Monday, September 29, 2008

Accomplishment # 15: Understand The Stock Market (#79)

Um... yeah. I don't really think now's such a good time to do this one.


I've always been a little wary of the stock market. The only gambling I really like are nickel slots in Reno, because I once won like two hundred bucks after putting in about $12. (And I spent it all on bathroom fish, a scary ballerina painting, booze, and pancakes.) Nickels are a currency of which I am not frightened; I've been known to have some rolling around the bottom of my black hole of a purse. Hundreds or thousands of dollars, however, I do not have rolling around in my purse or in my bank account. Or in the stock market. I have a paltry 401K, but we've been assured that it will be okay. Um... yeah. We shall see.

The only "active" experience I've ever had with the stock market was in eighth grade, when we did a unit on stocks in our social science class. We all had to choose a stock that sounded interesting, and I, being a forward thinker, chose ATARI.


I was SUPER into Atari for a while. (In fact, I still have my Atari game and cartridges, and I keep meaning to hook it up. How "old skool" and ironic of me!) I would spend hours playing Atari in our basement -- Pitfall, Kaboom!, Pac-Man, Frogger, Space Invaders, but totally not Combat, the game it came with -- while listening to The Tubes "Completion Backwards Principle." (Every time I hear the song, "Talk To You Later" which, I'll admit, is not often, I think of totally kicking ass on, like, the highest level of Kaboom!. DORK.)

Kaboom was, like, totally bitchin'!

So since I was familiar with the Atari product and figured that everyone in the universe would want this magnificent system, I used it for my project. (Along with probably every other kid in the class who didn't ask for their parents' stockbroker's advice. There were kids like that in my school. Who were probably rich last week.) And I don't remember exactly what happened, except I checked the paper every morning, recorded the numbers in my notebook, and I think would have made about eleven dollars by the time the unit ended if I had actually invested.

Hey, that's a lot better than some people did today.

And here's the song that's been going around and around in my head since this morning.

Something's Gone Wrong Again -- The Buzzcocks

(Sort of -- as close as I'm gonna get anyway) fifteen down, 82 to go.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Accomplishment #14: Attend a Theater Performance (#8)

The first time I ever went to the Thee-a-tah (not including a children's performance of The Sound of Music for Monica Schroff's birthday party in second grade -- the little girl playing Gretl got stage fright and we laughed) was to see Annie in fourth grade.

Here's a big surprise: I was obsessed with Annie. (I'd bet my bottom dollar that lots of little red headed girls in the 70's were. Annie and unicorns.) I played the 8-track over and over. I learned how to play "Tomorrow" and "Maybe" on the piano, warbling along with feeling. I envied my parents for being children in The Great Depression. I secretly called our dog, named Spot, Sandy. And when the stage play came to town, things got worse.

I was beside myself with excitement. We were going to San Francisco to see a play (and not just any play), and I was wearing my fanciest dotted swiss dress. We had front row balcony seats, so I could lean over and see the stage perfectly. And when I opened the program, I gasped. I looked just like the little girl playing Annie, Patricia Ann Patts. (Before the transformation to the curly haired, red dressed Annie Warbucks. I looked like the scraggly orphan, despite the dotted swiss.) And I wasn't the only one who thought so -- everyone around me gasped, too, and the usher came and pulled my arm and said, "You shouldn't be here! You should be getting ready!"

I was destined to be a star.

After that, all I wanted to do was star in Annie. For the first time in my life I actually practiced piano, singing along with even more feeling. I was Annie -- complete with one of my mom's old curly wigs -- for Halloween. I made up tap dances in my room, though I had never taken a lesson and we had wall to wall carpeting. I dreamed of the day when an agent -- my own personal Daddy Warbucks -- would discover me and whisk me away to the bright lights of Broadway. I begged my parents to take me to auditions, but they always seemed to have something else going on.

And then I sang "Tomorrow" in the fifth grade camp talent show and I, along with everyone else that I'd been bragging to that I was going to be the best Annie ever, discovered that I didn't really have talent after all. I couldn't just stick out my chin and grin and say that the sun would come out tomorrow. My life was OVER and I was only ten.

But... I was a resilient ten year old. I got over my bitter heartbreak and moved on to "Fur Elise" in piano. I became more obsessed with the soundtrack for the movie Xanadu and teen heart-throb Timothy Hutton than a plucky orphan and her stray dog. I even managed to set foot inside the thee-a-tah again.

For a long time I worked in a bookstore, and one of my customers was Carole Shorenstein Hayes, who essentially runs the theaters in San Francisco. She was very kind to me, and set me up with tickets for all the opening night shows for about four years. I got to see everything from Les Miserables to The Sound of Music starring Marie Osmond to Cats and Phantom of the Opera (both of which I hated). And yes, even Annie. (I still knew all the words, and still felt the flush of embarrassment at the thought of flailing so hard at the fifth grade camp talent show.)

I loved it. I loved going to Will Call and getting the tickets, and then settling down in plush seats and looking at the ornate walls and loges. I loved hearing the sounds of the orchestra warming up, and the moment when the house lights dim and the initial crash of music or the action on the stage. I loved being sucked into the story and falling in love with the actors -- such intimacy, especially up close when you can see them spit and the microphones on their foreheads. (I usually got really good seats.) I loved intermission and seeing all the dressed-up people in the lobby, as I would stand there and marvel at all of it. (One time, Danielle Steele and her brood of a hundred children sat in front of my mom and me -- in Ms. Steele's Chanel suit's pocket was a bottle of Maalox. So glamorous!)

But all good things come to an end -- the bookstore closed and my days of free theater and glamour ended. I hadn't been back for years until I treated myself to a discount ticket to see Grey Gardens on Broadway a few years ago. My God. Talk about HEAVEN and a dream come true. I sat in my slightly obstructed seat in the amazing Walter Kerr theater and had to pinch myself that it was really happening.

But going to the Thee-a-tah is something that I don't normally do. Sure I want to go see Spring Awakening or whatever else I might see a commercial for, but I was so spoiled that I don't even think of buying a ticket and going. Which is stupid, because it's an extraordinary experience.

So when my friend Leslie invited me to go see a production of Jungle Red, a drag parody of the movie The Women from 1939, I jumped at the chance.

Jungle Red Flyer

Now, let me explain something about The Women. It is, hands down, one of my all time favorite movies. I know that there is a remake out right now starring Meg Ryan, and I probably won't see it. It's not just because it's a remake -- it was remade in the 50's as The Opposite Sex starring June Allyson and Joan Collins -- it's just because the original is so fabulous that I just don't need to see a new movie of it, set in modern day.

For one thing, the cavalcade of stars in the original is perfect. Norma Shearer, Rosalind Russell, Joan Crawford -- I mean, come ON. You can't get any better than that... but it does. The costumes are by Adrian, one of my favorite designers. (He also did The Wizard of Oz, if that helps give any perspective.)

Here is a clip from the movie -- it's utterly surreal. Smack in the middle of the B&W film is a technicolor dream fashion show sequence, all done by Adrian. It's utterly bizarre, and utterly FABULOUS.

But that's not even what makes this movie so great -- it's the writing (such amazing wit and bitchery) and the stars. Rosalind Russell is just outstanding as Mrs. Howard Fowler, the bitchy, gossipy and fabulous Sylvia. Norma Shearer as the jilted Mrs. Steven Haynes is dewy and lovely, as is Joan Bennett as Peggy, the only one who still believes in love. And of course, Joan Crawford as Crystal Allen, the devious "other woman"... divalicious.

So, there would really be no reason for me to see the new movie. But a show starring all men in a parody of a movie that starred only women... well, sign me up!

So Leslie, her father and I took BART into the City where we went to the Victoria Theatre, which, admittedly, is a far cry from the Curran, but fun nonetheless. (AND you can have popcorn and drinks at the Victoria!) The feeling was very excited, and, well, gay in the happy and orientation sense of the word. (Leslie and I joked that we would find a few of my ex boyfriends there.) And I got the same old feeling of anticipation and delight when the orchestra arrived and tuned up and the lights went down, and I settled in my seat.

Let me tell you -- it was fabulous. Only fabulously flamboyant drag queens could convey the style and wit and camp of the original, with cheeky lines and double entendres. But Varla Jean Merman as Crystal Allen (with touches of Joan in Mommie Dearest, which was uproarious and well received with that audience), and especially Katya Smirnoff-Skyy as Sylivia Fowler stole the show. I was mesmerized by the two of them -- the others, though wonderful, just paled in comparison. Katya was SPOT ON Rosalind Russell. Everything -- from the voice inflections to the expressions to the veiling on her hats... let me tell you, I am a tough critic when it comes to my favorites, and after the show I had to go tell her that I loved her. And she was very, very sweet. (And a bonus -- Varla Jean liked my hair. I felt like I had just been crowned honorary queen for a day!)

JUNGLE RED!  09/20/2008
Varla Jean Merman as Crystal Allen, and Katya Smirnoff-Skyy as Mrs. Howard Fowler

It's true about the thee-a-tah --it is such an personal experience, more so than with movies or TV. You really feel like you've built a relationship with not only the characters but the actors, and feel that since you've seen them work their craft in person, you have an intimate connection. And songs that you would never usually listen to on a regular basis -- you hear them in a production and you LOVE them and want to buy the soundtrack, so you can relive those moments, over and over again. (But, sadly, that doesn't always last very long.)

And best of all, you can say you've gotten culture by attending a thee-a-tah performance. Now, I don't know if a drag show of Jungle Red counts, exactly, as culture, but I like to think so.

JUNGLE RED!  09/20/2008
Annie's all grown up, and her claws are Jungle Red.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm so inspired I'm going to go practice my tap dancing in my room. I'm still waiting for that agent (or Daddy Warbucks) to discover me.

Fourteen down, 83 to go.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Wait'll You See My Widget!

See to the left? It says FOLLOWERS? I added that! It's a widget! It makes my blog FANCY!

And thank you to the lovely spokesmodel Dane, who is my only follower. But she's actually a leader. Because you, too, could potentially click where it says "Follow This Blog" and join Dane in the whirlwind o' fun you get here at 97 Things To Do Before I Turn 97.

And speaking of that name... maybe I did not choose so wisely. Because I just discovered not long ago that I do, actually, get comments sent to my email, but because of the weird title I never see them. They all wind up in my junk inbox, along with SPAM that promises to get me out of debt, mysterious messages written in Russian, cheap viagra, and many, many ways to enhance certain body parts I do not possess (but my recent favorite aphorism was "Trade Your Banana for a Steel Pole!"). Who knew?

But anyway, since widget reminds me of Gidget, and that's one of my favorite TV show/ movie/ book series, I leave you with this in honor:

Accomplishment #13: Correspond With a Pen Pal From Another Country (#18)

I am terrible at writing letters. Either I:

A. Receive a letter with joy, and then spend the next two days composing a response in my head, and then I never actually physically write it (the same goes for email)

B. I do, actually, write out the letter, and then it turns into a sixteen page long monstrosity that goes into way too much detail and is too big to shove in an envelope or for one stamp, and the recipient realizes that I am scary (the same goes for email)

C. I write a letter, put it in an envelope, get distracted looking for the address or a stamp, and then find it eight years later and wonder, "Who's Ed?" (the same goes for my email drafts folder)

All in all, I am a terrible correspondent.

And I have been this way my whole life. I got lots of stationery for birthdays -- little cards featuring sparrows wearing jaunty hats, postcard sets of Holly Hobbie-esque girls holding kittens, creamy pink sheets with green borders and (gasp) matching pen -- and the reason I remember them so well? They're still in boxes at my mom's house, with maybe only two missing. (And let's not forget the famous Hello Kitty stationery -- seven pages missing, used for a letter to Judy Blume, never sent. Thank God.)

But I swear, I meant well. (And I still do.) When I moved from Illinois to California, I thought my six-year-old heart would break when I left my best friend Becky behind. We vowed to write. And look, she did:

Future Blog Post.
That stationery? It was called ZOOPERS and had stickers that went into the circles. The reason I remember? I STILL HAVE MY SET. UNTOUCHED.

Alas, I don't think I ever told Becky my favorite color or my teacher's name. Maybe I did -- I don't know. We stayed in touch and she came to visit me in California when we were in junior high, and I visited her in Illinois in eighth grade so it couldn't have been entirely one-sided. But I'm sure she grew weary of my lack of responses and we dropped out of touch. Becky, wherever you are now, I think of you often. I still have the picture of your pet rat Templeton that ate your mom's curtains.

But Becky wasn't my only pen pal. (If you could call poor Becky that.) When I was about ten, somehow, maybe through church or something, my mom hooked me up with a pen pal from Sweden named Kirsten. I was super excited. This wasn't just any pen pal; this was a Swedish pen pal. She was from the land of my people!

Her letter was written in very basic English, with beautiful handwriting with big circles over the i's, telling me about life in Smoland, her province in Sweden. And she included a school picture of herself -- sweetly smiling and looking off to the side, blonde hair in pigtails, and, like, you could totally tell she wasn't into roller disco like everyone at my school was. (Including myself, sadly. Pffft.)

The picture did me in. There was no way I could send her my school picture -- in my fifth grade picture I looked like Danny Bonaduce with lopsided hair. How could I send her a letter, portraying myself as a cool California girl while looking like the ugly little brother on The Partridge Family? What if, like, that was the only American show they showed in all of Sweden? She'd hate me! I wondered what to do.

And while I wondered, I got another sweet letter with that beautiful handwriting with circles over the i's, talking about the Santa Lucia pageant and what she was going to do for the holidays, and asked me what I was going to do as well.

And I shoved the letter in a drawer, and now, thirty years later, I can still feel my stomach knot with guilt at this little girl's disappointment that the mailbox stayed empty, because she had the misfortune of being assigned to the worst pen pal ever, who was too insecure and lazy to think of anyone on the other end. I SUCK.

Luckily, however, there are people who don't suck and who are good pen pals, and I admire these people. I admire their ability to sit down and write a letter to show that they are thinking about their friends, and then actually have stamps or go to the post office and don't get distracted or worry that they have to send pictures that make them look like Danny Bonaduce. These people are the salt of the earth.

One of these people is my friend Carlos. Now, Carlos is a good person and I love him, but he has the Pen Pal gene that I lack; therefore I admire him. And before the days of the mighty Internets, Carlos saw an ad in a mod fanzine for pen pals and unlike me, who would just think of poor Kirsten and turn the page, Carlos responded and made cool friends across the globe.

Flash forward years later, when the mighty Internets had prevailed and the Mighty Myspace still hadn't been usurped by Facebook. For hours Carlos and I delighted in trawling all over the site, looking at people's pictures and stats and leaving obnoxious comments for one another. And one day I saw a comment from a pixie-like girl named paintergirl on his page, someone I didn't know, and being myspace I snooped.

She was an artist and had "Chick Habit" on her page and I was impressed because I love that song, and I demanded to know how Carlos knew such a cool girl from Melbourne, Australia? He sheepishly admitted that they had been pen pals from old mod fanzines in the early 90's, and found each other again on myspace. The beauty of the internet. And the internet is small -- I saw her on Flickr, too, and again was impressed and delighted with how cool she was -- a talented painter, good taste in music, and that envied Pen Pal gene. But did I email her and tell her that? Of course not. See, my inner Danny Bonaduce would never let me, and so I simply admired her from afar.

Click here to listen to "Chick Habit" by April March, so you can get an idea of how cool Gemma is.

But as fate would have it, I found out that I had to go to Melbourne for work earlier this year, and I was a little nervous. When I told Carlos, he got excited. "I'll email Gemma for you!" he said. Which made me scared, like I was going to meet a rock star, but I told him that would be great.

And being that Gemma does possess the correspondent gene, I had an email from her instantly, and a week later a little package with Melbourne maps and traveler information was in my mailbox, addressed to me in lovely handwriting, and my heart nearly burst because I could not believe my good fortune.

When I got to Melbourne, I also discovered that not only does Gemma possess the coveted Pen Pal gene, she also has the Good Hostess Badge and unofficial title of Melbourne's Ambassadress of Fabulous. She came and picked up my coworker and me in her Bug and took us to pubs and a dance class where I learned the Madison (my lifetime DREAM), and invited us to a party at her art gallery where SHAG was signing (and I met another Flickr friend Michele!) and to a dj and dance night... Gemma made me feel at home and like I had friends on a continent on the other side of the world. I left a piece of my heart in Melbourne when I came back home to San Francisco.

Thanks to Flickr and myspace and blogs and the mighty internets, I have been able to keep in touch with Gemma, in my horribly flaky way. Gemma, like Kirsten, deserves a far better pen pal than I am. I sign exes and ohhs on her pictures as comments, and squeal when I see her new artwork and tell her that I love it and her.

And thanks to her ability that I lack to put a pen to paper and find stamps and go to the post office, I found this in my mailbox the other day:


Sigh. Isn't it marvelous? These are her Gocco prints I admired on her Flickr, and these too can be yours:

And her blog, Kaotic Kraft Kuties is linked to the left. Check it out.

So I must have good karma and I must have done something right to reap these wonderful gifts, and to have a real, live pen pal in Melbourne, Australia. And maybe, just maybe, she will open her mailbox someday and find something from me in it. Just not my fifth grade picture.

Thirteen down, 84 to go.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Accomplishment # 12: Look Closely at a Work of Art (#7)

Yesterday we had "Team Building" day for our department, aka a thinly veiled excuse to get away from our desks and have lunch on the company. I don't really think teams were built; after all, we didn't do any of that "fall and let the person behind you catch you" or even group together to build a house or plant a tree. No, our department, sans our boss and his right hand man (the only two men in the department, go figure), went to lunch and then to the SF MOMA.

What I have found is that going on field trips as an adult is even worse than going as a kid. When you're a kid, you're pretty much at the mercy of doing what the teachers and adults tell you to do, and that's that. You don't like the sandwich in the brown bag lunch? Too bad -- eat it or starve. You don't like the Monterey Bay Aquarium? Well, suck it up or sit on the bus.

But as an adult, everyone has their opinions and tastes and don't like being told what to do, and then some people hate this kind of food or can't eat that kind of food or determine when and where to meet and how long it should all take... and it's kind of this quiet chaos where some seethe and some just go with it, but in the end it's all fine, and we all say, "that was fun!" (Most likely because 8 out of 9 of us agreed that happy hour cocktails are a fantastic idea.) And yesterday was.

Not only did we have lunch, the big day was actually a trip to the museum, for the Frida Kahlo exhibit. My coworker Amy had that idea, and it was an excellent one. Not only did we just release a Mexico travel guide so the timing was apropos (as far as field trip excuses go), but our rep was kind enough to get us passes to the museum so it was perfect for the budget. And, well, it was one of 97 things, so I was all for it.

Of course I went through a big Frida Kahlo phase in the late 80's early 90's -- I read that most excellent biography by Hayden Herrera, and was utterly fascinated by her and her culture.

Read this book.

It was all so dramatic and colorful... I wished that I had beautiful long, dark hair through which I could weave flowers and ribbons. I felt her anguish at her accident and miscarriages. And wondered why she was addicted to Diego Rivera. (He was, like, so not cute! Tsk!) But I was especially interested at her imagination -- bed bound because of pain, she painted self portraits and surrounded her own image with exotic plants and monkeys, and thorn necklaces and her heart and body ripped open. (Don't worry, I won't go into a Frida Kahlo lecture here, because I can't do her justice. And I didn't even see the movie. Some fan I turned out to be.)

But I was thrilled to have the chance see her artwork, after having postcards and magnets for so many years. I had seen some in person before, but not really up close, and honestly I don't remember where or what. And besides, back then I didn't have it as a BLOG assignment, so I didn't take such careful consideration. But thinking about what painting I would like to study on the way over, I thought about my favorites: the self portrait with the monkeys (those crazy imps!) or the one with the hummingbird and thorny necklace. Both iconic, and I would welcome the chance to take a while and ponder, to stand as close as I could get and actually see the brush strokes.

Well, it didn't quite happen the way I thought. (Duh. When does ANYTHING happen the way I think it's going to, unless it's a tragic worst case scenario? I should know better.) For one thing, the museum was packed. PACKED. (And it wasn't even free day.) And there just happened to be this obnoxious woman on a Li'l Rascal scooter that would just roll right up to the paintings, and then back away -- and her SCOOTER WOULD BEEP LIKE A TRUCK IN REVERSE. So we could hear that everywhere. And then, of course, it was so packed you couldn't help but hear everyone else sharing their knowledge about The Famous Frida Kahlo -- from older men with wispy ponytails ("she portrayed herself symbolically to be behind Diego to show her submission") to docents leading tours ("Now, why do you think she painted herself with two hearts? Anyone?") and then my favorite -- a grumpy old French woman with a cane who was HELL BENT ON SEEING EVERYTHING UP CLOSE AND IT DIDN'T MATTER THAT ANYONE WAS STANDING IN HER PATH. She just stomped around the walls' perimeters, and I'm sure there were some toe injuries.

And while I did stand in front of my two favorites, a different one struck me and I lingered:

The Suicide of Dorothy Hale, 1939

The story behind this painting is that Dorothy Hale, an actress and Ziegfeld showgirl, committed suicide by jumping from her apartment window on Central Park South. Clare Booth Luce commissioned a posthumous portrait for Miss Hale's mother, and this is what Frida painted. (Not quite the commemoration anyone was looking for.) And, as my booklet said, the horror of the scene could not be contained by the frame -- sure enough, it reaches beyond.

I just stared at it. Her face is so sharp and her socialite's body is broken, and the blood on the signature and the frame looks eerie and childlike. But what really felt like a punch is that it reminded me of the bodies from 9/11, falling from the Twin Towers as we all sat there and watched it on TV, crying, and our lives as we knew them changed forever.

And yesterday was 9/11.

So I stood there and looked at the brush strokes, and how delicate the technique was and how indelicate Frida Kahlo was, but my mind wandered back to when I was woken up by my sister's phone call, telling me to turn on the TV, that the US was being attacked, and I hung up and we ran and turned on the TV, and the World Trade Center was on fire. And we sat and we watched and we couldn't believe it -- how could this happen? -- and we watched until the towers collapsed and then we went to my mom's house, because we didn't know if San Francisco was going to be next and I wanted to be with her, and we sat there and watched and listened to piped in "God Bless America" over the image of the WTC and the flag and felt patriotic because we were the United States of America and we wondered with sinking hearts what the president would do. And then we made dinner and went back home, because what else could we do at that point? And a month later we went to New York and Ground Zero was still burning and we got used to the smell, and Grand Central Station was covered in "MISSING" posters and there were shrines in doorways and everyone was just a little bit kinder than usual. And like we've done for seven years now, I shook myself out of it and moved to the next frame.

I looked at the rest of the exhibit and then saw my favorite part: home movies -- in extraordinary color -- of Frida and Diego. She nuzzles the palm of his hand with her cheek like a deer. I watched it loop about six times.

And then we went downstairs and looked at the Lee Miller exhibit (amazing, of course, and I won't even go into it) and then happy hour drinks where I appreciated another work of art:


That one I looked at really closely, and I could feel it inside me. Isn't that what the best artwork will do to you?

Twelve down, 85 to go.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Accomplishment #11: Visit a Foreign Country (#42)

Though I wanted to kick them in the teeth at the time, how I wish I had been one of those pretentious foreign exchange students in high school. You know the ones -- freshman and sophomore years they were quiet and mousy, but then they spend a year in France or England and come back with a beret and a fake accent and pretending to forget what a nickel is worth, transformed by their experience. I wouldn't exactly say I was ever jealous of these kids, as they were insufferable and that wasn't worth the tradeoff, but mon dieu I wanted to go somewhere.

I did, however, have one foreign travel experience in high school, when I went to Tijuana for a day with Lisa Basso and her parents. What I remember the most was the donkeys painted like zebras (and no one wanted their picture taken with one and I was bummed), an old and dirty Coke machine had cokes for 25 cents (though Mrs. Basso warned me against buying one, because one never knew how or when Montezuma's Revenge would strike) and a not very pleasant cab ride to the Border or something, where the cabbie pretty much ripped off the Bassos and there was some yelling in broken Spanglish. (It was totally exciting!) And Chiclets! I bought a bunch of Chiclets from little kids. And yes, folks, that was my big foreign travel experience, all the way up until my 30s.


But, as I said in my last post, I got a passport and a ticket to Paris, and I can actually say -- my life hasn't been the same. You know what they tell you about travel, how it opens your eyes and enriches your life and you learn so much, etc. etc. etc. -- it's true. I dream about Paris constantly. I can remember, with absolute perfect clarity, all those days spent walking around and nights spent eating and drinking. Even little moments are crystal clear, like being in Le Pied du Couchon (the foot of the pig!), a restaurant my parents went to in the 60's, ordering the onion soup (it ain't French Onion Soup in France) and fiddling with the silverware against the thick white tablecloth, feeling awkward yet elated. And walking around the Louvre on my first day there, and the art wasn't as exciting to me as peeking out the windows at Tuileries so I just left the Louvre (imagine having that choice!) to sit in le jardin and marvel at the Eiffel Tower in the distance and that I was really there. And my first foray into a cafe alone, attempting my Francais, and the waiter smiling and patting my shoulder and answering in English, but in a good way. And the way the floor creaked in Shakespeare and Company, the first sip of chocolat chaud at Les Deux Magots, the golden snail on Rue de Montorgueil... it also didn't hurt that I stayed with good friends who live there and went with one of my best girlfriends, Dolin, plus there were about 6 of my friends there at the same time as me, so it literally felt like a moveable feast. It was amazing.


But this trip wasn't only Paris -- we also went up to Brittany and Normandy. In Brittany we stayed in a walled city, St. Malo -- all cobblestones and pirate history and delicious seafood and a teen tranny who worked in the gift shop. (It was the weirdest thing I saw on the whole trip, except for the crazy gypsy lady who attacked us at Les Halles.) We met some crazy Bristish bicyclists (who were all judges and magistrates or something) who were big fans of The Sound of Music and Meatloaf and drank and sang with them in a pub until the wee hours of the morning. We went to Mont. St. Michel, a castle-like island that looks almost sinister until you get inside and are charmed by the winding streets and silly shops, where I bought a cliched stripey scarf because I was freezing.

FranceFun in St. Malo

But what this trek even more special was that we went to Utah Beach in Normandy, to scatter some of my dad's ashes. He was D-Day Plus 4, meaning he arrived on the beach June 10 and had been circling in the water for days, sick and dizzy but determined. On the beach he recognized one of his friends, lying dead in the sand. And then he marched.

Sixty years later as we drove through Northern France, through towns with rues named for Eisenhower and possibly even the same roads my father walked on, I clutched my little baggie of his ashes and shook. When we pulled up to the parking lot, my knees were so weak I wasn't sure if I could even walk straight. It was so overwhelming -- to be in that spot with not only so much world history, but with my father's (who passed away in 2001)history as well, with all the stories I'd heard since I was a little girl. It was calm and serene and the rain we'd had the day before had disappeared, and the tide was far out, so we walked for a while and decided to scatter them in a small estuary.

We stood in a circle, and I said thank you to my dad, who was brave and good and I missed him, and I opened the baggie and poured the ashes out. The water, which had just been a tiny stream, began to bubble and swirl and Brice said, "I don't know if I believe in miracles, but I think we just saw one" and we cried and collected shells and they survived the long trip back to the states intact. Another small miracle indeed.

Later that day we stopped in Dinan for lunch, and then Belleville for a drink, and then back in Paris Brice drove us in circles around the Arc de Triomphe, blasting "The Guns of Navarone" by the Skatalites and Dolin and I hung out of the windows, screaming with joy.

So yes, my first trip out of the good ol' US of A can only be described as magical. My only regret is that I didn't do it sooner, but if I had been one of those insufferable foreign exchange students, how much would I have gotten out of it, other than an even more unhealthy love of shoes I can't walk in? I still look back and am astounded by the perfection of those two weeks, and how, even though it was Paris, it was still so normal. We saw an awesome fight in a restaurant, Dolin and I had our typical squabbles and hysterical laughter, we chased the feral cats in the courtyard, drank and ate too much, bought pointy toed shoes and extra suitcases to lug crap home, and one day snuck out to McDonald's because, well, there's only so much baguettes and escargot we could take, and we gobbled our McPoulet sandwiches or whatever, feeling guilty and foolish and utterly American. Which, I learned, was okay.

And, I really do get to say to Dolin, "We will always have Paris."


Eleven down, 86 to go.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Accomplishment #10: Get a Passport (#41)

When I was in high school, I dreamed that I would someday live in Paris, in a garret apartment (that looked just like Irma La Douce's), and I would drink wine and write and be fabulous and glamorous, and tres, tres francais. Accordion music would follow me wherever I went, and I would even have a poodle. But then, alas, I had the unfortunate experience of French class with Madame Boyar, aka "The Beak," and aka "une salope." (More about that later, for Accomplishment #43, "Learn a Foreign Language." Or, in my case, "Fail to Learn a Foreign Language Sophomore Year in High School.") I wouldn't say my dreams were dashed, but I really detested the verb "etre" and Madame Boyar, who admitted that if we thought she was mean, we should spend a week in Paris sometime and then we'd see what mean was. (She was from Lyon.) Way to intimidate impressionable teenagers, you old vache.

Those Without Shadows
I really thought that this would be moi.

So needless to say, I did not join the French Club and go on a madcap, whirlwind trip to Paris as a plucky teen. And my parents weren't exactly the types to say, "Hmm, Karen, dahling, what you need is a trip to Europe!" Nor did I become a rock star on a world tour, washing my hair with Evian. With the exception of a day spent in Tijuana with Lisa Basso and her parents on a trip to San Diego, the closest I got to being a World Traveler was riding A Small World in Disneyland [TRAVESTY, BTW, TO BE UPDATING THAT] and eating at Affagatso's Family Italian Restaurant. (They had square pizza! Wow!)

I am ashamed to admit that I actually didn't get my passport until fairly recently, in the 21st century, even. Though I have always wanted to travel, I never had the kind of job where I could put money aside and save up to go off to distant lands, so I watched them on TV. Paris was just a dream where everyone looked like Audrey Hepburn or Marcel Marceau, accordion music followed one around, and poodles were everywhere, just running wild in the streets.

visit france kindly lent by the magnifique Sunset Flame -- please check out her photostream!

Then I got a job in the travel business, and let me tell you -- working in travel is like being a diabetic who works in a bakery. Every day I look at guides for exotic destinations, and my coworkers jet off to places like Croatia and Tasmania, and, well, I blow money in bars with a tiki theme so I can at least pretend that I'm in the South Seas.

But one night, I ran into one of my best friends from high school, who had moved to Paris after GW's election. (She telecommutes. How fabulous is that?) She was home for the holidays and she said, "This year. This year you're coming to Paris." And I said, "Okay, this year, I'm coming to Paris" like I always did, but this time I meant it. (Even though I was drunk.)

I was thrilled. Finally! I was going to see all those wild poodles and mimes! So the first thing I did was go and get my passport. I went to a photo center, where I stood on the white line and looked into the camera. "STOP SMILING!" the guy said, sighing. "You have to look like you're going to look when you go through customs. Nobody is smiling like that."

"Um, I think I will be," I said. But I compromised and tried to close my mouth, but it kept twitching because I was so excited. I know Erma Bombek said, "When you look like your passport photo, it's time to go home," mine looks like "Total Dork Who is Just Super Excited To Even Be Going Through Customs." (And I will spare you the picture. It is really, really bad.)

But I was such a geek and so happy that my friends got happy for me. One of them even bought me a Tiffany blue passport holder, which makes me fancier than most. (And it's easier to find in a drawer.)
Passport cover.

So... my trip was fabulous, blah blah blah. Yes I traveled, but having a passport means so much more than that. It's my tool -- I can go anywhere (that Americans can go, anyway), so the world is my oyster. I can be an ambassador of goodwill for America, showing other countries that we are not ALL weenies. That feeling is absolutely incredible. I could, potentially, fly anywhere I want tomorrow. I have freedom. And I am only part of the 27% of Americans who have their passports. Why is the other 73% depriving themselves? I hear people complain about it -- "Oh, it's too expensive." "You have to have a passport to go to Canada? That's ridiculous!" "It's the government's way of tracking you and following you." Yeah, well, it's your ticket to see the world. The world! How is that a bad thing???

And as it so happens, September is National Passport Month. Read about it here:

So do yourself a favor -- go get a passport if you don't already have one, or renew if it's expired. It will be one of the best gifts you can give yourself. And you can EVEN USE IT AS ID. Wow!!!!

Ten down, 87 to go.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Accomplishment #9: Raise Money for a Charity (#74)

I was going to wait and write a long story about how I helped old people in high school, or how I do The AIDS Walk every year, or donate to the Susan J. Komen Breast Cancer Walk because my cousin Katie (the same one who had the Holly Hobbie Easy Bake Oven) is a breast cancer survivor, but in light of Gustav, I will write about this now.

When Katrina hit, I think we all felt so shocked and so powerless. I donated money, but it wasn't until I went to New Orleans for ALA (it was the first convention held in NOLA after the hurricane), and saw the Ninth Ward for myself, that I saw the depths of the destruction. I went with a New Orleans local and writer who was there when it all happened. The news cameras could not do it justice, because they could not capture the overall feeling of loss, and the eerie silence, and the anger and sympathy and sadness, yet the hope because it's New Orleans, where laissez les bon temps roulez is more than something fun in French. The Ninth Ward looked like a war zone. It was heartbreaking -- few houses were left, some were just foundations, and whole roofs were lying in another front yard. Children's bicycles and old appliances were scattered, and the grids painted on the still standing structures, detailing the bodies and what kind of pets were found, made me cry.

Though Gustav isn't turning out to be as devastating as Katrina, and it was a proactive instead of reactive response, there are still over a million people who need help. I got this bulletin from my friend on mysapce today, Mr. Barack Obama:

----------------- Bulletin Message -----------------
From: Barack Obama
Date: Sep 1, 2008 9:15 AM

Today, the thoughts and prayers of all Americans are with those in the path of Hurricane Gustav -- and many of you are asking what you can do to help.

We do not yet know what the impact of Hurricane Gustav will be, and we hope with all our hearts that the damage will not be as great as it was three years ago.

But we know there will be damage, and there is something you can do right now.

Your financial support will strengthen organizations like the American Red Cross that are evacuating Gulf Coast residents and planning to help communities get back on their feet.

Make a donation to support the American Red Cross today.

At times like this, it is our compassion and resilience that define who we are as a nation.

Please give whatever you can afford, even $10, to make sure the American Red Cross has the resources to help those in the path of this storm:

https://donate. barackobama. com/redcross

Thank you for your generosity, and I hope you will join Michelle and me in praying for the safety of those in the path of the storm and the first responders who are doing all they can to ensure the safety of their communities.


If you can spare it, please help.