Thursday, April 30, 2009

Closure

Tonight brought the resolution of two things I've bitched about on this blog. First of all, the roommate and I had the conversation. I was wondering whether it would be necessary, but he again exhibited signs of having no sense of when not to ask me questions. He's been helping me put up the pot rack--which is the second thing that's been resolved--and actually, he's been very helpful in general--it was just the talking that was driving me nuts. So I came home, said I'd go to the hardware store as soon as I had a quick dinner, heated up my quick dinner, and sat down to eat it, when he starts asking me about my day. The minute I put a forkful into my mouth. Asks me what I did at work.

So I got back and we finished the pot rack-- and it looks good (I won't say great, because the wood panels draw attention to the fact that my ceiling is uneven, and one of the bars has to be at a slight angle, but with the pots and pans hanging from it, you can hardly tell). I thought about how to bring up the whole please-don't-talk-to-me-when-I'm-reading-etc. thing, but I didn't have to, because to his credit, he did. He asked--since it's been a month--how he was working out as a roommate. I said great, except for the talking thing. I made it clear that it wasn't personal, that it's an issue of my being tired and also wanting to get things done, and that it wasn't that I was never up for talking, just not when I was in the middle of something. He totally understood and took it well, said to be completely honest when I'm not interested in conversation.

So, it's a happy ending of April: The roommate issue of the last few days has been resolved, I have a pot rack, and the roommate is paying attention to Gracie so I don't have to.
***

I thought about posting a made-up example of what my blog would read like if I based it on all the mundane details of my life, but I just couldn't do it. And the details of my workday are even more mundane. I love my job, and it has its share of really interesting moments. The highlight—as was the highlight of my previous job—is interviewing people and learning about different things. However, the job comes with more than its fair share of unglamorous, meticulous tasks, which I don’t generally complain about because (1) they’re necessary and (2) it would be insane to complain about a fulfilling, well-paying job and secure job. Nonetheless, as I may have mentioned on these pages, my workplace has been described, somewhat but not entirely unfairly, as ‘where fun goes to die.’ While I’m very proud of the report that we issued yesterday, which will be available to the public a month from now, it’s hardly interesting to anyone unfamiliar with the topic. It’s important, well-researched, and well-written-- for which I can take a tiny part of the credit due to a hard-working team-- but I challenge you to get past the first few pages without falling asleep. And if you think the report itself is uninteresting to 99 percent of the population, its lack of mass appeal is nothing compared to that of the excruciatingly meticulous process that goes into putting the report together and clearing it to get out the door.

My point is, if you ask me how my day was, I'll say 'fine' or 'okay,' because, believe me, you don't want greater detail.

Thursday evening roundup

Compare and contrast.

Egan on political labels.

Thursday morning roundup

I know I said I would stop, but this Hertzberg piece is only partly about the tea parties, and, as usual, it's too good not to share.

Disturbing column from Kristof.

And an insightful-as-usual column from Collins.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Mother's always kind of right

For example, mom was right when she said that it's good to allow space between your car and the one in front of you. Now, that doesn't mean I needed to hear it at the time, or that she was being constructive in saying it (in fact, she was just annoying me, which made me less receptive to her message, which was, content-wise, perfectly reasonable). One might argue (and perhaps I already have argued) that mom has exhausted her credibility, and hence her ability to convey a message constructively, by offering unsolicited advice at every turn. She could tell me to always wear my seatbelt, which I do anyway, and I'd just roll my eyes at her. But I digress.

Mom was also kind of right that my roommate is too friendly--not in the sketchy sense that she implied; just in the literal sense. I advertised for a roommate, not for a live-in friend. What is available for the price of rent is a room and the common spaces in the house. My conversation, which entails my time and energy, is not for rent.

Now, I'm more than happy to be friendly, show the guy where things are around town, etc., but when I'm catching up on my Daily Shows and New Yorkers, I would like to do so in peace (that goes for you, too, Gracie), and everything about my body language says as much. I let it go the first time it happened; rather, I figured he would gauge by my monotonous, non-committal responses to his questions that I was not interested in conversation.

Sunday night

RM: So, tell me about your trip to China.
A.: [Shrug]. It was... over a year ago.
RM: You were there with your parents. How was that?
A.: It was okay.

A.: I'm really fading. Goodnight.

It was a bit smoother than that, but not much.

Tonight

There is sound coming off of my computer. It's the last few minutes of the Colbert Report.

RM: So, how was your day? [I'd asked him when he walked in how his was]
A.: It was fine. Busy.
RM: What time did you leave in the morning?
A.: I don't know... around 6:30?
RM: Did you bike or drive? It was rainy.
A.: I took the metro.
RM: So you walked to the metro in the rain.
A.: Yes.
RM: How long did that take?
A.: Just under ten minutes.
RM: Then?
A.: Then it takes twenty minutes to get to Chinatown, than another five to get to walk to the office.
RM: Oh, you have to walk once you get there, too?
A.: Yes.
RM: Then what happens?
A.: Then I work.
RM: So, first you turn on your computer...

OMFG. Did you all read that link from yesterday about Bob Graham and his diaries? There's a reason my blog isn't like that: I neither thing anyone else is, or should be, interested in the minutiae of my day, nor am I interested in that stuff. It bores me, and it's my day. It annoys me when my mom interrogates me about details she couldn't possibly have any use for, and it annoyed me when he was interrogating me. But it annoyed me even more that he had no gauge of how uninterested I was in this conversation.

RM: It's that, people fascinate me. I find people really fascinating.

And we had a discussion earlier about how he was an extrovert, gets energy from people, and he was really proud of himself for figuring out that I'm an introvert. So why can't he figure out that this conversation is less than enjoyable for me? Isn't part of being an extrovert having social skills?

RM: So, what's your routine once you've turned on your computer.
A.: I don't really have a routine. It depends on what's going on that day.
RM: So what was going on today?
A.: Well, I had to get this report out the door...
RM: What was it on?
A.: [content omitted]
RM: What did you find?
A.: I can't talk about that for another month, when it's officially out.
RM: Well, I could just google it.
A.: You could, but you won't get any results until it's officially issued, a month from now.
RM: So after you turn your computer on, you get your coffee, or tea?

And so on until I cut the conversation off. It was actually a very frustrating day at work and I didn't want to talk about it. And who the f* cares about my routine? Have I ever, ever blogged about my routine at work? That's because there is nothing interesting about it whatsoever.

An hour or so later. I'm blogging.

RM: So, what is the name of the book you're writing?
A.: [dismissive laugh]
RM: What is the name of the book you're writing?
A.: I'm not writing a book.

He got the point, for a whole ten minutes. Then started talking again (just saying something silly to get my attention).

RM: Can you hear me?
A.: Yes, I can hear you. I'm trying not to, because I'm busy, but I can hear you.

Hopefully, with that, I have established that I'm not always up for conversation, just because I'm here. I'm willing to get more confrontational but I'm hoping that I won't have to. It's a six-month lease, with five months left, and he won't be here most weekends.

And I don't mean single women with cats

My demographic is officially worth studying: check out this event, which I, unfortunately, will not be able to attend.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Comedy

I hope you all caught Jon Stewart's (mispronounced) Che reference last night. And in case you were wondering, the t-shirts are still sold out on Colbert Nation.

Speaking of Colbert, a scientific study indicates that conservatives don't realize he's joking; and the National Organization for Marriage harbors some delusions about its video being featured on his show.

Phone call

Mom means well, but she fails to appreciate that (1) I have access to groceries; (2) while my kitchen and fridge are not tiny, I don't care to fill either up with things I don't need; and (3) irony makes the situation slightly more tolerable (see title of this blog to register irony).

Mom: You like that port-wine cheese, right?
A.: Yes...
Mom: Oh, good. I bought you two pounds of it.
A.: What? Why? Mom, I don't need...
Mom: It keeps well, you'll get through it bit by bit.

Mom: What's that noise? Are you outside?
A.: Yes.
Mom, worried: Driving?
A.: No.

Mom: Are you going to bed now?
A.: No.

It was about 8:30pm.

Tuesday evening roundup

This is awesome, and I'd be worried that I've done as much perfectly sober, but I've talked to plenty of other people who have done it, too. At one point at a brunch last year, almost an entire table of people, most of whom I'd never met in my life, were talking about how they found themselves in the Pentagon's parking lot.

Wendy learned this the hard way yesterday and this morning (albeit unrelated to the Pentagon):
The Pentagon's own Web site tells visitors to take public transportation and warns that driving through the District during rush hours is "asking for trouble" and that the options to get to the Pentagon are "tricky" and "trickier."


***
I know you're sick of reading analyses of the tea parties-- and I've refrained from posting stuff-- but this one is really good.

On a kind-of related note, why moral hazard arguments against mortgage rescue can be misguided.

***
A witty take on the excesses of twitter.

***
I'm sure there's a market in this country for this kind of thing just waiting to be tapped.

***
You may want to wash your eyes out with soap upon seeing the picture, but the last sentence of the blurb is even more disturbing.

***
The second-seat controversy broke as I was on my way to St. Lucia. The Economist offers an intelligent take.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

St. Lucia

Answers to the questions you may be thinking:

Do you ever work?
-If you’ll recall, I worked over the holidays. Well, not on the actual holidays, but on the surrounding days. I work a lot. And then I take a lot of vacation.

If it makes you feel any better, I did get pangs of guilt, especially during the most amazing moments of the trip, when I’d find myself thinking, ‘I can’t believe I’m snorkeling, seeing these exotic, colorful fish, while my teammates are working to get two reports out the door.’ And then I’d get over it.

Actually, when I first got the wedding invitation, and figured out that I could get there and back on miles, I thought, ‘okay, how can I go to the wedding and miss the least possible amount of work, i.e. spend the least amount of time possible in St. Lucia.’ And then I caught myself in that thought and snapped out of it, and decided to go for five days.

How come you won the vacation lottery?
-Cuz I won the friend lottery. I have great friends. They’re fun and they initiate fun trips.

As your mom would say, didn’t Heather and Tom and their families get sick of you?
-Perhaps, but they continued to put up with my overbearing presence, out of politeness if nothing else, as mom would say.

How did you coordinate without cell phones?
-It worked out, partly because Soufriere is kind of a small city. I had no idea, upon arrival on the island, what I would do with myself that evening or the following day (I arrived on Friday afternoon and the wedding was Saturday evening), but when I checked into my hotel, the receptionist conveyed a message, from Heather, that she’d pick me up outside the hotel for dinner.

My hotel was downtown, across from the main square and main church (and yes, the church bells in the morning did get annoying). You couldn’t really go to many places without driving past it. I’d read a handful of reviews, some glowing, some less so—there were complaints about city noise (bad the first night—but no traveler with half a brain leaves home without earplugs—and actually non-existent for most of my stay), and there were some warnings about the ‘seedy’ location, which I rightly took with a grain of salt. Nothing about that area was seedy—it was just… urban Caribbean. Newsflash: outside the polished resorts of the Caribbean live some very poor people. There wasn’t a day that Soufriere didn’t remind me of Bluefields in one way or another, although it was less depressed.

On Saturday, we yachted over to Ti Kaye, where we snorkeled before leisurely sailing back. It was beautiful, and I took a few pictures of the sea and the overlooking villages and cliffs, but most turned out pretty blah. It was great. Heather, at one point, said, ‘This is the life.’ I again felt bad about not being at work, even though it was Saturday, because I had a feeling my team was working anyway… but once again, I got over it.

We sailed back to Soufriere, where the captain and crew (of one/two total) pointed out the boat that was used in “Pirates of the Caribbean,” which was filmed in nearby St. Vincent and the Grenadines. After cleaning up, I headed outside to wait for my ride. Not renting a car in St Lucia was the best decision ever—not that I would have even thought about it if I’d realized at the time that they drive on the left, or that the roads are so bad. I’d planned to take taxis, which I did to and from the airport, but the rest of the time, someone from Heather’s or Tom’s family would swing by to pick me up.

I had a little bit of time before the wedding to clean up and have lunch, so I stopped into Camille's for an okay roti (a massive wrap). Not unusually, the kitchen was elsewhere--in this case, upstairs--but there was a bar in the restaurant. On the shelves, next to all the neatly arranged alcohol, was a handwritten sign that said 'Viagra Sold Here.'

I'm glad I wasn't staying in one of the places with iffy plumbing or water supply, because it was hot and humid enough, and we were active enough, that I just wanted to shower all the time. It was kind of futile, because you'd want to shower five minutes after getting out of the shower, but it was still nice to shower.

Heather invited us to come early and hang out while she got ready. Crystals, where she was staying and where the wedding would be, offers great views of the Pitons—the two volcanos that define the St Lucian landscape (the southern part of it, anyway)—and the other surrounding mountains. You couldn’t turn your head without seeing something beautiful. I went out on their balcony and took some pictures before coming in to offer my share of moral support.

Not much was needed—Heather was anything but bridezilla.

Heather: Am I wearing too much lipstick?
A., others: Not at all.

As someone who doesn’t usually wear makeup, when I do actually put it on it always feels excessive, so I knew where she was coming from.

Heather: It seems like I’m wearing a lot of makeup. Do I look like a prostitute?
A., others: Not at all.

Later

A.: I’m having similar thoughts with this dress. All this cleavage makes me wonder if I look like a prostitute.
Jessica: You guys are so cute! Have you seen what prostitutes look like these days?

We ventured out on the deck to where the wedding would take place. The pitons loomed in the background. The scenery was beautiful. The musicians started playing their steel drums. Heather and Tom were married, pictures were taken, great local food was served.

The following morning, I walked over to the botanical garden and waterfall/sulphur baths (not to be confused with the famed Sulphur Springs at the drive-in volcano, which Tom’s sisters had explored and deemed a tourist trap—not that the diamond waterfall wasn’t one, but it was walking distance and not a bad way to spend the morning). Soufriere is actually named for the sulphur in the area. I walked back downtown, unsure of my plans for the afternoon, and popped into the Wine and Coffee Shop.

The WCS was started, about a month ago, by a Danish woman whose Italian husband ran a wine cooperative in Italy. He’s still associated with it, and they import the wine and sell it along with—you guessed it, coffee—as well as this habit-forming banana bread made by a local woman. Bananas are very big in St Lucia—it wasn’t fruit season when we were there, but bananas are always in season. I think I mentioned the banana ketchup that you find in stores and restaurants. Other local foods—those I saw at the market on Saturday morning, as well as on restaurant menus—include sweet potatoes, eggplant, green beans, yucca and pumpkin.

I’d heard about the WCS—it’s low-profit, in the sense that it’s partly there to employ local youth—and decided to pop in and maybe check my e-mail. Joel, aka Doggie, greeted me: “Hey—you’re with Kyle and Kim!” (Tom’s sisters). Soufriere was quite the small town. I chatted with Doggie and Beverly over some coffee and banana bread, and started reading the paper online when Mark, Tom’s brother, popped in. He was already best buds with the coffee shop crew. He told me that the family was heading to the botanical garden then (I’d just gone)a and would later head up to Anse Chastenet—a nicer beach than the one downtown—and that someone or other would pick me at the Hummingbird on the way in an hour or two. And so I factored in Caribbean time and brought my New Yorker—the travel issue, as it were—and lo and behold, Tom and Heather drove by and collected me.

Anse Chastenet was lovely. We spent the afternoon there and discussed dinner plans. The folks at Crystals had kitchens and would make appetizers. Mark, a New Jersey native who takes his pizza very seriously, had tried and loved a local pizza place the day before and suggested we revisit it. I’d get the wine, from Lila and co. Chris, Heather’s brother, would join us.

The pizza place was awesome. I wish I’d taken my camera. It’s basically in an alley—well, the walk up to it is, and the bakery, brick ovens and all, was in the back of the building. It too had opened only recently, and business was booming. All evening, people were coming in and ordering pizza. We ordered nine pies and went over to the wine shop to hang out and chat while we waited.

Hours later, the pizza was ready and wine picked up, and we were on our way. Now, the ride to Crystals is not exactly smooth. The other day, I’d bought some eggs to bring up and Tom insisted that I hold them rather than stick them in the back.

Mark: Hang on, I’m going to go fast. I can’t stop thinking about that pizza.

It was like an amusement park ride.

We had dinner and wine and s’mores, and looked up at the stars. I can’t remember the last time I saw so many stars, and so clearly visible. What I could guarantee—and I wasn’t the only person to point this out—was that it was the first time in my life I was looking at the stars without freezing my ass off. It was awesome.

The next day, we went yachting and snorkeling again. I saw even more amazing, exotic fish, and, it being Monday, felt a bit guilty about not being at work. Afterward we had lunch at Fedo’s—a poorly kept secret as an amazing local-food restaurant—where who came in but the pizza guy from last night. Small town, I tell you.

Afterward, Heather’s dad, who is quite the photographer, said he would drive around and take pictures, particularly to Canaries, a town we passed on the water on the way to Ti Kaye. Heather’s aunt Barbara and I opted to join him (another popular activity undertaken that afternoon was napping). We dropped off Heather’s mom, and Barbara and I enjoyed the Crystals scenery while we waited for Heather’s dad to get the camera equipment he needed. I saw Chris and co. coming up the hill and stepped up on a rock to get out of the way. Thirty seconds or so later, I felt a burning sensation at my feet and looked down to see my shoes and feet covered in reddish-black spots. I was being attacked by fire ants. I jumped down and started shaking them off my feet. Barbara thought fast and also shook them off my shoes. It was quite the adrenaline rush.

The ride to Canaries took us past some very scenic views. The town itself reminded me a lot of Bluefields. I bought some plantains from some women on the street—I wondered afterward whether John and Barbara thought that was sketchy—and we walked around the town. The locals looked bewildered at the thought of tourists there. We were fascinated by the recurring contrast of decrepit and refurbished: run-down, boarded up houses next to freshly painted ones with gorgeous mosaic-tiled steps. Just as we were about to leave, we saw some local fishermen drop off a couple of large dorados. They were more than happy to pose for pictures.

Dinner that night was much more subdued—even the kids (Heather’s nephews) were exhausted. The stars were just as beautiful, though.

The next morning, Heather, Tom, Barbara, Jessica (Barbara’s daughter/Heather’s cousin) and I set out to hike Gros Piton. Gros Piton is taller than its Petit neighbor, but also wider, and thus less steep, and unlike Petit Piton, summitable without ropes or other special equipment. Nonetheless, it was a bitch to climb. The first half-hour wasn’t bad, but then it was like climbing really steep stairs for an hour and a half, and the hike down was like climbing down really steep stairs. It was rough; our legs were shaking and we were exhausted. Worth it, though—amazing views from both the north and south faces.

After the hike, Heather and Tom dropped us off at Jalousie beach, which I would easily describe as the most beautiful I’d seen on the island, and took off for their date night. They’d been graciously entertaining family throughout their wedding week and opted for some downtime. I, meanwhile, was enjoying my status as an honorary family member, and continued to hang out with the family, the rest of which showed up to Jalousie shortly afterward. Barbara snorkeled there and said it was amazing. I hadn’t brought my gear, and though she’d offered to loan hers, I was enjoying just treading water and taking in the surrounding cliffs and mountains. Later, we all paparazzi’ed a heron that landed on the beach for an afternoon stroll.

That evening we had a tasty dinner at Mago, where Barbara and Jessica were staying. They served a ginger pumpkin soup, which Crystals had also served at the reception following the wedding—it was excellent. I had reacted wearily to the news of peanut butter flan for dessert, but it was actually delicious.

It was kind of interesting to go around to all these different places—it was like a tour of the accommodations in southern St. Lucia. I have to say that I liked mine—the budget option—the best. I hadn’t even sprung for a room with a view, but that was an option. The hotel was certainly downtown, and it lacked the views and privacy of some of the other places, but the room was actually the nicest I’d seen, and the one with the most functional air conditioning. The folks at Crystals loved their views and their kitchens—and the suites were beautiful and creatively designed—but plumbing problems abounded and the rooms never really got cool enough (i.e. not oppressively hot). The rooms at Mago were open—they overlooked Soufriere, with the Pitons in the background—but didn’t keep out the bugs or noise. The Hummingbird, where Mark stayed, was okay—sure, it offered beach access, but it wasn’t the nicest beach (and I could walk there in five minutes from my hotel, anyway). All beaches on the island are public, so you can access the one at Jalousie, for example, without paying the $600-$900-per-night price tag. Another friend of Heather’s stayed near the airport at an all-inclusive resort, and apart from attending the wedding and dinner the night before, didn’t join in on any activities. She basically stayed at the resort and did water aerobics and stuff. I ran into her later, when we were both waiting for connecting flights out of Miami. She said she wouldn’t go back to St. Lucia; after all, there were many beautiful coastlines in the world—why go back to a really poor island? Fair enough—while I don’t particularly agree with that assessment, nor validate it coming from someone who barely left her resort, I wouldn’t take it upon myself to roll my eyes and fear for the future of my country. Except that she’s in the foreign service.

I’ve never done the all-inclusive thing, perhaps because my parents have and hated it. They hated feeling tied down to the resort, when they were there to explore. I wouldn’t want impetus to stay put rather than get out; nor do I need impetus to eat all I can. Wendy, Chris’s wife was saying that she can see how an all-inclusive place would pay for itself (and St. Lucia is not cheap), and that’s nothing to sneeze at. But I’d decided, especially since my flight was practically free and hotel relatively inexpensive, that I’d rather spend money and see as much as possible of what St. Lucia had to offer than save money and see less.

Which was a good thing, because for a while I was concerned that Wednesday’s rainforest hike would cost me. And it would have been worth it.

Heather and co. were going on a rainforest hike on Wednesday—the day of my flight out—but weren’t sure what time they’d get back, so I opted not to go with them. I’d planned on leaving Soufriere around noon that day to get to the airport at 1pm for a 3pm flight, as recommended. I did want something to do on Wednesday morning, and I really wanted to see the rainforest. And I knew that Lila had also taken to organizing tours around the island. As it happened, they were going to Enbas Saut rainforest on Wednesday morning, and she was sure they’d be back by 11am or 11:30. After all, she’d made lunch reservations at Fedo’s for the other people on the tour—three Americans living on a sailboat in Mexico and sailing around the West Indies. So I signed on.

I was a little concerned when we didn’t get going until 10am (meeting time was 9:30), and increasingly so as it became clear that there’s no way we’d be back in time. My stuff was still in the hotel—I’d wanted to shower upon returning, so I didn’t check out—and the hotel could charge me for an extra night if I wasn’t out by noon. There was also the issue of missing my flight. So you see how these things could have added up. But I didn’t miss my flight, and the hotel didn’t charge me—Lila sensed my anxiety, reassured me that I had time to get to the airport and offered to go in and reason with reception—but she didn’t need to. They dropped me at the hotel around 1pm, and she said she’d go in and talk to reception after she dropped the others at the restaurant. I ran in, showered, grabbed my stuff, checked out, ran to the bank to get cash for the cab to the airport, and hopped in that cab. I felt bad about not waiting for Lila but I figured she’d understand. I do need to write her, thank her, and send her the picture of her and Vanelle at the waterfall. Anyway, the cabdriver booked it and I got to the airport at 2pm. There was no line whatsoever—probably because everyone else had gone through an hour ago—and I had just enough time to get through, wolf down a sandwich, and board. I couldn’t have been happier that I’d spent the morning hiking in the rainforest rather than sitting at the airport. Nonetheless, it was a bit stressful.

The rainforest hike wasn’t nearly as strenuous as the trail at Gros Piton, but it was hardly a leisurely stroll. It was pleasant, because it was in the shade, and the surrounding flora made for a beautiful hike. The waterfall at the base was amazing—the color of the rock face, made shiny from the water and red from the sun, was stunning. I took many pictures, but I doubt any managed to capture that deep red color. It was beautiful.

On the way back up, Vanelle talked about the flora. He pointed out an incense plant, as used in Catholic churches around the island, and also showed us an oily tree whose sticks could be used as torches should one be stuck in the rainforest after dark. He named the various lilies and orchids, and showed us a cacao plant—and cracked open its pod and offered the contents for a tasting. The pulp surrounding the bean was quite tasty, with a citrus flavor. That’s what’s removed, sometimes by people’s feet, before the bean on the inside is fermented and roasted. The views around the trail were beautiful, too, as was the drive back, during which a discussion took place that was not dissimilar to others I’d heard during the course of the trip: how happy everyone was that Obama was president. And these are not fiercely political nor partisan people. Lila said the election was very closely followed on the island, as well as the entire Caribbean region, and that people were ecstatic. Chris, the cab driver who took me to the airport, also noted the phenomenon.

The flight to Miami was just under four hours, and we got there minutes too late for me to catch an earlier flight to DC, but the three-hour wait for my flight wasn’t bad. I made some phone calls and reflected on the trip. I called my roommate to ask if everything was okay, which it was, and he insisted on picking me up at the airport (I would get in after midnight, minutes too late to catch the last metro train to my stop). It was very nice of him.

I told my mom that, she thought it was too nice; I rolled my eyes. He’s just a nice person. I called her from the airport as well—she’d wanted me to call her upon arrival in St. Lucia and I told her that I wouldn’t. Her ‘but you could get a sim card’ was met with my ‘but I’m not going to so you’re just going to have to assume that I’m fine.’ This time—i.e., in Miami, on my way home—she asked me how much the trip cost. I shuddered. Mom’s ‘how much was that?’ is really one of my least favorite car games. This time around, though, she was interested for a better reason, i.e. because she was thinking of going, not because she was stalking my finances. I think… because I told her how much I think it cost me, qualifying with the fact that I used miles for the flight, and she asked how much it would cost if one purchased a ticket. It was very hard to say: I got a great price for the hotel, largely because I was comfortable staying downtown and because whatever-you-want-to-call-the-global-economic-downturn has lowered hotel prices around the island. Activities on the island are expensive: they know they can gauge tourists, and even the hikes are made to cost quite a bit, whether by entry fees or requiring guides. We all did get sick of the constant haggling, at which I’ve never been very good. I do appreciate that some of the high prices are aimed at job creation and sustainable development. So I can’t put a price tag on my experience or estimate what it would cost someone else. And even though the island is beautiful, a bit part of the reason that the trip was so much fun, as with the Galapagos, is that I was there with my friends. I’ve not been to other Caribbean island nations, although I’ve been to Caribbean parts of Panama and Nicaragua, and they, too, were beautiful, so I can’t tell you how St. Lucia compares to, say, Belize, or either set of Virgin Islands. All I can tell you is that St. Lucia is beautiful, the trip was fun and amazing, and my friends are awesome.

hi

Hi, I'm back, and I have a lot to blog about! But between work... and boardgame night last night... and this morning's clearing of the English ivy that's suffocating the boxwoods at the Lincoln Memorial in honor of Earth Day... it's not going to be until later this afternoon. In the meantime, I'll leave you with the Economist's timely assessment of political labels and MSN's takedown of Suze Orman.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Greetings from St. Lucia

I don't think I'll ever blog from my cell phone, but I'm tempted sometimes. Like now. Because it's so f-ing beautiful and idyllic here that I've lost any impetus to tell you about the cluster f* American Airlines has going on when you have to check baggage, for example. Let me tell you, once that liquids ban is revoked, I will never check luggage again.

But I don't care, for now, just like I didn't care in Ecuador--until the next time I have to deal with that BS. Landing in St. Lucia offered one of the most beautiful views I've ever seen. The drive from the airport was cool, too. I checked in, got a message from Heather, saying she'd pick me up for dinner at Fond Deux-- a beautiful, tree-house like place in the mountains. Her wedding was also in a kind of tree house. Can't wait to show you guys the pictures.

I'm not a sappy person, but the wedding was so beautiful, and Heather so beautiful in her wedding gown, I teared up.

Don't know what we're doing this afternoon-- maybe drive-in volcano? We went snorkeling yesterday, it was awesome. Then we sailed back to Soufriere from Castries, and the weather was perfect. I saw lots of sea urchins, sponges, and funky-looking fish. There was one blue and white checkered fish, for example.

I've not had banana ketchup yet, but I've tried the local rum punch. Not bad.

Hope you're all having a good weekend! Later.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

On vacation

Talk to you in a week or so.

A.

Thursday morning roundup

Domino's makes nasty pizza--even when the ingredients haven't been up an employee's nose--and nasty politics.

Gail Collins adds her two cents on the tea parties, although really more on the ridiculous premise (i.e. if you're looking for more teabagging jokes, you'll be sorely disappointed).

I don't usually read (or post links to) Roger Cohen (unlike his Post counterpart of the same last name and first initial), but the man's got a point. I hope that poor guy not only gets the charges against him dropped but also gets Delta to pay up.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Wednesday evening roundup

A friend passed along an even better MSNBC commentary on the teabaggers, and an interesting sociobiological commentary to go with it.

From the 'Why didn't I think of that file,' check out this great comment someone posted to a discussion on the Minnesota Senate race:

castanea: "He's good enough, he's smart enough, and doggone it the people elected him."

And when "zip it" fails...

I resort to, "Is Wayne Brady gonna have to choke a bitch?"

I'll let you debate whether that is a low- or highbrow reference.

Wednesday morning roundup

Don't you just want to beat the crap out of the mortgage brokers in this article?

All joking aside, hacking baby seals is repugnant.

The Times' in appreciation of a librarian who was a fighter.

Thoughts on Goldman Sachs' resurgence.

On DC's scattered Russian community and the source of the craziness around the Verizon Center this time of year.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Intelligent arguments are back

Of the many arguments against cultural relativism I've read in my time, this one says it best.

Fareed Zakaria makes many good points, but I particularly like the premise on which he basis his main argument.

Yawn.

Toles cracks me up.

One book I think I'll skip.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Brows, continued

I will admit--this is in response to ETC's comment--that I've made snap judgments based on people's taste in movies (you may find this ironic coming from someone who enjoys watching 'Dude, Where's my Car?.')

Speaking of supremely lowbrow films, I've been thinking a lot about 'Austin Powers.' It became a running joke in Ecuador, because Richard dug a whole for himself the way I often do and gave us fodder for getting at him. Mike Myers came up somehow-- I think we were talking about old Saturday Night Live-- and Richard said he wasn't well loved in Scotland, wasn't a great cultural ambassador, because of Fat Bastard. From then on, Nate broke into Fat Bastard impersonations from time to time.

While I can see that 'Austin Powers' wasn't great for Scotland--and you'll note that it didn't come up as a Lowbrow Movie that I Love--I will give 'Austin Powers' credit for having generated a priceless catch phrase: "Zip it." [repeat as needed]. I find myself saying it to Gracie all the time. Doesn't seem to work, but it feels better to say it.

Ladies' room double standards

Five minutes before the start of the (crappy) play I saw on Saturday, there was line out the door of the ladies' room. This is a recurring phenomenon at this theatre, and apparently elsewhere.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Brows

I'm really glad that Calvin Trillin wrote about this phenomenon, although in his case, he can by no stretch of the imagination be accused of the characterization he ponders in the article. I'm not so lucky.

Like Mr. Trillin, my family, too, has suggested that I lack culture (and taste, and knowledge of history). A former roommate regularly rolled her eyes at my tastes in television (and those of my other roommates at the time). Mind you, she was a bitch-- who else says things like, 'I'd never guess how smart you guys are by the crap you watch'? And that was in reference to 'Soul Food,' which was hardly 'Jackass.' Seriously, though: some people think I'm engaging in some sort of false modesty when I say that 'Seinfeld' was too highbrow for me, but I never really got into it. Same with 'Frasier.' I like my sitcoms light. Oh, and I found 'Ion,' the play I saw yesterday, painful to watch. And I don't need to tell you that 'Zoolander' and 'Idiocracy' figure among the movies of which I can never get enough. The closest I come in that category to classy is 'A Fish Called Wanda.' Meanwhile, 'Shakespeare in Love' makes me want to gag.

As for food, I never got into stuff like truffle oil (although I do like arugula). I don't *get* truffle oil. In the instances where it has graced my food, I have failed to appreciate whatever enhancements it surely must have brought. I could take or leave the truffle oil fries at Poste, and fries are one thing I could hardly ever leave.

I've not read probably half of what would make up a standard high school reading list. Not out of principle, just never got around to it. In some cases, those books are on my reading list (The Sound and the Fury) or even my bookshelf (Catch 22). In other cases, if you took away every other book in the world and held a gun to my head, and wanted me to go insane before getting shot, maybe I'd read them (anything by Dostoevsky).

I'm neither engaging in false modesty nor justifying my lack of refinement. For one thing, I'm not interested in the former-- I'm absolute crap at so many things that I hardly find it self-promoting to take credit for the things I'm actually good at. This isn't the way everyone sees it, though, and there's a gender angle to that: a lot of people, whether they realize it or not, interpret any admission of knowledge or skill by a woman as overconfidence, and the damage from that resonates throughout the culture-- look at the backlash against Hilary Clinton. I'm one of those people that didn't vote for her and certainly don't accuse Obama of mistreating her during the primary campaign, but I'm the first to acknowledge that her candidacy brought to the surface much smoldering, insidious misogyny. But I digress.

Nor defining myself as lowbrow. This is not a lowbrow-and-proud-of-it post. This is more of a WTF post: why do we need to categorize things by brow?

Just after the turn of the millennium, the Guardian compiled a list of most influential writers of the century, or something, based on input from living legendary writers. It was really telling that Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Isabel Allende wouldn't answer, wouldn't legitimize the question.

Now, I'm certainly not trying to say that taste is relative, no music or book is better than any other, blah, blah, blah. I am trying to say that quality and brow do not necessarily correlate.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Solopsism or anthropology: you decide

I'm going to tell you about my shopping trip. I'm not sure why I think you care, but it was kind of interesting, because of which stores were overflowing and which were empty.

I was in a holding pattern at work this afternoon, i.e. other people needed to do their stuff before I could do my stuff, of which there is plenty. Which means I'm going to need to sign in tomorrow--after a work-related trip to the zoo, followed by a personal trip to the theatre--and work mad hours next week. And I needed to get a dress for this wedding before I leave for the airport at 4am next Friday.

So I decided to take off a little bit early and go dress shopping, which was pretty much the last thing I wanted to do, especially at Pentagon City, but if you're smart enough not to want to get in your car on a Friday night in DC, and you need to hit a f*load of stores, that's pretty much the place to go.

First stop, Banana Republic, which I know and love. I know my way around the store, I know their stuff fits me, etc. It was crowded and had a few nice dresses, but they were all either fluorescent or drab, i.e. bright yellow or overcast gray, neither of which is appropriate for a Caribbean wedding. So on to J Crew, which had gorgeous dresses on their website but none in the store.

On to Macy's, which was insane, because apparently it's prom dress season. And apparently, Macy's decided to meet the demand because by my eye, prom dresses made up 85 percent of the dresses in that store. There were a few springy dresses, but they were very bright and fluorescent, and no one wants to out-neon the bride.

But Nordstrom's wasn't crowded at all (although it was just as full of prom dresses and the odd neon or tie-dyed dress. There were a handful of dresses that would have been okay, but they were several hundred dollars, which was over budget for perfect, much less okay. Is that why the store was empty? Is that the impact of the recession on the foot traffic at the mall?

I hit a few other stores along the way, nothing. And since when did all these highish-end stores carry so much polyester and rayon? WTF?

I had to make a decision: take a chance and go to Marshall's, which I do not like and where I rarely find anything worth buying. But it was right there, and I was at the point of doing anything to avoid prolonging my shopping nightmare into the weekend, so over I went.

Pentagon City's a funny place that way: three separate shopping centers in one area, all of them catering to different demographics. You have the mall, with Nordstrom's, Swarovski Crystals, Godiva, pricey jewelry stores, etc... and then across the street you have the strip mall, with Marshall's and Costco. And then you have Pentagon Row, which tries to be hip.

Anyway, Marshall's was insane. Insane. I had to think strategically to even get to the dresses. Why is everyone and her grandmother at Marshall's on a Friday night?? Were all those people also desperate for something to wear for an upcoming special occasion and too fat to fit into everything they already had?

I pulled every one that was not hideous or inappropriate (i.e. white, neon, red, black-- weddings are tough, I tell you), which made six. I was worried... if none of these worked, there would be no end in sight. If some of them worked okay, I'd feel the need to get that one just in case, but still keep looking for something better. This had to stop. And I had to get out of that changing room full of dust bunnies (do they not clean them out of principle, as if to say, "suck it. you're not at Nordstrom's anymore"?).

And then, something wonderful happened: one dress fit really well, and it was the one I liked best. It was perfect, i.e. it's exactly what I would choose to wear out of all the dresses I'd tried on and out of the ones I've seen online. It's cotton, it's a springy-but-not-loud color, it's the perfect length, it's formal enough but not overly dressy, and so on. I don't feel like I have to keep looking. I have found the dress.

Is this too good to be true? Am I going to somehow gain enough weight in the next week that the dress will no longer fit? Is Calvin Klein going to pull an Oscar de la Renta and diss Michelle Obama, putting me in a position where I won't want to wear the brand?

Can you tell that, somehow, in the two days since it occurred to me that I would need a dress for the wedding, I've managed to obsess about it to the point of neurosis? I'm so glad I can now move on. I mean, Wells Fargo posted a record profit and the Obamas' dog is arriving on Tuesday. These are exciting times.

Friday night roundup

Amid much heartbreaking unemployment stories, there is a silver lining.

***
I loved Judith Warner's post on defining one's own Jewishness, especially this part:

Some of us just can’t find a home for ourselves in the categories of identity that make sense for other people. Some of us are defined by little bits and pieces of experience and belief that together form a mosaic that for us, at least, is coherent and whole.

***
Last night's Daily Show was excellent. It's generally been a very good week in Daily Shows.

More brazen

Zimbabwe's government tries a ponzi scheme approach to war crimes. That article reinforces my reaction to this statement from a Moldovan theatre director:
"Everyone knows that Moldova is the smallest, poorest and the most disgraceful country." Nice try, but there are a few countries that have got you beat.

On a less horrendous note, retailers complain that people aren't spending.

I have to be glib for a moment. As you know, this recession has called for balancing concern and compassion for those affected with annoyance at people who feel like they're entitled to make money all the time no matter what. So while it's unfortunate for the broader economy that people aren't spending, it's a good thing that we're reconsidering our consumerist, disposable spending culture.

Furthermore, as I've said in the past, some retailers (and service providers) shoot themselves in the foot. I'm still spending money, whether I want to or not, and some of them just don't make it easy. The other night I was about to place an order from Macy's website, but there was a glitch, so I called the number for online help, and they were closed (fair enough) so I tried online help, which basically asked me if I followed the steps in the right order.

Look, retailers: being fat sucks enough as it is. It also complicates dress shopping, and I need something to wear to this wedding. And I don't have a lot of time. It's now too late for me to order something online and hope it arrives in time to wear it in any case, much less exchange it or get something else in case it doesn't fit. Why are you making this so hard for me? First of all, Ann Taylor Loft-- when did your clothes get so f*ing ugly?? I stop shopping for six months because I bought a house, and next thing I go, your collection has gone from 'somewhat downhill from last year' to 'you couldn't pay me to wear this $hit.' Am I going to have to drive out to Tyson's Corner this weekend and actually try stuff on, when I should be thoroughly cleaning my house and planning what I'm going to bring?

Meanwhile, I'm in fight mode because I've had to spend time on the phone with my (a) bank; (b) credit card issuer; and (c) health insurance provider. (a) dared to charge me an account maintenance fee ($14!) even though my account is exempted on account of my mortgage with the bank, and this is the second time they've pulled this BS. And they're good about refunding it right away, but why do I even have to take the time to go in there and deal with it? (b) froze my account because of a charge by a foreign company. See, I had to charge the tips for the Galapagos cruise (I had $300 in my bank account when I left for that trip; I had no choice) and noticed that the tips for crew were charged but not the tips for the guide, so I contacted the company to get them to charge the rest, which they did. And Capital One (the no hassle card, I may add) froze my account. Which is fine, except that they didn't *tell* me. I just found out because I was locked out of my account online. (c) is taking it's sweet time paying me back for its part of my crown, and meanwhile, posting confusing and contradictory information on my online account about whether or not they'll cover the procedure. None of these are the end of the world because I know they'll get resolved, but they add up and it's pissing me off.

Perhaps it's also making me less inclined to spend. I must have traded in retail therapy for emotional eating somewhere along the way. And it's the hassle issue: when I'm fed up with fighting, I'm less inclined to undertake transactions that may in any way open the door to a future fight.

I know: it's a tough life-- two beach vacations in two months and life circumstances comfortable enough that looking like a whale at the beach is not actually the least of my concerns. No, I wouldn't rather be beaten up in Zimbabwe or unemployed in Moldova (or here for that matter), and I don't take it for granted that I'm not, which is why I'm aware that we only live once, so when my friends decide to get married on a Caribbean island, who am I not to partake in the festivities? And while I'm at it, it would be nice to look decent. Which I can't blame on the retailers... but they're not helping.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Brazen

While this should come as no surprise to anyone remotely familiar with the audacity element in Russian culture, it's pretty f*ing brazen.

John Achenbach parses the right wing's assessment of Obama's Eurotrip, while Gene Weingarten leaves it to the readers, who do not disappoint.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Impressive

It's hard to achieve levels of insensitivity not seen since Bush's response to Katrina, but leave it to Berlusconi.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Headline of the year?

According to the Rumor Mill on Liz Kelly's blog this morning:

"Kate Moss penning Kosher cookbook?"

Past my bedtime

Mom, in a message, mid-evening: Hi. I got another one of your statements from TIAA-CREF-- I thought you said you changed your address with them? Did you want me to keep it? Give me a call. Bye.

Mom, in a message, around 9pm: Where are you?? It's past your bedtime. Call me.

***
Mom: Hello. Where are you?
A.: Walking home from the metro.
Mom: Where's your bike?
A.: I left it at work. I'll bike home tomorrow.
Mom: So, I got your statement...
A.: I did change my address with them. I'll call them again.
Mom: Okay.

More signs of the Idiocracy

I am but a product of public education--which, to belabor the point, is publicly financed, i.e., paid for by taxes of various sorts. One thing that I learned in public school was that the Boston Tea Party (a) was inspired by taxes on actual tea and (b) entailed throwing the oppressor's tea into the harbor. It follows that staging a tea[-dumping] party in protest, in absence of especially the second aspect of the original, is idiotic.

Monday, April 6, 2009

This 'control the media' business

My favorite conspiracy theory of all time, as invoked in a recent Times article:
“We always believe here that control of America is governed by the Zionist lobby,” said Salman Kamal al-Deen, a businessman and the head of the Bahrain Human Rights Society. “The media and the money are all in the hands of the Jews. We believe if we have a Jewish ambassador and Jews in the Shura Council, this is a positive indicator for the country.”
I reiterate my response to this 'control the media' business: I invite you to visit my country between mid-November and January; turn on the radio and consider this: We are a people of taste. If we controlled the media, 'Jingle Bells' would have gone the way of the dodo years ago.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Sunday morning roundup part 2

A bike ride and two birthday brunches later (one actual, one that I left because bday girl hadn't shown up half an hour in), I'm back and want you to read more stuff:

We're so not used to this and it's kind of nice.

Very amusing descriptions of just about every aspect of the Obamas' visit to London.

Frank Rich has written yet another column about execs who just don't get it. It's not bad, nor extraordinary, but it's worth checking out (a) for the cartoon to the left and (b) in conjunction with Oscar de la Renta's complaining that Michelle Obama is ignoring him. Wah.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Free personality analysis

A.: Hello?
Mom: Where are you?
A.: Home. Why?
Mom: I just wanted to make sure you weren't driving.

Mom: I was thinking about you this morning. The issue is, you try to be perfect. And that makes you defensive. It's okay to be helpless sometimes. Do you know what I mean?

Mom: Well, you'll understand one day.

***
I think it's really funny that Performance Bike is having a "nutrition sale." Funny in a "it's what plants crave" kind of way.

***
Last week's Express had a headline I thought was a joke. Not because it was funny, but because it read like a joke: A bobcat walks into bar, bites two people.

No, they're the ones that must be stopped

Last week I blogged about the advantages of business travel: in-house gyms and in-room irons and ironing boards. There was also, on my last trip, a lot of something I like least: being in lobbies and lounges that run cable news shows, and CNN these days is no better than Fox-- I was exposed to some Lou Dobbs (any amount is too much). It's not that I can't listen to people with whom I disagree, although the issue here goes beyond disagreement to distortion of facts and exploitation of fear; it's that listening to these people makes me physically ill. It turns out, I am not alone.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Stoop Stories

I went to see Stoop Stories tonight. It was excellent. It was engaging, original, surprising.

As we left the theatre, Marisa said the experience reminded her of college, when such shows were always available and accessible. I agreed.

I wondered what stories lie in the projects a block from my house. For a minute, I wondered when I became the person to whom those projects were basically a nuisance. Then I dismissed that thought and acknowledged that there was no going back; the projects are, after all, a nuisance. But I did think about the play, the characters, their stories.

It didn't take long, even after such an intense, engaging play that makes you listen for every word, to return my attention to the mundane. Of the little things that excite me, that make my day, there's nothing like getting to the metro just in time for your train, especially outside of rush hour, especially on a Friday night after a long day after a long week. My metrosense is well honed; I recognize, by sound, without thinking about it, the stage of a metro train: whether it's pulling into the station, how many seconds before the doors open and then close, if it's too late. I got to McPherson Square and saw on the display board that the next Franconia train would be in eleven minutes, so when I heard one pulling in, I intuitively knew that it was a Franconia train downstairs, and I knew I could make it. Other people use their instincts to start their own business or enhance their social interactions with other people; I use mine to catch trains whenever I can.

Walking from Logan Circle to McPherson Square brought back memories. I walked by the parts of town through which I cycled when I lived in Shaw and commuted to Georgetown. I walked parallel to the walk from class to Farragut West, which reminded me both of class and the walk, and walking with Heather after class. It's crazy that that was years ago and it's crazy that I'm going to her wedding in two weeks (and a day). So much of that class has seeped out of my mind; in theory, I would really like to pick it up again, practice, salvage what's left. Can I handle it? Is there an opening in the cluttered real estate of my head? Besides, there are chairs to be reupholstered, compost to turn over, Netflixed episodes of How I Met Your Mother to watch (have I mentioned that that show is awesome?) But I digress. I guess my point is that there was a time when I used to care, i.e. about things other than upholstery, and I want to care again but I'm tired and caring takes energy. Surrounding yourself with the things that remind you why you care and making room for those things in your life take energy.

Mr. Moore reacts

I bet the first thing you wondered when you read about the Iowa ruling was, What does Ashton Kutcher have to say about all this? I'm able to bring you this information because I now check Iowan newspapers for work. You're welcome.

While you're reading the Gazette Online, check out how Iowans thematically combined two of my favorite things.

Does anyone else find it curious that the Journal-- in the body, not the wacko editorial pages-- opted to run a story on bonuses for Congressional staff? Even the highest of those don't come close in excess to the ones in their neighborhood. I'm not justifying the concept of handing out bonuses just because a Congressional office has money left over, but I do take issue with the idea that bonuses and the public sector don't mix. A not minor factor in the rage over AIG bonuses is that the company failed. There's nothing wrong with bonuses that reward performance. It's the same concept with compensation in the non-profit world: it's worth paying more to get the work done right.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Thursday morning roundup.

To complement the populist rage sweeping the nation, we have faux populism in the form of the exploitation of the how-will-this-affect-the-poor argument for commercial as well as political purposes, which I guess is not new. That's why I was so annoyed with that woman in the article about rising electricity rates. Well, I'm even more annoyed with the argument that "any fee on [plastic grocery] bags "is going to disproportionately hit low-income people, who are predominantly minorities." It gets better:
Council member Yvette Alexander (D-Ward 7) has heard from more than 100 constituents who expressed their opposition, as the automated calls urged. "I'm really angry that people are portraying this as something that hurts poor people when what they're really doing is defending their own industry," she says. "It bothers me that they're making this an economic issue when the real issue is the pollution in the Anacostia River."

Retorts Carrington: "That's so dismissive and disrespectful of the poor. It's easy to sit in an ivory tower and say that."
The nerve!

I've picked up trash from the Anacostia river, and I can tell you that it's really bad. Mr. Fisher closes his article by telling us that "Plastic bags make up 21 percent of the trash in the Anacostia River, no matter how the bag industry may try to cleave the District. Class dismissed."

What's even more frustrating about this is that there are so many things that do effect poor people disproportionately. Like pollution.

The Times brings up an opportunity for reform amid the downturn.

Can we take it as a good sign that we've drifted back toward "slump" and "downturn," and away from "meltdown" and other apocalyptic terminology?

***
I thought it was odd, when I was shopping for a washing machine, that the black version was more expensive, but apparently this is not unusual. That link is for the Post's buying guide for high efficiency washing machines.

***
Did you see Jon Stewart's interview with Seth Rogen, in which they agree that Jews can't stop talking about food? I'll link to it tonight. Colbert's interview that night-- about how Judaism really is a questioning religion-- was quite good, too.

Okay, my trail is ready, and so I'm off.

Shorten Url