Netflix and Chills: Gran Hotel


Today I am reclaiming the concept of Netflix & Chill because someone has to and because there has to be a voice for people watching a period drama while knitting. Edgy. In Canada good TV shows are few and far between. Regional licensing *yawn* agreements — or lack thereof — mean that the Netflix Canada catalogue accounts for about half of what is available in the U.S. I don’t fancy myself a TV critic, even less a TV writer, but I do fancy myself demanding when it comes to how I waste my time. As such, I decided to share with you my favorite series and movies from the very limited selection available on Netflix Canada, starting with my latest infatuation  obsession, Gran Hotel. (The trailer below is in Spanish only but the Netflix offering has subtitles.)

After Downton Abbey was wrapped-up with a bow and a cherry on top — I like my endings happy and this beautiful series was tied-up with the same flawless class that characterized all 6 seasons – I found myself suffering from a severe case of hangover, which may have been due to my unapologetic crush on everything Matthew Goode . I started scouring Netflix for something, anything, to scratch that itch. Netflix kept suggesting “Grand Hotel” but from the cover pictures I could see that the production — including the costumes, writing and verisimilitude — would not be as tightly spun as my beloved Downton. Well, was I ever right in a wrong way!

 

Cast as the “Spanish Downton Abbey” Gran Hotel — titled “Grand Hotel” on Netflix — is set with the same “upstairs-downstairs” dynamics as Downton Abbey, and that’s about where any possible comparison stops. Where Downton Abbey sought to be a reflection of the era it portrayed, Gran Hotel is using the period as an accessory to its storytelling.

 

The popular series, which ran from 2011 to 2013 in Spain, is offered by Netflix in 3 seasons totaling 65 episodes of about an hour each (so that’s about 100 hours when you factor-in re-watching all the hottest kissing scenes, *coughs* *loosens collar*). The series is in Castilian (European) Spanish with English subtitles. The subtitles are easy to follow — and entertaining for the third season where typos, missing words and the original Spanish sneak-in, suggesting that the translator got as carried away as I did — and the repetitive nature of the plots, roving and twisting around each other, may even allow you to pick-up a few words of Spanish such as disculpe, lo siento and perdon (excuse me, I’m sorry and pardon me). It turns out that Spaniards apologize as much as Canadians do.

 

Each one the three seasons is wrapped around a main plot and a few simple subplots. But unlike American series who like their plots and subplots to go on forever and finish abruptly, Gran Hotel’s writers wound and unwound each plot with satisfying regularity. Questions are answered in ways that are not always believable but consistent once you accept to suspend just enough disbelief to enter into this lavish parallel universe. Gran Hotel is light and satisfying entertainment. There are no zombies, no gore, except for some obvious cinematic blood, and your favorite characters will not be killed willy-nilly. If this is how you like your entertainment, read on as I share — without spoilers except for one that should be obvious from the series’ cover picture — my 7 (plus one)  favorite things about Gran Hotel.

 

1. The romance. Here comes the obvious spoiler: the series is spun around the star-crossed romance between Julio (Yon Gonzalez) and Alicia (Amaia Salamanca). Now, I am a very demanding consumer when it comes to fictional romance and let me tell you, this is one of the most contagious TV romance I’ve seen since Colin Firth longingly beheld Jennifer Ehle in the BBC production of Pride & Prejudice. Gonzalez and Salamanca have incredible chemistry, they burn right through the screen. Pacing is the key to a good romance and this romance is perfectly ordered. It always leaves you yearning for more but never frustrated. Their first kiss — deservedly — won TV awards in Spain and each subsequent one is equally deserving, not to mention the hotter stuff. I’d watch the series just for the kissing, seriously. Add two beautiful actors speaking Spanish to each other with the slow-burning emotionality we’ve come to associate with everything Spaniard and you have a love story playing out without a false note over 60 hours.

2. The pacing. One thing that seriously annoys me in American TV entertainment is the tendency to take viewers within a hairsbreadth of a plot resolution, only to be taken on another round of near discoveries, near deaths and missteps. I heard Gran Hotel aptly described in The Protagonist Podcast — listen here, it takes about 10 minutes to get in gear but it does justice to the first 2 episodes and doesn’t contain any spoilers — as “Downton Abbey meets 24” and it’s a true description. Of course — as with 24 — viewers need to overlook how quickly characters get from one place to the next, get changed and read letters. But I was happy to oblige in exchange for not being taken down some obscure plot rabbit-hole.

 

3.The physicality. Spaniards sure like their face slaps and Gran Hotel actors really know how to put their backs into it. When Julio fights, he fights. At first I found it a little ridiculous, over the top maybe. But I came to appreciate the unrestrained physicality because it carried over to…

 

4. The men-hugs, men-tears and men generally being very expressive with each other. The friendship between Julio and Andrès is real and meaningful and nothing else would explain how Julio can keep his job by so rarely doing it. My British period drama habit had me used to very restrained displays of manly emotions. The spectrum of British male emoting oscillates between angry, outraged and “I’ll go speak to your father…” Julio and Andrès hug, kiss, confide in each other and cry in each other’s arms, while remaining perfectly attractive — and attracted — to the female kind. Fancy that.

 

5. The smoking. The series is a 60 hour long shameless and unrestrained cigarette advertisement. The smoking=sex pipeline is not even thinly veiled. To this Canadian viewer this is entertainment anathema and I love the Spanish for their unapologetic want for political correctness.

 

6. The beauty. This series is visually enchanting. The outdoor scenes were filmed at the historic Palacio de la Magdalena in Santander, on the Mediterranean coast of Spain. The men are good looking but the women are stunning in a non-Hollywood kind of way. The make-up was purposely kept to a very natural look, allowing us to truly appreciate the beauty of the ladies. Except for a few shots of bare backs throughout the 3 seasons, everyone keeps their clothes mostly on, even the few sex scenes are tasteful and understated. The beauty and romanticism are wrought through acting only and this is a feat that should be attempted by American entertainment sometimes.

Women of Gran Hotel

 

7. The cheese. There is some seriously awesome cheese in Gran Hotel. From oodles of fake blood, to a Laurel & Hardy-like policemen duet, to Julio digging his own grave with his shirt off, fighting with his shirt off, looking for a lost button with his shirt off, to babies being born completely clean and as chubby as 3 month-olds, to weird twists and turns in unlikely plot lines, Gran Hotel has a soap-operatic quality that would be overwhelming if it wasn’t for how honestly it comes by it. Embrace the cheese, don’t fight it.

(Plus one) * A word of warning to my Catholic readers. I know that many Catholics are sick and tired of the perpetually negative portrayal of the Catholic Church in entertainment. The third season of Gran Hotel features a plot line involving an affair with a Catholic priest. If you can’t stand the sight of a Catholic priest behaving badly, you might need to give the Padre Grau story-line a pass. I found it tolerable myself because unlike in American entertainment where he would have been portrayed as a cruel or sick pervert, Padre Grau comes across as just another sinner, which most priests of my knowledge would admit to be. Every single character in Gran Hotel has a morally questionable dimension. Everyone has a secret, everyone hides something, protects someone, makes poor decisions. The Catholic priest is just as sinful as the rest of the cast, no more, no less. Otherwise, Catholic ceremonies and Sacraments are portrayed tastefully and many a thing are left “en las manos de Nuestro Señor” (in the hands of Our Lord).

Et voilà! Gran Hotel is the stuff cult followings are made of and considering how much fun I had looking-up links and information for this post, I am in grave danger of booking a themed tour of Spain’s Mediterranean coastline soon. This is a series that remains true to itself from start to finish and consistently treats its viewership with respect. If you have a taste for pure escapism entertainment, book at night — or 20 — at the Gran Hotel.

Julio y Alicia

 

 

 

A miscarriage debrief Part II


 

I wrote the first part of this debrief about 6 weeks after my miscarriage last September. Now that my due date has come and gone, I find myself dealing with a new range of emotions as I move past the shock of the miscarriage itself and into the realization of the broader ramifications of recovering from a significant health crisis.

 

I started showing signs of peri-menopause after the twins were born when I was 37. Low progesterone, erratic cycles, just the usual. When my husband and I decided to have another child in 2015, we knew that I was walking into a growing chance of miscarriage. I had never miscarried before but I knew enough women who had been through this ordeal not to expect to be spared forever. Through the years, pregnancy after pregnancy, I had always been acutely aware of my luck and of the increasing likelihood that it would eventually run out.

 

We conceived in May of 2015. I took a pregnancy test as soon as my periods were late and it came back negative. As my periods got later and later and pregnancy tests kept showing a negative result, I knew that this pregnancy was probably precarious. I took a third test, this one positive and my periods started the next day. It was a non-event. We celebrated the tiny flicker of life that had dwelled in me privately, without informing our children or our families. We were thankful that we had “tried” for this one. That we had known from day 1 that it was a possibility. The next cycle, I got pregnant again. This time, a strong positive test informed us of the existence of our baby number 10. We told our families right away and started informing friends and acquaintances as we saw them in person. It was an ideal pregnancy. For once I didn’t have any nausea. I started wearing maternity clothes in August and I met with my new midwife in early September. When I met my midwife, she offered to listen to the baby’s heartbeat adding: “I don’t like searching for a heartbeat at 10 weeks because we often don’t hear it and it really makes parents nervous.” I assured her that I knew what was in the realm of possibilities and we searched, in vain, for a heartbeat. I kept a brave face because I knew that 10 weeks was too early but in previous pregnancies I had always been able to hear a heartbeat at my first appointment. In other words, “normal” wasn’t normal for me.

 

The next day, I started seeing some spotting. “Bleeding is not normal but it’s common” my midwife told me, “you don’t need to do anything unless the bleeding becomes a concern.” And so I waited. I relied on the encouraging words of friends who had gone through episodes of bleeding and visualized myself at an ultrasound being showed a healthy beating heart and a pesky hematoma.

 

Two days shy of completing my 12th week of pregnancy, I was in the basement with my husband sorting through all the newborn clothes when I started bleeding heavily. I was not feeling any cramping or contractions, it was like my body was trying to flush the fetus by opening the faucet. I headed for the hospital wearing three menstrual pads and sitting on a towel.

 

I soaked through everything during the 20-minute drive to the hospital. I immediately went to the bathroom as I felt a giant blood clot coming through. It was so big that it fell in the toilet with a splash and splattered blood all over the walls and the floor. I called the nurse for help and she casually walked-in, flushed the toilet and helped me back to my gurney. Was it my fetus? I will never know. A few hours later when the gynecologist was able to remove the retained tissue causing the hemorrhage there was only parts of a tiny placenta, a tiny cord and a tiny, ripped-up, sac left. I told my husband to take pictures of whatever came out. That’s all I have, along with my unshakable belief in my fetus’ unique, eternal soul.

 

I eventually passed out from the blood loss a few minutes after joking: “I can bleed like this for *days* with no side effect!!” — loosely quoting Meet the Robinsons because what else are you going to do while everyone is watching you miscarry but quote Disney movies? I fought it hard until a nurse told me: “You’re in a hospital, we’re here, you’re lying down, you can go.” Suddenly, there was no more pain and no more worry. I was completely comfortable even as I felt and heard people rushing around me, insert an IV into each of my arm and push a bolus of saltwater into my body. I knew that there was nothing I could do but pray and let people do their work. I remembered a friend who was in labor and thought that I could offer-up my loss for her son’s healthy birth. So I prayed and I floated. There was nothing else I could do but rest in the arms of God and trust. I still remember the supernatural calm and clarity of the time I spent “under” with a smile.

 

I’m telling you all this because before my miscarriage I thought that I would handle miscarriage with sadness but also an understanding that pregnancy loss was an integral part of the experience of motherhood. When I lost the first pregnancy in May, I knew that my low progesterone would make it difficult to carry a pregnancy past the first few weeks and I thought that I would keep trying. Now, I must come to terms with the fact that even trying to conceive in the current circumstances would be unhealthy. Walking into repeated miscarriages is more than an exercise in accepting God’s will, as I have read in some forums, it’s a gamble with your health. A miscarriage can be as straightforward as a heavy period or it may cause a hemorrhage, require surgery, a blood transfusion or even a hysterectomy. We simply don’t know how and when our bodies will pull the plug on a pregnancy and this has been, for me, a very painful realization. Can I sacrifice my health — a health that is not only my own but that of the family who depends on me — to have the child that I so painfully desire?

 

Lately, I have been struggling with the notion of sacrificial love. The Catholic Church — to which I belong — is all about sacrificial love. In the Catholic Church, nothing should be held back from God. Our lives are not our own. We know that Heaven is opened to those who are “perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect.” This self-sacrificing perfection is acquired in this world or in the next through purgatory — but it must be acquired before we can rise to eternal life. Saints’ stories are rife with men and women who have sacrificed their health and even their lives in the pursuit of holiness. But it is equally rife with stories of ordinary people seeking holiness through quiet, ordinary lives, in their work, their families and their communities. Is the desire for another child a sign that I am called to offer-up my health in the pursuit of self-sacrificial love? Or, if we believe as the Evangelist Matthew tells us, that where our treasure is, there our heart is also, is the desire for another child the earthly attachment that needs to be offered-up, sacrificed?

 

This is the discernment that has been gripping my heart and my soul since the due date that wasn’t. While I was still supposed to be pregnant, I was struggling with the loss of what should have been. But when the friends and acquaintances who were due at the same time I was started welcoming their babies earthside, the bellies lost their anonymity and their babies were obviously not mine. I shed the feeling of present loss like a snakeskin and moved into foreboding, a realization that the future would look very different from what I thought it would be. In discerning whether I am called to sacrifice my health or my desire for another child, this fear is telling. Fear is never from God. When I start comparing myself to others and feeling like I “only” have 9 children, when I start feeling inadequate because I didn’t have a certain number of children, when the desire for another child overshadows my gratitude for my existing 9 amazing children, when I start feeling less, when I see a mother of 10, 11, 12 as more worthy than I am, I know that I am idolizing a larger family, that I am beholding a golden calf. Sacrifices should not be easy. When getting pregnant despite the health implications appears easier than accepting the end of my reproductive years as it is, I know where I need to direct my spiritual gaze.

 

And thus I will give until it hurts, a full measure, pressed down, shaken together, and overflowing, as I know that it will be returned to me in eternity where I will finally meet the children I never had.

Canada Parachute edit