How to Taste Not Enough Alsatian Wine in a Thunderstorm

1. Plan to visit the Alsace in mid-July, and, as part of your kamikaze attempt to enjoy as much of France as possible in 13 days, schedule a single weekend for it. Spend the first night in Strasbourg and budget just one Saturday for traveling the Route des Vins south to Colmar.

2. Enjoy Strasbourg. It’s a great city, cozy and cosmopolitan. Also, it’s pretty.

Please take a moment to consider that for some people, this is the morning commute.

Please take a moment to consider that for some people, this is the morning commute.

3. Get a primer on Alsatian cooking. Jambonneau, a.k.a. ham, is likely to be served as what appears to be an entire leg, slow-cooked to tender perfection. Flammekueche is an extremely-thin-crusted pizza with lots of salty ham, giant onion chunks, forest mushrooms, and Emmenthal cheese. It’s kind of addicting. Mostly the side dishes are potatoes.

4. Take the train south of Strasbourg on Saturday morning. Exit at Gertwiller, known throughout Europe as France’s gingerbread capital. Discover that the gingerbread kind of stinks. It is chewy and the sugar frosting cancels out the ginger tang, making the fabled Alsatian gingerbread taste like glorified donut holes.

5. Walk in disappointment along the Route des Vins towards the next villages, Barr and Mittelbergheim, which compensate for the disappointing gingerbread by being pretty, friendly, and in the middle of the Saturday morning food market. Grab some snacks, then wander through the Grand Cru vineyards surrounding the villages.

A Grand Cru vineyard between Barr and Mittelbergheim. Thunderstorm approaching!

A Grand Cru vineyard between Barr and Mittelbergheim. Thunderstorm approaching!

6. This is the part where the first thunderstorm should pop up.

7. Run back to the train station and duck under the small awning while you wait for the train. Stand next to a bunch of French ladies carrying their shopping from the morning market.

8. Take the train to Dambach-la-Ville, where the rain is continuing. Duck into literally the first wine tasting room you see.

9. Drink lots of wine samples. You will be offered a spittoon to be a pro wine taster who doesn’t swallow the wine. Never use it. Who do they think you are?!

10. Learn the classification system. Most Alsatian bottles specify the Grand Cru vineyard from which the grapes originate. These vineyards, like Frankstein and Zotzenberg (which I walked through), are often shared by different wineries, or the grapes are bought up by merchants who create blends or do the wine-making elsewhere, after trucking off the harvest. The best, most exclusive bottles are often only US $20. Good ones start for under $10, although in my experience, the wines were both hugely diverse and rather uneven.

11. Grab lunch and wander around town.

Lavender and grapes outside Dambach-la-Ville.

Lavender and grapes outside Dambach-la-Ville.

12. This is the part where the second thunderstorm should pop up.

13. Hide and take shelter in somebody’s garage until the rain is letting up (approx. 30 minutes).

14. Time is running out on the afternoon, and you have a concert and World Cup game to catch in the evening. Catch the train to Colmar.

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Mad Scientist Mr. Sax

Adolphe Sax is the most important musician in Belgian history, because he invented this:

Cannonball Adderley. He invented Cannonball Adderley.

The saxophone became a bonus instrument in classical orchestras, serving as garnish. But it took off in America and the rest of the world as the iconic jazz instrument.

But you know all that stuff. What you maybe don’t know is that Adolphe Sax also invented these:

Mr. Sax's Magical Emporium

Mr. Sax’s Magical Emporium

Sax was a sort of mad scientist, inventing all sorts of crazy new stuff to see if it worked. And here’s the thing: they mostly sounded pretty darn good!

I was lucky enough to arrive in Brussels during the Musical Instrument Museum’s Sax exhibition, containing hundreds of original instruments. The MIM paired select instruments with recordings, and your audio guide (a little tablet thing) could play all of them into your headphones. The results were fascinating, and often bizarre. An early “slide saxophone,” for instance, built the same way as a trombone, sounds grotesque. On the other hand, a non-sliding trombone sounded pretty terrific.

I'm kind of amazed this is not a more popular trombone today.

I’m surprised this is not a more popular trombone today. Aside from that it looks silly.

Sax is, in some ways, a creative artist the likes of which we no longer have. In response to requests from performers and opera houses, he would frequently invent new musical instruments. Composers would work with Sax to create new sounds that only existed, up until then, in their imaginations.

Sax wasn’t always a success. He was sued twice by rival instrument-makers hoping to kill his patents, and he went bankrupt twice. And then there’s the fact that a man who invented dozens, maybe hundreds of new designs, prototypes, and sounds is remembered nowadays for only one. A great one, though, which received an early celebrity endorsement from the composer Hector Berlioz.

Brussels is not a city loaded with tourist attractions, unless you’re a big fan of the European Union. But the Musical Instrument Museum, with its audio guide taking you through the sounds of history, is a huge plus, especially housed as it is in a gorgeous century-old art deco department store. And the Adolphe Sax special exhibition, on now through October 2015, is a marvel. The man may have struck gold only once, but that doesn’t mean he only created one instrument the world needed. It’s more like he only created one instrument the world was ready for. We could use more people like Adolphe Sax.

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Robin Williams, the Lost Clown

Robin Williams was one of our most gifted character actors. His best roles revealed a nervous sadness that was too close, maybe, to the truth.

The best of Williams’ characters were broken people, trying to find ways to heal themselves. In Awakenings, Dr. Sayer is a loner and a timid man who seems to have no life outside his work. The next year he played another doctor, in Dead Again, who lost his license and went adrift: “OK, I slept with a patient or two. It’s not like I didn’t care about them. I loved being a doctor.” Late in his career, Williams specialized in overt melancholics, like the mourning professor in Good Will Hunting, the stalking, creepy Sy Parrish in One Hour Photo, or a father wracked with grief in World’s Greatest Dad. Even when he was funny, Williams suggested something darker underneath. His performance in The Birdcage is notable for the way it’s so out-of-place. Everyone else in the film is outrageous, over-the-top, absurd, cheeky: Williams, known as the most over-the-top comedian of his era, barely cracks a smile.

From “The Birdcage”

Of course, Williams was known for being funny. He was manic, a comedian, a clown, who started in the world of stand-up and made a cocaine-fueled transition to showbiz with the nutty sitcom Mork and Mindy. When I look around the internet, most of the obituaries I see refer to the hits, movies like Patch Adams, Jumanji, and Mrs. Doubtfire. I loved those as a kid, but not as an adult. His worst comedies always revealed a desperate need to entertain, to be liked, to draw laughs. When you watch the parade of impersonations in Doubtfire, Williams seems like the class clown in school, who just craves popularity.

That’s close to true. Williams craved something deeper. His best comic roles acknowledge this: they show the loneliness, the need to connect. Can there be any doubt that Good Morning Vietnam stars Robin Williams playing a depressive? Adrian Cronauer, radio personality: a manic improviser, spinning joke after joke without even pausing to breathe, entertaining everybody he comes across. I’ve known people who hate the movie because they think that’s all there is to it; they think it’s a crass Vietnam comedy. They couldn’t be more wrong. There are also people who believe that, because Louis Armstrong sings “What a Wonderful World” over a montage of destruction, Good Morning Vietnam is a straightforward anti-war movie. That’s closer to the truth.

From “Good Morning Vietnam”

Adrian Cronauer (in Williams’ portrayal) is another lonely man, trying to escape a shell he built around himself. He desperately, even creepily, pursues a love affair. He befriends a local boy and is betrayed when the boy turns out to be Viet Cong: but the betrayal he feels is not patriotic. It’s personal. You can see it at the end of the film, when he seems to have lost something dear.

The movie reveals its hero’s manic comedy as a cover, a facade, for deeper needs. It’s a deconstruction of Robin Williams’ entire career.

Initial word is that Williams committed suicide, at the end of a life troubled by depression, alcoholism, and drug abuse. It’s deeply sad–and it’s even sadder because we can see so much of his struggle on-screen. Williams’ career was defined by the weird split between performances that buried his pain in silliness and spastic joking, and performances which were as emotionally naked as anything by De Niro. They shared a screen in Awakenings, when De Niro played a medical patient revived from a vegetative state by Williams. It’s an underrated movie: both actors are at their most intimate and truthful.

At the end of World’s Greatest Dad, Williams strips literally naked. That’s something we don’t really need to see. But so many of his performances are things we need to see: they speak to human insecurities about belonging, about loneliness, about connecting with other people. The performances speak for that kind of person who finds seemingly simple things like love and trust more difficult than the rest of us do. They remind us of the way we too often let our public persona drift away from our true selves.

Robin Williams was an essential artist. He was a study in defense mechanisms–and in removing them to face the truth.

From “World’s Greatest Dad”

P.S. In 2013, Robin Williams did an “Ask Me Anything” interview on Reddit. One user asked: “i’m going through a bad time at the moment. Any advice for people out there like me who may be going through bad times themselves, for whatever reason?”

Williams answered: “Reach out to friends. They’re out there. And know that you are loved.”

Please remember that.

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Who Needs French Chefs?

It’s the hot new trend in Paris, taking the town by storm: French food made by foreigners.

What? What? The country that protects its language against invading words; the country that protects the names of wines and cheeses against foreign imitators; the country that snootily looks down on everyone else’s pitiful attempts to exist–France is going crazy over French food, made by pretenders??

Yup! Case in point: Frenchie, Paris’s hottest table, a restaurant I had no chance in hell of getting into. The head chef is Gregory Marchand, a Frenchman who grew up in an orphanage in Nantes. And then he apprenticed with great chefs in the following French food hotspots: London, Hong Kong, a tapas bar on a beach in Spain, another spot in Spain, London again, New York City.

But that’s not enough. After all, Marchand was still born in Nantes. So on one of my days in Paris, I spent my time tracking down the best local food–that’s not made by locals.

Let’s start with breakfast:

This one's got apple filling.

This one’s got apple filling.

Apricot tart!

Apricot tart!

Procured from the patisserie right across the street from the apartment where my friends Catherine and Mike lived–a bakery named Mori Yoshida, after the Japanese genius who runs it. The shop itself is so spare, so economical, that it makes an IKEA look like a baroque cathedral. All the pastries rest on two shelves, hanging from the ceiling by chains; in the corner there’s a cash register, computer, and a case with macarons. That’s it.

Mori Yoshida’s apple pastry is delicious, highlighted by a crispy, crack-it-with-your-teeth outside texture that’s just oh so exciting to bite into. But the best thing there is the vanilla bean macaron. In a city awash with macarons, not all of them great, this one stands out: it’s a flood of creamy vanilla flavor, the real stuff, brewed with booze. It’s the kind of sweet treat that overwhelms your taste buds.

A few miles away, in the Left Bank neighborhood of St. Germain, is a small empire of eateries run by Cuban-American Juan Sanchez and New Zealander Drew Harré. There’s a bar, a sandwich shop, a modern-style bistro, and a wine store, La Dernière Goutte (The Last Drop). I stopped at the wine store and grabbed a few bottles, receiving expert advice from the clerk, who was, as you’re no doubt expecting, Australian. (My criteria for the wine: good, fairly affordable, and totally unavailable anywhere in the United States.)

Then it was on to the Cuban-American-Kiwi bistro, Semilla. It’s a delicious place with a set menu that offers you a trio of appetizers (you get all of them) and then your choice of main course. Two things distinguish Semilla from the typical French bistro. The first is its humor:

Great wine list, or greatest wine list?

Great wine list, or greatest wine list? You can click all these photos to expand.

The second is a focus on green vegetables. This is a little surprising, right? But Paris is all about potatoes. At Bistrot Paul Bert, one of the essential old bistros (and rather annoyed by us foreign intruders), I had a great starter bowl of green beans (topped with foie gras), but the main came with a side of potatoes. At Jeanne B., an exceptional lunch was accompanied by exceptional potatoes au gratin. In America we have a tradition of steak with mashed potatoes; in France the potatoes are fried. And in the German-influenced Alsace province, east of Paris, the potato is an even more persistent friend.

Semilla is probably the only French restaurant I visited where potatoes were not on the day’s menu. My order of fresh fish was presented like this:

No, I don't know what some of those green things even are. Marjorie???

No, I don’t know what some of those green things even are. Marjorie???

Leave it to a Cuban-American and a New Zealander to free Paris from the shackles of the potato.

If you’re visiting Paris and want to partake in this trend, there are more places to go, places that I missed. If you’re hankering for local food in Belleville, you might stop by La Baratin, run by Argentine chef Raquel Carena. One of the trendiest places in town is Le Timbre, a tiny room near the Jardin du Luxembourg, run by a guy named Chris Wright who hails from Manchester, England.

Hey, you’re in Paris. Who needs a French chef?

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Crazy Scandinavian Ideas

The Scandinavians have some crazy ideas.

1. Putting throne rooms on the top floor of castles. Rosenborg Slot, the marvelous little castle in Copenhagen (jewel of an enormous, wonderful garden park), devotes almost the entire third floor to a massive throne room. Somehow I was thrown off. Wouldn’t you want it on the ground floor? “Excuse me while I run upstairs to be king for a few minutes!”

Rosenborg Slot

Nice attic, guys. (All pictures expand when clicked.)

But on the other hand, it does make a certain kind of sense. You want to intimidate and impress visitors, right? What better way than to make them huff and puff up two flights of stairs before they get to see you? You can just sit there on the throne, watching them catch their breath and sweat, and feel superior! Wait okay this is a great idea. Next.

2. A gelato shop called Dental Clinic. Who are we kidding. This is an amazing idea.

I figured you guys would need proof. By the way, elderflower gelato is really good.

I figured you guys would need proof. By the way, elderflower gelato is really good.

3. Asian Station Hot Dog Corner. This is in Tivoli Gardens, Copenhagen.

Asian Station

The menu: pulled pork and beer. Because what do you expect from an Asian hot dog place? Get used to the pulled pork. It’s kind of a big deal.

Truth is, the Danes have odd ideas about a lot of ethnic foods. Many restaurants advertise an “American Special”: either a pulled pork sandwich, which is fair enough, or a pulled chicken sandwich. A pulled chicken sandwich sounds not-good, but I was kind of tempted to try it, because where in America can you get an American Special? I have photographic proof that a chain over there is charging US $19.95 for a “pulled chicken burger”. Those poor, poor people.

4. An autonomous hippie commune where everybody’s stoned all day and they have a fake UNESCO World Heritage Site plaque. Say hello to Christiania:

Christiania

Photography is banned in most of Christiania. It’s certainly banned on the main streets. This is one of just two photos I took, and yet this photo PERFECTLY captures the entire spirit of the place. If you want to imagine Christiania in your mind, just look at this guy, and what you imagine is correct.

Christiania is Copenhagen’s semi-autonomous hippie commune. There is an unease and ill-defined relationship with local authorities, where the cops mostly look the other way, ignoring a marijuana culture that would make Colorado turn colors with jealousy. I ran into a fellow American guy there and said I was from Texas. “Austin? You from Austin?” “No, I’m from Dallas.” “Oh, wow. Usually everyone from Austin dreams of coming here but nobody else in Texas has even heard of it.”

The drug dealers pitch camouflage tents, like you’d see on M*A*S*H, to conduct their business inside. There’s also a conveniently situated bakery. But Christiania also has non-drug areas: art galleries and installations, a cinema in an abandoned warehouse (predictably, it shows only avant garde film), a few quality bars, and a great vegetarian restaurant where they cook one meal a day and if you don’t like it, you go somewhere else. Christiania is also sited on canals which feel downright rural; you’re in the heart of Copenhagen but it feels like you’re way out in the countryside. It’s really a remarkable place. Maybe it should be protected by UNESCO. Maybe.

5. Simpsons bread.

Simpsons bread

This is why, when you travel, you should always visit a grocery store.

6. Building a gigantic warship so stable and safe that it can travel up to 0.8 miles before sinking! Meet the Vasa. In the 1600s, Sweden was at war with Poland and needed a few nice big warships, so they ordered some. The shipbuilders got to work on Vasa, a top-heavy colossus with two decks of cannons. Unfortunately, the cannons moved the center of gravity upwards, and the ship was about four feet too narrow. So on the triumphant maiden voyage, a test voyage of sorts on which the crew members brought their wives and children, the Vasa got 0.8 miles into the harbor of Stockholm when a “light breeze” knocked it nearly onto its side.

Heroic efforts by the crew managed to get the ship upright again, but water had flooded in the openings for all the cannons, and once it was upright, it sank to the bottom instantly.

The story gets crazier. 330+ years later, some determined Swedes found the ship, intact, at the bottom of the harbor. So they managed to pick it up, pull it out of the water, put it on land, cover it in preservative chemicals, and build a spectacular museum around it.

After nearly 400 years, the original Vasa is 98% intact.

Vasa ship

Just so you get some perspective on size, do you see that little black thing in the bottom right corner? That’s a person.

There’s no way to prepare you for seeing the Vasa. It is one of the most spectacular sights in Europe, housed in one of the most spectacular museums in the world. A rather thrilling documentary explains the mind-boggling process of raising and restoring the ship; exhibits include original cannons, one of the original sails (somehow partly preserved in the water), and some of the bodies of the drowned. And then there’s the Vasa, around which the (extraordinary) building has been designed.

Stern of the Vasa

There’s just no way to explain it. What you’re seeing here are the carvings on the back of the ship. This photo covers about 1.5 stories of your typical house. HUGE.

The Swedes are convinced that there is nothing else like this, anywhere in the world. They are probably correct. And why was the ship so perfectly preserved? Because it sank instantly in the cold northern waters. Had the Vasa gone into battle, nobody would have seen it again.

7. And you thought IKEA was the start of the practical furniture trend. Nope. Have a look at this thing in Drottningholm Palace, which remains to this day the residence of the Swedish royal family, and where photography is illegal, but that’s not important right now:

Surprise cabinet

Quick! Name That Furniture!

So, what is that brown thing with the marble top and the nice wood carvings? Hah! You’re wrong. It’s a bed. Duh. Back in the 1700s, the king wanted to have a servant boy around at all times, so they made a little fold-out bed for the servant kid, and had it fold out of a fake cabinet.

8. Having a bar called Garlic and Shots that serves nothing but garlic, shots, garlic in shots, and just for variety, garlic beer. In the interest of selfless journalistic enterprise, I went. Full report coming soon.

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Biker’s Island

Last week I got back from Denmark, Sweden, and Germany, and had a great trip. Enjoying Copenhagen and Stockholm was no surprise; they’re awesome cities, especially Stockholm, clean and lively and friendly, teeming with history. The big surprise came between all those big cities. Before we left, my travel partner Carolyn suggested we make a detour to the island of Gotland, located off Sweden in the middle of the Baltic Sea. Gotland is not exactly a legendary tourist destination, so I agreed without having any idea what to expect. Answer: happiness.

Gotland Map

Just so we’re all clear on where Gotland is (click to expand)

To get there, you must take a car ferry full of Swedish people – I only saw one family of English-speaking tourists. The ferry boat is not exactly small.

Ferry boat

Here’s, uh, part of the boat, as viewed from the ferry terminal windows.

The boats all go to Visby, the island’s capital. Visby traces its roots back to the medieval trading networks, and in the 1200s the local government built walls around town. The walls weren’t to keep Vikings out. They were to keep out foreign traders, who were consigned to a ghetto while the locals got to live inside. The walls are still standing, incredibly enough, and a few parts are walkable, although not many. Inside of them, the old town is relatively intact: our hotel was built in the 1600s, although I’m happy to report it has been remodeled since. There are also numerous ruins, including quite a few gigantic ruined old churches.

View of Visby

View of Visby. Notice the roof-less medieval church.

In the summertime, Visby becomes Sweden’s unlikely party capital, but in May, it’s merely adorable, a town of cobblestone streets, al fresco cafes, and narrow passageways. The competent local brewery, Gotlands Bryggeri, is in an old house. And the food is excellent: fresh fish and lamb, since Gotland is full of sheep. (Got does not translate to “goat”; it has more to do with “Goth”.) I had an incredible plate of fried fish – not battered and deep fried until stiff, but lightly battered and almost red, the way (coincidence?) my mom would do it. I also had a delicious ox steak. Ox tastes a lot like beef; it’s comparable to a good New York strip. And then there’s the dessert I’ll be raving about for years: a creamy, toasty “blueberry sandwich”.

Another delight of Gotland is simply renting a bicycle and biking around. You don’t need to be much of a fit, practiced biker to do this. I hadn’t ridden a bicycle in 8 years.

Most of the island is, if not flat as a pancake, still pretty darn flat. Most of it is covered in gorgeous fields, forests, lakes, and medieval churches. And even if you don’t go far, you will find rewards. My plan was to bike out to Roma, a good 11 miles, and see some ruins there, catching a few sites on the way. I didn’t even make it half the distance. For one thing, not biking for 8 years turns out to be a bad decision. For another, I kept turning off every side road and dirt path, and they kept leading to cool stuff. A series of houses with mailboxes painted in detailed farm scenes; enormous fields of yellow flowers; some kind of top-secret installation with a sign that clearly said “No Traffic” but whatever, nobody stopped me.

The church at Follingbo has been there for nearly 800 years, and nowadays it’s still an active church, but a quiet one. When I reached it, nobody else was on or even near the premises.

Follingbo

Follingbo. Actually this is just about the entire town. There are still fresh flowers in the little cemetery by the church. By the way, please notice that I was on an island in the Baltic Sea and managed to have sunny skies.

Down the road a ways, a dirt track wound back into a nature preserve, so I decided to follow it. Eventually the trail ran out the back and dead-ended at an active rock quarry, but not before passing an abandoned quarry which had been turned into a very dramatic pond.

Lake in Gotland

Pictured: the only pond I have seen that has its own cliffs. (There were cliffs on three sides.)

Another path took me, or so it promised, to a “scenic overlook,” which I never found. Not that it mattered, because everything was gorgeous. I can’t say anything beat that nature preserve, though. To get to the pond, you have to pass through some spectacular forest scenery, such as this:

Forest in Gotland

As always, click to gigantify.

In other words, Gotland is one of those unappreciated places where everything is wonderful, even the wrong turns. It’s not famous because it doesn’t have any marquee attractions: no spectacular lakes, or spectacular ruins, or sprawling cathedrals, although it is well-known in Scandinavia for its beaches. Gotland isn’t always stunning; it’s just always really cool, always charming. I only saw about 1% of it, probably, and while at some point there’d be diminishing returns as you witnessed more identical scenery, there is certainly tons left for me to explore. It’s not often you stumble on something so cool and so far off the tourist industry path. Tell all your friends! Or maybe don’t tell them, and just go see it for yourself.

Visby waterfront

The gorgeous waterfront in Visby.

 

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I’m Dhoomed

This week my friend Kait and I went to the local Bollywood theatre to see one of the most popular new movies in the world: Dhoom: 3.

Dhoom: 3

The stars, left to right: Uday Chopra, Abhishek Bachchan, Aamir Khan, Katrina Kaif. Please notice that they are on fire.

It would be hard to mistake Dhoom: 3 for a good movie. But if you don’t have fun watching Dhoom: 3, I’m not sure I can trust you. Film Critic Hulk says that it is “the most movie movie” that he’s ever seen, and what he means is, everything that people have traditionally shoehorned into movies is in Dhoom: 3. There is a tap-dance number. There is a transformer that can change from a motorcycle to a jet-ski. There are bank heists. There’s a guy looking out a penthouse apartment window over an entire city, plotting revenge. There’s a beautiful woman auditioning for a dancing role by stripping. There’s an action lead character who’s mentally impaired, with the actor disobeying the advice of Tropic Thunder and going full retard. Luckily a perfect, beautiful woman falls in love with the cartoonishly slow guy and promises to turn his life around.

Also, there is a circus with fire and juggling and acrobats and high-wire acts. Also, a girl writes a love poem to herself. Also, there’s a standoff on the Hoover Dam. Also, a cop dangles from a rope ladder hanging twenty feet out the back of a helicopter and, with one bullet, successfully shoots a thief on a motorcycle.

Oh, you thought I was joking.

You get the idea.

You might be thinking that Dhoom: 3 is shameless. No. It is so sincere and self-confident that it isn’t even shameless. If you are shameless, that means you know you could have been ashamed, potentially. Dhoom: 3 does not even know shame exists. It is a weird sort of innocent: it wants to be entertaining and fun and thrilling, and as long as it is, who cares about everything else?

That sincerity is one thing that makes the movie so fun. Another great thing is the desire to have every possible entertainment on the screen, from a bank robber running down the facade of the bank building in slow-motion to our hero getting tied to railroad tracks at an amusement park. Yet another is that the movie is set entirely in Chicago.

We Americans have a grand tradition of setting movies in foreign countries and then using the exotic locales to get away with touristy racism. Dhoom: 3 turns the tables, using Chicago to the hilt: the midway, the L train, Wacker Drive, a boat chase on the river, and the Shedd Aquarium. But what’s most hilarious is when Bollywood gets it wrong. A chase scene abruptly shifts from downtown to a rural interstate highway and then back to downtown again. One character rents a high-rise apartment in northern Chicago with a picturesque view of an enormous mountain range. And, as I mentioned, eventually everybody winds up on the Hoover Dam, 1800 miles away.

But hey, we asked for it. All those western movies that appropriate Indian and Chinese monuments for our entertainment? Skyfall, in which a train chase scene that begins in Istanbul ends in the mountains of Kurdistan? Yeah, we totally deserve to have foreigners make movies that don’t understand America.

As much as I loved turning off my brain and enjoying the absurd spectacle of Dhoom: 3‘s Great Indian Circus, bank heists, and underwater motorcycle escapes, I also loved it when my brain perked up to say “Hey! That makes no sense!” It happened a lot:

  • The proprietor of the Great Indian Circus keeps his company in a massive theatre with a front facade of Greek columns. It looks humongous and has GREAT INDIAN CIRCUS carved into the marble. But right backstage is his cool apartment, with a nice back yard and high ceilings and amazing interior decorating. That’s weird enough, but the first time we see him is in his other apartment, a high-rise penthouse completely empty except for a bed and a laptop computer. The penthouse never appears again.
  • When the bank robber robs the Western Bank of Chicago, each time he does the same thing: throw all the money off the roof so it floats into the street below. This is how the bank realizes it has been robbed. Literally, breaking the bank means physically breaking it so that money will fall out.
  • The Chicago Police Department’s initial plan is to simply chase the bank robber with 20 police cars. Then they bring in Indian cops to help track down the Indian suspect. The cops’ new plan is: to simply chase the bank robber with 20 police cars, and also 2 motorcycles.
  • At some point, every female character, including a ranking police officer, wears a button-down shirt and ties it in a knot over her belly button so you can see her stomach.
  • When Aamir Khan is ready to ride out of the back of a van on the motorcycle he hid inside, he opens the van’s back doors by making the van explode.
  • Besides being a circusmaster, the villain is a master inventor who, among other things, invents motorcycles that can merge into other motorcycles to form supercycles. We never see the process, only the results.

Of course, if I pointed out every error, this review would take three hours to read. (My favorite, though: any time you see Chicago police cars crashing, you will have a very clear sight-line on the empty driver’s seat.) Dhoom: 3 takes three hours to watch, and they form an entertainment like no other.

A still from Katrina Kaif’s striptease.

Does this make Dhoom: 3 “so bad it’s good”? I’m not sure. It’s not good, but it’s not bad. It just has one goal, and one goal only: to give you a good time. It doesn’t care about making sense, continuity from one shot to the next, quality CGI, or accuracy about anything. It also kind of hates bankers, American cops, and the mentally disabled. All it loves is wild, mad spectacle.

Okay, forget what I said a minute ago. Dhoom: 3 is definitely a bad movie. And I haven’t had this much fun at the cinema in years.

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