Category Archives: travel

On the beach

On the beach
Originally uploaded by shorterstory.

I was in Santa Cruz on a business trip and this was as close to the sand as I got. Can you tell from my shadow-self that I’m wearing a long sleeve shirt, a sweater, a blazer, and a scarf? Because it was FORTY NINE DEGREES that morning.

Of course, when I finally returned to the proper coast and I was four thousand miles from the Pacific, it hit 90 in NYC.

Experience has taught me that I am sort of an Unexpected Weather Goddess. When I went to Arizona, the wind roared like an angry child the entire time. When I went to LA, it rained. When I went to Florida, it rained. When I went to Seattle, it was 85 degrees and sunny. The only day I spent in San Francisco, it was so beautiful I took a nap on the grass. (Also I had a migraine from seeing the wretched mess & wasted opportunity that was A.I.)

In a week, Mr. Ben and I head to Israel, where I can only hope my streak will break. Perhaps there is so much religion in the air that my powers will be completely drowned out. This trip — ostensibly to celebrate my darling friend Tamar’s wedding — also serves as a ten-year anniversary: those of us going over now to hold up her huppah on the beach were there a decade ago after our high school graduation.

Surely the country has changed since then. (The intifada started just after we left, and there’s probably a totally different frozen yogurt craze.) We’ll spend some time in Tel Aviv, and some in Netanya, where the ceremony takes place. But what else should we make sure to see or do? Like a barista, I am thrilled to receive any and all tips.

Laughing like the guy from ‘Mary Poppins’

Mr. Ben and I watched In the Loop (2009) Saturday night, and it was the most gleefully foul-mouthed thing I’ve come across since the Aristocrats. Also the most hilarious.

Simon Foster: Tobes, I don’t want to have to read you the riot act but I am going to have to read you some extracts from the riot act, like section one, paragraph one: don’t leave your boss twisting in the wind and then burst in late, smelling like a pissed seaside donkey.

Toby Wright: Look, alright, I was late for the meeting, Simon, I am sorry, but it’s not like I threw up in there, is it?

Simon Foster: No, you’re right, I’m being unfair. I should be thanking you for not throwing up. Well done, you’re a star. You didn’t wet yourself, did you? You’re in the right city. You didn’t say anything overtly racist. You didn’t pull your cock out and start plucking it and shouting “Willy Banjo”. No, I’m being really unfair. You’d got so much right, without actually being there in the beginning of one of the most important moments of my career. Thanks, you’re a legend.

Jamie MacDonald: Hi, Toby, Toby. Very pleased to meet you. Please sit down. Now, right, that’s enough of all the fucking Oxbridge pleasantries.

Toby Wright: What’s Oxbridge about saying hello?

Jamie MacDonald: Shut it, Love Actually! Do you want me to hole punch your face?

Even the deleted scenes were funnier than anything else I’ve seen this year, with the possible exception of Up in the Air.

Mr. Ben and I had a rather Brit-themed weekend, what with the “Full English” brunch at Chip Shop and reading Harry Potter aloud as we cooked. It reminded me that I really, really want to go to Britain. The lake country! Stonehenge! Oxford! Cranford! (Is that a real place?) I want to go every damn village I’ve ever read about and, while Mr. Ben is distracted by the Tower of London or something, make out with every cute, tall, deadpan, angular, well-dressed bloke I can find. And I wouldn’t say no to Kate Winslet, either.

Good Yontif, Santa!

Baby’s First Business Trip (TM) took me across the country to sunny LA. Jewy academics from all over had braved East Coast storms and hauled babies to make it, and some — including one of my bosses — were thwarted over and over. I had to walk a couple of fierce, snowy blocks in Brooklyn to the A train to get to the airport; that was the worst of my trouble.

The first morning of the conference, I went to a panel where a fellow argued for the rehabilitation of an author who is minor, unlikeable, and dead. Academia in a nutshell, and it was not a nutshell I wanted to be in. It was over 70 degrees outside among the swaying palm trees, and if anything boring was happening out there I could always walk away from it.

The second speaker was more engaging, but still, I listened to my gut and spent the next several hours either by the pool or on the hotel patio. And I was productive! I had an energetic poolside conversation with the second speaker, whose book-in-progress about irony and the Holocaust could, I felt, benefit from a final chapter about film.

I also ran into and caught up with an old friend from summer camp, now a PhD candidate and an impressive scholar in her own right. She was the first of my run-ins with the past, the roster of which included an old professor from Swarthmore and an old neighbor from Brooklyn.

Everyone seemed familiar, even the folks I didn’t know directly. When I was introduced to a young woman named Miriam, it took us only five minutes to determine that we have a good friend in common: her brother’s housemate. The world is even smaller when you travel within the confines of a six-pointed star.

I saw my little brother, my cousin, and my May-As-Well-Be Sister-in-Law, a CA native who whisked me away in her silver BMW for an al fresco lunch in Santa Monica. At night, I slept in a pristine king-sized bed big enough to fit me and the population of Trinidad, with room for the seven dwarfs. Though I contemplated finding an actor or two to fill the emptiness, I refrained, because I am a modest East Coast girl at heart.

The flight back was easy but what followed was not. My uncle, who was diagnosed with stage four cancer just after my father died, has been moved to a hospice. He’s declining rapidly. So, after what will be a rushed Russian Christmas tomorrow morning in Westchester, I’m getting on another plane, this time with Mr. Ben, and going down to North Carolina for the weekend. My family will circle another deathbed. Then we will greet 2010, for which I am scared to have any hopes, except that enough will finally be enough.

the happiest time of the year

It’s been Michael Jackson Week for about nine days now, with short interruptions in which we were instructed to laugh at the ramblings of Sarah Palin. (“If I die, I die,” she says now, nonsensically. I wonder if she even knows who she’s quoting.)

The AP begins a story on the funeral by describing the somber atmosphere:

Michael Jackson’s public memorial started out more spiritual than spectacular Tuesday, opening with a church choir singing as his golden casket was laid in front of the stage and a shaft of light evoking a cross as Lionel Richie gave a gospel-infused performance.

I’m not sure “spiritual” is the word I would use for any of that. Then again, Harry Potter trailers are as close to spiritual as I get.

The Harry Potter movie is only one Michael-Jackson-Week away! It is one of the many reasons I am crazy about summer. Also Twelfth Night in the park and Harold and Maude in the other park and the idea of my birthday on Governor’s Island.

Over July 4th, Mr. Ben and I basked in the good weather in Asheville, NC (“the San Francisco of the South!”) with his mom and ten thousand other tourists, pasty from the past month or so of rain. To justify its reputation, the town had one gay bar and the local movie theater was playing “Every Little Step,” the documentary about the making of A Chorus Line. But it was still the South. For every rainbow, there was a Jesus fish, and in the midst of the tourists in the town square waiting for the fireworks, there was a man dragging a large wooden cross. We don’t get a lot of those in Brooklyn.

It was a nice change of pace, as well as a nice transition into my favorite month of the year. July will turn me into a 27 year old, even if it doesn’t turn me into a published novelist (the prospect of which dims with every passing minute). Ah well, who’s counting? And who’s lining up to join the fun and help take my mind off the failure?

Fun with Dick-Heads and Janes!

One of my coworkers, a fellow who is afraid of vegetables and took years to work up the courage to get a Legend of Zelda tattoo, likes to send me retro sexist imagery from the internets. This is partly because I’ve established myself as the Feminist of the office (I can’t imagine how that happened). Despite my being card-carrying and all that, the Collective Leadership of the Feminist Cabal allowed me to retain my sense of humor. Each of these makes me giggle.

Two are from that Great Things repository, Boing Boing, and the last comes from the very ether.

Also, I have now been to L.A. and I’m adding it to my ever-growing list of Mediocre American Cities, right behind Tucson and Atlanta. Seriously, what the hell is the point of a “city” that’s really an over-priced network of neighborhoods where parking costs a thousand dollars, gas costs even more, and the buildings are only one story high? I did like the ocean, though I only saw it from a distance since the foul weather (srsly!) kept us from the beach.

Though Seattle is kind of similar, being short, modern, and pretty spread out, at least it’s verdant and pretty and has a more mellow vibe. There’s something girl-next-door-ish about Seattle, whereas LA is that sorority-girl-next-door, and Tucson is that vacant-frat-boy-next-door. And Atlanta is the suit-next-door who doesn’t give Halloween candy to trick or treaters.

Anyway, vacations are always nice and it was good to see my family & the folks I know who are stranded on that coast. Mr. Ben suggested, brilliantly, that we visit the UCB Theater out there, and Asssssssssscat, featuring Tim Meadows, was awesome. I liked its West Hollywood digs, too, as much as I liked anything I saw besides the Getty and the Getty villa. General warning, though, for anyone who wants to follow in our footsteps: you cannot buy tickets at the box office itself so make sure you do so on the ‘nets before you leave home. If you run into issues, like we did, the coffee shop on the corner, across from the Scientology Castle, has free wireless. You’re welcome.

Kalamazoo and tigger too

birdy brain
Originally uploaded by charrow.

JJ, as depicted here in a piece of Charrow art, was one of our hosts for the past few days as Mr. Ben and I sojourned in the Southlands. These strange foreign lands, as it turned out, didn’t feel as strange or foreign as I expected. In fact, Atlanta reminded me strongly of Seattle, only with more traffic and way less charm. People in Seattle also get bonus points for friendliness compared to their Southern counterparts, unless you count the bum in Asheville, NC, who, trying his hardest to make us feel at home, called after us, “Happy Hannukah!”

JJ was an excellent sport over the weekend in Asheville, where we were up to our chins in Judaica with Mr. Ben’s family the entire time: she nibbled matzoh for breakfast without complaint and sat through both seders. Even when Mr. Ben’s mom’s SPP (straight person partner) Harry played Hebrew songs on his new harmonica with more exuberance than skill, JJ didn’t flinch. A righteous woman, who can find her? Her worth is above rubies.

I realized during the service that these seders consist of lots of lying to God, and not just the standard “You’re so merciful and gracious!” stuff. Just for example, there’s a long prayer where the chorus goes, “It would have been enough!” — i.e., if God had rescued us from Egypt but not parted the sea so we could get through, it would have been enough. The song continues, mentioning how the Lord brought us to the land of Israel and vanquished our enemies and built us the temple. But of course, if God had done one or even some of those things and not the rest, it wouldn’t have been enough, not by a long shot. We wouldn’t be here to tell the tale year after year.

Later, there’s a true whopper set a beautiful, ghostly melody. It goes like this, roughly:
I have been young
And I have grown old
Yet never have I seen a good man starve

I mean, please. We teach this stuff to children?

After the second seder Sunday night, without waiting for the dough to rise, we packed up the Honda and sped past Bob Jones University and Clemson U., the South blurring into fast food chains and churches in the dark outside my window. Charrow and JJ’s Little Five Points apartment is beautiful, all old wood and bright colors and windows everywhere. Mr. Ben’s mom’s house was the same way, charming and well-lit. (Not that I can complain about real estate, but we do pay the same for our place as my MIL spends on hers, only hers includes several bedrooms, a backyard, a stained-glass pantry, and more nooks and crannies than an English muffin.)

I hadn’t seen Charrow since she guest-starred as Maid of Honor in the production that was my wedding nine months ago. That is much too long. She and JJ will be moving up here in the fall and the fall cannot come fast enough.

it gives a lovely light

After that moment of dithering on Saturday, I decided to Go With Things. One can really only make choices and Go With them, can’t one? There’s no point whining about being pulled in two directions.

So! Up at 5:15 on Sunday and off to Central Park to wait in line for tickets for the last show of Romeo and Juliet, armed with a blanket, a novel, a crossword puzzle, a water bottle, morning rations, and a determined Mr. Ben. When we arrived, however, we found to our dismay that people had preceded us. Several hundred people, to be exact. Damned Manhattanites and their home court advantage! Some even showed signs of having spent the night.

It didn’t seem likely that there would even be a point in waiting, but remembering that life’s a journey, not a destination, or something, and it being a lovely morning, we settled in.

From 6:20 to 1:00 we guarded our place with the zealousness of gold rush prospectors. (I was Humphrey Bogart; Ben was the other guy.) A friend came with three dogs to keep us company — and luckily she brought us breakfast, as leaving the park to acquire food is strictly prohibited by the Laws of the Line. By 1:00 we had been pre-heated to 350 degrees and well broiled and I was beginning to get irritable; just then we were all motioned onto our feet and forward, in slow-motion single-file, to the box office. At 1:45 we arrived at that hallowed spot, the Jerusalem to our Crusade, and managed to snatch two of the very last standby tickets available.

Standby tickets being, of course, no sure thing, we then had to return at 6:30 and remain rooted in place from 6:30 to 8:00 to see if we — and the cadre of friends we had assembled — could all get in. They kept us waiting to the very last moment and then! oh, glory be to Heaven: they handed us tickets.

All that sunshine and heat and sitting around and anxiety were worth it. The play was wonderful. Lauren Ambrose was a fantastically fidgety, physical, giddy Juliet — you actually believed that she was 14 and moreover *understood* the world from her point of view. This was also the first time I got how smart she was, how much respect Shakespeare has for her, how true the last line is, that this is the tale of Juliet, and her Romeo.

Romeo meanwhile was also striking. The whole supporting cast was, in fact, I thought — they deserve an apology from The New Yorker. Hilton Als apparently couldn’t stand Camryn Manheim as the nurse, whereas I thought I’d never seen that character so fully realized. Als was put off by Mercutio too. He has something against actors who emote, perhaps? Those *characters* are annoying, but you can’t really pin that on their portrayers. I agreed much more with the enchanted NYT review.

In any event, it was a worthwhile if exhausting day and I considered sleeping in the next morning to let myself recover a bit. In the end I didn’t and it’s a good thing too: I had thought I was to travel to Boston for work on Wednesday; actually I was to go Tuesday. Glad I got that straightened out! And so yesterday I had Baby’s First Business Trip (TM). I kept thinking of my mother, who travelled for work a lot when I was younger, although of course I was just flying in and out of Boston, whereas she was hopping off to the Marshall Islands. Even with my numerous and lengthy flight delays, I can’t match that.

Today I rewarded myself for that second worthwhile if exhausting day by seeing Harry Potter V: The Best of the Bunch So Far. Whee! I had never been so excited to be at Hogwarts, and no matter how big a dork it makes me, I can’t wait to be back.