Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Paris Day 3 - Pere Lachaise / Happy Boxing Day!!

We left the house today around 1 pm and made our way to the Pere Lachaise cemetary. We began at the Pere Lachaise subway station entrance and wandered around the massive cemetary sans map. Pere Lachaise is the largest cemetery in Paris, housing over one million bodies, and is one of the most visited final resting places in the world. The weather was cloudy, cold and damp, which was quite fitting for drifting around a graveyard with beautiful gothic stone mauseleums, broken graves, and thick layers of green moss that covered everything like sunlight. After meandering around for two hours without seeing any of the dead people we wanted to see, we found a map and then got back on track. We saw Jim Morrisson's grave, tagged with graffiti and littered with unsmoked cigarettes, flowers, and bits of paper with respects written on them. We then made our way up to see Oscar Wilde's grave. Oscar Wilde's tombstone is a large grey stone block with an angular winged man adorning the top. At one time the statue donned a penis, however it was ripped off and now adorns the desk of someone, somewhere, as the most literary phallic paperweight ever. What remains in Pere Lachaise of Oscar Wilde's tomb is covered completely in lipsticked kiss marks as a form of reverence from his admirers. I threw on some dark red lipstick, kissed the angels knee, and joined the ranks of Wilde's post mortem groupies! Next we made our way over to see Edith Piaf's modest grave, and then left the cemetery for a beer at a nearby cafe to warm up. Afterwards, we hopped the subway to Pigalle to witness Paris' notorious sex district in all its nighttime glory. We emerged from the metro with the electric glow of sex illuminating our faces and warming our cheeks. We walked to a tea shop where I bought two fruit and flower teas labeled "Mysterious" and "Venetian", which smell like heaven, and then went to "Cafe des Deux Moulins", better known as the Amelie cafe, where we had an aperitif of sweet white wine and a platter of dried sausage, pickles, and radishes dipped in butter and topped with salt. After our aperitif we walked thru Pigalle, and stopped only briefly to peer awkwardly inside a sex shop and to be propositioned by some skeeve ball on the street. We returned home for dinner and sleep. I'm feeling a cold coming on. I'm hoping I can stave it off with happy thoughts of puppies, sunshine, and fireworks off the Eiffel Tower.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

A Parisian Christmas

I awoke today at 3 pm still full from last night's feast. I ventured out into the living room where everyone was laying around watching "Arabesque", also known as "Murder She Wrote" dubbed in French, and dubbed episodes of "Jake and the Fat Man"! Merry Christmas everyone!!! We were all feeling pretty lazy, so we stayed in all day watching Jim Carrey's "How the Grinch Stole Christmas", and France's take on American Idol, called Star Academy. After an exhausting discussion of how "The Grinch" was originally a cartoon created by Dr. Seuss, and no, he wasn't a real doctor, and what??? You've never heard of Shel Silverstein?? "The Giving Tree" is one of the best children's books ever!! dinner rolled around. We finished yesterday's foie gras and smoked salmon, and then ate the most delicious chicken au jus I've ever inhaled, followed by alcohol and more alcohol. Merry Christmas!!!!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Paris - Day 1

We awoke to an empty house since both Cecile and Dominique had to work Christmas Eve. We showered, ate a simple breakfast of croissants and pain au chocolate, and then watched French music videos until Dominique came home around 1pm.
Once she got home, we put our shoes on and went for a walk to the subway in hopes of going to Montmartre. I still remembered the way to the metro station, with all of its twists and turns. We arrived at the Marx Dormoy station and tried to buy subway tickets but no teller was to be found. In his place was a hand scrawled sign promising a return in twenty minutes. Rather than wait for Mr. Undependable's return, we decided to walk to Montmartre.
It turned out not to be the death march I thought it'd be, and we arrived at the Sacre Coeur 20 minutes and 10,000 stairs later. After pausing to catch our breath for a few seconds, we walked around to the front and entered the Sacre Coeur. The Sacre Coeur is a huge beautiful, white basilica that rests on the top of the highest point in Paris, which makes it a great place to look down on the city on a clear day. Today, however, was not such a clear day. The fog hung so heavy you couldn't even see the looming, ever present Eiffel Tower.
We retreated inside and walked around the church gazing at its incredible beauty, and then took a seat in the back to have a better view at the curved dome without vertigo getting the better of us. While soaking in the stained glass, beautiful curved arches, and gold foil painting of Jesus with his arms outstretched, we spied a nun mopping the altar. I suppose even the house of God gets a little dirty from time to time and someone's got to clean it! Steve dared to snap a picture, ensuring that he will have bad luck for the rest of his life, and allowing me to reap the benefits, sans eternal damnation.
Next we walked down to Place du Tertre, where artists set up their easels and wait for inspiration to strike, or more often the case, for a tourist to come, money in hand. We walked around the square which was once the home to such artists as Dali, Monet, Picasso, and Van Gogh, wandering in and out of shops and art studios with overpriced trinkets in each.
Continuing our walk down the summit of Paris, we crossed in front of the Sacre Coeur, past the handful of shysters who prey on unsuspecting tourists by calling them beautiful and then forcing them to pay for crap they braid into their hair, and then down toward Pigalle to wait for Cecile at the Blanche metro station. Pigalle is the sex district and is home to places such as the Moulin Rouge, and the lesser known Sexodrome, as well as dozens of skeevy shops with velvet or beaded curtains for doors and promises of Poppers for only 6€!
Cecile arrived at the Blanche station from which we went to a flower store to buy a white rose and then went to the chapel of Saint Rita, the patron saint of desperate souls. I contemplated praying for a million dollars, a boyfriend, or a boyfriend with a million dollars, but decided to just let Cecile give her thanks for finally getting her drivers liscense.
We then scurried home so Dominique could begin preparing Christmas dinner which consisted of 22 plates of food including duck, two types of sausage, smoked salmon, foie gras, mixed vegetables, two adorable Christmas cakes in the shape of logs with little decorations on them, and more cheese and liquor than you can shake a stick at.
All of this was consumed over seven hours. Ceciles gay uncle, Sylvain, joined us for dinner fresh from seeing a musical on broadway. He entered the dining room bearing fistfulls of condoms that he scattered upon the tabletop as if they were confetti, and he a Santa of Sex.
As our epic dinner was ending, and midnite was approaching, we opened our presents, which included makeup, perfume, and the 2008 Stade de France calander full of beautiful naked rugby men. Le Sigh. Once the festivites were over, we slept like pigs until daylight.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

London Calling - Day 6 / Midnite train to Paris

We awoke at 9 to pack everything back into our suitcases and check out of the hotel. After paying a deposit for them to hold our bags, we hit the subway and headed to Buckingham Palace. We arrived just in time to see the changing of the guard. The ceremony is a lot of pomp, circumstance, and waiting around 30 minutes for not much action. Toward the end of show, the band that accompanies the guards began playing Christmas songs such as "White Christmas" and then vanished off into the distance, with police officers on horseback following them. We waited around for a while while the overwhelming crowd dissipated, took some pictures, and then made our way via subway to Tower Hill. The weather was less than perfect which made sight seeing virtually impossible. Standing next to the river by the Tower of London the fog was so dense you couldn't even make out the outline of Tower Bridge. As an alternative we tried to find somewhere to go shopping but found only souvenir stores. We decided to take a walk thru the city's business center and find some place for a meal, but every restaurant and shop was closed. We finally found a supermarket that was open called Tesco, where I bought some souvenir British tea. We continued on until we reached the Monument subway station and took a train back to Earls Court. We wasted several hours at a pub, sipping our beers, and chewing our jacket potatoes slowly to ensure we could keep in from the cold until it was time to make our way to Kings Cross/St. Pancreas to get the Eurostar train on the Chunnel to Paris. Once at Kings Cross, I searched for any signs of platform 9 3/4, but to no avail. My muggle eyes decieve me! The trains out of London were running late, including ours. We were to board our train at 8:35 pm, but didn't board until about 9:15 pm. We heard rumors of free train rides if our train is delayed 40 minutes or more, but have still to see if there is any truth to it. A free trip on the Eurostar beats a free pepperoni pizza any day! The chunnel was incredible. The whole trip lasted approximately two hours and ten minutes, with only twenty minutes of it underwater. The train travels at amazing speeds reaching up to 200 mph, and at times I felt that my head was going to explode due to the pressure. I briefly contemplated moving to London and having a career selling chewing gum aboard Eurostar. Seventeen trains service Paris and London each day, while each train is capable of seating a maximum of 766 passengers. We boarded the train, and relaxed in the spacious seats opposite each other with a table in between. Halfway thru the ride, we caught sight of the drink car, and Steve shuffled off to buy cans of Stella and equipment to make screwdrivers. We arrived in Paris at the Gare du Nord station a little after midnite Paris time, and met Cecile and Greg, whose train arrived only ten minutes before ours. Greg's stepfather is a cabbie, and he graciously offered his cab to drive us to Cecile's house free of charge. We arrived at Rue Tristan TZARA, took a quick tour of the apartment, and then crashed in the spare bedroom.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

London Calling - Day 5

We met Cecile and Greg at the Earl's Court station at 10 am. Once everyone was situated at the hotel, we took a train to Notting Hill's famous Portabello Road shopping market. Although a bit of a tourist trap, it was well worth seeing. The neighborhood is made up of candy colored houses with vines climbing towards the sky, that are set on serpentine roads winding in and out of each other. We started our meandering at Notting Hill Gate where street vendors were chock full of silver trays and teapots, handmade leather bound books, Russian dolls, and pocketwatches. I bought a small book for a few pounds, and we continued on past George Orwell's house (which only Cecile saw the tiny plaque for). As we continued down the road, the pricey antiques gave way to more affordable shopping, followed by numerous fruit, hot food, and flower stands. We stopped into a pub for a pint of Kronenburg white, and then continued on past the jewelry and tshirt stands to the tube station. We took the train to Knightsbridge to see Harrod's in the daylight, and were greeted with 20 tree hugging hippies protesting Harrod's for their inhumane selling of fur. After pushing past a hippie in a tiger suit passing out pictures of slaughtered animals, we entered Harrod's. The store was like a huge palace, decked out with marble floors, chandeliers, brightly painted egyptian statues, and memorial fountains for Dodi and Princess Diana. I seperated from the pack in order to fufill my dream of peeing in Harrod's. Finding the bathroom proved to be a difficult task, as I went up several floors, made a left turn at a rack of Dolce caftans, and finally asked someone where the lou was. Five minutes later, my dream was deferred no longer, and I felt no more need to spend time in Harrod's looking at overpriced everything. If finding the bathroom was a difficult task, then finding the way back out to the street was a nightmare. After circling the skincare department three times, and getting lost in the beautiful and expansive dining halls, I found my motley crew of hippies and almost cheered and joined them! Next we took the subway to London Bridge to visit a Christmas shop that Greg wanted to see. We wandered around an outdoor mall with a curved glass ceiling, and ate a light meal of bagel sandwiches. Next, we took the subway to Westminster and snapped a few incredible pictures of Big Ben and the houses of Parliment at night. We then made our way back to the hotel, where I accidentally napped while everyone else went out to Picadilly Circus. In the end I'm thankful I didn't go. Since it's close to the holidays and emotions are running high, some poor soul alone on this Saturday night before Christmas, decided to throw himself under the train, halting all service on the Picadilly line. Steve, Greg, and Cecile had to endure a death march back to the hotel. Steve got back to the room around 11:30 pm and woke me up. I was starving since I didn't really eat much, and decided to go out hunting for food. Earl's Court is usually a bustling center of life, however at this point in the night, EVERYTHING was closed! I saw a beacon of golden arches off in the distance and found that Mc"Donald's was open until 1 am. I begrudgingly ordered chicken nuggets and ate them back at the hotel, while Steve talked in his sleep. "Come in...close the door...hahahahaha.....YEAHHHHHH!"

Friday, December 21, 2007

London Calling - Day 4

We took the subway to Green Park this morning. We got off and had coffee at Cafe Nero, a HUGE chain in London with really excellent coffee. Next we hit Bond Street, which is SOHO and 5th Avenue all rolled into one. I was successful in imagining Wolfe's Mrs. Dalloway walking down this street, as I passed Channel and Tiffanies. We found a secret street off of Bond with several sale shops called Avery Row, where Steve bought socks and scarves from Paul Smith and Oscar Milo. We meandered down further until we hit Oxford Street. I fell in love with a Japanese store sporting simple but beautiful clothes called Uniqlo where I bought two shirts and a jacket. Time before our show was getting tight, so it was back to the hotel, but not before we shopped at the queen mother of semi-affordable London fashion, Topshop. I had known about Topshop for several years now and had been yearning to take a pilgrimmage to their flagship store in Oxford Circus. The store was packed full of fashionistas looking for some Christmas bargains and was verging on claustrophobic. I managed to get out with a pair of fingerless gloves, a ring, and a sweater before my tunnel vision took over completely. Back at the hotel we changed into our new fashion, and hit the subway to make it to the Noell Coward theatre in time for the 5:30 curtain call. The play was really funny, and poignant for me at this point in life. The play focuses on a puppet fresh out of college who is trying to find his purpose in life. Everything is a struggle and time is spent wishing he was back in college, when life was simpler. Things work out in the end, but I couldn't help to feel sad when the play was over, knowing I've lived those struggles, and probably will again. However, songs such as "The Internet is for Porn", "If You Were Gay", and "Everyone's a Little Bit Racist", and the blatant, jaw dropping puppet sex is incredibly entertaining. After the play we wandered up to Leister Square and ate at a American wannabe hamburger joint called "Hamburger Union". We subwayed it to Knightsbridge to attempt to go to Harrod's, but found it closed at 8 pm, on a Friday, before Christmas. Crazy. Instead of going in, we wandered around the outside taking pictures of the amazing Russian ballet themed window displays and took pictures of the entire building at night which was lit up like a palace. We found a double decker bus to take us back to the hotel, and scored awesome seats in the front of the upper level. I hadn't taken full note of the fact that the British drive on the opposite side of the road until this point. Each turn of the bus was death defying stunt and I was certain that every sign we passed was going to end my life. Somehow we made it back to Earls Court safe and sound.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

London Calling - Day 3

Day 3
We woke up at 11 am and caught a train to Leister Square. Once there, we walked around the theatre district, weaving in and out of Chinatown, and bought tickets to go see "Avenue Q" tomorrow night for only 25£ each! I've never seen a broadway show before, and I had wanted to see this one for some time, so I'm very excited! With our tickets safely tucked away, we walked down to Trafalgar Square, and went to the National Gallery. This fine art museum is not only free, but chock full of heavy hitters like Van Gogh, Van Dyck, Rubens, Picasso, Seraut, Cezanne, El get the idea. After spending over an hour gawking at uber famous paintings like "Sunflowers" and "Portrait of Jane Grey", as well as a beautiful exhibit on German stained glass, we hit the gift shop and then took a double decker bus over Oxford Street. Steve bought two discount "pashmina" scarves, and then we each ate a pasty at a restaurant called Cornwalls. Pasty's are generally meat and potatoes that are wrapped in a pie crust, and were first made so that English mine workers could have a hot lunch on the go. My mom has made them for years, but I never had a true English one until today. Steve had one with bacon, cheese, and potatoes, while I had a turkey, cranberry, stuffing, and veggie pasty. It was...incredible. After scarfing down our pies, we walked to the British Museum. I had visited this museum my first time to London, but was armed only with a disposable camera with a faulty flash, and a complete lack of care that I credit to my then 16 years of life. We saw the Rosetta Stone, dozens of statues of Hindu gods, and enough mummies to keep me satiated for some time. The British Museum is the best museum I've ever been to. The English have raped and pillaged so many lands, that their collections of artifacts are truly amazing. My feet were starting to fall off, so we decided to head home for some rest and some ice cream. Europe has the most amazing ice cream. Imagine this - vanilla ice cream, wrapped in chocolate, dipped in caramel, and then enveloped in another layer of chocolate. All of this deliciousness is wrapped in in a shiny wrapper bearing the name "MAGNUM". Simply incredible. After about an hour of laying about our room, we threw some lipstick on, brushed out our weaves, and walked down the street to a curry house called Masala. I got this giant platter with curried chicken and a bunch of bowls of weird, but delicious food. London is known for their amazing Indian restaurants, so I wasn't surprised when it was the best Indian food I've ever had in my life. I washed it down with a sparkling Stella. The curry was still working it's revenge on my tounge, so we wandered down the street to a pub called Blackbird's, where I put out the fire with a $10 bottle of Becks. The plan is to go to bed early tonite so we can fit a lot in tomorrow before curtain time.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

London Calling - Day 2

Day 2
We woke up early today, got showers and headed to South Bank. We walked around this industrialized area for a while, until glimpsing the London Eye. We made our way over to it, bought tickets at 15£ each, and boarded the world's largest Ferris wheel. The London Eye was originally constructed to be a temporary monument marking the new millenium, however became so popular and maintained backing from British Airways, that it still stands today. The wheel is comprised of large rooms encapsulated in glass, and rotates at one mile per hour, never stopping. On a clear day, visibility is about 30 miles out, however today was not such a clear day. Haze hung in the air with a vengance and wouldn't clear enough to even get a good shot of Big Ben or Parliment. It was still worthwhile though, being on such an amazing piece of machinery, not to mention it got us out of the freezing cold for about 25 minutes. After the Eye, we walked around past County Hall, the London Aquarium (which is the largest aquarium in Europe) and the permanent Dali exhibition space that I visited in my previous trip to London. We then bought tickets for a boat ride down the Thames, and tickets for the Tower of London. We boarded the boat and sat on the roofdeck for optimal touristing. The boat ride turned out to be an awesome decision since we saw a lot of things that I had wanted to see, but didn't nessecarily want to visit. We saw the reconstructed Globe theatre with the only thatched roof in London, the Tate Modern, the Queen Mary ship, Cleopatra's Needle, London Bridge, Tower Bridge, and the first all green phallic building built which is appropriately nicknamed "The Gerkhin". We also learned some fun facts along the way.

Fun fact #1- The original London Bridge was dismantled stone by stone and moved into the desert of Arizona. The London Bridge that now spans the Thames is a replacement.

Fun fact #2 - The Thames is owned by the Queen and no advertisments are allowed along it's banks. The only building to get away with breaking this rule is a company called OXO that apparently makes bullion cubes. They constructed their building so that there is a large tower with lights spelling out OXO vertically, and therefore constituting a form of advertisement.

Fun fact #3 - The family that owns Unilever soap is RICH! They have a ginormous building along the Thames that I can now only refer to as "The house that soap built!"

Our boat tour ended at the infamous Tower of London. The Tower of London is an ancient castle in London that has been used throughout the centuries as a place of imprisonment and torture. Some of the famous people to come to an end within it's walls include Anne Boylen, Queen Jane Grey (who became a queen at 16 years old, and served only 9 days before getting the axe), the two princes murdered by Richard III, and the dude Braveheart was based off of (no...not Mel Gibson). We took a tour guided by a true Beefeater named Phil. He told us how many people were not actually killed within the castle, but up a hill named Tower Hill. Prisoners were marched up the hill behind the Tower and were greeted by spectators thirsty for blood/entertainment. After the beheadings, the bodies were carried back to the chapel within the castle walls to be dumped uncerimoniously in unmarked graves beneath the chapel floor. The heads were kept, placed on spikes, and displayed upon London Bridge as a warning to others.
Phil also told us several gruesome stories, including the death of Anne Boylen. Anne was French and wished, when her time came, to be beheaded in the traditional French way, which is with the body upright and the axe hitting the neck in a horizontal stroke. Henry sent away to France for a proper executioner, who turned out to be so good that he killed her in one fail swoop. When he bent down to pick up her head, her eyes were still scanning the crowd and her lips were still murmuring in silent prayer.
Another story was about Charles III's illigitimate son that suffered the bloodiest execution in London's history. The executioner wasn't the most precise, and needed five swings of the axe, and eventually a hand saw in order to sever the head. Once the head was off, officials realized that he hadn't had his portrait professionally painted, which is customary of Royal's children, illigitimate or not. They then sent for the surgeon in order for him to sew the head back onto the body and prepare him for his portrait. The artist painted the portrait in a record 12 hours and his body is the only one to have been buried with it's head in the ground's chapel.
As if the stories and thousands of bodies stashed in corners weren't creepy enough, ravens circled overhead constantly. The ravens are said to have been good luck. One king once said that if the ravens were ever to leave, misfortune would befall the castle. Because of this forewarning, a raven keeper is kept on the premises in order to ensure the numbers of ravens stay sufficient.
Phil also told us about his post as a Beefeater, candidly admitting that he has no idea where the name "Beefeater" came from. He told us that in order to hold the post, he had to serve in the Royal Airforce for a minimum of 22 years, reach a corporal lutinent status, and earn certain medals.
After our tour was over, we wandered around the grounds, looking at the crown jewels including a 540 carat diamond from India that was showcased in the handle of a sceptor. We then walked through other towers and even got to see the torture racks. After our bloodlust was quenched, we exited the Tower and took some pictures of Tower Bridge lit up at night while it was opening to let a ship pass. We then made our way back to Earl's court and had a dinner of Chicken Kiev and Kronenberg 1667, and bangers and mash and screwdrivers at the Earls Court Tavern. After dinner we shopped at a corner market for drinks to accompany our budget Pop-Tart breakfasts, and went back to the hotel to relax. I stayed there until I decided to come to this infernal internet cafe where I have sat for the last 3 hours typing this and trying to upload my pictures onto Flickr. Soon I will shake the sleep out of my ass and make my way back to the hotel. Cheers!

London Calling - Day 1

Steve and I arrived at 10 am London time. Our plane landed in the middle of the tarmac, and we were ushered off of it, down rickety metal stairs, and into preheated buses that drove us to the terminal. After collecting our luggage, we took the blue line to Earl's Court, found our hotel, and then slept like pigs for four hours in our coffin sized room. At about 5 pm, we woke up, showered and went for dinner at an Irish pub down the street called O'Neill's. Steve had traditional bangers and mash, while I had a delicious baked potato the size of my head, covered in cheese, and a pint of Peroni. Never had beer tasted so good! After dinner we walked back to the tube, and subwayed it to Piccadilly Circus, which is the Times Square of London, complete with tacky Sony and Coca Cola electric signs.
We snapped a few pictures of the Statue of Eros basking in the electric glow, and then walked up to Leichester Square, where there was a Christmas Carnival in session. We ate donuts that tasted of funnel cake, and walked around watching people ride merry-go-rounds and tilt-a-barfs.
After we had enough of second hand thrills, we walked down Charring Cross Road and stopped briefly to listen to a street performer sing songs from the Jungle Book. We decided that we, in fact, did not want to talk like him or walk like him, and we continued on past the National Gallery and ended up in Trafalgar Square. I had made it a point to see this particular square, since it is currently housing London's Christmas tree. I was slightly dissapointed to see that it was total crap.
No one does Christmas like New York City! Sorry Europe! Not only was there a lack of Christmas awesomeness, there was also a lack of pigeons. I know pigeons are viewed as a general plague in most cities, but to me, they're symbolic of Trafalgar Square and it was kind of sad they were nowhere to be found. We then decided we would try to find a bus to take us back to our hotel. After waiting an interminal amount of time for a bus that never came, all the while freezing our bullocks off, we decided to walk back to the tube station. When we finally made it to the subway platform we saw a horde of people waiting for the train. The train pulled up, already packed to the breaking point. I stepped back, feeling nervous at the deep and endless ocean of flesh in front of me. Londoners were completely fearless venturing into the void, pushing first with their fingers, and then disappearing completely leaving only a faint sucking sound behind. After waiting for the next train and seeing it was no less crowded (it was 11:30 pm!!) I braved the blob composed entirely of human parts, and made my way back to the Hotel while Radiohead's "Packed Like Sardines In A Can" played in my head on loop. Once back at the hotel, we got into our pj's and watched a Christmas video countdown with such classics as "Christmas My Ass!", while cartoons demonstrated seasonal Kama Sutra-esque positions, such as "The Earmuff" and "Putting Up The Christmas Tree" in the lower right hand corner of the screen. Oh London, how I love you!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Monday, November 19, 2007

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Across the Universe

A few years ago, Steve and I were in New York to celebrate Halloween. While walking around the city, we stumbled upon a Vietnam protest march being filmed for a movie. We stood back and watched for a while until we were shooed away by a underpaid production assistant. Over the years, I always wondered what that movie was, and if I'd ever get to see it. Lo and behold, that movie was "Across the Universe", the Moulin Rouge-esque musical based on art, music, and love in the 60's, with a Beatles filled soundtrack and numerous cameos. I went to see it this past Saturday night, once again in the hotbed of cultural expression, Palmyra. The movie is about a young British guy, Jude, who goes to America to find his father, falls in with a drop out from an ivy league school, falls in love with his new friends sister, Lucy, and then moves to New York City. Jude and Lucy are in a whirlwind romance, until Lucy's brother, Max, is drafted for the Vietnam war. Lucy becomes highly political and becomes part of the revolution protesting the war, while Jude escapes into his art. This difference places a crowbar between them, and their love begins to falter.
This movie is a love story, however the backdrop and decade is integral. The movie paints a beautiful world on top of an ugly one, and shows love as well as pain. The issues of the time are not hidden or glossed over, and attention is paid to the equal rights struggle of blacks, Martin Luther King's death, and the nation's response to the Vietnam war.
Visually, this movie is stunning. The film is not only narrated using Beatles songs, but travels throughout the Beatles musical career with corresponding visual styles, at times carefree, and at other times trippy and experimental; an ultimate homage.
While this movie is placed in history and plays with nostalgia, it was still incredibly fresh. Having heard most of the songs previously, viewing them on screen in the context of this film, I found them to have a completely new perspective and energy. From Jude singing an exasperated version of "Revolution" to the appalled Lucy, to a young black boy singing "Let it be" while his family marched down the streets holding his casket after he died in a riot, to Max singing "Happiness is a Warm Gun" while rotting in a hospital bed after being wounded in battle, the songs became fresh and poignant. The choreography was equally as impressive with unconventional dance steps and movements, at times fluid and dream like, and at other times highly chaotic and intense.
Another instance of fresh nostalgia was the issue of the war. The opposition to Vietnam, I felt, paralleled the Iraq war, the only difference being that in the 60's people believed in a revolution and fought for it. Several intense riot scenes were shown in the film, and viewing them brought me to tears, not because of the violence, but because of the power people felt they had and were willing to assert. Watching the masses stand up to the government, even if they didn't succeed, was both inspiring and illuminating.
This movie was incredibly thoughtful and well executed. A perfect film.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Hooray Beer! Part 2

Yesterday I toured the Troegs brewing facility in Harrisburg. I met Jena, Rachelle, Jake, Dee and Ed at Troegs, expecting us to make up the bulk of the tour group. Upon entering, we realized that not only were we not the only ones, but we were some of the last to arrive. There were approximately fifty beer aficionados and former frat boys waiting in line for 4 oz glasses of Mad Elf (which retails at almost $50 a case) and Troegenator. After puffing out my chest and throwing some well placed elbows, I made it to the front and sampled about two beers (adhering to the one-at-a-time rule) before the tour began. We filed through a door and stood in front of massive brewing tanks awaiting our tour guides knowledge. Troegs is a 10 year old company started by two brothers who love beer. They dreamed of owning and operating a brewery, so they worked from the bottom up, attending brewing schools across the US and doing grunt work in order to learn anything and everything they could about the business. The flavors are based solely on the taste buds of the two brothers and even has an expiration date that adheres to their tastes. They are so insistent upon the quality of their beer, that once an expiration date approaches, the distributors are instructed to pull the cases off the shelves and ship them back to Troegs. This thought gave me a moment of pause, forcing me to seriously contemplate escaping from the tour and Scooby-dooing around the facilities looking for a room filled with past due beers. Sigh. We toured the plant, seeing the numerous brewing tanks, and even the small tank that is used for experimental brews. We were able to taste an array of pre-beer hops, including ones that tasted nutty and others that tasted of chocolate, and smell post-brewing barley, which smelled faintly of hamster food soaked in cat pee. Mmm! The tour then proceeded to the bottling room, where we learned that Troegs chooses brown glass bottles to package their beer in in order to filter out ultra violet light. Ultra violet light is everywhere and is capable of skunking a beer in 90 seconds. Many beers are knowingly packaged in clear bottles, either with skunk as part of the flavor profile of the beer, or with specially manufactured clear bottles that can filter the rays just like brown glass. I also learned that this is the reason that traditional German beer steins are made of porcelain and have lids. The tour concluded in the tasting room we started in. We sampled some more of the beers, including the Dreamweaver Wheat and the Hop Back Amber Ale. Even though I recently toured the Appalachain Brewing Company this tour was very different and well worth the time spent.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Virginia is for lovers

Yesterday I attended my cousin Brian's wedding on a military base in Alexandria, VA. I had never been on a military base before and was interested to see what it was like. After driving a quarter of a mile down a tree lined road towards the main gate we were stopped and each adult in the car had to show a picture ID. After they were scanned like so many cans of creamed corn, we were allowed thru to drive around an all inclusive self contained picturesque town, not unlike Pleasantville. There was a chapel, a school, a multipurpose activity field with several metal bleachers, and loads of perfect brick houses with American flags adorning their porches while mom's watered the tanbark. We arrived at the chapel in time to congratulate the father of the groom (a.k.a. Uncle Dickie), and then shuffled into the church and crammed into a pew. While waiting for the ceremony to start, I observed the setting and made mental notes of the giant stained glass window of George Washington that occupied the spot on the altar where Jesus usually has dibs, and the neck art of a gentleman in front of me which read "Horn Dog". The ceremony was very lovely and both the bride and groom got through their vows without blubbering like a 12 year old at a matinée of "Titanic". At one point a cup of water from both Wendy and Brian's hometowns were mixed in a vessel as a symbolic gesture of their lives becoming one. I thought it was a beautiful idea, and I wondered later what was done with the united water. I came to the conclusion that their love probably watered a patch of grass in the back of the church. Ahh...the circle of life. Upon leaving the church as man and wife, Brian and Wendy walked under a line of men pointing swords towards the sky and I was relieved when they both made it thru with only a slap on the butt for Wendy with the broad side of the last sword. Very dignified. Next it was on to the reception in a beautiful hall with a panoramic view of the Potomac. Matt, Holly, Ben, Anne and I were seated at a table with a hilarious girl named Jen who indulged Matt in Zombie banter. As the night wore on, the open bar broke loose and my vision turned red from all the vodka and cranberries I consumed. What I do remember was dancing to MJ's "Thriller" with my mom in true zombie fashion, and using all the willpower I had to not place my face in the chocolate fountain. Overall, it was a really great wedding, and I am truly happy for both of them.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Haunted Gettysburg

Saturday Laura, Michelle, David and myself took a trip to explore Haunted Gettysburg. We were a good mix of believers and skeptics, but started out the night with open minds. We got to Gettysburg a little before 6 pm and wasted time antiquing before our table was ready at The Pub. We had a great dinner accompanied by spirits (a.k.a. booze) and then carefully walked down Baltimore Street to begin our Ghosts of Gettysburg tour. We waited for the 8:00 tour along with a horde of other thrill seekers. I breathed a sigh of relief when I realized that we were going to be broken up into four smaller, more intimate groups. My relief then subsided when I realized that our tour guide was about as enthusiastic as Squidward Tentacles. Irregardless of our tour guide's story telling abilities and chutzpa (or lack thereof), the tour was very enjoyable. We visited a courthouse that acted as a makeshift hospital during the battle, and saw so many amputations that holes had to be drilled in the floor to release the blood. Next we visited a school house across the street from a prison, both of which held spirits (of the ghost variety, not the aforementioned booze variety). From there we went on to a haunted house dubbed the Twin Sycamores because of the two hulking trees that flanked the front of the house. Only one of the trees still remains to this day. The Twin Sycamores was said to hold a benign child ghost who partook of many hijinks, including organizing toy soldiers into battle formations. At the end of the tour we gathered ourselves together and walked back towards the car. David wanted to see the battlefield because a helpful lady in the antique store said it was "spectacular at night!". We drove around for about 20 minutes wondering how it was possible that we were unable to find a huge battlefield where thousands of people fought and died. David drove down time warped roads that led us nowhere while the rest of us incessantly joked about haunted gas stations, haunted butternut squashes, and haunted flag poles. After a while we decided to give up the ghost (har har) and go home. It wasn't until the next day that I looked at my pictures and saw what appear to be ghosts in almost every one! Some skeptics might call them "water spots", but I'm not the only one to have pictures with them in it. Take a look, and then you decide.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Hooray Beer!

Today I toured Harrisburg’s hometown brewery, Appalachian Brewing Company, with my family in tow. The ABC is housed in an impressive three story brick and timber building that was originally a printing company in the 1920's. Over the years it was reincarnated into several things, including a warehouse for aircraft parts during World War 2, and eventually left derelict after a massive fire. In the mid 1990's it was sold for a dollar to visionaries who conceived that it could be a brewery. We saw the techniques of making beer, from the beginning stages as just hops and barley, thru all the processes it undergoes, including mashing, filtering and fermenting, and then finally bottling and packaging. The tour was very informative and it was amazing to think how much thought and time goes into making my new found favorite nectar. For instance, a lager must ferment for 5 weeks in cold temperatures. Five weeks is a long time, but well worth the wait! After the tour was a round of questions and answers in which our guide explained my mother’s childhood gag reflex when in close proximity to the Yingling brewery, as well as why volcanic rock makes a better filter for beer than a typically used form of condensed Earth. After our questions were answered we were asked if we would like to sample some beers, and an over-emphatic "Yes!" sprung from my mouth. We sat at the bar and drank dozens of samples. Among the highlights were the Hinterland Hefe Weizen, a light beer with hints of banana and cloves making it fruity yet spicy, and Kiponafest, a darker beer with a coffee taste and gentle caramel notes. After learning more about the process of making beer, as well as the many different types produced, I am convinced that beer is the new wine.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Dreams deferred no longer

This week has been unofficially dubbed "The week of hockey and dreams fulfilled". Both Laura and I won tickets to see two different Philadelphia Flyers games due to some strange vortex in the cosmos. On Monday Laura, Christian and I went to see the Flyers vs. the Devils, and sadly the Flyers lost miserably. Not to worry, we had tickets to Wednesday's game vs. the Capitols. Both Laura and I took half days off of work to go down to Philly early and see the King Tut exhibit at the Franklin Institute. We wandered around looking at ancient shiny pretty things, and were nonplussed to find that the mummified remains of the boy king were not on the premises. Instead we oohed and ahhed at the tiny sarcophagi lined with inscriptions of the book of the dead that at one time held his liver, and the doll sized chair that served as his throne when he ruled at the tender age of 9. I have always been fascinated by ancient Egypt and have wanted to see this collection for as long as I can remember. I even went to Chicago, in part to see the collection, only to find out that days earlier the exhibit had moved to Philadelphia. After seeing Tut in his last week before being moved to London, I felt I had crossed off a major "To Do" on my list. Sweet satisfaction. After visiting ancient Egypt, we toured the giant heart, and then left the museum to walk thru Rittenhouse Square and then down to Chinatown for Laura's initiation at Vietnam. We indulged in crispy spring rolls and chicken vermicelli buns, and then made our way to the Wachovia Center for the Flyers game with Steve and Alex. We arrived a little late, having missed the first period, but were still in plenty of time to make memories. Another of my life long dreams was to be on the Jumbo-tron at some sort of event. What can I say? I reach for the stars. Luckily for me, a camera man was standing by and made my dream a reality for the low price of one kiss with a gay man. Steve was a trooper, and acted the part by putting his arm around my shoulders and planted an ever so manly (aka horrible) kiss on my mouth. I laughed so long and hard, I thought I would cry. Two dreams fulfilled in one day. How did I get so lucky?

Monday, September 17, 2007

I heart New York

Saturday was spent in New York City. We arrived at 10 am and trekked it to H & H Bagels. I had the most incredible everything bagel with chive cream cheese. There was nowhere to sit down and eat inside, so we took our breakfast riverside and sat in the rain enjoying the warm, crunchy yet chewey, deliciousness, and learned firsthand that they truly are "Like no other bagel in the world". After our breakfast the rain subsided and the skies opened up and made it the most beautiful day ever. We hopped a cab to 5th Avenue and poshed around in Dior. I tried on the most gorgeous $650 limited edition shades, and even got some pictures before the saleslady clickety clacked her way over to tell us that pictures were strictly forbidden! We apologized profusely and then ran out of the store giggling. After taking in the wonders on 5th Avenue, we went to the Paley Center for Media. It's basically an archive of television and radio programs since the beginning of each medium that you can access and enjoy. First you buy your ticket, then you go to a selection room filled with computers and check their database for something you want to watch. You select your programs and then go to watch them in a viewing room. I watched "Jim Henson's Storyteller's : The Soldier and Death" and an episode of "In Living Color", while Steve enjoyed the painful hilariousness of "Tales from the Crypt" and "Bossom Buddies". Classic. After our hour of rejuvenating television watching, we made our way over to 6th Avenue and wandered around a street fair, ate a crepe, bought some awesome metal art and discount "cashmere" scarves. Next we subwayed it down to SOHO. We got lost on our way to the Puma store and stumbled into many treasures. The first was an Armani underwear model that Steve fondled after conning him into posing for a picture. Next was a street vendor selling what I thought were knock off but turned out to be authentic Puma bags. I bought one for 20 dollars and then hid it in one of Steve's bags so as not to be ashamed of my ghettoness when I arrived at the real Puma store. We found the Puma store, and I got these beautiful shoes! The next few hours were spent strolling around SOHO being snobby and unhelpful to other people. Oh, New York, you feel like home! After SOHO we took a cab ride to Chocolate Moderne, a "high end" chocolate shop. Well...we arrived at the address, and found it to be a nondescript apartment building. We cautiously took the elevator to the 9th floor and found a hallway filled with apartments and a note on the door that said "Chocolate Moderne. If no answer here, please knock on door 905". I tried the door and it was locked. I looked at Steve, and we both came to the consensus of "Hell to the no!" and we bolted. There's no way I'm sneaking around Manhattan for hidden "chocolate" inside the belly of this building with walls so thick that no one could hear me scream. I was unsure if a Wonka-like wonderland lay just beyond the door, or if it was more like some guy selling old Easter candy that he kept in his bathtub. I guess I'll never know. We were starting to get hungry, so we made our way over to Cafeteria and indulged in some good old fashioned comfort food. Steve got their famed mac and cheese, and I got an early taste of Thanksgiving with a turkey, mashed sweet potato, garlic green bean and walnut cranberry sauce plate. Amazing. After dinner we visited a Korean grocery store where I found an economy sized bottle of Sapporo, my favorite Japanese beer, and then stopped quickly at a boulangerie run by authentic Parisians, and drooled over amply stuffed cream puffs and flakier than Jessica Simpson croissants. We cabbed it back to 50th and Broadway, snapped a few shots of Times Square at night and boarded the bus back to the Burg. It really was an incredible day. It felt like we did everything and nothing all at once.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Paris, Je t'aime

Last Friday Steve and I ventured to Palmyra to see the opening night of "Paris, Je t'aime". We were the only ones in the theater...surprise surprise. It was a good thing though, because it allowed me to laugh and sob uncontrollably without regret. The movie is comprised of 18 different love stories all filmed in different arrondisements of Paris. It showcased all different types of love and different types of people, including love between a mother and a son, young love, old love, cross cultural and cross religion love, gay love, straight love, and love between a woman and a city. My favorites included the hysterical Tour Eiffel segment that focused on two mimes, and the heart wrenching Fauberg Saint Dennis clip about a young actress that breaks up with her blind boyfriend over the phone and his fast forwarded account of their love. The movie has been released for several months, but it only just now made it to the wonder that is Central PA. The DVD is coming out soon, and I intend on buying it and watching it repeatedly in anticipation of my upcoming trip to Europe.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Elizabethtown Fair

Last night Steve, Laura, Christian and I went to the Elizabethtown Fair. It was my first time there, even though I live within walking distance of it. It was your average Pennsylvania fair complete with funnel cake, Tilt-O-Whirls, and tractor shows. The grounds were packed with families and teenagers enjoying ice cream and Rockwell's famous Rhino fries, and children riding miniature trains and teacups. We walked around until we found a game with goldfish as prizes. We won three fish, two of which I bestowed upon Laura. After that we surveyed the rest of the fair and saw the stage where a jug band plays and then watched the local martial arts studio's best students exhibit their talents. After about an hour and way too many rhino fries, we decided the humidity was too much, and went home to shower.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

I don't think two people could've been happier

Each time I watch "The Hours", I am struck by how heartbreakingly and unapologetically human it is. It is beautifully filmed and is filled with meaningful subtleties. It is both simple and complicated. Each of the three women struggle with depression, sexuality, and the parameters placed on being a woman in the time that they exist. Julianne Moore's character, Laura Brown, is especially endearing. The scene where her neighbor, Kitty, comes over to ask Laura to look after her dogs while she goes to the doctor always moves me. The dismissive look Kitty gives her before she leaves, after their full on the mouth kiss, is excruciatingly glossy and cruel. Some may see the kiss as a lesbian outburst in a June Cleaver world, but I think it shows Laura's desire to connect with another human being. She wants so much to be loved and touched and to make a mental connection with someone, that it transcends sexual desire.