportunity. Still getting used to it, but very happy!

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Poetry, voice-overs, mysteries and flowers

What an interesting Valentine's day!

It started out with teaching my class of 9-11 year olds about poetry, and having my boss attend too as the class was my formal observation for the term. We talked about rhyming poetry and acrostic poetry (see pic below) and they even practiced how to read poetry aloud! I meant to take pictures of all their work, but we ran out of time. I was able to snap this picture though:

Another student chose to write rhyming poem, and his adorable paper featured this:

I love you mom
you are beautiful like flower
I love you dad
you are my superhero power

It was beyond cute, and the boy who wrote it is just the sweetest thing. I hope his parents like it as much as I did!! 

After that I had a long break before my next class, and ended up getting picked up by Othman and meeting the two founders of Pages (which I've talked about before here and of which I am now the official MC during the events) to record a description of it I wrote. I used it to introduce the last event and they liked it so much that they're using it as the voice over for their forthcoming promotional trailer! Stay tuned for that!

After that I taught a class of 13-14 year olds who had the task of writing mystery stories as a project and not only did they do amazing job with the complicated grammar (past perfect and past modals of deduction anyone?) but also their topics ranged from El Chupacabra to the Bermuda Triangle. I have creative students that make teaching on Saturdays not all that bad!

Then Othman picked me up bearing all these goodies, knowing full well I had nothing for him and told him to get me nothing!

He said the pen (which is actually a funky erasable multi-color crayon) could be from me to him, since I told him to get himself something from me while he was out. I guess that works! ;p

Now we're off to eat Chinese! Happy Valentine's day to everyone!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Happy birthday mom!

Today over in the land of sub-zero temperatures that is South Dakota, the powers that be decided to give the land a break, with temps expected to soar well above freezing to a balmy 41 F. That's only a few degrees away from our nightly lows here in coastal Morocco! (Let's focus on the temperatures and ignore the cloud cover and icy rain predicted shall we?) I'm completely positive that this unwarrantedly warm day is wholly due to the fact that somewhere up in the clouds they figured out that it was a Brazilian's birthday today!

Hope you survive the ice mom, and have a wonderful, not-too-frigid day!! Love you!

Sunday, February 8, 2015

A theatrical night out

Last night was one of the best nights out I had had in a while! My friend Elena and I went to the CADS (Casablanca Amateur Dramatic Society) performance of "The Farndale Avenue Housing Estate Townswomen's Guild Dramatic Society production of: "A Murder Mystery'". 

The cast of just five (including my choir buddy Madeleine!) played upwards of fifteen characters, and the play-within-a-play shtick led to some absolute hilarity. Each cast member played an actress of The Farndale Avenue Housing Estate Townswomen's Guild Dramatic Society who had various levels of acting ability. Joining the four ladies of the Society was a male member of the production crew standing in for an actress who had an unfortunate accident the day before when a piece of the set fell on her. He was so awkward and monotone the entire time, which contrasted sharply with the over-enthusiastic ladies.

I won't go into the details of the play but according to the program the two authors based it off of one of their mother's dramatic society in the mid 1900s who produced "shows with women playing men's parts, and doing it dreadfully. But throughout it all was the fun and drive they had, no matter what problem beset them". Through set malfunctions, broken and missing props, entire pages missed of the script and a sound and light board going haywire, the women stayed true to their vision and powered on through their production. It's enough to say that CADS did an amazing job at recreating that atmosphere, and had the entire, very multinational audience roaring with laughter throughout.

I bumped into lots of people I know there and thoroughly enjoyed my girls night out with Elena. I know it's a good night when I get a mild asthma attack from laughing too much! Well done CADS, especially Madeleine and producer/director Robert who I've had the pleasure of working with at BC, and thank you all for a lovely night!

Friday, February 6, 2015

Help out my sis?

Remember my beautiful sister Isabel?


She's studying music education at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota. Because her major demands a huge amount of class hours (from my understanding it's basically an education degree on top of a music performance degree) she won't be able to follow in her big sister's footsteps and study abroad while in college. But that won't stopping her from going abroad! 

She sings in a selective choir at St. Thomas, which going on a trip to Peru this spring. The members will be based in Peru but will sing in different locations throughout the country and also participate in some small service projects, mainly working with children. It will be a short trip but she's very excited about it, and I'm excited for her, especially as none of us have been anywhere in South America before except for Brazil!

She has such a joy for life and is so good with kids!

I was lucky enough to get a few scholarships to allow me to study abroad while at Notre Dame (I guess there were a few benefits of going to a rich university!), but Isabel's trip will be short and not funded in the same way. She's saved a lot already to put towards it (and with it in mind she didn't join the Euro-Morocco trip with my family last August, saving her money for this) but she's still short a big hunk of cash. So in order for her to be able to go on the trip Isabel needs some financial help. She has started a GoFundMe campaign to ask for donations to help her cover its costs, and I'm shamelessly using my blog to try to help her out a bit. 

She has a dollar for every day of the year right now which is great, but let's raise that a bit together?

She deserves this trip if anyone does, especially because it is a direct result of all the hard work she's been putting in the past couple years, and is necessary because she won't have another chance due to all that work! And a trip surrounded by her friends during which she'll be able to share her talents and see a new corner of the world is exactly what suits her. Please consider contributing $5 or however much to her fundraiser, every bit will help her!

See that intense but pleading look? Let's pretend that it wasn't directed at her
annoying big sister but at you, hoping that you'll help her out! She's surely rolling her
eyes at me right now, but hey, a big sister's gotta do what a big sister's gotta do!