Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Tuesday evening roundup

Judith Warner looks at the post-DSK reckoning in the land of Simone de Beauvoir. And while she writes that French women had been lulled into complacency by a semblance of progress, LZ Granderson offers compelling evidence that Americans shouldn't get too comfortable, and that it's not like we, as a nation, have nothing to be ashamed of in terms of some of the rhetoric about rape spewing from politicians.

Are birthers turning on the GOP?

Stephen Walt's reading list.

Babies are smart. Raise yours to be bilingual.

Tuesday morning roundup

The Arab Spring rekindles the debate over natural human rights.

Spain moves to prosecute Salvadorean murderers of the (Salvadorean) civil war.

Copts are nervous, with good reason.

Kentucky taxpayers are contributing to a bible theme park.

I don't think the concepts Dave Brooks is poo-pooing are mutually exclusive with those he's praising. You can follow your dreams and chart your own course, and still be inspired by a problem and tackle it through teamwork. I'm just sayin'.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Phone call

Mom: They make a cute couple. They look very compatible. I'm happy for him.
A.: Good, good.
Mom: Tell him to open the bag with the bulbs, so they don't get moldy. I would have opened it but I didn't realize he wasn't leaving for another week.
A.: I told you.
Mom: No you didn't.
Dad: Yes you did.
Mom: Well, I missed it.
A.: This is one of those moments where I'd be worried about your memory, but I know you've always missed stuff like that.
Mom: I just didn't hear it.
A.: We discussed it for five minutes.
Mom: Really?
Dad: Yeah.
Mom: Well, I was tired.
A.: I understand. I'm glad I don't have to worry.
Mom: What was I going to ask you? Oh yeah, what was that play you saw the other night?

One of my least favorite exercises in the world is talking about names of plays (or books) with mom. Especially ones she hasn't heard of. She asked me on the phone on Friday. I told her, and told her she wouldn't have heard of it. She insisted. I was unwilling to speak loudly or spell it out, hooked-on-phonics style, in the theater (where I was, having just picked up my ticket, when she called).

A.: Venus in Fur.
Mom: What?
A.: Venus. In. Fur.
Mom: What?
A.: Venus, as in Vinyera. V myekhakh.
Mom: A furry Venus?
A.: Not quite. Venus in Fur.
Mom: I haven't heard of it.
A.: I know.
Mom: How did you know.
A.: It's relatively new.
Mom: Was it good?
A.: It was excellent.
Mom: Good, good. I'm glad you're going to the theater regularly. It's a good thing to do. Oh, dad's going to send you a picture of the bunny that was playing in the backyard.
A.: Sounds good.
Mom: Okay, bye.
Dad: Bye.
A.: Bye.

Sunday roundup

The damage in Joplin is disorienting.

Nicholas Kristof is starting to think that India is catching up.
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Even if torture could be effective, it's still wrong.

The Times declares South Florida "seemingly an incubator of law-breaking innovation."

In China, dog lovers are fighting the concept of dog meat and sparking a debate.

Maureen Dowd interviewsChristine Laguarde. Five Myths addresses women in combat.

Naomi Wolf reflects on what has and hasn't changed since she wrote "The Beauty Myth," which she opens with this anecdote:
Recently, I was at a party, and a man who, like myself, was in his late 40s, arrived with a woman 20 years younger. It took only a few moments of conversation before the rest of the group realized that the two had very little in common. And yet I did not feel the frisson of envy among the men present, nor did I see a bristle of jealousy from any of the stylish, accomplished women in their 40s. In fact, the mood of both genders was tender, almost pitying. The man may have imagined that he was showing off the youth of his date the way he might show off a new Maserati; but parading her around like an acquisition seemed only to make his friends feel sorry for him.
Here's how hot one can look at 74.

Jonathan Franzen on love, the self, and consumerism. The Post, too, addresses gadget addiction today.

These days we run more than we set.

A writer struggles with the limits of naming female anatomy.

Funny, just this morning I was unimpressed, even turned off, by the writing in the Groupon in my inbox. That might be why I disagree with the quiz question and answer on page 3.

Wow, you know vegan cheese and its alleged inadequacy have gone mainstream when they're in an article about Beyonce (well, about wedding music).

Saturday, May 28, 2011

What is this world coming to?

Whole Foods was out of organic kale.

I mean, what the f* is WF good for if not organic kale?

Dahlias and wild rice

Mom: Let's go over this again: You're getting gladioli...
A.: No! We went over this last night. I'm getting dahlias.
Mom: Oh, no! I planted the dahlias.
A.: Okay, then--
Mom: No, it's fine. I'll dig them up, I have too many anyway.
A.: We talked about this last night.
Mom: It's not a big deal. Do you also want these little white flowers--I can give you the whole plants.
A.: I don't think Jay wants to carry whole plants.
Mom: What difference does it make? He'll just stick them in the car.
A.: He's flying. I told you that.
Mom: Oh, he's flying! Then it's too much for him.
A.: I told him to tell you tomorrow how much is too much. But how much space to dahlia bulbs and a few bags of wild rice take up?
Mom: It'll be fine. When's he leaving?
A.: Saturday.
Mom: What's he doing?
A.: I have no idea.
Mom: When's he coming back?
A.: Monday.
Mom: Oh, my!
A.: What?
Mom: Such a short trip. I guess that's his business. When's he coming here?
A.: Tomorrow.
Mom: Why didn't he come today?
A.: He offered to and you said tomorrow was better.
Mom: When's he leaving again?
A.: Saturday.
Mom: Next Saturday? What about this Saturday?
A.: This is this Saturday.
Mom: Is it? Oh. If it's next Saturday, then tomorrow's fine. Such a short trip. Whatever works.
A.: So we're good with what's happening tomorrow?
Mom: Dahlias and wild rice.
A.: Awesome. Thanks.

Venus in Fur at Studio

Venus in Fur is FUCKING PHENOMENAL. Like, so much so that I'm not asterisking the expletive. It merits writing out. As always, David Ives blows my mind. The acting and directing are also brilliant. Get off your butts and go see it.

Phone call

Jay is going to be in DC next weekend, so I asked him whether he wouldn’t mind couriering some plants (well, bulbs) for me from my parents. They offered to drop off the bulbs to him, but he graciously offered to pick them up from my parents. I e-mailed my parents a few days ago to say that Jay would be able to stop by Saturday morning or Sunday evening, let me know if that works and we’ll go from there. So I here nothing for a couple of days, and then my mother frantically calls me at work on Friday around 3:30.

A.: Hello?
Mom: Are you still at work?
A.: Yeah.
Mom: I need to know when Jay is coming. I need to get the bulbs ready. Also, I got you wild rice. But I need to know when Jay is coming. Can you talk to him?
A.: Yeah, I’ll ask. Can I call you later? I need to get back to work.
Mom: Fine. Call me when you get home.
A.: It’ll be a while. I’ll just call you later, I need to get this one thing done in the next 15 minutes.
Mom: Okay, this isn’t urgent. But I do need to know. I need to gather the bulbs. I need to figure out what we’re going to give you. I have lots of gladioli but I don’t think you need any more. I just need to make some decisions. Also, how much rice do you want? Is two okay?
A.: Sure—
Mom: I can give you all three. I mean, we bought one for ourselves, but you need it more.
A.: Two is fine for now—
Mom: No, no—what are we going to do with it? It’s fine. But I need to know when he’s coming.
A.: The rice is pretty good, you should try it. I’ll talk to Jay, but not now. I’ll have to call you back—
Mom: Fine. I’ll be outside. I don’t feel well. I have a headache. I need to rest. Jay's going to visit you?
A.: No, he's coming to DC anyway, but I'll see him.
Mom: On his own?
A.: No. I don't want to talk about this right now, I'll call you back.
Mom: Okay, call me back.
A.: Go get some rest. Feel better, mom. I’ll call you later.

***
I called later that night

Mom: Hold on, let me call your dad. Oh, he's napping. V.!
A.: Well, don't wake him...
Mom: You're right, he's tired.
A.: Jay said he'll come by Sunday afternoon, will call first. He'll stop by.
Mom: He's going to visit you?
A.: No, he's coming to DC with his boyfriend. The boyfriend will probably be in tow when he comes by to get the stuff.
Mom: Excellent! I'd love to meet the boyfriend.
A.: I figured you would.
Mom: I have gladioli, all this other stuff.
A.: Well, don't give him too much stuff.
Mom: Oh, he's not driving?
A.: No.
Mom: Okay. We'll figure it out. Here, let me get your father.
A.: Let him sleep, mom.
Mom: Okay.
A.: I'd better go. Have a good night.
Mom: You, too.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Thursday roundup

Some of this was supposed to be your Thursday morning roundup, but, alas, Blogger fritzed out on me (at least Firefox/Blogger combo--I'm on Chrome now), so here's a combined roundup.

***
Calcutta is rife with child prostitution.
African immigrants are not find Europe to be the promised land.
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More parsing of the President's Middle East Speech: Milbank thinks it rallied Israeli moderates around the conservatives, but on the ground, the reaction is missed. Sargent demands clarity from the press on what was actually said, and Fareed Zakaria puts it in historical perspective.

The health care demagoguery chickens are coming home to roost, but it's still best not to dwell. More on that from Gail Collins.

I'm glad this expose on Air India came out after our trip.

The debate over the relevance and significance of Gingrich's bling: either it matters because it's politically tone deaf or it doesn't matter because it's okay to be wealthy and show it. Either way, that's some fugly jewelry. Really, Tiffany?

go on vacation and
love whatever bikini body you have while you're there.

By the way, on Sunday my friends and I (who all studied abroad) talked about the value of study abroad. Apparently, the same people who are questioning the value of a college education are reducing study abroad to 'getting drunk in another language,' so it's great to see empirical findings to the contrary.

Really, people? take the million

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Tuesday evening roundup

At least on the surface, a humanities degree is less lucrative.

What's in your farmed fish?

While we're talking about scary chemicals, check out this woman's flea-spraying horror story.

Chicago plans for climate change. But really, it's not like it has anything to do with anything, especially not tornadoes or other natural disasters.

T-Paw speaks.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Monday evening roundup

Left, right, and confused responses to Obama's Middle East speech. Note the one from the 'right'--big on conclusions, light on support for them.

There's more to Catholicism, and a lot more to "life," than abortion rights.

These Indian weddings strike me as everything a wedding shouldn't be. It's great to want a unique wedding, but wouldn't you want to stand out not in ostentation but in good taste, sense of community, and celebration of friendship and family?

The oceans are choking on plastic, so be mindful of yourKeurig cups. And bottled water.

The Times and Post have mixed feelings about "Follies" at the Kennedy Center, and really, it's too expensive for only kind of good/only good in the second act, even if it's really good in the second act.

Let me start this next string by declaring that I love Ruth Reichl. But I don't make any of her recipes, because they're complicated and heavy on meat. I'm not going to slam her list of must-haves, but I'll complement it with my own. I agree with her on rice and potatoes, but I'd say red, black, or brown rice. Black rice is my new love--great for sushi, too. And I'll add sweet potatoes to the potatoes category (yes, I know they're not related... but you can use them for some of the same purposes). I'll let eggs stay, even though I don't use them. Here are my other must haves:
-tofu, especially silken, which you can turn easily into savory ricotta or a sweet cream sauce;
-lentils (so versatile, and don't need to be soaked);
-chickpeas (soaked, cooked and frozen) or pintos (same preparation);
-organic greens.

Speaking of which, I am not one of those people indifferent to the price differential of organics, but I'm getting better at making myself buy them. I sprung for some organic kale last week, at a thousand-percent mark-up over conventional kale, and I it was worth it. Can't wait for the farm share to start up.

What do you mean, you have limited influence over what your kids eat? When I was growing up, what was for dinner was what was for dinner.

By the way, check out this pie chart of where ag subsidies go. Then, write to your elected representatives.

India

Click here to view this photo book larger

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Sunday evening roundup

It's not rarely that something I read in the news infuriates me, but this really f*ing infuriates me. If you care about art, if you see art as an essential aspect of our humanity, don't move to Virginia. Actually, do. And vote.

Reverse outsourcing is upon us.

***
I had brunch with some friends today. A few interesting things came up, including the is-college-worth-it debate. Also, one friend said she was worried because her kid wasn't eating meat--she was concerned that even though he was eating hummus and veggie burgers, he wasn't getting enough protein. I didn't have time to compose or filter myself so that I would just roll my eyes in silence. I actually said that he didn't need that much protein. Good for this two-year old kid for knowing what's good for him.

Sunday morning roundup Part I

For what, exactly, are Russian journalists risking their lives? Apparently, for reporting to an increasingly apathetic public.

No, I would attend a pig roast if it were celebrating, for example, a landmark event in the life of a close friend (perhaps a farmer who uses humane practices). Even though one might argue that there is no humane slaughter of livestock. My point is, it's a more complicated analogy than Mr. Benjamin lets on. I would be hurt if my gay friends boycotted my wedding, but I'd also understand where they're coming from.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Love the butt you're with

This whole butt surgery trend makes me really sad. Nothing against J-Lo or P-Midd; I just don't get why people would undergo major surgery to get someone else's butt. Why not just work on your own butt?

What the f* is growing in my backyard?

Alright guys, I need your help. In the clusterf* that was my April, I finished off an already insane weekend by planting some seeds. I couldn't be asked to label them--figured I'd figure it out once they started to grow. So now I have no idea what the f* is growing in my backyard. I was hoping you could help me out. Here are my mystery veggies






I'm happy to report that at least two non-mystery veggies--carrots and sage--are growing, too.

What better motivation for a bike ride

Speaking of people/things trying to make my head explode, I'm working on a photo book for my India pictures. It's gotten a little more user-friendly but only just. It's so, so frustrating.

Saturday morning roundup

The hotel industry is not surprised by the DSK incident. Also: Juliet Williams articulates that very essential distinction that I alluded to the other day between the DSK and Schwarzenegger cases: though they both represent alpha-males gone wild, the former is a (very serious) crime.

Why does Kathleen Parker want my head to explode? This common refrain from the right--that it's up to the families to decided what's best for their kids--is indisputably true. It's also not the point. You can't extrapolate from your own upper-middle class, educated family to the demographics bearing the brunt of the obesity crisis. Going from "I wouldn't go near trans-fats and neither would anyone with half a brain" to "the government has no business banning trans-fats" is more of leap than she lets on. Has she ever spent time with families where the parent(s) work(s) multiple jobs, can barely afford to feed their family, and has no nutritional literacy whatsoever? Do you think that the kids I've tutored and their parents have any idea about trans-fat? Am I being elitist by arguing that nutritional literacy and awareness is largely correlated with class?

I'm not going to argue with her about banning potatoes from school lunches, from the angle that there's nothing wrong with potatoes. I am going to argue with her from the alleged nanny state angle, because the government pays for school lunches, therefore the government has every right to decide what it does and doesn't want to pay for.

I'm all over imposing the free market on our food system. If conservatives want government out of food and agriculture, let's quit subsidizing corn, soy, and sugar. Let's take a very close look at the sea of perverse incentives embedded in our Farm Bills.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Sartorial uncrisis

I knew I was okay when I was wearing pants again.

The hunger of which I wrote yesterday—the intense hunger that hit me on Monday afternoon—was a relief of sorts, a sign that I was back. But it wasn’t the first sign. That was on Monday morning, when I was getting dressed for work, and I could actually bring myself to wear pants. Which meant not only putting on pants, but also coordinating a matching shirt and putting that on, too. You see, last week—the three days of last week that I went to work—all I could do was throw on a dress, which is a lazy outfit. Last week, the thought alone, not to speak of the execution, of an outfit out of more than one piece was too much for me. But this week, I was once again wearing pants. And eating food.
Afghanistan's (mostly child) brides.

Not everyone was unimpressed with the President's Middle East speech.

Sarah Palin is talking again.

The impact of locavorism pales in comparison to that of plant-based eating.

Aspertame is nasty.

Man, the douche bags are really coming out of the woodwork

Friday morning roundup

IMF culture leaves many female employees wary.

For all the crazy things my mom says and does, at least she doesn't go around preparing for the rapture. If there's any doubt, make sure your pets are taken care of.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Not a guilty pleasure

I was not particularly interested in food on Saturday, when I did my food shopping. I still associated food with pain and nausea, and I had to push myself to imagine that I one day again want to eat. But I made myself buy some vegetables, and I even batch-cooked them when I got home. I even made rice. But I still wasn't feeling the food.

By Monday, I was feeling the food, except I didn't have much around the house. I just kind of went hungry that day. On Tuesday, I went to an event after work that was followed by a reception, at which I needed to talk someone, but I was on the verge of hunger-induced collapse. There was nothing I wanted to eat less than the brownie bites and cookies that were being served, but they were there, and I was really, really hungry. I had some, in what was probably the most joyless, functional consumption of dessert ever. Until today, when I found myself in the same situation. I'd had a small sweet potato and a glass of soymilk for lunch, and then a handful of almonds a few hours later. And had a couple more hours at the office. I'd worked out. I was starving. And there were remains of a leftover cake in the kitchenette.

I don't even like cake (at least not sheet cake; certainly not Costco cake). But I needed to be at work, think straight, and get work done. So I sliced off a small piece, shaved off the frosting, held my nose, and ate it.

I tell you all this because it's illustrative of just how much I don't miss dairy or sugar. In India, where dairy was unavoidable, my reaction wasn't 'woo hoo! an excuse to eat dairy!' It was more, 'oh, well, I guess I'd better eat dairy.' Similarly, today and Tuesday, my attitude was the opposite of 'woo hoo! I am justified in having brownies/cookies/cake.' It was more, "f* it; I'm starving, and this is what's here. I'd much rather have an apple, but this is it."

So I'm going to be better about planning and preparing food, even when I'm not feeling it. But I wanted to reiterate, to those of you who thought that veganism/macrobiotics were an issue of strong willpower, that's they're more an issue of how I prefer to eat.

Thursday evening roundup

The Secret Service tweets.

Food waste is rampant. So is diplomatic abuse of cleaning staff.

The Onion on Santorum on McCain.

Has undergraduate education become pathetic and are recent grads lazy? Listen to what that dude has to say about "soft" subjects.

Walmart and obesity.

Quick Thursday morning roundup

Unsurprisingly, the women in the DSK and Schwarznegger cases are getting attention. And no, I'm not conflating an assault with a consensual case.

Gail Collins on some other adulterous men in the news.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Classic phone call

Dad: What have you been up to?
A.: Not much?
Dad: Have you been to the theater at all?
A.: I'm at the theater all the time.
Mom: There: you immediately show signs of our good upbringing of you.

My parents didn't really take me to the theater when I was little. They took me to other performing arts, but not theater; they didn't enjoy it because of the language barrier.

Mom: I'd say you turned out well. Still a few rough patches, but those will smooth out with age.
A.: How's your knee?
Mom: Still a lot of pain. I just can't find a good position for it at night. It's that physical therapist; I was fine before she got me.
A.: Did you watch that video I sent you about dealing with pain?
Mom: No. I mean, I didn't open it.
Dad: I told you about it.
Mom: You told me about it?
Dad: Yeah.
Mom: You should have told me in a way, such that, I'd remember it.
Dad: I'll find it in the e-mail.
Mom: I'd better go--it's late. Goodnight. Enjoy your life while you can, because the world is going to hell. Hello?
A.: I'm here.
Mom: How much time do we have left with that jerk you helped elect? (Pause) Hello?
A.: What, mom?
Mom: Anyway, goodnight.
A.: Goodnight.
Mom: I'll find a book for you, it's the story of when things started really going wrong for Russia--
(A. hangs up.)

Wednesday evening roundup

I never liked Powerpoint.

Wow. Rick Santorum just redefined the concept of "balls" when he said that Sen. McCain "doesn't understand how enhanced interrogation works."

I have to admit that I've been out of touch with French intellectual culture. As such, I had no idea what a douche bag BHL was.

Jonathan Capehart disagrees with Cornel West.

I may not have taken the high road were I in the place of this second letter-writer. I may have corrected the grandmother with regard to whose face was ugly.

Wednesday morning roundup

Rothkopf thinks a Trump backlash will bring on a civil, substantive election season.

I find some of these momoirs blah, but at least one made me smile.

Don't think the flooding has nothing to do with the way we treat the land. My favorite sentence:
Farmers in the floodway are suing the corps for damaging their property, as if their federally subsidized corn and soybeans in a federally protected floodplain would have survived had nature had her way.
By the way, excellent New Yorker piece on man-made meat--really gets into the harm done by factory farming.

A children's book some of you might identify with.

Judith and Maureen Dowd on Strauss-Kahn case. This one by Stephen Clarke is good, too.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Monday evening roundup

This column kind of pisses me off, but I don't know why. I'm not a foodie by her standards--I emphatically do not believe that good food has to be complicated or expensive. Nor do many other people who think about food. So I think I resent the implied association between caring about food and being an asshole about it.

Oh, yeah, and the food industry doesn't want you to know about the pesticides in your food.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Sunday morning roundup

Jackson Diehl wishes the Arab Spring would follow the Estonia model.

Sometimes I wonder about the Kool-Aid Kathleen Parker is drinking. So I turn to Dana Milbank for a sanity check.

Read the articles I linked to yesterday about Bridesmaids and the Bechdel effect, and add Maureen Dowd's column.

Sigh. Just eat food.

A quarter of a million isn't what it used to be.

Don't listen to the people who say spelling and grammar are irrelevant in the internet age. If you're an idiot, people don't care what you have to say.

Which of these concepts/other things that have outlived their relevance?

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Saturday evening roundup

Apparently, Florida did not outlaw sex.

What the buzz around "Bridesmaids" says about women in film. Do read the article she (Alexandra Petri) links to about the Bechdel test.

Go see Forkes over Knives.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go indulge my Stoppard obsession.

India

We were in Jaipur, on our second-to-last day in India, when I realized I wasn’t in possession of my credit card.

Jay: How do you do that?
A.: It happens.
Jay: It doesn’t happen to me. Why didn’t you put it into one of your more secure pockets?
A.: I don’t know. Do you have Capital One’s number?
Jay: Yeah, but I don’t think we can make a collect call from the hotel. They’re going to charge us for the full call. Which is fine.
A.: I’ll go see if I can find a pay phone in the lobby or something.

There was no payphone, anywhere. I asked the receptionist about collect calls. He had no idea what I was talking about. Jay and I went outside in search of a payphone. There was none at the gas station across from the hotel, but we did run into our tour guide, who said there weren’t any around. He said a friend of his, who ran the convenience store by the hotel, would let us make a call and “only” charge us $5-6 for it. I thought that for that price, we may as well buy an hour and a half of Wi-Fi from the hotel, with which we could Skype. So we did.

It took us another half-hour to find the corner of the room where Jay’s Evo would read the signal, but I finally managed to log into Skype and call the card company. After all that—the attempted collect call, the Wi-Fi, the Skyping—it hit me, the minute the customer service associate answered the phone, that I’d just jumped through all those hoops to call India, from India.

I canceled my card. Jay called his mother to wish her a happy Mother’s Day. (I called mine a bit later, but she was still asleep, so I talked to dad for a few minutes.) I checked my e-mail, mostly to clear out the pile of newsletters and sale notifications that had accumulated. I did respond to one or two e-mails, briefly. I’m not good at typing on the smartphones, even when there’s a keyboard, and I was concerned that I’d lose signal at any moment. So I apologized for, explained my brevity with the most concise statement that came to mind: “India is a hot mess, literally and figuratively.”

Once our Wi-Fi ran out, we went for a walk around the hotel. Jay found an ATM. I marveled at the layer of receipts carpeting the floor. There was a rubbish bin right by the machine, but most people had opted to toss their receipts on the floor outside of it.

JAY: This receipt doesn’t have any useful information. Should I just toss it on the floor?
A.: [laughs]

We stepped out, continued to walk around. A minute or so later, a man on a motorcycle approached, yelling “hello!” and “hey!” We got nervous and ignored him.

We’d been yelled at all morning by the hordes of hawkers all over Jaipur. They’re not afraid to get right up in your face, and for some reason, they really think that yelling “hello!” non-stop is going to get your attention. It’s doubly annoying because it distracts you from enjoying your surroundings—you’re just focused on getting away from them. So we were done with random people yelling “hello” at us.

But the motorcycle guy caught up with us.

GUY: Hello! You left your ATM card in the machine.

Jay didn’t believe him at first, but he checked his wallet, and sure enough, he didn’t have his card. He thanked the guy.

GUY: Why were you ignoring me?

At this point, the appropriate thing to say would have been, “we’re very sorry. We’re tourists and we’ve been yelled at all day. Thank you for catching up to us and returning the card.” But we were confused and delirious, so we just shrugged, a bit ashamed. Which was neutral, but not necessarily bad. Bad was what Jay did next, and I didn’t stop him.

Jay, to me: Do you have 10 rupees?
A.: Um…

Don’t get me wrong—it wasn’t because I begrudged this guy 10 rupees. It was because I thought tipping him, much less tipping him 10 rupees, was insulting. Ten rupees was what you grudgingly tipped the person who stood outside the bathroom and handed you a napkin with which to dry your hands. We were all really f*ing sick of tipping bathroom attendants, of worrying about whether or not we had 10 rupees when we wanted to use the bathroom. And some of them were jerks: they wouldn’t let you in if you didn’t have exact change (but they didn’t have a problem with taking much more, and you know they had change because you’d just seen that many people hand them 10-rupee bills). But I digress.

Jay asked again. Against my better judgment, I handed it to him. The guy, rightly insulted, refused. We apologized again and thanked him. And then Jay felt really, really bad. I didn’t feel much better. But you can’t dwell on such things when you travel; you sort of figure you’re going to insult people.

I felt worse the following morning, after our attempts at souvenir shopping. I make a point of not feeling bad for vendors, because you can’t just buy things out of guilt or sympathy (unless you’re my mother). But this one guy—I think he had cerebral palsy, or something similar, because his speech and manner reminded me of my cousin who has the same—was really honest with us and not aggressive. It was our last day in the country and we were both short on cash, so part of it was, we didn’t have enough for as many souvenirs as we would have wanted at that price. We apologized and walked out, and the man couldn’t suppress a cry. I felt really, really bad. I don’t know whether Jay felt as bad about that, but he felt bad that he hadn’t let me buy Ganesh figurines for 100 rupees. He kept trying to bargain down, realizing only later that that was a good price. Part of it was confusion about currency. So we left Jaipur Ganesh-less, and I got souvenirs for no one. Which was probably just as well—what are people going to do with Ganeshes in their house? Ironically, that night I ended up paying 400 rupees for a Ganesh at the airport. I felt bad, not because of the money, but because I would have much rather supported the local merchants than the airport shop. But such is life. I figured I’d just keep it—had I gotten four, I’d have given them away, but since I only got one, how would I decide whom to give it to? But when I got home and took it out, It just reminded me of the whole, unfortunate episode. Normally I frown upon giving away things that I don’t want for myself, but the issue isn’t with the Ganesh itself, but with the association it has for me. The person I’ll give it to won’t know anything about that; giving someone an icon of good fortune is a way of helping the chi flow.

***
My friends and I sometimes talk about how people spend so much time and energy on the wedding that they don’t bother to prepare for married life. It’s not a clear-cut analogy; I did leave the house two Mondays ago mentally prepared for the quirks of Air India (yes, I linked to that hilarious review so you would read it), but I also gave some thought to India itself—the heat, the extreme poverty, the likelihood of food poisoning. I didn’t think about the general disorganization, inefficiency, etc., even though I’d never traveled to a developing country (Russia included) where that wasn’t an issue. I also couldn’t have known that our tour would be an utter clusterf*. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The first sign that something was up was when the flight crew announced that the entertainment system would be “unavailable.” They said they realized that, on a 15-hour flight, entertainment would be nice, but they were sorry, they wouldn’t be offering any. We learned from the papers, once we arrived, that Air India had neglected to pay the licensing fees for the entertainment. And that their domestic pilots were on strike. And that a bunch of them had been fired for having faked their licenses.

All that said, the flight was boring but uneventful. Every time we hit some turbulence, they played a recording that said that the Captain had turned on the seat-belt sign on account of turbulence. Please stay seated and refrain from using the toilets.

Jay: Why?
A.: Turbulence.
Jay: What?
A.: Turbulence.
Jay: Wait, what?
A.: Turbulence.
Jay: Oh. The first time, I thought you said “herpes.” Then I heard “sherpas.” I thought, “who let them in?”
A.: [laughs]

Jay and I had easily slipped into married mode. At the airport, we’d exchanged gifts (I got us ‘his’ and ‘hers’ eyemasks from the dollar bin at Target; he got me, among other things, a passport case for my birthday). We also came as close as we ever had, and ever will, to exchanging fluids. Jay had brought these soft water flasks—kind of like hydration pack bladders—but he couldn’t fill them from the water fountains, so I filled up my water bottle and poured the water into the flasks.

Air India, to its credit, was generous with the booze. Which you may as well be when you fail to provide entertainment. Unfortunately, their red wine was Beaujolais. Jay and I discussed the general unfortunateness of Beaujolais, then debated whether it was pompous to discuss Beaujolais. The debate was inconclusive.

We eventually landed, disembarked, and cleared immigration. As we took to the moving walkway at the airport, Jay said, “at least $hit isn’t talking to us,” referring, of course—or, rather, contrasting with, Japan, where everything from the toilets to the elevators will talk to you. We found the tour group, and eventually the guide found us, but we didn’t hear him introduce himself at any point. On the way to the hotel, we saw monkeys hanging out on fences, walls, and just on the ground. We also saw lots of people sitting around on stretches of grass—some were picnicking, others just chilling there. I was really impressed with the saris, and even some of the shalwar kamizes—especially with what Jay took to calling SOMs—Saris-on-motorcycles. I think, ultimately, what made my trip frustrating-but-fascinating, and definitely worth it, while Jay’s was plain frustrating, was that I really enjoyed the signs of life—the SOMs, the street scenes, the cows in the road. If you can’t get into that, skip India and seek out the somewhat similar architecture in southern Spain.

So I would go in positive, whereas Jay figured everything would be a waste of time and dared the tour to prove him wrong. I held out the first day—I disagreed with his assessment that our first day, with the exception of Qutub Minar, was a waste of time, and maybe the Laxmi Narayan temple wasn’t breathtaking,
but it was different, and interesting, and I got a kick out of watching people come in and pray. That said, it didn’t take long for the tour to beat any positivity out of me. I should have known the guide wasn’t all there when, after he’d come to the hotel lounge, where he’d sent us after he’d collected our passports to get us checked into the hotel, he handed me someone else’s passport. Didn’t even ask whether it was mine. Just handed it to me. I thought he might have done enough tours that not all white people looked the same to him, but the passport exercise was confusing to him. We were both pacified once we got to our hotel room, me because I was ready to be there, Jay because the room boasted a satisfactory quantity of mirrors. We didn’t even bicker until the following morning.

Jay: Should I wear green, or yellow?
A.: It doesn’t matter.
Jay: You’re just saying that so I’ll pick something and we can go to breakfast.
A.: I’m pretty hungry, but it also doesn’t matter. Both of those work with the pants.
Jay: No they don’t. You’re not taking my sartorial crisis seriously.
A.: No, no I’m not.

Jay made a decision and we went to breakfast. We got on the tour bus around 8:30 or so, saw Laxmi Narayan, Jama Masjid, and some other random stuff. I stared at saris. It wasn’t just the saris; it was the way their bright colors and clean look contrasted with the earth-toned, dusty landscape. I didn’t feel bad about taking pictures of people, because people were taking pictures of us, too. Sometimes—often, actually—they’d come up and ask to take a picture with us together. I was happy to oblige—thought it was harmless and kind of cute, and it made them really happy. Jay said no when someone asked him, and then felt somewhat bad about it.

Anyway, we saw things,
took pictures, got on and off the bus. We drank lots of water, and sweated most of it out, which was a good thing, because it was about 2pm before we would have access to food and facilities. And that was at a carpet shop where we were subjected to a sales pitch and then left around to shop for over an hour.

The afternoon was better. Qutub Minar was amazing,
and Lodi Garden was pretty cool. There was a family playing badminton in front of the temple ruins.
India Gate itself was cool, but it was the people hanging out and cooling off in the surrounding area that was especially awesome to see. On the way back to the hotel, we stopped outside the Sikh Temple and marveled at the very old building with very modern neon signage, and then drove on and marveled at the monkeys hanging out on the walls outside the Defense Ministry. As the bus pulled in to the hotel driveway, the tour guide said to stay in and get a club sandwich for dinner. No need to go out in this area—it’s not safe. Jay and I were having none of it—we needed to get out for our own sanity. So we asked the concierge whether the walk to Connaught Place was safe, and he laughed—it was quite short and completely fine. So we headed there and had too much very good food. But at least it wasn’t a club sandwich.

I was at peace for much of our long drive to Agra the next day. We stopped to look at the very cool Bahai temple—
shaped like a lotus flower—and drove on, taking six hours to cover 200 kilometers. I enjoyed watching the traffic go by or not really go by. I saw lots of SOMs, lots of cows, and a few camels. We checked in and reached the Taj Mahal just a couple of hours before it would close. So it was inexplicable why tour guide was wasting our time, once we got to the grounds, with stories. Stories he might have told us on the bus. Stories that were more likely recalled from old Indian movies than from history lessons. When he was done, he admitted that he had kept us there so we would behold the monument from afar before we approached to see it up close. Yeah, but twenty minutes of stories? When the sun was at such a good angle? I was not amused.

He was already starting to be cagey about time. He wanted a group photo, and one woman, who had medicine on the bus that she couldn’t bring in, asked when we would reconvene for it. He wouldn’t tell her. As it happened, she missed the photo. We had just enough time to walk around and get a sense of the monument. But none of us were taking well to the liberties this guy was taking with our time.

Afterward, we were about ready to collapse and very excited to go back to the hotel. Except instead we were taken to a marble workshop and—wait for it—left to shop for over an hour. This launched Jay and me into a full-scale bitch session. I was determined, if I hadn’t been already, to never go on any tour again.

We did see a wedding procession on the way back to the hotel. It was really cool.

The next morning, we set off for the other highlights of Agra, which were as impressive, if not more so, than the Taj Mahal. And there were lots of SOMs and cows in between. We saw the Red Fort, Itmad-ad-Daulah,and Akbar’s Mausoleum.
The detail work on all three was amazing. Tour guide, who’d taken to referring to me as Mrs. Jason (shrug), asked whether something was up because Mr. Jason was keeping his distance from me. Was he? Tour guide then went up to Mr. Jason and said, “lighten up, man.” Everything we saw that morning was incredibly beautiful.
I was less bitter. Until my stomach started to act up and tour guide took his sweet time getting us back to the hotel. He even stopped on the way—and my stomach, at this point, was threatening to explode—so that two people could go pasmina shopping. Instead of taking us back, he took us to a restaurant. We knew it was close and might have walked back, but it was hot as Hades. Besides, there was a bathroom. Without an attendant. We sat through a painful, extended lunch—please understand that Jay and I are not social beings—before we could go back to the hotel. We’d thought about heading out to the bazaar for some shopping later that afternoon, but I was too busy throwing up to leave the room. The TV played in the background. Amid the “90 channels of people dancing,” as Jay put it, we managed to find an English-language channel or two. I can still remember, between trips to the bathroom, the same Dove commercial (“the shampoo most recommended by Indian women”).

Jay: I feel like I’m being a bad GH. David holds my hair back when I vomit.
A.: I appreciate the thought, but I vomit alone.

I was okay the next morning, when we left for Jaipur, by way of Fatehpur-Sikri. On the way, tour guide explained the organized piles of cow dung that we would see everywhere—on roofs as well as on the side of the road. People dried it out and used it for various purposes—cooking fuel, insulation, insect repellant. Oh, one thing I will say was that the bugs weren’t bad at all.
Woman massaging cow dung

I was still enjoying the people-watching. It was amazing to see what people carried on their heads, carried on their bikes. I was a bit put off by the cows munching on the trash on the road (and there was plenty of trash on the road). That’s what goes into their milk, you know. I was at peace with consuming dairy in India because it came from the happiest cows in the world, but I still preferred not to. Avoiding it was impossible, though—everything was cooked in ghee, cream, or milk, or had yogurt added to it. I think so much dairy contributed to my woes.

F-S is an abandoned city made of red sandstone, which is partly why it was abandoned—red sandstone magnifies the heat. And it was f*ing hot. F-S was okay—again, very cool detail work, but I have a feeling we were there to make the day more than just a drive to Jaipur. I was already, in case you hadn’t noticed, succumbing to cynicism, and I was still somewhat delirious from my pukefest the night before. And I had to keep sitting down so it wouldn’t happen again. I had to sit down every few minutes to ease the nausea.

We left F-S for Jaipur, with a stop at an Indian village, i.e. a dirt alley off the side of the road with rudimentary structures on either side. It was really cool, until it got scary, i.e. until some of the village kids got aggressive and tour guide had his head too far up his own ass to made sure his people were okay. At one point, I yelled out his name, which by then I’d learned was ‘Raju.’ He didn’t hear me, even though he wasn’t far away. That’s when I was done with him (which is not to say that that got us out of tipping him).

But that day was my birthday, and, especially having stayed in the night before, I didn’t want to spend the evening inside the hotel. Especially the crappy hotel in Jaipur. There wasn’t much nearby, so against our better judgment, Jay and I accompanied tour guide and our fellow idiots to dinner, to be preceded by a short walk in the city. Except the short walk turned into a long walk, and tour guide was completely oblivious to our collective exhaustion, hunger, and will to live. So he dragged us through the streets of Jaipur and had us frog it across several streets. Crossing the street in India is an art. You have to choose which vehicles/animals you’ll step out in front of. Let the cards and motorcycles go, but run for it when it’s just bicycles, cows, and camels. Anyway, tour guide got us to a flower market and wasted our time for at least half an hour. He said, turning to me this time for some reason, “with your permission, I’ll show you a spice market. Not the best, but not too expensive. Is that okay.” No, I said. No, it’s not. If everyone else wants to go, that’s fine, but I’m done here. Everyone else piped in that they were also done here. He grudgingly called the bus and got us to a restaurant, and maybe an hour later, at 9pm, we got our food. At that point, I could only eat two tablespoons or so.

I was already on my way to eco-hell for all the bottled water I was drinking (no way around it, yet no less evil in terms of impact), so I only felt marginally worse about the elephant ride we took to Amber Fort. The elephants’ workload is strictly regulated, which doesn’t tell us much about how they’re treated in general. They’re such beautiful creatures—I watched in awe the one walking behind us.

Anyway, we saw Amber Fort and listened to some old movie stories. All dude’s stories are a variation of, prince goes out into town and sees commoner, thinks, “wow! What a beautiful lady!” Marriage, children, and monument building ensues. Sometimes there’s strife.


Coming down from Amber Fort, we had to fight off the most aggressive hawkers yet, but we made it. From there, we went to Jantar Mantar, an old observatory with the largest sundial in the world. Where one of us collapsed from the heat. When she emerged, she saw me and said, “I thought it was going to happen to you.” So she recovered, went back on the bus, where most other people joined her. A handful of us went to see the City Palace, which was pretty cool. Of course—never mind if your clients are collapsing—there was a shopping opportunity that nobody wanted.

By lunch, the mutiny had spread. One group of four had already taken a cab back to the hotel, after the observatory. The rest of us wanted to go back more than anything, but Raju threatened to take us to textile and jewelry factories. I asked him where we were going. He said to just get on the bus. I said I’d only get on the bus if it were going back to the hotel. He wasn’t any more forthcoming. Everyone else in the group had also had it with the caginess—all they’d been asking for, over the last few days, was more transparency about when the next bathroom break or meal would be, but he hated providing any information. He’d just say ‘sort of soon’ or ‘not soon.’ We were done.

We headed back to the hotel—he got that we all wanted to go. He said he’d take a group out at 5:30 for whoever wanted to go back in the city. Jay and I came downstairs at 6:20, and people were still waiting in the lobby. Apparently, his favorites—two sisters—were refusing to come down, and he was having none of it. So he was wasting everyone else’s time. This is when Jay and I embarked on our afternoon of Skyping and insulting. Then we went up to the pool on the roof, until it closed, and watched a nearby wedding from there.

The next day was our last in India. We had the morning in Jaipur free, so we caught an auto-rickshaw into the city. The driver was texting, and chatting with motorcyclists who were stopped nearby. More importantly, there was no rhyme or reason to the driving—you passed on either side, drove in either direction. It was wild.

We got to one of the very pink gates of the city and walked around. We saw a sign for the zoo.

Jay: What? What do they keep in the zoo here, that’s not already in the street? Not monkeys, not elephants, not camels. Hamsters?
A.: There’s so much trash on the street. Do you think it’s trash day?
Jay: As opposed to every other day?
A.: No, I think I saw someone scooping trash from the street onto a truck.
[Pause]
A.: Look—cow! Why did the cow cross the road?
Jay: Because there was shit on the other side?
A.: [laughs]
Jay: what’s that line in the Wizard of Oz…
A.: I have no idea.
Jay: Gasp—what? Why not? Oh, yeah—because you’re not gay.
A.: Look—cow!

We actually enjoyed our morning walk through Jaipur, which to me is an indicator that our issue was the tour, and not India. I mean, we didn’t love the heat or the trash or the bureaucracy/inefficiency—we were frustrated for sure with all that—but we were less bitter that morning on our own than we’d been all week, and it was a hot and trashy morning. We walked around, looked for Ganeshes, took in the city scenes, bought some tea and some overpriced saris. I think the overpriced saris set the scene for the useless haggling over Ganeshes, but I’m letting it go.

We took another, even scarier auto-rickshaw back to the hotel. The driver took us by way of the Ganges—he didn’t really know where we were going—and we got back barely in time to collect our things and check out. I wasn’t worried because I knew dude would keep us waiting, but Jay was fretting.

After a long ride, of which Jay and I spent a good five minutes earnestly discussing the proper spelling of "badonkadonk," we got into Delhi. There were signs advising motorists to stay in their lanes, but nobody did. Raju told us that cows weren’t allowed to roam the streets in Delhi because the government didn’t want visitors to think India was a backwater. [Shrug]. Really, though, that part of Delhi made me think of Tokyo: tall, enormous, architecturally interesting buildings (and no cows). Maybe, inside those buildings, there was even shit that talked to you.

That night was our goodbye dinner. Now, when I was in China, the goodbye dinner was in a nice restaurant in Hong Kong—multiple courses, white tablecloths, etc. This one was at a dive restaurant not far from the airport, and we had to buy our own drinks (including water). And the bathroom stalls were translucent. But at least there were no attendants to tip, so I could save my last ten rupees for the attendants at the airport.

We stopped at a statue of Shiva
and prayed for luck for our journey home. It worked and didn’t work. On one hand, our flight, scheduled for midnight, was delayed two hours. On the other, the entertainment system was up and running, and I managed to snag a row all to myself, and I was the only one on the plane who did. People thought they had, but then a connection from Mumbai got in (hence the delay) and seats filled up. The row I took—a flight attendant had asked Jay and I to move so a family could sit together, and we moved to separate, empty rows—remained empty. My food poisoning had come back with a vengeance, so I was glad to have some privacy. At one point, I threw up in the barf bag. The passenger in the nearby row just stared at me (apparently, this is culturally acceptable, but why would you want to watch someone else throw up). I handed the bag to the flight attendant together with the food tray, but he wouldn’t take it, said to throw it out in the bathroom. Really? That’s not your job? I have to get up and get in line? Or should I just throw it on the floor like everyone else is doing. The row in front of me was certainly using the floor around them as their personal trash receptacle. The flight attendant who wouldn’t take the air sickness bag did tell me to pull down my shade. Before I got a chance to do it, another flight attendant came by and also told me to pull down the shade. It was like being told about TPS reports. So I pulled down the shade and got up and waited in line for the bathroom so I could properly dispose of my vomit. Just as it was my turn, and elderly Indian lady came in and trying to bang down the door. She stepped away when she couldn’t open it. The way it opened, I managed to go in. I tried to let the person in line get in when I was done, but the woman pushed her way in. The person in line, who was Indian, shrugged in resignation and smiled at me.

I wasn’t sleeping for more than an hour at a time, because my stomach would start to hurt, so I wanted to offer Jay my row, but he was sleeping in the two seats he had. I watched “Invictus,” which was very good, and then the Wizard of Oz. Those were the only two decent movies available. I also looked out the window and saw Norway, and then Goose Bay in Canada. It wasn’t a bad flight back after all. Thank you, Shiva. Now could you make my stomach normal again, or is that another god?

Anyway, a couple of hours before landing, the Wizard of Oz was winding down. I heard Dorothy say, “there’s no place like home.” It’s a testament to how delirious I was that I hadn’t anticipated this line. When she said it, it was like from out of nowhere, and it spoke to me. There’s no place like home.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Friday evening roundup

Just say no to torture. Really.

Cohen on the changing domestic politics on Israel. And not a moment too soon.

WTF, Rand Paul? Seriously: W.T.F.?

At the risk of sounding like a broken record (and now, of dating myself with that reference), I reiterate that sustainable agriculture is what will feed the world. Not factory farms.

Just like organic junk food is still junk food, organic processed food is still processed.

Newt Gingrich has stretched the truth just a tad.

Academia is far from a a free market environment.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Wednesday evening roundup

I'm getting really sick of this shit.

The mommy wars aren't new, but they've always been pointless.

I've got to agree with Maureen Dowd on this one.

People in China have no idea what, if anything, they can eat.

Some must-read snippets from Georgetown's Future of Food conference. In greater depth: Eric Schlosser and Prince Charles debunk some popular turds of the food industry's bullshit.

Ever wanted a tanoor oven in your yard?

Wednesday morning roundup

Really, Democrats? You're being "skittish" while a male, Republican rep from Texas is pushing to get rape in the Peace Corps taken seriously?

While we're in bizarro world, Syria is claiming its place on the UN Human Rights Council.

Why was this flight delayed?

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Sunday afternoon roundup

I've come to dread rounding up the Post ever since monkeys took over its website and removed the links by section of the print edition. It takes forever to find stuff. Seriously--go on their website and see if you can find a link to the Outlook section. Anyway, here it goes.

An American student caught up in the secret policing talks about the people languishing in Syria's jails.

Remembering the life and work of Ernesto Sobato.

Carl Safina's book reminds us that with or without the Gulf oil spill, our our oceans are in trouble.

We've covered myths about foreign aid as much as we have the myth of "elitist" foodie-ism, but I can't resist a nice, comprehensive article.

A couple of awesome New Yorker cartoons: here and here.

Seth Meyers is hilarious

Sunday morning roundup Part I

Posters are coming down across the Middle East.

I know we've been over this, but Eric Schlosser says it so well: caring about food isn't elitist.

Do any of you inhabit the same planet as David Rakoff? Because I certainly don't. Whom does the man interact with, such that the humanity he writes of sits on the couch and takes pleasure in the failure of others? Does he know no firefighters, social workers, volunteers, nurses... the list is endless. Is he not seeing people across the South, or in Japan, helping their neighbors? I'm not disputing the idea of schadenfreude or pretending to be above it (who didn't think it was awesome when Paris Hilton did jail time?), but I can say with the utmost honesty that my schadenfreude is channeled at entitled, media-whore celebrities, not people trying to make a difference in the world.

One professor's lost-cause battle against grade inflation.

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