Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Blogging on the news

Lots of little things today...

The Brady Baby -- other than the fact that it was quite possibly the longest human gestation in history, or at least felt that way, why do we care about the spawn of Bridget Moynahan and Tom Brady? This pregnancy was followed like the British press follow a royal birth. But why? She's a former model with some not-so-great tv and movie credits to her name, he throws a ball for a living. Nothing special there. The one thing I can admit to, however, is that I am thrilled that Bridget opted to name the child Moynahan rather than Brady. Despite what Ann Landers says (that this kid will always be known as the "Brady baby"), I just can't stomach rewarding the elder Brady with a namesake when he was clearly taking calculated risks in the lead-up to the break-up, leaving poor Bridge "devastated" and, consequently, knocked up.

Really, it's ok -- so another Republican has been caught in some kind of unexpected sexual situation and he's found it necessary to steadfastly deny that he's "not gay and has never been gay" rather than equally vehemently deny that he solicited sex from a prostitute (albeit of the male persuasion). I find the latter troubling from a moral perspective, whereas the former is not the least bit offensive. I find it more troubling that the Republicans seemingly need to declare their innocence in the "Gay or Not" debate, when really, what does that have to do with how well they govern and represent their constituents? In a word, none. Yet, Republicans like Mitt Romeny are doing their best to distance themselves from this evildoer. Further, even if he did solicit a prostitute, does that change whatever good he's done for his district? This all harkens back to the Clinton era, when said Republicans actually tried to impeach Clinton for having "sexual relations" in the Oval Office. Not for some egregious national security breach or fatal mistake he made in governing our country, but for simply getting it on with a woman. Again, completely overlooking the effectiveness of the individual and souly focusing on the "wrongdoing" of having sex, whether it be with a male or female, is pretty narrowminded. Unless, I guess, you're a bible-thumping conservative in the Red States.

People from the South should pay too -- so now Massachusetts Transportation officials are thinking about charging south shore commuters for using Route 93 northbound. Well finally, it's about time. If you're from the North Shore, you pay just about any way you drive into the city, whether it be the tunnel or the Tobin, it's $3. Even folks out west get hit on the Pike, paying by the number of exits they pass. I'm sure South Shore folks will be all up in arms about this, but hey, with bridges crumbling around us, I'm all for making them pay their fair share as well.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Time for the serious dilemma

Ok, with all this talk about potential layoffs, job searches and the like, it's time to move on to the serious decisions in life, such as:

What does one wear to a Barry Manilow concert?

I've somehow managed to comfortably fit in at each of the dozen or so shows we've been to so far this summer. Live, The Police, The Alarm, The Psychedelic Furs, Keane, Chris Botti. At all of them, I've felt comfortably and appropriately attired.

Yet somehow, I'm thinking that this summer's standard concert uniform consisting of shorts, sandals and my Product (RED) t-shirt is not going to work at Barry. Nor will my day-to-day Talbot's-inspired wardrobe suffice. However, I'm not a spangly sequinned flashy feather boa sort of girl either, which is kind of the direction I suspect we might be heading. Did I mention we're sitting on the floor for Barry? So we'll be directly in the line of fire of a potential fashion disaster. Honestly, it was much easier deciding on a suitable dress for wedding-palooza this weekend: walk into Talbot's, pull it off the rack and buy it. Pret-a-portez personified. Even my "french mani/pedi vs. vibrant solid color" for the wedding-palooza went better than this. What's a girl to do?

I suppose if asked, my mother would say "go in what you feel comfortable." Yet somehow, I think I'd manage to stick out like, oh, I don't know a straight 30-something female with an uptight middle class wardrobe. But wait, you're right, that's what I am.

So, suggestions and advice greatly appreciated. If any of your sage wisdom includes either my Product (RED) t-shirt or a Talbot's sweater....huge props to you!

Friday, August 24, 2007

Two not-so-different musicians

Inevitably, children look back to particular experiences in their childhood and point to seminal moments or events that, at the time, seemed insignificant then but now have an entirely new meaning. This happened to me last weekend.

As a Father's Day present, I took my Dad to see jazz trumpet player Chris Botti. For background, you should probably know that Dad played trumpet when he was younger, and somehow, I'm unable to remember how exactly, so did I. I can promise you that my talent was barely noticeable most likely due to my lack of commitment and passion. But to this day, I have always appreciated the skill, commitment and sacrifice of talented musicians, and Botti certainly falls into that category.

Over the years, Botti has become a giant among men. I saw him a few times back in the early 90s, when his claim to fame was opening for or playing back-up to rock musician Sting. Even at that time, he always made me itchy to play the trumpet again (half seriously). His performances made me step back and realize that had I had the same commitment and drive that could have been me.

But fame or not, Botti remains a gentleman and there's much to be learned from him. As the headliner of this show (indeed, he was the only name on the bill), he had a supporting band of four extremely talented but virtually unknown musicans. On several occasions, Botti would step back from the stage, actually out of the spotlight entirely, and stand in the darkness, allowing the band or a soloist to play uninterrupted and in the spotlight on their own. Botti shows us that he's still modest enough and still remembers where he came from. He knows this means the world to these guys to be here and not be playing back-up, but rather shining in their own right.

Botti also found a young girl in the crowd who he determined was a musician herself, and actually a violinist, of all things. It seemed ironic, as he pointed out, that she chose violin in the day and age of Paris, Brittany and Lindsay. Botti, having dropped out of school to become a "serious" musician (because no "serious" musician is still in school while they're trying to make it), gave the young girl a light-hearted but profound lecture along the lines of "do as I say, not as I (or the fallen young pop princesses of today) do." I felt his message in the rows behind that girl and I hope she felt it as well. It just made Botti seem all-so-human and sympathetic.

I don't think 30 years ago I had any idea I'd be recalling my trumpeting experience with such fondness. At the time it was drudgery sitting in my room alone and plodding through "All My Loving", the Hogan Heroes theme song or the Burger King jingle alone. Really, the only reason I stuck with it at all was to be in band class with my friends. But there were the nights when Dad would come upstairs and play with me. It was that half hour or forty-five minutes of his instruction that I remember best. To you this might seem a vast exaggeration, but in my mind's eye and ear, Botti was different from my Dad only in his notoriety and fame. The sound was the same, the lessons were the same and the impression remains the same: a gentleman who cares enough to acknowledge, teach and love openly. And for that, I am forever fortunate.

Happy Father's Day, Dad!

Spoiled for choice in Rome

I'm in the mid-stages of planning my upcoming trip to Rome. I'm officially under 10 weeks away, and given what's going on in the interim (potential job change and family commitments), I am using this time to both distract myself from the ugliness of day to day as well as get as much planning done now while I can still breathe. September and October are looking kinda hectic.

So, what to do with seven full days in Rome? Here is what I am thinking so far:

The first day is kind of a wash. I'll be jetlagged and just waiting to sleep for the 14 hours before I allow myself to do so. So probably this is best spent outside in fresh air and (hopefully) sunlight. My hotel is located between the Trevi Fountain and the Pantheon, so I am thinking I'll walk to see those, the Spanish Steps and Piazza Navona, merrily taking pictures the whole way (oh, I know you can't wait for that!) I'll also start the requisite gelato sampling and jewelry shopping. No sense in putting off the inevitable!

I have booked a private after-hours tour of the Vatican Museums (thank you, Beth!) so that is 4 hours on one day. I have my eye on guided tours of the Forum and Colosseum and separate tours of Bernini and Caravaggio sites. I also need to book a time at the Borghese Gallery. I will need to visit St. Peter's Basilica on my own and climb the dome, of course. I also want to spend some time in Trastevere, exploring the neighborhood and its many churches.

Churches...there's the rub. See, initially this trip was meant to complete my Quest for Michelangelo (see my earlier Quest for Vermeer post...I'm doing the same for Michelangelo). I had been to Rome once before, but only for a day, so I didn't really have the time to explore it properly, and certainly not see all of the Michelangelos I wanted to. Then I started watching the series Power of Art and this then became a trip in search of Bernini and Caravaggio as well. I mean, really, how could it not?

To fuel the fire, I bought a book called Holy Rome, which is a guide to all Christian sites in Rome written in anticipation of the Jubilee in 2000. For me, this is when the wheels started to fall off the bus. There are over 900 churches in Rome. Yes, I wrote 900. And once I started reading about each one, I started to find reasons to go to more than just those housing works by Michelangelo, Bernini or Caravaggio. Does it have outstanding mosaics? I'm there. Priceless frescoes? Count me in. Reported relics? Add me to the list. And if there's a picture of a church, interior or exterior, that just looks cool, the church gets bumped to the top of my list. I started circling all the churches I am interested in on a map so I could visit them as I encountered them geographically. I now have a map of circles. While I am apparently not circularly-challenged,


So now, 7 days is not enough, of course. Fellow traveler Beth tells me that she and her Mom started popping into churches whenever their fancy struck, but found it overwhelming. "Sometimes there are four on one square," she reports. Oy, the pressure! I'm seeing my potential day trip to Orvieto and Assisi vanish before my very eyes due to my overindulgence in churches. Ah yes, this is supposed to be enjoyable, right? For me, 90% of this is in the planning. I don't script every minute, but I always leave home with a formidable list of things I consider "must sees"...and I have to say, more often than not, I return home with most ticked off.

That is, until I re-read Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling which resulted in my adding Raphael to my list of artists I plan to pursue in the Eternal City.

Suggestions are welcome, as long as they don't include living there until I've visited all 900!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Living with uncertainty - workplace style

I'm currently experiencing the exhiliration (ha!) of working for an organization which is living on the edge of extinction, absorption or drastic transition. As thrilling as this may sound, it basically translates to the end of this job as we all know it, which, until we hear officially what the verdict is, renders the 8-4 workday wholly pathetic and depressing.

There's the rumor of the day, every day. Rumors have varied from permanent shutdowns on November 1st, September 1st (yikes!) and September 5th (which just came out of the mouth of our CEO who stopped by to chat with me) to acquisitions which may go on indefinitely. Then there's also the "who will be needed to stay on" arguments. Again, these depend largely on the method of dissolution and the timing thereof. But so far, everyone from the mail guy to the highest levels of management has justified their existence in every possible situation. And there is also the "what are we entitled to in either situation" question. Will there be severance pay? (yes, if an acquisition, no if a shutdown) Do we get COBRA insurance? Will our 401k match be made or fully vested? When can we collect unemployment? How much can we get? ($550 a week seems to be the agreed upon amount)

So as you can see, there's been plenty of work time devoted to the aforementioned discussions. Not to mention the illicit resume sharing and reviewing, clandestine calls to headhunters and phone interviews, coming in late from interviews, worrying about colleagues just months from retirement, or those too young to retire but too old to look for something new. All this done at the expense of any productivity.

It all makes for an exhausting workday and one I'll willingly escape. Anyone looking for a Business Analyst?

Monday, August 20, 2007

We ♥ Live

I'd say over our many years as avid concert-goers, Abby and I have seen upwards of 500 live shows, easily. We each have our favorites, and while not all are shared favorites, Live (or +Live+ the band) is one of them. Together, we've seen them four times, and somehow Abby has managed to accrue four more of their concerts on her own. So I think it's safe to say that we know that of which we speak when we say that Live (the band) puts on one hell of a show. And we have never, ever been disappointed.

We schlepped our now concert-weary butts up Route 93 to Manchester, New Hampshire on Friday afternoon. After suffering through yet another mediocre pre-concert meal, we had just agreed that over a dozen concerts in one summer, at our age, you know what, isn't such a great idea. Never again. So we also agreed that this would be a low key affair, and we'd sit in the stands for this show, not wanting to tempt fate and risk life and limb in another general admission crowd. So we did. And we comfortably caught the end of Collective Soul's opening set and even made it through most of the intermission while Live's crew set the stage for them. But suddenly, the excitement grew and as we saw cute little (and I do mean little) bald Ed Kowalczyk in the wings of the stage, we both subliminally -- or is it subconciously? -- agreed to hit the field asap. We tripped our way down the stairway to the grass and managed to get within about 25 feet of stage left. Right in front of a fifty foot speaker stack. Not necessarily the brightest thing we have ever done, but what a small price to pay....

As always, Live came to play and, perhaps fittingly in this minor league ballpark, knock one out of the park. While Collective Soul and the Counting Crows might deservingly be accused of phoning one in for the sake of riding the reunion tour wave, Live was there to do business. And do the business they did. We were breathless with their 70 minute set that perfectly set radio-classics amidst deeper intense cuts that were equally as infectious. We rode that energy and sang until we were hoarse. We squealed like 13-year olds when Ed waved back at us (although the thought "I wouldn't kick him out of my bed" probably isn't a 13-year old's first thought as it was ours). And we left that field and retreated to the stands when Live was done, thoroughly and completely deaf in our left ears, those which suffered from direct exposure to the aforementioned speaker stack.

So imagine our delight when we remember that we see just Live and Collective Soul again in four weeks, closer to home, in a "real" (aka "has seats") venue. That'll mean a longer setlist from Live and greater distance from the band (awwww for us but probably better for Ed's personal safety). I'm hoping to have 100% hearing back in time for Manilow in a couple weeks, but for now it's just proof of our unfailing love for a band that never ceases to render us breathless. They've managed to reinstill our faith in excellent rock acts, especially after a summer of some pretty tedious shows. Which is why we still ♥ Live.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Now this is why I love Italy

Once again, our fellow Earth inhabitants have taken something that would be frowned upon otherwise and made it beautiful. Rome has taken steps to encourage the expression of love shown by and between its citizens and turned it into a beautiful public display of affection. A book and movie recently released in Italy planted the idea of lovers writing their names on a padlock, locking that padlock to the bridge and tossing the key into the Tiber. They were symbolically locking themselves together and literally tossing away the key.

When said expression of love started to damage the architecture and accoutrements on the bridge, politicians at first tried to eliminate the problem, but then moved to make it acceptable by providing safer (for the bridge) alternatives for the lock-ees. While some lock-ees find it more scripted and less romantic, others are glad that this form of communal artwork will remain.

I say Bravo. Here in Boston, said padlocks would either destroy the already decaying bridge completely or be continually disposed of by the city. But certainly not encouraged. Alas, I'd say our romantic wings are most likely clipped on an issue like this.

Either way, just another reason why I love Italy.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

When In Rome....(Or Venice)

So, Venice has decided that it's high time that rude, brutish tourists pay the price for their indiscretions. The locals who have to deal with tourists all the time are finally recouping punitive damages for having to do so by inflating prices on menus for tourists who irritate the hell out of them. After over 20 trips abroad where I've witnessed some particularly embarassing encounters between tourists and locals, I can't say that I blame them.

Look folks, I'm going to be blunt here. You leave this country to experience the culture and see something different from home. You're leaving home. Thus, you shouldn't expect it to be like home, and as guests somewhere else, you should treat your hosts and host's home as you'd want yours treated. You know, that whole "do unto others" thing? That applies outside the US as well.

That means not tossing your trash on the ground (now a crime punishable with a stiff fine in Piazza San Marco). That also means not YELLING at the locals in Paris because...gasp...they don't speak English. Despite popular myth, they don't understand you better if you just pump up the volume. (And really, do you expect to be yelled at by a Parisian when they visit Boston because you don't speak French?) And further still, this means accepting that there's no such thing as iced tea, nary an ice cube for your Coke, and no face cloths or shower curtains in the bathroom. Adapt, adjust and move on with your vacation. No amount of lamenting, complaining or griping is going to change any of the above. That's just the way it's done there, and just because it's not how you do it at home doesn't mean it's wrong. You won't perish on a week's vacation because you're drinking warmer than usual Coke. And you know what, if you let that influence your experience, then you're more shallow than I ever imagined.

So, what can you do to avoid being the disgruntled, brutish, rude tourist? Just a few simple things will help, not requiring much work on your part. Pick up a guidebook for where you're going. Any reputable travel author will tell you a few survival tactics:

Learn basic phrases in the destination language -- at least make an attempt to greet shop and restaurant owners in their language, even if they seem to speak English...then ask if they can speak English for you. "Please" and "thank you" in their language are a good idea too, regardless of whether the person you're addressing speaks English.

Learn how things you take for granted work over there -- how to buy train tickets, how to get gelato (pay first, then order, showing your receipt to the scooper), how to behave at the theater and on the road, how to queue for the Underground, what the money looks like and what the denominations are. None of this is rocket science, but you're completely ignorant if you don't learn this before you leave home.

Read about the scams and stay alert to them -- any guidebook or reputable online travel forum will warn you about gypsies, pickpockets and the seemingly nice looking local who helps himself to your belongings while he's chatting you up. Know them and then stay keen. You wouldn't leave your fanny pack unzipped behind you at home, would you??? (Oh yeah, and leave the fanny pack at home...)

In addition to these more obvious suggestions, let me add my own:

Research your hotels and restaurants -- you get out of it exactly what you put into it in terms of research. Don't expect The Olive Garden, it's really better in Italy if you know where to eat. Really! Hint: restaurants with names like "The Pilgrim" really aren't a good idea, despite how US-friendly they might seem. Break away from places loaded with Americans and eat where locals do (if you've learned some basic phrases, you will be fine if you at least try!) and savor the differences. You can live without the Big Mac for a week, believe me.

Use some common sense -- "ruins", by their nature (aka "old"), are run down, decrepit and probably dirty, so don't be surprised to see them as such; not all people of a particular country are sad, depressed or terrorists just because they don't want to move to the US with you; a cafe in Vienna or Paris might be a better experience than a Starbucks.

And lastly, don't do anything you'd be embarassed to do at home. Just because the breakfast is buffet style doesn't mean loading your pockets with rolls and jam for a mid-morning snack. As tempting as it is to extend an included breakfast into an all day brunch, it's really not attractive.

My inspiration for writing this post is partly selfish. You see, I automatically get lumped into the "Ugly American" category before I even utter a word abroad. Enough of you have gone over before me and paved the road with your behavior that I have to work extra hard to prove otherwise. Ok, it's a challenge, and I'm certainly up for it. But I think you'd get a lot more out of your experience if you at least made an effort and avoided a nasty encounter that will have you proclaiming from the hilltops "All Parisians are rude" when you get home. God knows, a lot of us seasoned travelers who know otherwise are sick of hearing it. And if you don't even bother to try, then I have no sympathy when you find yourself on the receiving end of a menu with grossly inflated prices.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Held Hostage on the T

After 12 years of commuting daily by commuter rail (surface train to the unitiated readers among us), you would think I would be used to this. But no. Just when I've settled into the complacency of departing and arriving on time, with minimal angst, hassle or fuss (and even with air conditioning so far this summer, knock wood), the T throws a curve-ball at us, and holds us hostage on our commute into work, providing us an extra 45 minutes to read, sleep, ponder the brilliance of wildlife in the Lynn marshes and marvel at just how wonderful it is to be alive and well and stuck somewhere between Lynn and Chelsea.

My commute this morning started out innocently enough. Like any other day, I left my house at 7:18 (a time scientifically adjusted based on summer vacation schedules, lack of school buses and benefits of lighter traffic volume on the .6 mile ride from my home to the sidestreet where I park) and expected to arrive at my desk at 8:22, all things being equal. Arriving at the depot, I noted that the scrolling marquis sign indicated that:

Due to drawbridge problems, buses have been implemented between Lynn and Chelsea.

[Again for the unitiated: this would be disastrous for the morning commute. Over 800 people on this particular train, which follows an even-more packed train only 6 minutes ahead. There's no way there are enough buses to "implement" to efficiently move this many people between Lynn and Chelsea by lunchtime.]

My heart momentarily skipped a beat but then I reminded myself that these newly installed signs are never accurate, usually scrolling false data or stale data left over from the weekend. Surely, I convinced myself, that must be it. I momentarily pondered my options for damage control, which were really either 1) run back to the car, drive to Wonderland and take the subway in, but I only had $2 on me and needed $4 to park or 2) go back home. As appetizing as option #2 was, I put the smart (ha!) money on the sign being wrong and persevered like the soldier with a work ethic that I am.

The train arrived on time, a good sign. But alas, I boarded and sensed the hostility amongst the passengers already on board. We proceeded, sloooowly, to Salem. After the Salem stop, I was apparently blessed by the commuting gods because the conductor hesitantly announced that "A train just went over the drawbridge successfully, keep your fingers crossed, we might not need the buses."

By this time, we were only about 8 minutes late, having staggered slowly to Salem. I might only end up about 15 minutes late. But again, that was wishful thinking. I may have dodged the bus bullet, but for some unknown reason, the delays started to pile up nonetheless.

Now, the T doesn't muck up often, but when it does, it is in such momentous proportions and for the most ludicrous reasons, that it baffles the brain. In this day and age, considering the stone-age quality of the excuses we are fed, it's amazing that the trains manage to move at all. Over the years, among the excuses we've heard are: signal delays due to ice, delays due to rain, delays due to wet leaves, railroad gates stuck, delays due to lack of manpower, and my favorite "traffic backup" (Credit to Paul for recognizing that these are straight tracks with no intersections with trains at no less than 6 minute intervals...where's the traffic coming from?). Are you getting the picture? Now mind you, it is virtually a straight shot from Beverly to Boston, with only one sharp curve coming into Somerville. So the wet leaves? Really, not an issue on a straight track. At least in my mind. But I digress...

So back to this morning's hostage situation. By Swampscott -- ordinarily 12 minutes into the trip -- I'd long finished my Globe and was immersed in my book. Fine enough, but the trip between Swampscott and Lynn lingered, and coming out of Lynn was mighty slow, yet we zipped over the drawbridge in question, only to begin to drag lethargically again approaching Chelsea after the drawbridge, coming out of Chelsea and into Somerville. Why the holdup if we'd passed the bridge successfully? Of course there'd been no public service announcement since we left Lynn, so we were all kept in the dark. I'd been reading so long that I'd lost interest in reading. People who had slept were waking up refreshed and ready for the long day and then began the flurry of phone calls to home and work to play the lame ass "Guess where I am?" game. I'll tell you where I am, I'm stuck on this damn train and it's cutting into my private time.

You see, I just have to work 7 hours, no more, no less. So ordinarily I'd get in at 8:22 and would be free to leave at 3:22 (no lunch) or 4:22 (with lunch) to arrive at work at 8:57 seriously cramps my style. I grabbed my venti iced coffee, ate my bagel and blogged for a while (hey, gotta get this gripe out of my system) and checked the MBTA homepage for any indication that this delay occurred. And apparently, it was all in my imagination because the only alert the T is touting on the Rockport/Newburyport line is the "Bike to the Beach" special they offer for the summer. This causes me to reconsider again my options for getting to work, none of which are at all appealing on a regular basis because, as I mentioned earlier, when the T is "on", it is "on" and runs like clockwork and with next to no stress. As with all the incidents that have happened before, I will take a cue from the T's website, claim temporary amnesia and forget that this happened at all, as any hardened commuter would.