San Gimignano is a quintessential Tuscan town, with medieval architecture and beautiful hilly, countryside views.
Fourteen tower houses have been well preserved, giving the city its unique skyline. (There were originally 72.) The city wall dates from the 12th/13th centuries. San Gimignano flourished until the Black Death swept through Italy in the mid-1300s.
My husband took this cool picture from the city wall; I love the way the corner of the wall points to the buildings below.
And, as a bonus, one of my favorite “leading lines” pictures I’ve ever taken, from the Maumturk Mountains in Ireland.
You guys have probably seen that I post about K-pop from time to time; to briefly recount my love affair with this genre, I started listening around 2012, even though I don’t speak Korean, partly because it was way more accessible than J-pop on streaming platforms, and many K-pop groups release Japanese music anyways. I was immediately drawn to 2NE1 (pronounced more like “21”), a charismatic group of four girls from a label known for hip hop and rappers. Their music and fashion have huge Western influence; their style is neither too cute nor too sexy, but instead a powerful, confident vibe known as “girl crush.”
You can check out some of their music videos in my previous posts about them from my K-pop 101 series:
Unfortunately, the group disbanded in 2016, and while the members are pursuing solo careers, the loss of 2NE1 has left a hole in the K-pop industry as well as in the hearts of all their fans, called Blackjacks. In the years since, many new groups have stepped forward, and while no one will ever replace 2NE1, there are three groups in particular I think are doing a great job picking up and carrying their mantle.
This group is the most obvious, direct successor to 2NE1. They were put together by the same label, YG Entertainment, to debut in the same year that 2NE1 disbanded. The two groups even share a producer, Teddy Park. Blackpink also has a girl crush vibe, with a similar Western influence in their music (both groups have fluent English speakers). However, they are not quite as avant garde in their fashion and visuals, or as experimental in their music, sticking with more of a straight pop feel.
On stage, both groups have a similar lively energy, but Blackpink focuses more on choreography over live vocals, typically using head mics to allow for more intricate dancing. They are very polished, consistent performers.
When I started listening to Blackpink, I quickly realized that YG copied the successful group composition formula of 2NE1 by bringing together four girls each with a different specialty. The vocal/rapper/dancer/visual combo works very well for both groups, allowing each member to shine in her own way.
On paper, Mamamoo and 2NE1 don’t have much in common, except each being composed of 4 women. Mamamoo consists of three powerhouse vocals and an unconventional rapper, and their most famous songs have a jazzy feel. However, if you look a little deeper, you’ll see why so many Blackjacks are also “Moomoos:” it’s all in the attitude.
Like 2NE1 before them, Mamamoo is renowned for their stage presence and live performances. They recently won the girl group reality competition show Queendom (where Park Bom of 2NE1 was also participating). Their live vocals are the some of the best in K-pop, and like 2NE1 they typically use hand mics. They frequently change little bits of their choreography or lyrics, doing some ad libs or shout outs to fans that make each performance different and compelling.
Although they don’t come from a hip hop background like 2NE1, Mamamoo can successfully pull off a number of styles, both lyrical ballads and energetic numbers. Recently they have been switching it up even more, with some straight rap and pop dance songs.
Perhaps most importantly, the girls follow in 2NE1’s footsteps by challenging cultural ideals of beauty and feminine behavior, especially Moonbyul with her androgenous style and Hwasa who has been criticized for her looks and fashion. From a country like South Korea where idol culture and plastic surgery are ubiquitous, the body positivity in their songs and presentation is very refreshing and affirming.
It also helps that the members of Mamamoo are themselves fans of 2NE1. Lead vocalist Wheein was very excited to collaborate with Park Bom on her single “4:44,” and you can see some moments of Mamamoo fangirling on Queendom as well.
This is the youngest group on my list: they were rookies last year but have already taken the K-pop world by storm, and this year really cemented their status as a spiritual successor to 2NE1.
Pronounced “Idle” (the G is silent), this group contains six young women, including members from China and Thailand, which probably enhances their international appeal. They are from Cube Entertainment, the label that launched Hyuna and her girl crush group 4Minute, though their main singer Miyeon trained at YG with the girls from Blackpink.
I fell in love right away with (G)-Idle’s version of the girl crush concept, and this year they’ve expanded to include Latin influences and American hip hop in their music. They also participated in Queendom, putting their own spin on 2NE1’s debut song by covering “Fire.” While their style is not avant garde, they are definitely trendy in the same way as Blackpink and use fashion purposefully.
(G)-Idle is led by rapper Soyeon, whose incredible stage presence brings to mind 2NE1’s leader CL, a legendary performer. Soyeon has the same huge charisma, plus she’s the best female idol rapper of her generation (not to mention she produces the group’s songs). She’s already been featured in two League of Legends promotional songs with Western artists (once with Miyeon), and I can really see her going far in the industry and even having appeal in the US. One more cute touch: she uses a bright yellow hand mic in performances, bringing to mind the colored mics still used by 2NE1’s members.
Continuing my theme of staying in castles from last week, on our class tour of southern Spain we spent a night in the parador of Jaén. “Paradores” are fancy, historical hotels across Spain, and this one was originally a 13th century castle, from the time of conflict between the Christians and the Moors in this area. It is strategically situated on a hillside, which gives some amazing views out of the rooms’ windows.
We traveled on to Granada, where we visited both the Generalife gardens and the Alhambra palace, situated right next to each other.
The mix of Arab and European architecture in that area is just marvelous, and so is the natural scenery. Both the windows themselves and the view of out them are worth seeing!
Welcome back to our Star Wars coloring book club, where Kiri from Star Wars Anonymous and I color the same image every month to compare and contrast. We’ve been doing this since 2016 and still haven’t run out of pictures to color!
I just got a new set of colored pencils for Christmas, so I was eager to try out all the new colors. It was nice to be able to have a different color palette, but I felt like I did a lot of blending to get it to look closer to how I wanted it. The new pencils are really nice to color with though!
This isn’t the best picture because I had bad lighting and had to do some photo editing to make it look better. The background is actually shaded with a light blue though it doesn’t show up well here.
ETA: Here is a slightly better picture, though I left the original for posterity 😀
I picked shades of pink and purple for the flowers for a couple reasons. First, these feminine colors seemed appropriate for Leia here. Although she didn’t have any agency in choosing this outfit (ugh), Leia does show that it is possible to be feminine and badass at the same time. Remember, she kills Jabba while wearing this bikini! Femininity can be powerful.
Second, these flowers look like Forget-me-Nots to me, which can be pink, purple, and blue. I thought this was also appropriate as a tribute to Leia as well as the actress that played her, Carrie Fisher. I was so pleased with how they were able to include her character in The Rise of Skywalker in order to give her a fitting send off. The use of previous footage and visual effects worked so seamlessly, and it was wonderful to see Leia as “Master Skywalker,” even if just for a bit.
During our 8 day trip through Ireland with the Vagabond crew, my mom and I got to stay at a few truly unique places, including…a castle! We spent a night at the beautiful Ballynahinch Castle in Connemara, and it was one of the nicest hotels I’ve ever stayed in.
There is so much character to Ballynahinch. The rooms all have names; we were in “Caislean Lough,” which I think means Loch Castle. Here’s the view from our window.
The original house was built in 1756 as an inn. The current hotel manages to blend old and new perfectly, with lovely modern conveniences as well as historical charm. We were so charmed we didn’t even mind carrying our luggage up the stairs!
The grounds are absolutely beautiful and I wish we had had more time to explore them. If you love the outdoors, this is the place for you.