Friday, July 29, 2005

When the Cat's Away

The mice will.... get work done? Shocking, I know. I apologize, my lovelies, for the lack of posting this week. I set a deadline for myself to get something done, and get it done I did. Doesn't help that my more avid readers are strangely all on vacation this week - Kate, Anhabelle, and Philly (although he would claim that he doesn't fall under the definition of avid... but I pretty much consider anyone who's every read the blog to be avid). On top of that, Mireia and Watermelanie were out of work, taking the dreaded bar.

Which reminds me of a story that I'm about to steal from Mireia, who was at Javits Center this week, participating in the laptop bar program. In the general convention center, though, she said that the AC broke down on Tuesday (that's awful essay day), and because the proctors are elderly and were getting dehydrated, they had to evacuate the building, and so on and so forth, which caused lots of screaming "I can't take an exam under these conditions!" and "Shut up! Shut up! Stop talking!" So, as bad as the bar can be, it apparently can always be worse - I thank my lucky stars that I had just the normal shitty circumstances for taking an exam.

Anyway, I had all sorts of things I wanted to talk about, but neglected to - Vienna, Toronto, the IRA laying down guns (and the horrendously biased BBC World Service coverage - so bad, I had to shut it off), how much I hate looking for apartments, shame and self-acceptance of one's body. But I clearly have failed you.

So, above is a pic I took of the
CN Tower in Toronto. I have a strange, and childish, love of going to the top of very tall buildings. I enjoy heights. So, my first night in Toronto, I set off on the 20 minute walk solo to ride to the top of the Tower. It was impressive, though irritating in other respects - they charged a ridiculous sum of money to get to the top and there's a bar/restaurant that blocks a good portion of the view, so one would have to go outside to see the truly interesting part of the skyline. But the elevator ride was awesome - it travels at 15 feet per second and allows for a smashing view of the night skyline. Kinda looks like a spaceship in that photo.

Tonight I'm off to see March of the Penguins, and eat dinner at Martini's Bar & Bistro, which I haven't been to since graduation from (L)Awful School. I'll let you know how it goes. Some pics from Vienna on Monday.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

The kitty on the left is my buddy Abbott. On the right is his brother, Costello, naturally (he's Wendy's cat). We adopted them nearly 11 months ago from the Jersey Animal Coalition. JAC sponsor a pet adoption day every month in Maplewood, and recently built their own facility in South Orange.

Anyway, A & C weighed around 2.5 pounds each when we got them - they were 7 weeks old and had been found on the street by a JAC volunteer. I wanted a cat because they're a lot easier to care for than a dog - no walking and you can leave a kitty over night and they'll be fine. Of course, I had forgotten that kittens tend to be frisky and Abbott quickly managed to climb behind the fridge, into the back portion, and get stuck up there. After I extracted him, he tried to climb back there again.

No matter, though. I got Abbott because I was feeling a bit lonely living by myself for the first time, and he quickly dispelled all of that. He would sit by the door and wait for me at the end of the day, following me from room to room meowing, as though telling me what he had done while I was out. And unlike the cats I had growing up, he liked being picked up and carried around. He's also become an expert bug catcher, slaying and eating all manner of icky bugs that get into the house. One day a couple of weeks ago, I came home late and saw him sitting in my bedroom window. "Abbott?" I called. "Meow! Meeeeooooowwwww!" he wailed. "Hold on, I'm coming." "Meeeooowww!" He was sitting patiently by the door when I entered. It's easy to see why people anthropomorphise animals when they act like this.

I tell this story for one main reason - having a pet has been good for my soul, if you believe in such things, and at the very least it's great practice to have another creature dependent upon you. I know it can be tempting to get a purebred dog or cat- you have the benefit of knowing more of their history and hey, Rhodesian Ridgebacks are beautiful dogs. I, myself, am partial to bulldogs (because, like me, they're rather lazy and would prefer a nap to exercise) and Irish Wolfhounds (very sweet-natured and ginormous). But I've come to the conclusion that if and when I am able to get a dog, or a kitty companion for Abbott, it would, without a doubt, have to be an animal from a shelter like JAC. There are just too many dogs and cats who need and are deserving of a good home.

Check out the happy endings page of JAC (A & C are listed there!) and if you are in a position to adopt, please consider it.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Deparment of Homeland Insecurity

Last week, I flew back into the United States from Vienna, via Rome. As opposed to the swift moving lines we had encountered in European airports, "passport control," as it's now called at Newark Airport, took over 25 minutes to get through…. and we were on a separate line strictly for US citizens and permanent residents. In typical fashion, Janet was asked a variety of questions about the length and nature of her trip, while I was asked nothing. "They think you're selling plutonium to the North Koreans," I whispered to her after we were far away from Homeland Security man. "Yes, I'm quite devious looking," Janet responded.

This weekend, I entered Canada with my parentals, and while the passport control line to get in was long, it didn't take more than fifteen minutes. The Canadian customs dude was quite polite and friendly, cracked a couple of jokes and sent us on our way.

I tell this story to contrast my experience yesterday with U.S. Customs and Border Control at Toronto Airport. It took me, no joke, 40 minutes from the time I got my boarding pass till I got through to my gate. Why? Because I was selected for "random search." Because I live at a separate address from my parents, I had to fill out a separate customs card, and I had to go through the line separately. I stopped after getting stamped to wait for the folks, since they were right behind (and are mildly inept about getting from point A to point B without the help of their daughters).

This was when I was first yelled at to keep moving. "But I'm waiting for my parents," I squeaked. "Ma'am, you must keep moving!" the man with the gun yelled again. So I trudged around the corner and attempted to wait there. As I paused, another fat man with a gun yelled at me to keep moving and jabbed his finger to my right. "But, my parents. I'm waiting for them." "Keep moving! To the right!" he yelled. So I moved on and tried once more, futilely to wait. As my parents came around the corner, I waved, Mom tried to follow me and the fat man told her to stay to the left. "Random search, ma'am!" he yelled at me, "You must keep moving! Now!" I wanted to (but didn't) yell "Please stop yelling at me, dammit!" My bag got tossed through an ex-ray, and was then selected for physical inspection! Whoopee! (Not everyone's bag, I noted, was being tossed). And a new grumpy man then wiped the interior of the bag down for explosive residue (or maybe drugs…. I don't know because they don't tell you anything). He then thoroughly rooted through my bag – toiletries, dirty unmentionables, the whole shebangabang.

I finally was permitted to leave after 15 minutes of this. Of course, when I went through normal gate check and metal detector for my carry-on, I was pulled aside again, this time so that the U.S. Customs lady could root through and pull out my keys, which she carefully inspected (they charmingly take your boarding pass from you and hide it in a plastic container, because clearly, you're guilty of something) and my Tylenol PM.

I tell this story because, a) I was completely enraged by the end of it, and that always makes for a funny and entertaining tale and b) I was shocked and awed by the complete rudeness of the entire U.S. Customs and Border Control staff (they fall under the purview of Dept. of Homeland Security). Let's ignore the fact that I have never so much as been pulled over for a speeding ticket, nor smuggled any contraband into (or out of) the country (not even a freaking Cuban cigar!). Let's ignore the fact that this was a total waste of taxpayer dollars and that no one should feel any safer while lame-o's like me are getting pulled over for searches. No, what got me was the treatment – it was as though these people were sure I had done something wrong. If the fat man had just said, "You've been selected for a random search. Please step this way," I would have been less than thrilled, but I wouldn't be writing this now. Years ago on the border, Marc, Brian, Bob and I got tagged at random to pull over the car and go into Canadian border control, where we were questioned at length, handed over our credentials, and had a computer check run. It was funny to us because we're all quite squeaky clean, and it did add an extra 30 minutes to our trip, but the gentleman at the border was so polite that I didn't get mad. He explained that they pull over every 8th car to run the check and everything was punctuated with a please and a thank you.

As Pops and I sat outside the bathroom afterwards, I seethed with anger. "They treat you like you committed a crime," I snapped. "Could be worse," Dad said, "They could have made you submit to a strip search." "I would have sat here all goddamn day before I let them do that," I yelled. "No way!" I appreciate the importance of protecting the country from terrorists and other nutjobs. But if you want to randomly stop people, people who haven't done anything wrong, you might want to have a little more respect for the fact that you're rifling through their personal effects, and attempt to treat them with some manner of dignity, Department of Homeland Security.

This article underscores my feelings.

Loser's Lurgy and the Rotfang Conspiracy

This post is going to be all Harry Potter. If you don't read/like HP, you may want to skip. If you do like him, but haven't read Book 6 (Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince) you should definitely skip, as there will be spoilers.

The first Harry book came out in 1997, but I didn't read it till I was 21, a senior in college. My mom had picked it up after reading all manner of raves about it, and she couldn't stop talking about it. Harry came along for me during Thanksgiving of that senior year, and he was truly a life-saver. Senior year was not a good time in many ways – my dad was in ill health, my boyfriend and I broke up, I didn't want to leave the cozy confines of college, and my cat died. But everything changed with Harry. The world according to Harry was so far removed, so fantastical, and so clearly black and white, that a person could easily lose themselves, not only while reading, but in contemplating the overarching mystery.

I have been a devoted Harry fan ever since, and I even bought Order of the Phoenix at midnight along with a bunch of 12 year-olds when it came out two years ago.

Harry has of course aged from that abused and sweet boy in Philosopher's Stone to a somewhat jaded and brave teen-ager. Gone is the overly whiny and brooding Harry of Phoenix, thank goodness. And while I loved Phoenix, as I love any Harry book simply for the fact that I am attached the characters and the world of wizards and witches, Half-Blood Prince is a triumphant return to JK Rowling's mix of mystery, intrigue and comic sweetness.

Phoenix was almost entirely lacking in light-heartedness, whereas Prince has multiple moments of breaking up the darkness that is the world with Lord Voldemort. Examples? Hermione's hysteria before finding out her O.W.L.s reminded me of Anhabelle and myself before we would find out law school grades. The Weasley family's reaction to Fleur Delacour, the tremendous characterization of Horace Slughorn, and as ever, anything with Dobby and Kreacher. In fact, I read a review that, although positive, complained about JK's inability to create a character who is neither wholly good or wholly evil. Hogwash, I say. Horace Slughorn is beautifully multi-layered – capable of goodness and a great deal of selfishness.

Okay, enough of that. On to bigger things. The mystery. R.A.B. anyone? Pablo disagrees, but I think it must be Sirius's brother, Regulus Black. It makes sense, and remember that Harry now owns Grimmauld Place, and in Phoenix, the kids found a heavy locket that no one could open. Could be the Horcrux. However, I do wonder how Regulus could remove the locket from the cave…. remember that Dumbledore said that this was not a job one person could do alone.

Next, the biggest mystery of all – is Snape evil after all? Of course, at first I was enraged and thought he was a bad guy. But I am now falling firmly into the camp that there is much more to this than meets the eye. You'll recall that Hagrid overheard Snape and Dumbledore arguing – that Snape said he didn't want to do it and Dumbledore said too bad, he had to. Could Dumbledore be ordering Snape to kill him? Dumbledore would never plead with Snape to spare him, but perhaps his whisper of "Severus" was Dumbledore ordering Snape to do what had to be done. I don't believe that Dumbledore is so blinded by a desire to see the best in everyone that he would place his trust in Snape unless it was truly warranted. And remember that Dumbledore spent a good part of the final chapters demanding that Harry do exactly as he is ordered to do – we know that Sirius never liked to do what he was told, but Snape has a respect for authority and will follow orders… including killing Dumbledore?

Lastly, is Dumbledore really dead? He has a connection with the phoenix, which grows old, immolates, and rises from the ashes, reborn. Harry thinks he sees a phoenix fly up from the tomb. And as one of the reviewers pointed out, Dumbledore's death smacks of Gandalf's fall in Fellowship of the Ring. And JK has said that we can expect more from the Department of Mysteries – perhaps behind the veil?

So many questions… and so much time to contemplate, as the next book won't be out for at least two years. Probably longer. Le sigh.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Blame Canada

Well, I'm outta here again. My cousin Christopher is getting married this weekend (to a lawyer, no less) in Toronto, and the whole fam is headed there for the shindig. My Canadian cousins do actually say, "aboot" which makes talking to them on the phone hard, what with me giggling and all. Anyway, it should be fun. And despite numerous trips to Montreal, Quebec City, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island, Vancouver, Winnipeg, Alberta, Saskatchewan, blah, blah, blah (seriously, my family loooooves Canada), I've never been to Toronto.

Downside - flying with my mom. She tends to freak. Upside - my parents will pay for my food and I get to spend a weekend with the munchies (my nephews) and no one beats up on Crazy like my pinko socialist uncle and cousins. Good friggin' times. Woohoo! Plus, time at the airport is key for reading Harry Potter.

So, blame Canada for lack of blogging over the coming weekend. I will be back on Tuesday.


Sandy said it best.

Yes, I will bring the understanding of a woman to the Court, but I doubt that alone will affect my decisions. I think the important thing about my appointment is not that I will decide cases as a woman, but that I am a woman who will get to decide cases.

--Justice Sandra Day O'Connor

When I was in college, Brian, Lauren and I went to see the former governor of Texas, Ann Richards, speak on Douglas campus about women in politics. I knew from her 1988 keynote address that Richards was funny and would give a good speech, and indeed, she did not disappoint. But I was surprised that she made one of the most cogent arguments in favor of parity for women in politics that I had ever heard.

Richards told a story about how, in Texas until about 20 years ago, a woman could not get a mortgage or loan without having a man co-sign for her. Long story short, it was only till some very grumpy female politicians brought the issue to the attention of the majority male legislature that anything changed. And that, she pointed out, is the best reason there can be for women to hold political office. Not because we are better, or even that different, as she put it, but because we experience situations differently, just as a Latino American, an African American, or an Asian American will experience America in a different way from a white person, a man and a woman will have different experiences with America as well. And we can only benefit from having as many people at the table with those different experiences.

She explained, the men in the legislature didn't think that women should have to have a man co-sign for her.... it was just that they had no idea that such a law existed. And with all due respect to my white male friends, I have certainly seen a lack of knowledge that sexism still exists in our country today, as does racism.... it just isn't as clearly outlined as it once was.

And I see that on the Supreme Court and the President's selection of yet another WASPy white man to replace Sandra Day O'Connor, who, for all her shortcomings, knows what it means to be a woman in a man's world. Justice O'Connor brought something to the table from her own personal experience on a daily basis. You could read it in her opinions.

Today, nearly 50% of law school graduates are women. There were any number of women that Bush could have selected to replace O'Connor, but he picked another white guy.... and so the lenses through which the world was viewed on that long bench at the Court shrank again. It upsets me that more people, women especially, don't feel comfortable saying, "Hey! Wait a minute!" because they'll be branded a feminist (as if that were a bad thing - don't most people think men and women should be equal?).

Look, I didn't expect to love anyone that Bush was going to pick. I hoped for another O'Connor, but realistically knew that wasn't likely. I didn't think he'd go for another Thomas or Scalia because he doesn't want that kind of fight right now. But I did hope, and honestly thought, it would be a woman. We're over 50% of this country, a CNN poll showed that nearly 80% of those sampled believed the new appointment should be a woman, and while it's been ridiculously slow, there have been major improvements in the last 20 years.

Let's face facts. A woman's role in this country's political system is completely behind the times. Ireland didn't gain independence until 1920, but has already had two female presidents. India, India, where they, on occasion, kill baby girls, has had a female prime minister. A bunch of European countries, including the conservative Catholic ones, have had women presidents and prime ministers. And where are we? We haven't even had a woman run for president in the 20th century. Two women on the Supreme Court. There are currently 14 women in the Senate, and that's considered a good number. Why? Why is it wrong to think there should be people at the table, who, regardless of political orientation, can bring a different perspective to the conversation? Why do we hate tough, smart women? It's not just conservatives, it's liberals too who are guilty of this.

Plenty of women's groups are concerned over a variety of issues, but no one makes a peep about the first female justice of the Supreme Court being replaced by Whitey McWhitebread.... Roberts seems perfectly qualified for the job. And if it were Rehnquist leaving, and Roberts were the appointee, I'd shrug. But I sometimes wonder where women are headed in this country, and why we're no longer allowed to complain about the shrinking place we have at the table.

A Hero for the Rest of Us

The Times has a great article about Costco and its CEO, Jim Sinegal. Not only does Sinegal look out for the rest of us in his role as "price police," but he also pays his workers more on the average than any other price club.... 42% more with an average employee earning $17 an hour, 85% of employees have health insurance, and the company contributes generously to employee 401(k) plans. Oh, and did I mention that they don't shut out unions? Even the Teamsters love Costco - "'They gave us the best agreement of any retailer in the country,' said Rome Aloise, the union's chief negotiator with Costco."

On top of all this, Sinegal's yearly income is $350,000, putting him in the bottom 10% of CEOs (he did get a $200K bonus). Of course, he's still filthy rich - worth $150 million in stock options, so it's not like he has to take a shot in the pills to be good to his employees and customers. The end result is that Costco has soaring stock prices, low employee turnover and low employee theft. Oh, and ridiculously cheap prices on everything you could possibly want.... everything legal, that is.

Three cheers for Sinegal, who proves that a CEO doesn't have to be a greedy cheat in order to be hugely successful. This article just convinced me to re-up my Costco membership (seriously, the store does rule).

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Auf Wiedersehen, Österreich

My lovelies! I have returned, safe and sound. Sorry Kate, I know you really wanted my Ipod shuffle. But Arbor Day is coming up, so don't fret! I am pleased to announce that Janet and I had a wonderful time, saw many many things, walked many many miles and took many many pictures. I'll give you a brief rundown here of what we did, but I hope to include more stories (and perhaps even a picture or two) in the coming week. All I'll say is, my poor pedicurist is going to have her work cut out for her, because my feet are in pretty bad shape. And there are multiple pictures of me looking confused, which Janet assures me is pretty much my normal expression.

So, here's the schedule with appropriate links.

Friday: Arrived in Wien at 3:30pm, local time. After dropping our stuff, we went out in search of ATM and food. We wound up in Nachtmarkt, where I had a pils and weiner schnitzel. We wound up walking past the Secession Building, up to Albertina Platz, to the Kartnerstrasse pedestrian walkway, where I finally got to eat some strudel and drink some melange. We eventually meandered back to our hotel, located on Margaretenstrasse.

Saturday: We bought our Vienna cards which meant that we spent a lot of time riding the excellent U-Bahn. I seriously heart the U-Bahn - clean, fast, timely, and so easy to follow the map that even a German virgin like me could figure out where I was going. We started out at Stephansdom, which was impressive, though part of me feels ruined for all cathedrals since Aya Sofya. A large amount of the church was destroyed in bombing during World War II, and the Viennese did an impressive job restoring it. Slightly annoying - a great number of historical landmarks were being worked on while we there, which meant they were partially or wholly covered by scaffolding, much of which was plastered with enormous advertisements. Seemed disturbingly American to place advertisements on the scaffolding of monuments, but whatevs.

We then went to Hofburg Palace and the Nationalbibliotek, the latter of which was a highlight for me. Next up, Kunsthistoriche, or the Museum of Fine Arts. For me, the real hero of Kunsthistoriche is the building itself, which was completely impressive. The art was, of course, lovely, although I noticed that the museum does not seem to take as good care of its paintings as some museums... like the Met. Still, they had three by Caravaggio (although the Crowning with Thorns is considered debatably by another), whom I love very much. Of particular note, David and Madonna del Rosario. They also have the largest collection of Bruegels in the world, as well as some Rembrandt, Rubens, Vermeer, and so on. Personally, not a huge fan of Bruegel, but I do generally love Flemish and Dutch painters, so it was an enjoyable stop.

Afterwards, we took the U-Bahn and a bus out to Grinzing. Grinzing is an area of town on the outskirts of the city, where there are many Heurigen (wine taverns). LP laments that Grinzing is where the tourists go these days to sample the Heurigen, and therefore warns that one ought to try another wine district. I suppose it's true that there were other tourists in Grinzing, but Janet and I were the only English speaking ones and everyone in Reinprecht, where we drank our wine and had dinner, was German-speaking. A concern for me on a trip is not to spend too much time around other English speakers.... especially if they are like the annoyingly loud stereotypical tourists sitting in front of us on our Alitalia flight from Rome to Newark. And we did meet some very nice Canadians and a group of music teachers from the south who were in Vienna for the weekend (they teach in Graz), so it's not that I don't enjoy chatting with other travellers, particularly when they speak my native tongue. Anyway, my thoughts on LP and tourists will come later.

Later that night, we stopped at Karlskirche and Karlsplatz, which are lovely at night.

Sunday: A quick stop in Stadtpark, followed by a walk to the Belvedere Palace, which was constructed by Prince Eugen, and now houses an impressive Baroque museum and Austrian art from the 19th and 20th century. The Upper Belvedere was hosting an exhibit called Da Neue Osterreich (The New Austria) which covered the history of the country from roughly 1900 until the present in order to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Allied Troops leaving Vienna. The exhibit was seriously mindblowing - they managed to explain the history, and in particular did not shy away from Austria's participation in World War II and the Holocaust, combined it with installation art and drew parallels with how the climate effected artists at the time. A-mazing. And in one of the final rooms, a beautiful collection of Klimts, who is one of my all-time favorites. The Klimts were, not surprisingly, so much more impressive in person. It was quite special for me too, as the Belvedere may lose its Klimt paintings under arbitration that will occur this year because a relative of Adele Bloch-Bauer (dear friend and model of Klimt, to whom he gave several paintings) sued Austria for their return after the Nazis stole the paintings from Adele's husband. In other words, these paintings may not be available to the public for much longer. And that collection is impressive - Adele I and five other paintings, worth about $150 million.

Next, to the Danube Canal, where we took a stroll and I had an incredible grilled cheese sausage. Seriously. It was probably the best wurst I've ever had. We then walked down the Canal until we reached Hundertwasserhaus. If you have an interest in post-modern architecture, it's a must. We then took a long walk, and eventually picked up the U-Bahn to the north city for dinner at Stomach, which is Lonely Planet's pick for best restaurant in Vienna. It was, indeed, fantastic. We had thought about going to a concert, but wound up at Julius Meinl on Grabenstrasse, drinking iced coffee with ice cream floating in it and people watching (didn't hurt that there was an excellent trio of string musicians in the square playing Mozart). We also got to see Peterskirche, before heading back to Margaretenstrasse, where we wound our way to Schikaneder, where there was girl working the music, which was nice to see. There were also interesting visuals, including Yellow Submarine with French subtitles, which Janet enjoyed since Hard Day's Night is one of her favorite movies. Our hotel, and Schikaneder, are located in the Freihaus Quarter, which is allegedly the latest hipster area of Vienna.

Monday: For our final day, we had a full schedule.... errr, unlike the other days? Whatever, I'm dumb. We started out at Schloss Schonbrunn, the summer palace of the Hapsburgs, and also home to the Vienna Zoo and a ridiculously large garden complex. Schonbrunn was teeming with tourists, which made the indoor experience a little grating, but our hike to the top of the hill, with an excellent view of the city, was much more pleasant. Also enjoyable - we learned that Franz Josef (final emperor of Austro-Hungary) was desperately in love with his wife Elisabeth, but she compared marriage to being forced into slavery. And Empress Maria Theresia had 10 daughters - one of them Marie Antoinette. I had forgotten about that.

From there to Staatsoper, or the State Opera House. Sadly, we didn't get to see an opera, since the house is closed to performances in July and August. But, we did get to go on a tour of the building, which includes a bust of Mahler by Rodin.

Next up, the Leopold Museum in MuseumsQuartier. MQ is an area where a lot of locals hang out and it's filled with fountains and bizarro installation art seats. It also includes the Modern Art Museum and a couple of concert halls. Anyhoo, Leopold holds the largest collection of Egon Schiele's work, and the exquisite Klimt Death and Life. When Janet and I lived together, we had a Klimt poster on the wall called The Virgin, which is in Prague. But Death and Life shares many similarities with the painting, so it was great to see it in person. As for Schiele, well I knew almost nothing of him when the trip started, but call me a fan now. It's amazing to me that the man, a former student of Klimt, was so prolific and died when he was 28. I can only imagine what he would have done if he had lived longer. His Death and the Maiden completely blew me away.

Anyway, Leopold had a show called Die Nackt Wahreit (The Naked Truth) about the changing representation of the body in Austrian art in 1900, so named for the Klimt painting of Nude Veritas. It was completely fantastic, well set and lit, and included incredible sketches from Schiele and Klimt, as well as a great collection of Kokoschkas. We left Leopold and headed off to Augustinerkeller for dinner, where I had a fantastic Austrian-style goulash (Janet had the tafelspitz) and managed not to speak English to the waiter. Go me!

We went back to MQ's Halle G for what we thought would be a piano concert of Stravinsky, but was a rather strange performance piece entirely in German. The pianist, Barto, was actually only in half the performance. It was certainly an experience, though not what we had in mind when we decided to see a concert.

So, there you have it. My trip. Hopefully I'll thow in some funny stories in the coming week, and there will definitely be more on the food and beer.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Macallen for everyone!

I leave on a jet plane tonight for Vienna and, therefore, will not be blogging till I return to work on Wednesday. Tragically, while I am away, much will occur. A new Harry Potter book and Tim Burton's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory are both out this weekend. Sigh. It's like childhood heaven. Seriously, if any of you give away plot of the Harry Potter book before I get my hands on it, you're in big trouble.

I morbidly bequeathed some prized possessions today to friends in the event that I die a fiery death on this sojourn. I, of course, expect all to go well. But Kate helpfully quoted Dave Barry's definition of humor to me: "A sense of humor is a measurement of the extent to which we realize that we are trapped in a world almost totally devoid of reason. Laughter is how we express the anxiety we feel at this knowledge." Amen to that. A good friend of mine died very suddenly last year, and so I occasionally feel the need to a) tell my people how very much I love them, and how special they have made my life; and b) to joke about the fact that I don't really own anything good to give away.... except my shoes.

So, if I kick the bucket, I'm sure my parentals will host a nice luncheon in my honor, since I don't want a funeral. Do raise a glass of Macallen's single malt and toast yourselves for putting up with me and for making every day worthwhile.

Otherwise, I shall speak with you again next week, with tales of wiener schnitzel, beer, Austrian wine, a library the likes of which I have never seen, palaces, quirky Janetisms, sacher torte, and more Gustav Klimt than you can shake a stick at.

To life! To life! L'Chaim!

I would be remiss if I went on my vacation and did not mention that last weekend I went to one of the loveliest weddings I've ever been to. Yes, Anhabelle and Dave tied the knot, the bride looked beautiful, the groom was dapper, the sister cried, the father generously shared his Hennessy, and the law school friends got drunk.

In all seriousness, the wedding was so great for a variety of reasons that make a wedding successful in my eyes. I, for one, have always been a fan of elopement, or at least going to someplace exotic and turning the event into an adventure/vacation. For me, what ought to make a wedding special is the fact that you have found a person you'd like to spend every day with. And I think that, more often than not these days, the stress of planning a party that will make everyone happy and might break your bank in the meantime, can overshadow that admirable and engaging notion.

But a traditional wedding is successful to me if it allows you to enjoy the day without going broke and stressing out about the whole shebangabang. Anhabelle's wedding was at one of my favorite restaurants in Montclair called Taro. Everyone there was a family member or close friend of the bride and groom and it wasn't so crowded that the bride and groom could only spend one minute per guest. And the food! Oh, Taro, I love you and your walnut shrimp. I have issues with shrimp - if I eat too much, I get sick (much like a 5 year old who can't stop eating candy), but I just can't stop myself.

"Don't even think about touching the walnut shrimp when it comes," I said to my former law school cohorts. "It's mine. I'm not sharing." Rather than calling me out as the selfish bitch that I am, my friends actually let me eat most of the shrimp. Now that is friendship. Of course, there was also roast duck, chicken, fried steak with an orange sauce, dumplings, chicken satay, edamame, and some fish, I believe. It was completely amazing.

Laid back and intimate, the whole affair went off without a hitch and everyone had a smashing time. The highlight for me might have been when Mike and P instigated the horah, tossing Anh and Dave up into the air on wicker chairs. There aren't enough moments of spontaneity at weddings, and this was one of those moments.

So, congratulations to the bride and groom. If I ever get married, I'll use your wedding as my model.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Traveling the Lonely Planet

I leave this Thursday night for Vienna with the kindly and, fortunately for me, highly competent and patient Janet. We fly via Alitalia, making a quick transfer in Milan. Sadly, there will be only the short stop in Italy, as it was too expensive to travel there during the summer months. No worries, though, as Vienna will prove to be very fulfilling, I'm sure.

Anyway. A few years ago when I went to Morocco with Mom, I discovered the joys of obsessively reading a travel guide. I would wonder aloud why Morocco was a certain way, why people did certain things, and Mom, who had inevitably read the entire book from cover to cover, would explain why. So when we went to Turkey the following year, I made sure to read all about it. Specifically, we had purchased a Lonely Planet guide. I've been hooked on LP ever since.

As people who spend a good deal of time with me know, I have a tendency to become obsessed with things that interest me - NPR, a good book, Chappelle's Show, and so on. So that, in conversation, I'll frequently start a sentence with "I was listening to NPR" or "That reminds me of the [fill in the blank] piece on Chappelle's Show" (then I'm reduced to giggles as I try to spit it out). Right now, it's all Lonely Planet. Poor poor Janet. (The fact that it rhymes is not lost on me).

While Janet and I were going over plans and sharing information, I started at least 15 sentences with the phrase "According to the Lonely Planet...." By the end, I could hear the sigh from Janet. The girl lived with me for three years during college, so she knows how I get - I did this all the time with classes. You should have seen me during my Mexican History class. I couldn't shut up about it. (Mexican history is very exciting, though).

Suffice it to say, I believe that having a good guide book is terribly useful - not just for telling you how to say "thank you" in Turkish (tesekkur) or explaining why Moroccan goats climb trees (they like the eat the seeds off them.... don't even get me started on what Moroccans do with the goat excrement) or that Vienna's U-Bahn works on the honor system (but woe to the person who gets snagged without validating their pass!). I personally have a greater appreciation for a destination when I understand its culture and history to some degree before I arrive. I read about the Easter uprising before I went to Dublin, and so seeing the GPO was more than just a building to me - it was an experience. Also, guide books help me figure out all the food I'll eat, which we all know may be the most important thing.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

It's fun to stay at the....

I hate my gym. Well, not really. It has little TV sets at every machine, so I can watch Seinfeld or the Yankees game when I'm exercising. So, in that regard, it's fine. And on the weekend in the summer, the place is empty. That's nice too. But on a normal work day, I miss the Montclair YMCA so much.

First things first, the majority of the women there weigh about 12 pounds. And it's twelve pounds of muscle. And none of them look red-faced and sweaty when they exercise the way I do. I hate that.

The men are all in their twenties, look like they spend about 3 hours a day at the gym, and gawk at the 12-pound women. In the summer, the air-conditioning is barely on – I guess to maximize the sweatiness. Excuse me, but I'm not a wrestler and I don't need to make my weight category, so could you stop trying to kill me with heat?

And I'm the only one who pumps my fists in exultation when the Yankees score a run. I'm the only one singing along to my music. I'm the only one laughing at Seinfeld, even though I see other people watching it! Yesterday's Seinfeld was the one where Jerry gets a bad haircut and he can't be in the bachelor auction for Elaine. So, Elaine substitutes Kramer. As Kramer walks on stage, Elaine says, "Kramer has a high school diploma. Errr, equivalency. He's 'self-employed.' He likes fruit. And he just got a haircut. Do I hear… $5? Ladies?" It was hysterical.

The Y was filled with all types of people – old and young, rotund, slender… but mostly rotund. No one was there for more than an hour and a half. It was delightful. In the summer, it was air-conditioned to perfection and everyone always cleaned off the equipment when they were done. Oh, how I miss you, Montclair Y. I hope I'll be back soon.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Danh tu! Mazel tov!

This weekend, I am attending the wedding of beloved Anhabelle and her betrothed David. The reception is at one of my favorite restaurants - a Pan-Asian place, where I always wind up on walnut shrimp. I can't help it. It's just so good.

The best part about attending weddings (aside from it being an excuse for me to buy a new BCBG dress) is that, when it is two people you really care for, you are getting to share a piece of what will be a very important day in their history. And that is always an honor. Anhabelle and David are going to have a lovely life together. And I wish them much joy.

To the rest of you, have a great weekend.

All Was Quiet on the Western Front

Until yesterday and now the pundits and wags are out stirring shit up and enflaming me. As Madeline Kahn said, "I hate [them] so much,.... flames... flames on the side of my face... breathing... breathless... having breaths...."

I don't watch television news channels much. I think they do glib, shoddy work that's geared towards competition with one another and increases in ad revenue. I think their interviewers are talentless, unless they happen to be challenging morons like Tom Cruise about psychiatry. Tucker Carlson called Jon Stewart out last year on the now (thankfully) defunct Crossfire for lobbing softballs at candidate John Kerry. The real question is, why do the actual media throw soft balls at everyone? As Stewart put it, "If your idea of confronting me is that I don't ask hard-hitting enough news questions, we're in bad shape, fellows." No, with the notable exception of Christiane Amanpour (a goddess among journalists), the television media is seriously lacking.

So, I get most of my news from NPR and BBC, because they will cover stories that the "mainstream" media will not bother with, and because they actually grill people and hold them to what they have said and done in the past. Mind you, this is very different from what people like Tucker Carlson and friggin' Bill O'Reilly do - yelling at a guest and then booting them off the show does not a talented (or responsible) interviewer make. And yes, there are certainly many many claims of "liberal bias" regarding NPR. I disagree. I think they are a paragon of balanced reporting, hence the fact that I nearly drive off the road when they have bible thumpers or Paul Wolfowitz on. And if anything, they occasionally veer off in the direction of mainstream (see their poorly done coverage of the Swift Boat Veterans bullshit).

Anyway, I was irritated today to read on MSNBC (also look at the CNN and MSNBC websites everyday... even though I feel I probably shouldn't bother), Tim Russert's blathering. Apparently he gets interviewed by some schmuck every week and it's posted on the site. Firts things first, what business does Tim Russert have stating his thoughts and opinions? Isn't he supposed to be impartial? Doesn't he host Meet the Press, which granted, is hardly impartial, but at least pretends to be?

The best part is that Russert is pontificating on a subject that he probably knows jack about. One of my favorite nuggets of Russert wisdom: "I read a report out of Great Britain that younger Muslims are beginning to reject this form of violence. We’ll see, because there’s little evidence to indicate that." Well, gee, let's think about that, asshole. How many Muslims are there in GB? Or in the world? Are all of them terrorists? Is every young Muslim man and woman in GB thinking about blowing themself up?

Then he talks about how Blair needs to get on the horn to his people and talk about how if it weren't for their involvment in Iraq, there would be more incidents of terrorism. For someone who went to law school, Russert shows an interesting lack of logic and disregard for the facts. I'd personally prefer it if Russert would stick to moderating Meet the Press.

NPR, the Times, even the Wall Street Journal separate their commentators and op-edders from their actual journalists. I may not agree with most of the Journal's opinion page, but that doesn't change the fact that their reporters are some of the best out there, and I'm happy to get news from them. But the television media can't help themselves. Stewart was right - they really do hurt America.

The Bastards Did it Again

First off, respect to our British friends for being so damned plucky in the face of horror and adversity. Lauren said it best yesterday in her post - the Brits stiff-upper-lip it like no one else. And thanks to WNYC for letting the BBC World Service stay on the air longer than usual so that we could get our news from the best possible source.

I am naturally upset and concerned about what happened yesterday. But unlike September 11th, or even the Madrid train bombings, I found myself with an entirely different, and somewhat disturbing thought. "Great. Africa finally starts to get some attention and that's going to end now. It'll be back to 24-7 War on Terror." And then, of course, el presidente's going to do more fear-mongering and sabre rattling. It'll be great.

I don't mean to be glib, or write off what happened in London, or the injuries and loss of life, as if they do not matter or should not be taken very seriously. That being said, the statistics show that 30,000 children die every single day in the poorest countries from the effects of preventable illness and a grinding poverty the likes of which we could never know. 6,300 Africans die from AIDS every day. Despite that, the New York Times doesn't even have a story on the G-8's decision on Africa. CNN and MSNBC both have articles underneath all the London coverage. And even more disturbing to me - CNN's poll asks what the best method is to combat global terrorism. The majority (37%) say "military action." Military action where exactly? But that's for another post and another day.

As I listened to BBC World Service this morning, I was surprised to hear a very long story, complete with interviews, about the G-8's decision to increase aid to $50 billion in Africa. Despite the increase, proponents of the campaign to end African poverty were disappointed - there were no changes in the trade agreements that African nations had hoped for.

And Tony Blair's hope that he could get the group of eight to promise 0.7% of their national incomes by 2015 also fell by the wayside, as the U.S. (which already gives less of a percentage than any of the other countries) dug in its heals and refused. It's also our fault, along with France's Jacques Chirac (who's clearly having a stellar week of douchiness), that the crippling trade subsidies that prevent developing nations from competing were not lifted or changed at all.

Nicholas Kristof, a real cheerleader for our president when it comes to Africa, wrote an op-ed this week that read like a love letter. But he was quick to point out that more needs to be done. Clearly, Africa can forget about getting any more help anytime soon.

So now all eyes are back on the terrorists. Just like they wanted.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

All is Flux

The Greek philosopher Heraclitus once said, "All is flux, nothing stays still." And indeed, change is the truest driving force and is completely inevitable. And since it is inevitable, I am, of course, terrified by it. I do not deal well with change. I think most people have problems with it, but my reactions to it always seemed especially over-the-top. Over the years, I have learned to cope with change more gracefully, but I still do not embrace it in a way that perhaps I ought to.

Last week when Ma and I were driving back to Mahwah from Ridgewood, we drove past the old Friendly's on Franklin Tpk… and it was gone. Torn down. That Friendly's was there from the time I was very young. In fact, I have no recollection of it ever not being there.

I passed the news along to Kate and Wendy, both of whom grew up with me in Mahwah. Pablo used to work there when we were teenagers, and in fact, managed to get us kicked out of there when I was 18. Kate remembered how she and her sister would take their lunch money and go there for ice cream after school. Wendy recounted the cold greasy food, the lousy service, and the endless weekends we spent at the take-out window.

Colson Whitehead wrote in his short essay "City Limits" from Colossus of New York: "Go back to your old haunts in your old neighborhoods and what do you find: they remain and have disappeared. . . . We can never make proper good-byes. It was your last ride in a Checker cab, and you had no warning. It was the last time you were going to have Lake Tung Ting shrimp in that kinda shady Chinese place and you had no idea. If you had known, perhaps you would have stepped behind the counter and shaken everyone's hand, pulled out the camera and issued posing instructions."

"City Limits" is a beautiful essay. It manages to suppose that everyone living in New York is living in an entirely different city than the person next to them because what makes up a city to a person is a collection of places and apartments that are constantly changing. But more significantly, it is about an individual's relationship with the city.

What many people don't realize is that we suburbanites feel similarly about our hometowns. In fact, I don't even think I realized it until two weeks ago, driving through Mahwah, seeing new houses built, a 7-11 on the Ridge, where there had been nothing but woods when I was in high school. And no Friendly's. "There's a new gelato place," Mom said, in her little helpful voice. I clucked my tongue with disgust. Gelato. Could you see pimple-faced 14 year-olds hanging out at the local gelato place?

Mahwah is entirely different from when my parents left Jane Street in Manhattan over thirty years ago, and it is entirely different from the town I grew up in. That change is inevitable, I suppose, as new people leave the city and arrive in bucolic Mahwah to raise a brood. And they want their gelato. Their kids will grow up with an entirely different Mahwah than my Mahwah. The best I can do is remember that town I grew up in, and create my own new town, wherever I move to next.

So, I throw up my hometown to the universe and the inevitability of change. But I do humbly hope that I will never wind up like Martin Blank, on the phone with my shrink saying "I'm standing where my, uh, living room was and it's not here because my house is gone and it's an Ultimart!" Please, oh, please.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

I'd like to buy a Vowell.

This American Life's Sarah Vowell (also, the voice of Violet in The Incredibles) is filling in for Mo Dowd at the Times. The Dowdster is on book leave or something. Anyway, Vowell's column today, about Pat Robertson and the One Campaign, which focuses on poverty and AIDS in Africa, is both informative and amusing. Check it:

"On a recent 'Nightline,' Robertson showed up with his new best friend, Clooney. When asked if his group Operation Blessing would promote 'the responsible use of condoms' along with abstinence in its AIDS education program in Africa, Robertson answered, 'Absolutely.' Pat Robertson!"

So, a.) thanks, Sarah Vowell, for actually telling me something I didn't know; b.) good for Pat Robertson for acting like a real Christian for a change; and c.) let's hope our President takes a page out of Pat's playbook.

To Market To Market to Suit a Fat Pig

I don't actually think I'm a fat pig, but the title worked, so bear with me. The actual song, which my mom used to sing when I was little, goes "To market to market to buy a fat pig, home again home again jiggety jig." Ohhh, good times.

Several summers ago, I interned in a family court three days a week, and spent the rest of my time waitressing at a country club. It was one of the more miserable summers of my life - very very hot, and I worked every day of the week. At the time, I was driving the minivan, a.k.a. The Fun Bus, which would overheat if I ran the air-conditioning. And since I usually went from one job to the other, I didn't have time to eat much. As a result, I lost some weight.

With that in mind, I set out to buy some suits for on-campus interviewing at school. Of course, the problem with those suits now that I am back to my life of luxury, (a.k.a. a desk job with hidden stashes of chips around the office and a car with AC that works) is that they are too small for me, yet I persist in cramming myself into them because what's the point of buying a new suit? Sure, I look like a stuffed sausage on the occasions when I must wear them, but I couldn't bring myself to pay money for an article of clothing that I just don't like.

Alas, my new job is going to require business dress. That means suits every day. And that means, despite my limited funds, I must start buying suits that actually fit me.

Yesterday while running errands, I stopped at Loehmann's, which I seemed to recall had discounted suits. Oh boy, did they. I love to shop. It's one of my favorite things to do. Not so much with suits, though, because they're expensive and kind of boring. That being said, I walked away with two suits and I'm generally pleased with them. And they fit me so I won't be suffocating at work.

Here's the truly annoying thing about women's suits. Most ladies are bigger in the hips/thighs/ass region. It's just the way it goes, something to do with birthing babies or some such nonsense. Yet, most suits are sold together, and the top and bottom are made the same size. While trying on a variety of Tahari suits, I discovered that while the jacket of the smaller size would fit very nicely, the matching skirt replicated the pig in a blanket feel of all my older suits. Thus, I had to go a size up, the skirt would finally fit, and the jacket would then look line-backerish. In any event, I now must take my deeply discounted suits and get them tailored, which I'm sure will cost a pretty penny. See how they get ya? Bastards.

Anyway, I'm now an official Loehmann's fan, though the search will continue elsewhere for more suits. To the Brooks Bros. outlet at Jersey Gardens with me!

In other shopping news, I went to Garden State Plaza last week to visit my friends at BCBG. And by friends, I mean clothes. Before, though, I used the restroom at Nordstrom, which required me to walk past all the ultra expensive, beautiful clothes that I will never afford or own. Stupid Nanette Lepore and her beautiful clothes. This jacket, which was much more beautiful in person, was clearly made for me, and yet priced about $330 out of my price range. Instead, I splurged on a dress courtesy of Max Azria. If it's anything like all my other clothes from Max, I shall not regret a penny that I spent. Plus, I figure since almost everything I currently own comes from Target and Marshall's, and cost less than $20, I was due for a nice piece of clothing.

Well, I could go on all day, but I ought to be working/helping co-worker Dan find a dress for his lady friend.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Belated History of a Hero

I caught the last half of This American Life on Saturday, and the theme involved reuniting. In the last act, "reuniting" meant the Marquis de Lafayette's first trip back to the United States in over 30 years in 1824. Of course, I remembered from history that Lafayette was a hero of the American Revolution, but I had no idea that he was so revered in our country back in the 1800s. When he returned on a ship in New York Harbor, 80,000 Americans came to greet him. At the time, the population of New York City was 120,000.

As a French aristocrat, he easily could have spent his life eating crepes and what not, but the notion of American independence so captured his heart, that he overcame all obstacles put in his way to keep him from helping. So, it is not surpising that he is one of only six people named an honorary citizen of the US.

He wrote in a letter to his wife:

The happiness of America is intimately connected with the happiness of all mankind; she is destined to become the safe and venerable asylum of virtue, of honesty, of tolerance, and quality and of peaceful liberty.

I hope we prove him right.

Long Story Short

This weekend was filled with many things that I love - watching television with snarky friends, shopping, massive sales, margaritas, poker, friends who knew me when I had very short hair and would only wear Chuck Taylors, Thai food, BBQ (or la barbeque, from the french, right Paul?), shopping, fireworks, and perfect weather.

I will give the abbreviated recount. Friday I hung out with the one and only Banana (of the Liana variety) in my old hood of Belleville. Also present were sister TK and TK's boyfriend Franz. Liana broke her leg/ankle a few weeks ago and is indisposed. If we lived back in the Victorian era, Liana could take to her bed, and people would come visit and drink tea with her. Instead, she gets me, some fruit gushers from the local A & P, a sister ready for the comic circuit, a dyspeptic cat, weird pizza from Ritacco's and Friday night back-to-back episodes of What Not To Wear. We didn't bother with the Yankees since they were getting creamed, and BoSox fan TK doesn't need anything extra to crow about. The apartment looks great - TK has done some more decorating and Vito replaced the nasty old kitchen floor.

Saturday found me at the most excellent Woodbury Commons outlet shopping for sales. It was packed, but good times nonetheless. Next up, a visit with P & E, and their two-month-old Rebecca. P has taken to wearing his hair in a crew cut, and when Rebecca sits in his lap with her equally bald dome, they make quite a father/daughter team. Really, though, as far as two-month-olds go, Rebecca is entering that enchanting stage where she smiles and interacts with her environment. It's good times from here on out.... until she starts walking and getting into all sorts of trouble.

Sunday, I had lunch with Devon and Elana. Dev was the first of the college group to get engaged, own her own home and so forth, so it comes as no surprise that she'll be the first to have a baby. I can't say much about lunch, except that there is something terribly comforting about people who knew you when you were quite different, liked you then, and like you now, even if you changed. I miss them. As for the lunch itself, we ate at the kosher restaurant, Orchid, in Metuchen. We had a cranky waitress, but good matzo ball soup (though not nearly as good as Mrs. Grossman's) and corned beef/pastrami sandwiches.

Then it was time for an epic poker game with Phil and his people. Gordy played the role of Chris Moneymaker for the evening, and took away almost everyone else's money. With the cards he was getting, he really ought to have left this piddling game and headed down to AC.

Monday was the typical barbeque, beer and fireworks. There is something about fireworks that I truly love. I suppose it's the idea of being outside on a fine night with people you enjoy, and watching a dark sky light up. Maybe it really is as simple as that. In any event, I just really enjoy them. If there had been some tall ships in the background, I really would have been set.

Friday, July 01, 2005

A Responsible Response

Since I am technically a social worker, and spent a year working in a mental hospital with people who suffered from the severe symptoms of schizophrenia, depression, and bipolar disorder, I found Tom Cruise's recent blathering about psychiatry and psychotropic meds to be particularly uninformed and offensive. But since I generally think he's a nut, I stuck to making fun of him rather than attacking the incorrectness of what he actually said. Luckily, we've got Brooke Shields to do the job for us. In a thoughtful and sharp op-ed, Brooke recounts her story of post-partum depression and confront Cruise's lack of knowledge on the subject.

Justice Stevens, you'd better suck it up.

Does anyone else have the terrible sinking feeling that we are totally screwed? I do. I didn't see this happening right now, but that's why I don't make any money on the Psychic Friends Network.