The Making of Harry Potter

Ever since I’ve been interested in movies I’ve been interested in how they were made. As a child I probably spent more time reading “making of” books (I still have a large collection) about my favourite films than I did watching the actual films. Partly it’s out of a desire to see how things are done, and partly a chance to take another, slower, more detailed look at the worlds created by these films.

On a recent trip to the UK we took the kids along to the Making of Harry Potter attraction near Watford, just outside London. This is essentially a collection of the original sets, costumes and props from the films and you wander around it with (or in my case without) a smartphone-style device with an audio and video guide and DVD extras like interviews and clips.

After a brief introduction from an amusing tour guide (as the lights dimmed he stage-whispered into his walkie talkie “Release the spiders!”) we watched a video introduction featuring the films’ three main stars, and then the screen lifted out of the way to reveal the large double doors to Hogwarts’ main hall. Once through the doors we entered the hall itself. Inevitably it looks smaller in real life, not least because sets like these are usually built only partially and then extended with CGI.

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Costumes. Sadly they couldn’t afford to get the real Alan Rickman to stand there all day, sneering at visitors.

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Bring me the head of Timothy Spall! My wife was pleased to see that they used the same brand of face cream she favours.

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The main room. A large collection of props in the middle, and selected dressed sets all around.

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There are various short-term events and this week was “wand week”. At right, a display of all the main characters’ wands from the films.

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Craftspeople were there all day making new wands.

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One was carving a scary face on the end of a wand. She ruefully admitted that most of her work goes unnoticed as whenever you see a wand in the film it’s being held, so her carvings are obscured by the actor’s hand.

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Potions room. Some of the pots were stirring themselves.

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The Weasley family dining room.

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The Goblet of Fire.

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The door to the Chamber of Secrets.

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A broom flying rig and greenscreen.

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There was also a corner where you could be filmed and photographed against greenscreen flying on a broomstick. Naturally you then pay through the nose for copies, so we only got a couple of photos.

There was also a fascinating display of books, pamphlets and newspapers produced for the films. These in particular contained far more detail than you would ever notice normally, even with the aid of your DVD pause button. You do have to wonder if it’s worth all the money and effort that goes into making them.

After this you pass briefly outside to see the triple decker bus from The Prisoner of Azkaban. Sadly you couldn’t actually go up inside to the top floor.

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The bridge to Hogwarts.

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Detail thereof.

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Outside you could also buy refreshments, including genuine butterbeer, which was pretty foul. And then it was back indoors for the second half, which concentrated more on creatures and the art department.

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Animatronic Baby Voldemort (ABV).

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Several items, like this book, moved around if you pressed a button on the display case.

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Spiders and dementors and dragons, oh my!

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The last full set was Diagon Alley.

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Again, the level of detail in the shop windows was kind of insane, although very impressive.

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Then came a large selection of art department drawings.

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And finally, the piece of resistance, as the French would say: a ginormous model of the Hogwarts exterior.

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The lighting changed as you walked around it.

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Now this is not a cheap day out, especially if you pause for even a second while exiting through the gift shop. But if you have small HP fans in your family (as I do) they’ll love it; particularly the interactive elements. And if you have any interest in the craft of film-making, particularly as regards designing and building sets and props and creatures, you should enjoy it. The longer you stay the more you’ll get out of it, as there’s almost too much detail to take in (these photos only show a fraction of the displays); especially if you listen to/watch all the material on the electronic guide.

But take my advice: skip the butterbeer and buy a nice cup of tea instead.

Knightshayes gardens

Having had our fill of the wallpaper and ceilings inside Knightshayes, we headed outside to the gardens. It was a grey, drizzly day, but if anything that added to the atmosphere. Here are the main gardens as seen from the back of the house:

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Zooming in, you can see the centre of nearby town Tiverton in the distance.

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Also, wicker deer.

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Stony faced, eagle-eyed guardians either side of the path.

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Be-lichened façade.

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Continuing the grey theme:

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At last, a splash of colour. You can’t tell from this photo but these flowers had their heads drooping down, so the camera was pointing upwards to see this angle.

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Looks like a pretty relaxing spot to spend the afternoon. At least, once it stops raining.

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Knightshayes

On holiday in Devon recently, we took the opportunity to spend part of a day at a Knightshayes, a local National Trust property designed by William Burges in the late 19th century. Naturally it’s a visually stimulating place, so naturally photography is not allowed. However these days a strategically muted smartphone can help, although I was spotted and gently asked to cease and desist once we reached the last room of the tour: the library.
Also, in fairness, the photo ban only technically applied to the artworks, whereas I was more interested in the walls than what was hanging on them. Because Knightshayes has some lovely wallpaper.

For example, a bedroom for ornithologists:

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The ceiling’s not bad either.

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Malacologists may prefer the nearby bathroom.

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Or something more botanical?

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Many of the rooms had tray-sized mirrors for you to walk around with, so that you could marvel at the ceilings without straining your neck.

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The garden’s lovely too. I may post about that next…

Bookalokal: South Indian Feast

Last night we carried out another bookalokal verification. This was our third Indian meal through this service, and it was easily as good as the previous two.

Sribindu and her husband welcomed us into their spacious and tastefully-decorated house just outside Tervuren, and we sat down for introductions. They had arrived in Belgium just under a year ago, as he often changes country for work and has spent recent years in Canada, Australia and India. They’re originally from Hyderabad, in the south-east of India, and all the food that night was from that region. Then we headed straight to the table; the mouth-watering smells had hit us as soon as we came in through the front door, so we were eager to get started.

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We started with poppadoms topped with masala papad, which is a delicious preparation of onion, tomato peanuts and spices. Certainly more interesting than the usual mango chutney you get at your local curry house.

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The starter was pepper chicken with curry leaves and cashew nuts. Sribindu explained that adding cashew nuts (which are grown in their home region of Andhar Pradesh) to a dish was traditional for special occasions like weddings. This was perhaps our favourite part of the meal. Tender chicken and beautifully spiced. Sribindu’s husband explained that one of the disappointing things he finds about Indian restaurants abroad is that if you ask for the food to be spicy they just dump a load of chilli powder into it, rather than properly selecting and integrating spices into the cooking process.

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The main course: Andhra fish curry, with plain white rice.

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But then after the main came something of a surprise: curd rice with fried chickpeas. The rice was creamy and slightly sweet, but the hard crunch and toasty flavour of the chickpeas gave it bite and we went back for several servings.

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For dessert you can’t go wrong with gulab jamoon.

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We’ve had a variety of different Indian meals in people’s houses over the past year and I think by now the evidence is pretty overwhelming. If you want a great Indian meal in Brussels, forget the restaurants; you need to bookalokal.

Brussels Food Truck Festival

This weekend Brussels plays host to the first ever Brussels Food Truck Festival. Around forty trucks from across Belgium, with a few from France and the Netherlands thrown in to make up the numbers, lined up along the street connecting the cathedral to Central Station. This caught my eye because I’d experienced the huge and varied food truck scene during a few days in Portland, Oregon a little while ago, and appreciated the idea of a selection of street food carts all specialising in a few offerings each.

Obviously this being Brussels, and being the first event of its kind, things were a little different. Firstly, the weather. The festival started on the Friday night and continues until Sunday night. I was only available on Saturday lunchtime, which was a shame as Friday night was beautiful with clear blue skies. Saturday, of course, it rained persistently. Sometimes drizzle, sometimes a downpour, but consistently soggy. I arrived with the three kids in tow and walked the length of the festival to get an idea of what was on offer.
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The recurrent theme was burgers. Lots of different kinds of “gastronomic” burgers (tuna, duck), but I was hoping for something a little more exotic. Some seafood, some quiches, fries, and this van which wins the award for most eye-catching design. I assume it’s modeled after a potato, as the only food they offer is patatas bravas.

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I saw to the kids first, and they chose “New York-style” grilled chicken with rice and yoghurt sauce. from a Ghent-based truck.  I tried a mouthful and it was pretty tasty.

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But I had my eye on the Mexican truck El camión (who are actually based in Lille) a little farther along. I hadn’t had a decent burrito since we went to California in 2011 and the weather had put me in a comfort food mood. The burrista (that’s what burrito-makers are called, right?) wore a Mexican wrestling mask to maintain an air of mystery and his scarf held a variety of hot sauces. The guy in front of me in the queue was a Californian visiting Belgium and France and craving a taste of home, and he seemed happy with his burrito.

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Assembly.

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Sauced, although not the hottest one on offer.

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The final product:

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Talking to a couple of the truck owners it seemed they’d done pretty well the previous night when it was dry. Some patrons I saw filling in forms with their ratings for the different trucks. At the end of the festival the votes will be tallied and awards presented to the most popular trucks. I hope they manage to make this an annual event and that they have better luck with the weather next time. Maybe even in time this would whet people’s appetite for a more permanent food truck scene in Belgium?

My favourite statue in Genova

This is my favourite statue in Genova.

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It stands over the entrance to the Nino Bixio tunnel leading from Piazza Corvetto towards the university.

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It’s Andrea Doria, a 16th-century Genoese admiral. This statue, and the one next to it, was created in 1929 for the opening of the tunnel and are the work of Eugenio Baroni, who is also famous for the monument to Garibaldi’s thousand in Quarto, farther along the coast, as well as many statues in Genova’s famous Staglieno cemetery.

I love the expression, his big, long fingers, and his hair.

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The figure on the other side of the tunnel is Guglielmo Embriaco, a crusader. Note, again, the fingers.

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Maria Mazzini (mother of Giuseppe) can be spotted across the square.

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And since we’re on the topic of statues and masonry, here’s a detail from Genova’s Cattedrale di San Lorenzo. I love the weathered and cracked paw.

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Italian oddities

I’ve visited Genova often enough that I’ve photographed most of the tourist sights and photogenic views several times over, in several formats, from all possible angles. So these days when I go there I end up taking pictures of little bits of silliness that catch my eye, then cobble them together into a brief blog post. I’ve done it before, and now I’m going to do it again. Here they are in no particular order.

I bought some artisanal beer from a market outside a monastery. I only got a few small bottles, but the large ones were very prettily decorated. The handle is handy too.

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Dessert at Gloglo café: “deconstructed tiramisu”. Which I think is a bit of a misrepresentation, as it had never been “constructed” in the first place.

There’s a new tourist tat shop next to the cathedral, and one of their products is a tin of (basil-scented) Genovese air. Or hair, if you believe the English translation.

I’ve been to this clothing store many times before in trailing-spouse mode, but it was only when I saw this group of German tourists come in and take photos that I really noticed the fact that it had been converted from a 17th century palazzo, parts of which have remained in place.

In the kids’ section of a bookshop, one in a series of books featuring a crime-fighting nun who tracks down kidnapped children. Nuns are cool!

In Palazzo Ducale I went to see two connected exhibitions. One was of “dustbowl” photos from America during the depression in the 1930s. As well as the famous shot by Dorothea Lange there were several others obviously taken moments before and afterwards, which was interesting to see.

In the next room was a show of 1970s photos of Italian peasants.

While looking at these with the 8yo a guy came up to me with a stupefied expression on his face and commented to us “What’s wrong with these people? They’re dirt poor but they all have loads of kids!”

Murals under the overpass in the port area.

An ad in the newspaper. In the UK I see plenty of ads for stair-lifts for the mobility-challenged, but only in Italy do they have special lifts to take you down to the beach.

A type of Easter cake I hadn’t seen before. Seems a bit silly that you have to peel the shells off the eggs after it’s been baked into a cake.

A restaurant we visited had lots of bookish photos on the walls. This one was next to our table. The caption reads “Literature is the admission that life is not enough”.

Feltrinelli bookshop, looking down to the ground floor.

These trompe l’oeil decorations are everywhere on buildings in Liguria, but this is the first time I’ve seen them being painted on.

And finally, a Porta Soprana selfie.

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