Sunday, September 30, 2007

Still ours...this is too easy

Comedians must be having a field day with the Bush Administration, or more specifically, George W. himself. It wasn't until I started to blog that I realized how much material he gives people who like to spout off about him.

Case in point: I wanted to blog this weekend but didn't really have the energy to think up something entirely interesting or creative. Then I read The Boston Sunday Globe and saw that W., our "Education President" was speaking this week about the "No Child Left Behind" Campaign that has been his futile education pet project.

He said: "Our childrens is learning."

Which then jumpstarted my synapses this lazy Sunday morning and got me thinking, didn't he already step in the proverbial grammatical poo about this program once before?

Ah yes, it was July of 2000 when he asked: "Is our children learning?" I guess now he's answered his own question. At least he's consistent (-ly wrong) with his subject/verb agreement. That's gotta count for something.

Now, my motivation for pointing these issues out is twofold. One, for those among us who are just sick and tired and generally fed up that this guy is still running our country and representing us in the world, I offer you the old adage, "if you don't laugh about it, you'll cry."

And two, for those Republicans among us (I know who you are and you know who you are, yet we've agreed not to discuss this): if you still see nothing wrong with the aforementioned gaffes, then I ask, no, beg of you, that when you vote next year, PLEASE vote for the right person, one who is articulate, intelligent and competent, all of which W. has proven not to be in the last 7 years. You owe us that much, we've been sitting here suffering through this because of your choices in 2000 and 2004. Cut us some slack this time! Please!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

General grumblings of the week....

Ok, so the whole Ahmadinejad visit scandal? No, he shouldn't have been allowed at Ground Zero out of respect for the families, although it being a public spot and this being America, who was going to stop him? I'm also fine with him speaking at Columbia. Hell, I'd probably have gone if I went to school there. Nothing like getting inside the mind of a dictator to perhaps learn something from our adversaries, which indeed, is one of the things we're in college for; you know, that whole "two sides to every story" thing? However, the lambasting that he took at the hands of the University's President? Not really necessary. He said what we all know, and do you really think Ahmadinejad cares what an American college president thinks about him? I didn't think so. I'm thinking the Prez was lobbing a pre-emptive strike to counter the demonstrators who thought Columbia was wrong to have the guy in to speak to begin with. Just a hunch....

Alec Baldwin hits the nail on the head though in his blog today ....Ahmadinejad does seem oddly familiar.

And now for Bill O'Reilly, who claims that eating at a restaurant in Harlem is just like eating anywhere else in [white] America. Good god, man...surely you know that that comment is only going to stir the pot. Or perhaps that is what you're hoping would happen (that's my guess). Makes for good blog reading while I'm bored anyway.

And finally, I've been thinking a lot about the greenhouse effect since Bill Maher had Bjørn Lomberg on to discuss his book "Cool It". Among other things, Lomberg pointed out that while we may lose Florida to higher ocean levels, and the Northwest Passage is finally wide open, this is not the climate crisis that it seems. While there are more heat-related deaths, there are far fewer cold-related deaths, so overall we benefit there. And while ocean levels are expected to rise 10 inches this century, that is the same that they they rose in the previous century, and that didn't cause nearly the concern. Lomberg dare says "we didn't even notice." So if all this is true, and what all the greenhouse proponents says is true, what are we to think? Lomberg suggests we refocus on things we can cure, like AIDS, poverty and hunger!

Friday, September 21, 2007

And he's still ours....

In Thursday's White House Press Conference, President Bush discussed why there hasn't been more progress in achieving democracy in Iraq.

He says:

"Part of the reason why there is not this instant democracy in Iraq is because people are still recovering from Saddam Hussein's brutal rule. I thought an interesting comment was made when somebody said to me, I heard somebody say, where's Mandela? Well, Mandela is dead, because Saddam Hussein killed all the Mandelas."

Yes, Hussein was a horrible, brutal dictator, but I had no idea his brutality extended to the former South African President, who incidentally, is actually still alive.

File this under: Only 487 more days...

My Favorite Cities -- Amsterdam

In all of my travels, I have seldom fallen for a city immediately other than (Paris and Florence). But Amsterdam stands a chance of changing all that. I just visited Amsterdam for the first time in April, but oddly enough, I'm feeling this urgent draw to return.

Perhaps I had set low expectations for the city and my experiences there. I knew I'd have a good time traveling with Dear Sister, but I figured that that would be the extent of the good memories. I don't know why, but I just didn't expect to be so affected by Amsterdam.

And before you ask, no, we didn't visit the "coffee shops" and I didn't smoke any funny cigarettes. Hell, I didn't even know we'd been in the Red Light District until we returned and were looking at pictures. "Oude Kerk," my DS said, "that was smack dab in the middle of the RLD." Increduously, I looked at her. "Did you not see the woman lift her window shade at 5 p.m. to open for business? Did you not see all the outdoor urinals?" she asked. I guess not, I guess I had one of those alternative trips to Amsterdam...the ones without the fun stuff.

But anyway, back to why I love Amsterdam. First off, the canals are amazing. There are more canals and bridges here than in Venice, allegedly. And as limiting and overwhelming as I found the canals and bridges in Venice, Amsterdam's are the complete opposite. Here, they are manageable and digestible. They provided the atmosphere and mystique that I think I expected in Venice but found in Amsterdam. We had a stretch of inordinately hot weather in April there, but one late afternoon we walked the Jordaan district, following a self-guided walk over the quaint and picturesque off-the-beaten-path canals and found a cool, calm retreat from a day's sightseeing.

Certainly, Amsterdam offers up some wonderful art and history in its museums. We wondered at the masters in the Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum, Rembrandthuis and Anne Frank House, as well as sneaking out of town to the Mauritshuis in Den Haag. And to be in Amsterdam during tulip season was just amazing; we saw colors and breeds of tulips that were previously unknown to us -- a feast for the senses we'll never forget.

But more of what I took away from Amsterdam was in the simple things: condensed milk in hot coffee; swallowing pickled herring whole; practical, sensible and clean public transport; the embrace of the bike culture; noticeable use of windmills, recycling and other forms of green living; kindness of strangers; appreciation for a good hot hutspot; the delight of a fresh plate of poffertjes covered in powdered sugar; the slow simmer and eventual eruption of a cherry jenever as it slides down. These simple pleasures are what I think of when I remember Amsterdam.

I found Amsterdam to be warm, welcoming and thoroughly enchanting, none of which I had really expected and all of which I am longing to return to.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

My favorite cities -- Florence

Florence, it seems, is a city that travelers either love or hate. No one is just "meh" about Florence. I am one who is completely smitten with this city that feels like a town in the heart of Tuscany.

Most notably, Florence is home to two of the most spectacular sights I have ever seen: il Duomo and Michelangelo's David.

I will never forget the first time I saw David. I had rounded the corner from the gift shop to the long hall which leads directly to that naturally lit rotunda exhibiting this man of marble. The hall itself is lined with Michelangelo's own Dying Slaves, human figures emerging from (or is it being consumed into?) the white marble; they almost become an afterthought in the lead up to the man himself. I was so transfixed by what I saw before me; he rendered me teary. This massive slab of marble delicately refined to human form seemed almost life-like to me. I circled him slowly, taking in every indent, every fold in his joints and every ripple of his muscles. His hands seemed captured in that split second between action and inaction. His eyes first seemed to be focused at some point off to his left, but when I sat in that space to absorb him from a distance, they seemed to be looking at me, as if to say "And what exactly are you looking at, anyway?" As if beauty like this is something we see every day. He is so lifelike that I half-expected him to step down from his pedestal and just continue what he was doing before I walked in. And this effect, this bringing to happens again as well. His effect is mesmerizing and alluring. He is part of why I go back.

But what of the gorgeous combination of rose and grey marble that makes up the facade of il Duomo, capped with its Florence-red brick. Only in Italy can a church be named for the dome that tops it, but in this case, it is apt. The dome is simply unforgettable. From a high vantage point on Oltrarno where I can see that it dominates the skyline, it is tantalizing. How can it possibly be so large and fit into such a space? The building itself seems squeezed between the buildings around it, even though common sense tells me that it's the other way around. The baptistery and campanile complete the matching set and make this area completely enchanting if only for their grandness and surprisingly astonishing use of color. Climb the campanile and confirm that yes, that it is not a illusion, the dome is as large as it appears, or climb within the dome itself and test your fitness to confirm its size. No, they don't make them like this anymore, especially at home. In fact, at home, they never did.

And after that, with time to breathe after the sublimity of these gems, I take in the Uffizi gallery, with its works by Italian Renaissance masters. Or the Brancacci Chapel with its cray-pas like brilliant jewel tones. This is a city where I am overwhelmed and consumed by the churches even after I've seen the biggest and the best in il Duomo: San Lorenzo, Santa Croce, Santa Maria Novella. Each has something to offer and is hard to resist.

But for a fan of Michelangelo, this city is a dream. There is of course David, but also the Bargello which houses his Bacchus; the Museo del Duomo with his later Pieta; the Medici Chapels with his Dusk and Dawn; the Uffizi with his Doni Tondo, a rare small round painting of the Holy Family; and of course Casa Buonarotti, which was for a short time his home and houses some lesser works and sketches. Coming from a nation where there is nary a Michelangelo to be found to a city where there is literally a Michelangelo at every turn, it is a pilgrimage of a lifetime.

Each time I'm in Italy, Florence lures me. Sometimes I can resist, other times I give in, but I am always glad that I did. She never ceases to amaze me.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Rating the summer 2007 concerts

With the exception of our second Live concert this Friday, our summer of concert mania is over. We survived, although have probably suffered some hearing loss, long-term larynx damage and are slightly more insane than we were 5 months ago. But with no further ado, here are the rankings from best to downright hideous, which hopefully my dear sister (DS) will concur on:

1) Live/Collective Soul/Counting Crows -- DS would give this a 2/3 rating, because we evacuated the premises when the Crows' Adam Duritz started dropping f-bombs and miserably reworking the songs, but, as I mentioned earlier, Live more than made up for it. This band continues to deliver the goods and is exciting even after repeated viewings. Collective Soul was good as well, but just couldn't get out of the shadow of Kowalczyk and Co.

2) Psychedelic Furs/The Alarm/The Fixx -- DS would also give this 2/3 of a rating based on the fact that the Fixx's Cy was just plain weird. But for pure adrenalin and emotion, nothing beats that 45 minute set by The Alarm. And for pure nostalgia and the enjoyment of one of the most unique voices in music, the Furs had us won over.

3) Keane -- God, this show seems ages ago, back in mid-May. But this is another band we've seen every time they pass through...from arenas where they support U2, to small dance clubs and now the Pavilion, Keane always hold their own and put on an excellent show. They have a knack for putting together setlists that are perfectly paced and excellently presented. They're going to have to seriously mess up to get off our "must see" list.

4) The Police -- This was our most expensive ticket of the summer, so we were sort of expecting to be hugely disappointed. And Fenway is a hellacious venue to see a show, but when you were too young to see them in 1983 no matter how much of your allowance you used to bribe your parents, you have to see them when you can. The Police offered up a solid show with a near-perfect setlist. I was thrilled and not disappointed at all.

5) Barry Manilow -- For the showmanship and the nostalgia, this was a great experience. Personally, this show lived up to our childhood expectations. Like him or not, Manilow is a legend, and we were delighted with the performance.

6) Squeeze -- Squeeze would have rated higher with a better constructed setlist. They definitely delivered their hits, but the 25 minutes of dead time for newer (aka lesser-known) non-hits really sucked the wind out of this show. The last 20 minutes or so were pure-bliss for a child of the 80s.

In an effort of full and fair disclosure, there is an enormous gap between Squeeze and our next entry:

7) The Fray and OK! Go -- The highlight of this show was OK! Go doing "Here It Goes Again" even without the treadmills. That should tell you how pathetic this show was. The Fray has one album with only four songs that are really worthy of a second listen, and two of those are grossly over-played already. Yet they insisted on presenting a slew of new material for the half of the setlist. We were impatient and bored, so we left a show early, for the first time ever. That should tell you something.

He's all ours for now, but look at the alternatives...

So George W. went down under and managed to humiliate himself and us as we might expect he would anytime he's taken out of his playpen at the White House.

First, he referred to the APEC meeting he was attending as OPEC. Then tried to cover that by saying that the Australian Prime Minister had just invited him to the OPEC meeting. Which is all well and good, if Australia or the US were even members of OPEC.

Then, he thanked our Austrian (yes, that's right, missing the crucial "al" syllable there) colleagues for supporting us in Iraq. Right part of the alphabet, George W., wrong hemisphere. I'm sure it happens all the time though, they're used to it.

And just in case you wondered if this was all just a dream, W. headed off toward the wrong side of the stage and nearly plummeted to his death. The aide who caught him needs to be eliminated, post haste.

Finally, when the group shot for this APEC meeting was taken, the photographers must have said "Everyone wave with your right hand...." And so, look at our man (far right). How proud must we all be.

But what of our alternatives. In the recent Yahoo debate, the candidates were asked how they managed to vote to authorize the war. Their insinuation was that Bush had tricked them into voting for it with his false information. But as Bill Maher gently pointed out "So now you want us to vote for someone who's been tricked by.....George W. Bush?" Ay, there's the rub.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

A great time to be a spin instructor

Those of you who don't do it don't know this...but summer is the worst time of year to be a Spinning instructor. Inevitably, as the weather gets nicer in April, May and June, your classes are decimated as people turn outdoors to ride outside, take up jogging, go out on the boat, stay late at the beach. It's understandable really, but my job goes on. As a result, I can have classes as small as 3 students, sometimes less!

That makes it hard to stay fresh, put together new rides, seek new music and stay on top of my game. I stuck with it through June and July but in August I did nothing but repeat rides. I didn't design anything new and even slowed down with the music acquisitions, legal and otherwise.

But last night, with the cool dampness settling in over Beverly and darkness coming at 7:00 p.m., I had a class full of familiar faces who hadn't been around since the spring. Personally, it was certainly good to catch up with them again, but as an instructor, it was stimulating to have a nearly full class again, to be able to work with their reactions and feed off their energy. It was a great feeling to deliver a solid ride to a group that appreciates it, get some of those "what, are you crazy lady?" looks from them as I put them through their paces and hear the feedback after a long, slow summer.

So it's back to getting creative and pushing the envelope with my terrain and my music. I like to keep them challenged and off-guard, but within the bounds of being safe and sound. Sure, their form has dropped off during the break, but it's giving me a starting point from which to rebuild. Today it's pouring buckets, which I hope translates to another capacity crowd in tonight's class.

Cheers to getting back on the indoor road.

A whole different sort of king

Barry Manilow has left the building.

We left the TDBankNorth Garden on Sunday night at 11 p.m., fully sated and overdosed on his sugar as if we'd just polished off a bag of candy corn. And at 7:45 a.m. the next day, as I passed through the ground level of the same building, I was surprised to find nary a sign that he'd been. Not a tour bus, gear truck or scrap of poster that indicated he was here. But in my heart and in my head, I'd knew he'd been.

Wardrobe dilemmas not withstanding (I resolved that on my own, thankyouverymuch), I had a wonderful time. My inane ability to instantly recall obscure and not-so-obscure lyrics stood me well. Barry lost me on a few of his 50s and 60s cover versions, but when it came to a full-blown Manilow number, I was on it, at high volume. His lyrics and melodies are just undeniably sing-able, I dare you to pop on the iPod, sit on the train, at your desk or in your car and not sing along, at high volume. Or at least bob along or shake your booty!

Certainly, there was some Las Vegas kitsch and even a little more cheese. But you can't deny that this guy can 1) play, 2) sing and 3) put on a show. I don't think it's possible for him to put on a sub-par performance, but thankfully I don't have to find out.

To the older folks who sat behind us....No, I won't SIT DOWN, not during Can't Smile Without You, not during It's a Miracle and certainly not during Copacabana (my sister might even argue that the final stanza of Mandy is worth standing...). If you came to a Manilow show to sit quietly for those, you came to the wrong show.

To the band at my cousin's wedding last weekend, who looked down his nose at us when we requested aforementioned "Copa"....did you happen to notice that when you finally agreed to play Barry's version of Copa during your break that that was the only point of time all night that the dance floor was full? What's that tell you?

I consider my sister and myself fortunate to have seen Manilow now that he's signed on for eternity to a Vegas show and has sworn off national tours. We grew up on his music (we blame you for this, Mom!) and danced around the living room to his melodies (well, the last time I did that was...Sunday afternoon) so in a sense it was a celebration of good times past and bringing them forward to today when we just might need a little pick me up.

And lift us up he did.

Louis, hope this was your dream come true! Once I serve some time as a back-up singer, mine will be too.

Friday, September 7, 2007

The Problem with House

I will fully admit, I am pathetically addicted to House, MD. I love Hugh Laurie in an a sick and twisted but wholly cynical sort of way -- he says what I think and gets away with it. I love how he treats patients, Wilson and the Cottages, as if his genius excuses the maltreatment. Late to the House party this past spring, I spent the summer voraciously getting up to speed on Seasons 1 and 2 and just downloaded and watched the episodes I missed from Season 3 on the iPod. As I said, I am hopelessly, pathetically addicted.

But I have my problems with House too. If you know me at all, you know I have issues with just about everything and House is not immune.

First, House is meant to be a diagnostic medicine genius. Patients come to him when there's no hope and/or when everyone else has given up on them. Somehow, House (almost always) comes through. He solves the case usually just in the nick of time, but not before he misdiagnoses the patient at least a half dozen times, usually almost killing them with inappropriate surgeries, drug treatments or his inane brand of humor. I know they have to fill an hour and having him solve the mystery in the first 20 minutes or so really kills the vibe, but I think after three seasons of this, I'd think twice before turning to House when all my other options are gone. You know, just in case this time he doesn't get it right.

Second, the opening minute usually sets the stage for whatever the medical dilemma is. We get to see who's sick and why. But a lot of the time, we're misdirected and someone else in this short segment is sick, injured or wounded and we realize about half-way through the show that we never found out why. What happened to the young father of the (eventually revealed to be ill) baby who fell down the stairs vomitting (yet is fine in the ER where they bring said baby), or whether the thug in the truck stop diner survived the head bashing the eventual patient gave him. It's almost a diversionary tactic, this "whooops, not him, him" stuff. Yet I sit there like a fool and always try to outsmart the directors...and I feel so smart when I get it right.

Lastly, I think it's time we got some for Cuddy. She's been playing the game with House long enough now, so whether it's Wilson or some new dude they add to the cast for her, I think she deserves a little reward of the physical sort. As long as it's not House himself (because he's mine). Because that relationship has the Niles-Daphne vibe to it, and we all know that Frasier went to hell once Niles and Daphne finally hooked up (plus he's mine). But it'd be good for House to have to watch it, as well as provide plenty o' fodder for him to one-line (and anyway, he's mine). Enough said.

But all my whimpering aside, as summer comes to a close and the countdown for the only really good tv drama begins (September 25th at 9:00 p.m. if you're keeping track), I only have eyes for one medical guy and he's not McDreamy, McSteamy or the George formerly known as a doctor. Nope, he's House.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Dodging the bullet

So, there is finally an outcome to my previous post about potentially being jobless. Thankfully for me, I have been transferred to another business unit at my company. A business unit that remains profitable and viable "at least for another 18 months", which is a good thing. So now I can carry on with the handful of pressing personal issues in the next 8 weeks without worrying about dealing with a new employer too. That whole newness thing is exhausting anyway and I just don't have the mind or the will to deal with it now.

So things are good, right?

In the words of Moby, "why does my heart feel so bad?" Honestly, I've never been through anything so emotionally draining. I've been through two mergers and layoffs before, so I should know how it goes. But I guess being a "survivor" is different for me. Now I see the faces on the stories that are being written without a paycheck to support them. It seemed that here, more than anywhere, everyone has a story: an older woman with cancer, a younger woman with a 6 year old son with cancer, a woman without a college degree who was a week away from 30 years here, several older people thisclose to retiring but not eligible for Medicare or full Social Security yet and certainly not an attractive prospective hire.

One of them, a 25 year veteran of the company, asked me "how do you feel now that you know" (that you're staying)? I replied that I felt guilty for being kept on when so many were going. And she replied "And so you should".

Really? You think so? My guilt was mainly self-inflicted, but to get a glimpse of how she might have felt about me was eye-opening, shocking and validation of how I already felt. I just can't explain why I feel like this.

So I am one of about 20 left here and I am anxiously looking forward to starting my new work. And I know today is a new day and it's time to look forward and not backward, etc. etc. I just wish it was easier being one of the lucky ones.

Is there a need for this many mattresses?

I don't know if this rage has swept the nation, but here in good old MA, there is now a proliferation of mattress stores. In Beverly (pop. 44,000) alone, there are three mattress stores within 1/2 mile of each other on the same strip of the commercial zone in the northern part of the city. And in Boston, the Buck a Book is now a Sleepys, the HMV music store is a Mattress Discounters, both in the Downtown Crossing area, which is populated during weekdays mainly with Financial District workers out on lunch and assorted tourists. Exactly what I would not think of doing either on my lunch break or on vacation, buying a mattress that is. Browsing music and buying cheap books and wrapping paper, both used to be on my lunchtime agenda.

So what's driving this shift? Why the explosion (which is up from zero in both cases) of mattress sellers? Has the demographic changed and it's been figured that 2007 will be the year that we'll all be replacing our mattresses. And how exactly does Beverly (again, pop. 44,000) decide which of the three to buy from? And why?

File it under conundrum, because it's slow today and I've nothing else to think about.