Sunday, December 28, 2008

Decisions, Decisions

With the end of my self-imposed buying freeze approaching, I have a very important choice to make: What should I buy first? The way I see it, such a monumental achievement deserves some kind of reward, one purchased online at 12:01 am on January 1st. Naturally, I have some ideas.

It occurred to me recently that the one thing my collection of fabulous shoes was missing (besides more fabulous shoes) was a little black dress to show them off. Far to often, when presented with an occasion for which fabulous shoes would seem to be called, I have been stymied by the lack of an appropriate accompanying outfit.

I like this one for its simplicity, and the fact that it's an additional fifty percent off. So is this one, which is a little bit longer, but I'm not sure about that empire seam.

The other thing I've been doing lately, what with having so much time off work and being totally disinclined to do anything productive, is check out the jewelry sections of various cool websites. Which is how I came across this necklace with blue beads and a tiny gold starfish held loose inside a glass window. Or there's the elegant simplicity of this necklace with a circle of clear glass, or the charming badassery of this tiny chef's knife pendant. Sadly, the AK47 earrings are a little more than I'm willing to spend.

On the slightly more practical side, I've been thinking I need a new carry on/weekend bag, and this one caught my eye. It's a good size, has a removable shoulder strap, and seems like the sort of thing one could carry through an airport in France without looking like a total tourist rube.
Or, on the slightly more eccentric side, there's this, which makes up for in unusualness and sturdy construction what it lacks in shoulder straps and classic style.

And then, of course, there's the shoe option. (There's always a shoe option.) For some reason, right now I want a wedge ankle boot for everyday wear, and they're surprisingly hard to find. (Surprising because you can't throw a loafer these days without hitting an ankle boot, and you'd think a certain percentage would be wedges.) I think I'd get a lot of use out of these; they'd work with pants or a skirt, and I know this line makes really comfortable shoes. The only other pair I found that I liked are these, and I'm not sure I'm crazy about that pinking detail.

They're all good choices, right? So, what do I do?

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Final Days!

Four days.
95 hours.
5707 minutes.
342430 seconds.

As you may recall, back in September I instituted a buying freeze, good through the end of the year.

The end is coming.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Strasbourg, Day 6-- Mostly About Food

For our last day in France (not counting the anticipated early-morning stagger to catch a train we are not one hundred percent sure we have tickets for), we made a more detailed exploration of the central town of Strasbourg. It was Sunday, so most places were closed-- restaurants, shops, even the big chain stores. The bakeries, however, were open for business. Apparently, nothing gets between the French and their pastries. Which is understandable, considering the pastries. We were getting pretty attached ourselves.

I believe I have expounded sufficiently only the delightful ancient charming delightfulness of the city at this point, so I'll spare you the effusing and just summarize: half-timbered buildings, touches of snow, river, islands, bridges, churches, cobblestones, setting up of Christmas decorations, Gutenberg.

Then, when the land-based charms got to be too much for us, we took to a tour boat (also, though the snow had stopped, it was still very cold, and the boat was enclosed) on the river and canals that wrap around the old part of the city. The guided part of the tour came through headphones that plugged in by our seats, and the onboard entertainment from a free-range toddler who bobbled up and down between the seats. We rode through ancient locks that seemed to now exist primarily to raise and lower tourist boats, and out to see the buildings of the European Parliament, possibly the grandest assemblage of pointless bureaucracy the modern world has yet to produce, with appropriately architectural buildings (by which I mean ugly, and probably leaking). It was a fine and interesting tour, and by the time we were done it was time for lunch.

We chose a place not far from the boat dock, with an ornately carved front and a menu of what we were coming to recognize as the regional specialties. As it happened, despite our three days of dedicated eating, there were a number of apparently key dishes neither of us had tried yet, and this seemed like the place to do it.

The interior of the restaurant was low-ceilinged and tightly packed with tables. The woman who greeted us put us at one near the door. The place was nearly empty, so we asked to move to another table across the room. She agreed, but a moment later changed her mind and came over to explain, with much hand-waving, that this table, though further from the door, was actually less protected from the draft, due to the way the curtain hung across the doorway. She had a point, so we agreed and moved back to our original table. Overall, it was a less than thoroughly elegant maneuver, particularly since I hit my head on a light fixture both ways.

This was a culinary exploration, and we had a lot of ground to cover. So I ordered the bacon and onion tart, with foie gras to start* and Cameron had a different kind of onion tart for an appetizer and the choucroute plate. That, along with the wine and beer, seemed like it would probably be enough.

I was expecting, since the foie gras here was listed for about half the price that seemed standard at the other places we had been, that it would be about half the amount. I was wrong. It was a full slab of the stuff, like a small piece of bread, accompanied by toast points and little cubes of Gewurztraminer jelly. Cameron's appetizer tart was more like a slice of quiche, with lots of onions, while my entree was almost pizza-like: a thin crust the size of a serving platter, covered with creme fraiche and studded with slices of onion and a generous amount of very good bacon. The choucroute (in the smaller size, I might add) was a plate heaped high with sauerkraut, with two potatoes and five kinds of meat crammed around its edges. With what I thought was heroic effort, we were able to get through the great majority of this feast, leaving only about a fifth of my tart, some sauerkraut and most of the blood sausage behind. But the waitress was not impressed. When we said we were done, she looked at our plates with dismay.

"You eat like leetle boys!" she declared.

Of course, since this was France, the fact that our plates were cleared away had nothing to do with anyone bringing us the bill**. For that we had to signal, which I did, since I had the better view of the dining room. This was apparently also incorrect.

"Non," she instructed me, placing the bill firmly in front of Cameron. "You do not ask for the check. You say, le garcon," she pointed to Cameron, "Le addition pour le garcon, s'il vous plais." Then she had me repeat it, just so we were clear.

Foreign travel is very educational.

We had had grand intentions of sight-seeing and museum-visiting for the afternoon, but after that lunch it was clear that anything more intellectually strenuous than getting me a snowglobe for my shelf at work was out of the question. It was also cold, so bitingly cold that I bought a paper cone of roasted chestnuts from a man selling them out of a cart even though I could hardly even bear the thought of food, just to keep my hands warm. (Besides, roasted chestnuts in a paper cone? How could I not?)

In anticipation of not finding much open on a Sunday night, and in keeping with our record of not really making it out in the evenings, we picked up a baguette and some desserts at a bakery that had already become a favorite, to serve as supplies. We already had some cheese and foie we had picked up at a very fancy supermarket (which was located in a fancy department store, for some reason) as our post-wine-adventure dinner the night before. It was a fine plan, marred only by the fact that the only utensil we had been able to acquire from the front desk was a fork, which is not the ideal tool for cutting and spreading.

And really, that was that. I'm leaving out a lot, not the least of which is the entire return journey, with the train ride that we may or may not have legitimately been supposed to be on, but no one threw us off, through the tiny commuter plane out of the Stuttgart airport and the approximately eighteen security checkpoints in Munich, up to the generous onboard alcohol policies of Luftansa, the nervous moments about how much wine we were bringing through customs and staggering, jet-lagged out of our noggins, back to San Mateo. It was a wonderful trip, and I have only two regrets. One is that I didn't get this blogging done in anything approaching a reasonable amount of time, and the other is that it wasn't nearly long enough.

I think a year would be about right.

*Yes, I realize I have already eaten foie gras on this trip. The point is, I haven't eaten all of it.
**Also true in Germany.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Day 5, Part 2-- More Wine, More Snow

The next place we tried, after the tasting shed, looked to be a larger operation. For example, it had its own building. But the person in charge was out for lunch and it occurred to us that we might be seeing a lot of this for a while, as the French take their lunch breaks fairly seriously. So we decided to have one of our own, and stopped in the next town we came to.

Of all of the cute towns we had been through, this was the first one that was clearly aware of its cuteness. Little shops lined the cobblestone streets, signs directed you to the old and impressive church and a Christmas fair was in the process of being set up in the town square. All morning we had been going in and out of the snow; getting ahead of it only to have it catch up to us again, and when we stopped for lunch it was definitely in the catching-up phase, with winds and a descending coldness. Which is why, when we had only done a partial survey of the local restaurants, I declared that it was time to go inside somewhere warm and picked the nearest place. Which wasn't a bad choice, but given the restaurant's large size and almost-trilingual menu (French, German, English via Babelfish), it did seem to be verging on the touristy. But this being France, that didn't stop the food from being just fine, from my grilled duck breast to Cameron's Stoneware Pot With Four Different Kinds of Meat and About Eight Potatoes Cooked In It. So at least they didn't short us on the portions.

The lunch stop was fine and all, but it happened to correspond with a moment of severe ambiguity in wine route map, where it was clear where we were expected to start from, and where we might hope to end up, but with little to no guidance as to how to connect these two points in space. Apparently, a certain amount of self-sufficiency is expected of wine tourists in France. Also, a GPS.

So, straightforward map usage was, at this moment, out. However, it seemed that if we were to head in the general direction of a place known to the map as Mont Ste-Odile (according to the map symbols, a religious site, and also possibly a mountain), we would be able to reconnect with the route. So we did, but having followed the signs for a while it seemed a shame to turn away from such a clearly-majorish site, so we went on to see what all the fuss was about. At the very least, we figured, we'd be able to get a nice view of the valley.

And we probably would have, since we ended going up quite high in elevation, only the storm we had been dodging in and out of all day happened to catch up with us on the way up, complete with snow, hail and some heavy cloud cover. The sight, when we got to it, appeared to be some sort of old convent, albeit one that had been converted into something involving a restaurant and tennis courts and a large parking lot. We got out, briefly, to look around, but it was very cold and even small hail can be kind of painful, so that didn't last. Still not sure what that place was, but driving up through the snowy mountain scenery was lovely, particularly since I was not the one doing the driving.

Coming back down, we found much warmer conditions and, after a few tries the wine route. Our next stop was the most corporate-looking establishment we found all day, a dedicated tasting room that did not appear to be attached to anybody's house. But even here, the guy working the counter (whose English was excellent) seemed to be actually involved in the operation of the winery (possibly a member of the family), and there didn't seem to be any question of charging for tastings. I did buy two bottles-- as an unabashed fan of the sweeter whites, I have discovered my happy place.

We were barely out of the one cute medieval town when we found ourselves in another one, and barely arrived there when we came upon a string of places advertising tastings. We parked and went in to the first one.

It was a combination home and winery, much larger than the first, and manned solely by the sister of the proprietors. Her sisters, she told us, were away in the south of France on a sales trip, and she had come over to mind the shop and keep an eye on the children. She was generous with her pourings of tastings ("Do you like to try them all? I can go get them all.") and information about life in the wine business, but wasn't able to tell us much about the wines themselves, as she didn't drink. She apologized repeatedly for her English, though I would have described her as fluent. The wines were uniformly fine, and my only regret is that we didn't buy more. We did pick up a late-harvest Sylvaner that reminded me of an icewine, but at a fraction of the cost. We stayed for probably at least half an hour, chatting and tasting in the stone-walled room filled with shelves of wine bottles.

Our final stop was just across the street. It was getting late and we were getting a little tasted-out, but we figured we might as well go into this one more place, what with having parked in their lot and all. Their tasting room seemed to be attached to a small hotel or house, a tiny but professional setup. There was a younger man who took his place behind the counter, and an older man (his father?) who would wander in and out and give orders as to what we should try next, and to demand that the young man break out the box of pretzels. Eventually, he settled in on a stool and took over the conversation, entirely in French, of course, which is why it took a little while to figure out that he was flirting with me. (It was the phrase "Une belle femme," that tipped us off.)

It was getting dark by the time we were done there, and even though we had barely done a quarter of the total route, it was time to head home. After all, you have to leave something for next time.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Wine Glasses

A few places we went to had these squat little green-stemmed wine glasses (see below), and I kind of love them. They're so unpretentious-- wine glasses for people who don't think drinking wine is a big deal.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

France, Day 5—Wine Tasting Through the Snow

We found the old man in his shed by following signs from the main road, signs that got progressively smaller and less distinct the closer we got. The man spoke no English and possibly not much French—most of our communication was through German and hand signals. His signs said he produced something called “Rouge de Ottrot,” Ottrot being the name of the nearest town. We managed to hand-wave our way to a tasting, and found it to be a light, fruity red. Six euros later and we had our own bottle, along with the only piece of information I managed to understand out of the conversation, which was that it was to be drunk at 16 degrees C.

Going wine tasting in Alsace was Cameron’s idea; despite having grown up in California, it’s not something I’ve done much of. But we both like wine, and this was a wine-producing region, and the tourist office had a map of a wine route, so it seemed like a winning idea. The key, of course, was getting an early start, and for at least one of us that was not a problem-- jetlag having picked this day to strike Cameron with a vengeance, leaving him wide awake to wander the streets of Strasbourg at about five am. He ended up on a mission to try every pastry in the city, and he also located some car rental companies. They weren't open yet, but it was a start.

By the time I got up, at a slightly more respectable sevenish (because, no matter how jetlagged I am, I have a basic moral objection to getting up before dawn while I'm on vacation*) and we made it out the door, a few snowflakes were floating down, causing me to react with the kind of childish wonder only seen in Californians in rare encounters with actual weather. And, I guess, children. I believe this remained amusing for a while, but I tried to dial it back before it crossed the cute/annoying boundary. By this time, the rental agencies were actually open, and after a couple of tries we found one that was willing to rent us something with an automatic transmission, in exchange for a large amount of money. Europe seems to be a lot cheaper if you can drive a stick shift. And so, armed with an array of maps, we set out into the thickening snowfall, which was quickly transitioning from charmingly fluffy to just thick and wet and cold.

Between the Canadian and the Californian, there wasn't much question of who was going to be doing the driving in the snow (gender roles aside), so I was navigator. Which was somewhat complicated by the fact that the "wine route tour map" we had picked up at the tourist office was kind of non-specific about what actual roads you were expected to take, so we had supplemented it was a full-sized fold-out map of the region, plus another detailed one of the city. Basically, what I'm saying is, it's really quite understandable that I happened to initially put us on the freeway going the wrong direction. But we figured it out within an exit, and it only took a little figuring to get back on in the right direction.

The trip really wasn't about freeways, anyway; we only were on that one for long enough to get us away from the city. Then it was off onto smaller local roads, going through a series of little towns with mounting adorableness. Honestly, there's something about France that seems a little unfair. Does any one nation really deserve to have that much of the world's supply of charming? And they just live in them like they're normal places. At one point we got slightly off track because one of the signs (there were signs for the wine route, though they were infrequent and rarely appeared at critical intersections) seemed to be directing us through a narrow, apparently medieval stone arch.

"We can't possibly be expected to drive through there," we thought, until we had driven a little way in the other available direction and it became clear that this was not the way to go. So back we went, and followed the rest of the traffic through it and into yet another perfect little country town, about the fifth in a series.

Interestingly, almost all of them seemed to have Chinese restaurants.

It took us a while before we actually found anywhere to taste some wine. At first we weren't finding any places at all, and the ones we did find were closed. It was very much the off-season, which can't have helped, and signage wasn't exactly a feature. So I'll admit that I was getting a little nervous about this enterprise as we approached the town of Ottrot.

To call the guy's operation "small" would be to stretch the limits of understatement. He had a shed. And about eighty-five percent of the shed was taken up with wine making equipment and what I believe was "stuff." There was a small counter in the front, where he poured our tastings into square, green-stemmed glasses, and we all did a lot of smiling and nodding.

Honestly, that experience alone would have made the whole day worth it but we weren't anywhere near done. We were just getting started.

*Or, really, ever.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Going Dark, Going Home

About to leave for a very long day of traveling, so no blogging for a while. I'll try to do some writing catch-up en route so I can post when I get home. (Sigh. Do not want to leave!)

By the way, if anyone is going to need some free wifi access in France in the next thirty days, let me know and I can hook you up.

Day 4, Germany to a Part of France That Used to Be Part of Germany

In order to maximize our time in Strasbourg, we got tickets on one of the earliest trains out of Stuttgart. This seemed like an excellent idea when we were making the arrangements, slightly less so when we had to get up in time to return the rental car before making our train.

I wish I could say the trip took us through spectacular countryside, dotted with charming villages where little children came out to wave to the train as we passed. But if I did, I would be lying, because we were traveling through modern southwestern Germany, which lends itself more to subdivisions and industrial parks. So I went back to reading my book, which turned out to be less about racing around the world than about using writing credentials to get a major publisher to pay for a really awesome vacation. I really need to get some credentials.

We arrived in Strasbourg and were immediately charmed. In retrospect, it probably wasn’t fair to Germany; like traveling from Houston to Montreal and judging the countries accordingly. But what can I say, I’m a sucker for France.

We dropped our bags off at the hotel, where the approach to security was of the, “Ya, just stick your things in that room over there. It has a door,” variety. But it was much to early for us to check in, and we had things to see.

I should note that Strasbourg is almost inconceivably cute. Half timbered buildings are hanging over tiny cobblestone streets practically everywhere you turn, with cozy-looking bakeries, charcuteries and weinstubs on every adorable corner. And it has both the French charm and German friendliness, which happens to be a very nice combination. It also has a truly spectacular cathedral.

I would try to describe the Strasbourg cathedral to you, but my knowledge and vocabulary would shortly fail me. So I’m just going to cop out and send you to my friend Marilyn’s blog, as she was there last summer and happens to be an art historian. I encourage you to go and read what she has to say, and imagine me thinking that.

We stopped for lunch at a restaurant specializing in Alsatian dishes, where I realized that it is not only possible, but very easy to eat yourself sick in France, and Cameron was sitting in a place where he could spend the entire meal staring at a huge ham covered with puff pastry. No points for guessing what he had for lunch.

The rest of the day was more of the same; wandering around staring at buildings, then back to check in and rest up, then out into the freezing rain for another huge meal (dinner). By the end of the day, we had decided it was silly to go back to Stuttgart any sooner than we absolutely had to, and were determined to change our return tickets from Sunday night to Monday morning.

Ludwigsburg, Part 3

The second castle in Ludwigsburg, Shloss Favorite, was built as a vacation home for the main castle. It’s about fifty yards away, across a main street. I guess in Germany, vacation must be more of a state of mind. It was set in a large parkland, which seemed to be somewhere locals liked to go to jog, though it looked to me more like somewhere you would be eaten by wolves.

The vacation castle, though attractively detailed and colorfully painted, was smallish, and when I peered in appeared to be set up as some sort of sad nightclub. So I did one short circuit around it and set off to look for somewhere to eat lunch.

The place I found was in the city Rathouse, which fortunately appeared to be entirely devoid of rats. Instead, it had a nice café, where the food was generously portioned and the menu was entirely in German. Of the two items I ordered (soup, sandwich), I probably could have gotten by with one. Though, by the time I had been there an hour and a half and was running late to meet Cameron, what I really needed was a bill. They aren’t big on bringing you your bill in Germany, but this place had it down to an art form. At the time when I was looking around hopefully, long since finished eating, putting on my coat and looking around some more, my waiter was engaged in cheerful conversation with the rest of the waitstaff, his back to me, on the other side of a pillar. After a few minutes, when it became clear that none of the other waiters were going to notify him to my position, and it became clear that I was going to be late getting back, I had to actually get up and go over to get him. In that case, contrary to my American inclinations, I did not leave a tip.

The conference ended in the mid-afternoon, so we had a little time afterwards to do some touristing by car. Guidebook in hand, I suggested the Mecedes-Benz museum, seeing as Stuttgart seems to be the center and origin of the German auto industry, and neglecting the fact that neither of us are car people.

Take away lesson: Two tired people, touring a museum on a subject in which they have not much more than a passing interest, will soon start skipping through the exhibits.

We made it back to the hotel through rush hour traffic without too much trouble, but once there succumbed to the insidious appeal of napping, waking up only in time to stagger downstairs and get some completely non-authentic food from the hotel bar. But that’s fine because this is only the start of the trip. Tomorrow, tomorrow is France.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

A Brief Interlude on the Subject of Airports

In order to make our transfer from the flying portion to the train portion of our flight to Stuttgart, we had to find the train terminal in the Frankfurt airport, check in and claim our bags there. That the check-in process was unnecessarily complicated and line-intensive I have already covered. Not complicated, however, were the customs procedures when we got our bags, which consisted entirely of the baggage handler guy pointing us towards two signs that said “nothing to declare” in several languages, and indicated that we should walk between them. There were also signs that said “goods to declare,” but they were blocked off and unmanned. Apparently, it was Nothing to Declare Day in Germany. In short, if you are planning to smuggle something into the EU, I highly recommend the Frankfurt airport.

Also, while you’re there, you should really get some sausages from the stand just down the hall. They’re delicious.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Ludwigsburg, Part 2

Having, in my own way, taken the pulse of the city, I retired to a café, where I had a really disappointingly bad pretzel, like white bread in a pretzel shape, along with some not-at-all disappointing hot chocolate. It wasn’t that I needed the snack so much, but getting it bought me a table in the café for as long as I wanted it, and I was looking for a place to sit and read, so it seemed like a reasonable deal. The book I was reading, The Ridiculous Race, chronicles the attempt by two TV writers to race each other around the world without using airplanes. The irony of reading a book about traveling while traveling, and doing it instead of any actual travel-related activities is duly noted.

Not long after I sat down, I was joined on the bench next to me by what I believe was an old lady, but may have been a man in an old lady costume, based on the voice and bad wig. She (possibly he) ordered some tea and proceeded to read the paper semi-aloud, in a whispery voice, to herself. The waitress, with whom I communicated primarily with hand signals, said “Have a nice day” when I left.

Interesting fact: Cafes in Germany that have outdoor seating do not eliminate the option in November. But they do set out fleece blankets on the chairs.

At noon, Cameron and I met up again, determined that he had more people to talk to and a free lunch to eat, and I was once again set loose on the city. This time, however, I had found a map, and determined that there were not one, but two castles just a few blocks away, including one that I believe I saw described somewhere as “the largest German baroque palace in the country.” This, of course, I had to see.

It was indeed large. If I was going to direct someone to the Residentialshloss in Ludwigsburg, Germany, large is definitely one of the words I would choose. I might also say baroque, but between you and me, I’m not entirely sure what that refers to. If it has to do with the presence of lots of kind of Greek/Roman-looking statues in the vicinity, then yes, definitely Baroque.

I started by wandering around the formal gardens in front of the castle, which you could access by walking through the open gate, just like the locals who seemed to use it as a kind of crosstown shortcut. I don’t think you can expect much from gardens in Germany in November, but I was pleasantly surprised by the roses. It must take a fairly hearty variety to bloom under these conditions, but there they were, blooming away, with top marks going to something called the “Elmshorn.” I recommend it for all your Northern European, late fall, rose-growing needs.

I had expected that was all I was going to get to see of the castle, but as I was making my way along past it I found there was another entrance, also free, that allowed me to go in and explore the huge central courtyard and peer in through the windows at the locked-up palace around it. Also, there was a gift shop, where I was able to purchase that travel essential, the cheesy tourist tchotcka to put on the shelf over my desk. (An mini ceramic beer stein, with the Ludwigsburg castle illustrated on the front and Frankfurt, Munich and Berlin given somewhat shorter shrift on the side.) As I left the castle through the other side, I happened across a small aviary, displaying various Birds of Asia, plus a couple of mourning doves. I hope they had somewhere warm to hide.

Whew! Lots still to cover, and I’m not even to lunch yet. Looks like this is going to be a three-parter, folks.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Germany, Day 3: Ludwigsburg, Part 1

I had grand plans for the places I was going to go and the things I was going to do while in Stuttgart. I had heard of a spa town somewhere nearby, off to the west in the Black Forest, and there was another medieval town highly recommended by the guidebook away to the northeast. In the end, though, tired out by my solo adventures of yesterday, I elected to take the easy way and go with Cameron to Ludwigsburg, the town where his conference was being held.

Cameron was presenting this morning, so we had to get an early start. I understand it’s bad form to show up late to your own presentation. Yesterday he had some trouble finding the place, to the tune of two hours of driving around Ludwigsburg, braving the public payphone system and eventually getting directions from a friendly English-speaking Enterprise employee (all due to some very bad directions from the conference venue). But I was able to benefit from that experience, because we made it there with no trouble at all, and some time to spare for breakfast.

After breakfast, Cameron headed back to the conference, and I took off to explore Ludwigsburg. It didn’t exactly make my guidebook, so I was going in blind, but I managed to amuse myself pretty well. There was a nice little downtown right near the conference venue, with lots of shops, some old buildings with attractive brickwork and even a mall, where I picked up a compilation CD of European bands and a scarf at H&M, having left mine behind in the hotel and regretted it. (I’ve suspended the buying freeze for the duration of the trip, for obvious reasons.)

(Have to leave for Strasbourg now, will resume later, assuming I can find internet.)

Tubingen, Part 2

On the plus side, I did manage to find most of what I was looking for, mainly because if you are wandering randomly over a very small area for long enough, eventually you find everything.

The first thing I found was the marktplatz (translation somewhat unnecessary, as seems to happen sometimes with German). And, in keeping with its name, the weekly farmer’s market was being held there when I arrived. It was all very pleasant and rustic, though I suspect some of the farmers may have been selling foods that they did not personally grow, seeing as they were pineapples (the foods, not the farmers). I wandered around a bit, took it all in, then consulted my map and set off in the first of many absolute wrong directions, and the only one that involved climbing a very long set of wet stone stairs.

For lunch, I went to one of the few places my guidebook was helpful about. (My guidebook, as I have mentioned, is generally uninterested in the greater Stuttgart area.) It was a fine and cozy little restaurant of Swabian specialties, with one elderly waitress who spoke no English and clearly wasn’t starting now. (Myth to debunk: that all Germans speak perfect English. They don’t. Many of them speak only German.) I ordered via the time-honored method of pointing to the only item on the menu with a word in it I understood (“sauerkraut”) and received, to my relief, a tasty lunch of entirely identifiable food items.

After lunch I wandered some more, this time with stricter attention paid to my map. I still got lost, but only because there are so many churches.

I finished my day at the castle that dominates the hill over the old city, where I wasted some money on entrance to an archeological museum where I could not read any of the informative notes on the items. For all I knew, I could have been looking at someone’s collection of cereal-box prizes from 1947-1983. Assuming German cereal companies went in for fake Roman artifacts, including entire amphoras.

So it was four euros down and not in the best mood that I got lost on the way back to the train station, hurrying now because I had to walk from the stop in Sindelfingen back to the hotel, and I didn’t want to do it in the dark. I did, of course; I got the world’s slowest local train to go the thirty miles from Tubingen to Stuttgart, and before I even got on the subway it was pitch black. Fortunately, the route to the hotel was direct and well-sidewalked, and there was an accident along the way that stopped traffic so bad that I was actually going faster than the cars. I realize that sounds like a heartless thing to be pleased about, but at the time it was very satisfying.

As I have mentioned, when I got back I was very tired, so instead of blogging I took a nap. Then Cameron came back from the conference and we went and I had dinner in the hotel bar, because he had already eaten and I was too tired and footsore to be able to be excited about going out and experiencing local culture. I did have some local beer with my club sandwich, though.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Germany, Day 2: Tubingen-- Part 1

For the first two days of our trip, Cameron’s time is taken by the conference, so I’m on my own for exploring. Today I went to Tubingen (two dots over the u), a small and ancient college town on the banks of the River Nektar. I traveled there by train, first on the local line from Sindelfingen, and then on a long-distance express from Stuttgart. This gave me ample opportunity to examine the German countryside, which I took, because not looking out the window made me feel a little carsick.
It wasn’t exactly inspiring scenery; not so much ugly as plain, in the way of a prosperous place that didn’t get where it was worrying about its looks. Some things, like the river that ran parallel for a while to the tracks, or the vineyards marching up the hillsides, might have had significantly more charm under blue skies but, though it never rained on me, the skies remained cloudy and gray the entire day.
(Detail of interest primarily to Mom: They seem to have no problem with putting their sewage treatment plants right on their rivers here.)
(Detail of interest to a broader range of readers: People shouting into cellphones in otherwise quiet environments seem to be a universal phenomenon.)

The old town part of Tubingen is tiny, probably no more than a quarter mile square, but upon entering it I found myself instantly lost, even more than usual. It has exactly the sort of tightly packed, half-timbered medieval buildings one sort of expects of Germany, all towering over narrow, hilly, orientation destroying cobblestone streets.

Not Dead, Just Resting

Only two days in, and already falling behind on updates? We have a new record! Seriously, I would but I'm tired. Soon, I swear.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Germany, Day 1: SFO to Sindelfingen

Have arrived in Stuttgart, or, to be more precise, Sindelfingen, where the Marriot is, after a shockingly long day. We began at SFO, where we had arrived with plenty of time to spare, more than enough to get through security, find our gate, find a store that sold European plug adapters, call both our dads to determine that the computers could operate with only the plug adapters, and we did not need to find voltage adapters (my dad won that one), buy books, magazines and hand wipes and have lunch at the Japanese restaurant. So we went for margaritas at the Mexican place, on the theory that, when traveling by air, it helps to have a relaxed attitude.

The first real disappointment of the trip came when we boarded the plane, and discovered that our “Luftansa” flight was actually on United, which struck me as a significant failure in disclosure. So instead of the fancy euro-accoutrements I was hoping for, we got the same old crummy seats, lousy food and sullen service familiar to any American air traveler. Sigh. Not helping matters was the fact that I was seated right next to the kitchen, where the stewardesses kept the lights on and the chatting going all through the overnight flight, or that I had carefully packed my eye mask in my suitcase. Which I checked. So the sleeping thing was kind of a non-starter.

Which was too bad, because the flight was only step one of our four-step travel schedule. Step two was to take the train from the Frankfurt airport to the Stuttgart train station (a step that was actually included on the ticket from Luftansa), which involved going through a fairly complicated and arduous check-in process, in order to get a boarding pass that no one ever looked at (the German approach to lines seems to have less to do with who got there first, and more with who can shove their way to the front) (also, based on today’s experiences, I would have to say that the rumors of German efficiency seem to have been somewhat exaggerated) (but we did have some tasty sausages from a booth in the train station).

The train trip was about an hour and a half through a countryside that mixed the residential, industrial and agricultural with wild abandon. Most of the houses looked like ordinary mid-century subdivisions, though there were a few stretches of tiny, almost shanty-looking places crammed along the edges of fields and up against the railroad fences that I’m still not entirely sure were homes.

One might think that, having arrived in Stuttgart, our presumptive destination, we would be all set. But no: the rental car was at the Stuttgart airport, another half an hour away by the subway system (for which, once again, we waited in line to purchase tickets, and once again no one ever looked at them). We made our way to the rental car counter and picked up the keys for the car, for which the instructions for finding went something like this: “Go to the end here and turn right. Then go across here and take the first moving walkway. Then take the second moving walkway and get off and turn left. Then go down in the elevator to the first floor and find Athen street in the parking lot. Then go over here, or you can cut through these spots, and you will find your car. There is a phone here if you get lost or you have a problem with the car. Any Kvestions?”

Shockingly, we did manage to locate the car eventually, without even having to send up a flare. Then it was on to the autobahn, where you can famously drive as fast as you want to, assuming “as fast as you want to” is the same as “the speed traveled by all the giant trucks around you (about ten miles an hour).”

Finally, we made it to Sindelfingen, where the Marriot is conveniently located next to the Cheverolet/Opel service center, just down the street from nothing in particular, and where we then proceeded to take a four-hour nap, and eat dinner in the hotel restaurant. It’s been a day.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Pre-Trip Freak-Out

I'm leaving for Germany in about five hours, so of course I am panicking, just a little bit. You know, worrying about what I haven't done and/or packed, what I still have to do/pack and all ways I could manage not to catch my cab. Plus general free-floating anxiety. Everything is fine, of course, but that never stopped me.
Not helping matters is the fact that when I was driving home last night, in my newly-reacquired car, the engine light came on and stubbornly refused to turn itself back off. (I checked the engine. It's still there.)
Barring disaster (anticipated or otherwise), I plan to blog and twitter extensively for this trip, so watch this space. (And that one.)

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Dress I Don't Need

This dress is the reason I needed to go on a buying freeze:

Not the specific reason, of course; that would be the car and the move and the shrinking savings. But this, well, it's beautiful and elegant and different and I want it and I have absolutely no reason to need it. I do not have the kind of life that requires dresses like this, and I can't even pretend that I'm ever likely to. I'm not even saying I would have bought it if I wasn't on the freeze, it's a little out of my price range even on a good day, and I've never actually tried it on, but it's the sort of thing I would make excuses to myself just to own. And, since I am good at those kinds of excuses, I already have perhaps a few more dresses than someone with a jeans-and-t-shirt life truly needs. Which is why, as tough as it has been, this freeze is a good thing for me.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Switzerland, Finally Sick of Neutrality, Declares War on Rational Thought

First up: laws regarding the protection of the dignity of plants. (I encourage you to click through the related reading, if only to encounter the subtitle "Moral Consideration of Plants for their Own Sake")

Next: Does Walking Make Dirt Cry?: The Bipedal Transportation Acts of 2009.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

What's an "Olan Mills," Anyway?

I have no idea what this is about; I just know it's funny.

(Stolen, of course, from Dave Barry's blog.)

(Speaking of which, you should totally go and read this article he wrote about the election and its aftermath. I think it's terrific, and I don't even like gin.)

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Cross-Cultural Understanding and the Suburban Apartment Complex

My new apartment is in a large, multi-unit complex in San Mateo, about a block and a half from my old one. (I may have already mentioned this, but I'm too lazy to go back and check.) Among its many amenities, though not perhaps chief among them) is a monthly newsletter that goes out to all the residents. It seems to be composed of whatever the newsletter version of clip art is, plus the occasional reminder of office hours and what not to do with your trash. This month, one of the helpful sidebar items was this language lesson:

English: Leave me alone.
Spanish: Dejame en paz. (DEH-hah-meh ehn PAHS)

What I want to know is, exactly how helpful do they intend this to be?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Germany: Why Not?

I believe, I realized recently, that there are two kinds of trips you take: the kind you plan for months in advance, and the kind that just appear in front of you. Both are good, or at least no worse for how they come into being, and I think the variety is, in general, a positive. Which is why, when Cameron got accepted to present at a convention in Germany next month, I decided that I would tag along. I've never been to Germany.

The convention itself is being held in Stuttgart, an industrial city in the southwest about which my guidebook* says, in essence, "Don't Bother." Apparently, it used to have many fine historic buildings, nearly all of which were bombed into a fine, historic dust in World War II. But there seem to be a number of attractive towns nearby, plus a Porsche factory that offers free tours, so I suspect I will find ways to amuse myself.

For the weekend after the conference-- the only time Cameron will have to do much sightseeing on this, his first trip off the continent-- we settled on Strasbourg, based on factors such as it's on the Rhine, it isn't very far away, and I saw one episode of The Amazing Race where they went there and it looked nice. Since it turns out Strasbourg is in France at the moment**, it isn't included in my guidebook, so I guess we'll just have to wing it. I'll let you know how that goes.

*Of course I bought a guidebook.
** Conditions subject to change.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

And One Disturbing Side Note

When I was assembling the previous post, I typed the word "people" into the YouTube search box (as the first word of "People Ain't No Good") and came up with the following list of most common searches on that word:

People singing
People getting scared
People getting owned
People dying
People are strange
People farting

Yep, more people are trolling YouTube looking for snuff films than good, wholesome videos of farting. What is this world coming to?*

*Trick question-- the ancient Romans would totally have watched Christians being eaten by lions on Roman YouTube if they hadn't been so busy building aqueducts.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Ain't That A Kick in the Head

I was perusing my iTunes library the other day, as I often do when I am supposed to be writing. And one thing I noticed, because I was getting deep into my writing avoidance, was that of the top six songs in play count, three had "Ain't" in the title.

We have:

Trick Pony, "Ain't Wastin' Good Whiskey On You"

Bill Withers, "Ain't No Sunshine"

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, "People Ain't No Good"

Based on this evidence, I feel like maybe I should look into "Ain't Nobody," "Ain't No Woman (Like the One I've Got)," "Ain't Misbehavin'," and/or "This Ain't a Scene, It's an Arms Race"

p.s. I'm also a big fan of Dwight Yoakam's "Ain't That Lonely Yet"

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Department of "Huh"

Did you know that the chimpanzee who played Cheeta in the Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan movies is still alive, seventy-six years old and living in Palm Springs? I found that surprising, all things considered. Not only that a chimp could live that long, or that his retirement would so closely resemble a human's (apparently that's encoded somewhere in the 98% DNA homology). But what I really want to know is, how did they avoid settling in Tarzana?

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Okay, This is Just Not Fair

It's bad enough not being able to shop, missing out on nice sweaters, cute skirts and sharp jackets. But now Sigerson Morrison has a collection for Target? That is simply cruel.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


Because you can only turn twenty-nine so many times before it starts getting sad.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

I'm So Sorry

Honestly, I had no idea. When I decided to take a break from shopping, it never even occurred to me what kind of wide-ranging consequences it might have. But now here we are, on the brink of world-wide economic meltdown, and I have to say, I feel just terrible.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Free-Association Monday

This morning, I got in to work to find that, of the fourteen plates I had transformed on Friday and left to grow over the weekend, nine had worked and five didn't. (Not terrible, but I could have hoped for better.) And as a result, this song has been playing in my head all day:

I'd be annoyed, but really, who doesn't need more Dolly in their day?

(Sorry about the odd video-- the only performance I could find on YouTube involved costumed Disney characters and inaccurate subtitles.)

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Half-Marathon Girl

On Sunday I ran my first half marathon. Ran-walked, actually, there being no way I was actually going to make it running all thirteen-point-one miles. And for the last quarter mile or so I'm not really sure you would call that running.

The race was the San Jose Half Marathon held, in a shocking twist, in San Jose. (Actually, the full name was "The San Jose Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon," because there were bands scattered along the course, playing in a variety of musical styles, with a heavy representation from the "boomer rock cover band" genre.) Cameron was running with me, graciously sacrificing his chance at putting up a halfway-decent time in order to help keep me going (more on that later).

The route wound us all around downtown San Jose, though various residential and commercial areas and then back to the suddenly-poignant financial district. Some of the neighborhoods were surprisingly nice, not that I had too much time to examine them. I was too busy breathing.

A surprising number of people were gathered along the length of the course, shouting encouragement to the runners as we went past. Some of them were clearly out in support of friends or family, but a lot seemed to just be general spectators, spending part of their Sunday shouting, "Woo!" and "Keep going!" at random staggering, sweaty people. I enjoyed them, partly for the encouragement, but mostly because there's just something great about people taking the time to go and stand out along the street and cheer on total strangers engaged in a pointless task.

The plan was always to run-walk the race; I was never going to be able to run the whole thing. And since I did not have a watch appropriate to the task, Cameron was serving as timekeeper, letting me know when we had done our seven minutes of running and it was time for our one minute of walking. At least, that was the plan as I understood it. I did notice that seven minutes seemed to be getting longer as the race went on (I chalked that one up to fatigue) and if I hadn't been so tired I certainly would have picked up on the fact that we weren't stopping more than once a mile, as we should have been doing, at least occasionally. But it simply never occurred to me that what was actually happening was that my dear boyfriend had been steadily lengthening the intervals, up to about eleven minutes, without telling me, until I complained that I couldn't take the pace (this would be around mile eight) and he knocked them back down to around nine minutes. I'd be angrier, but I did finish in a relatively respectable time. Plus, my knees hurt too much to try and kick him.

At the end of the race there was a whole gauntlet of volunteers waiting to give you stuff: water, a souvenir medal, an ice-water soaked towel, yogurt, fruit cups, energy bars, bananas and more water. It was very nice, but some of the participants did get a little carried away, descending on the tables like looters and hauling off as much as they could carry. For my part, I was too tired to be greedy, so I just took what I could eat then and there. Except for one of the fruit cups, which turned out to be gross, in kind of a gooey way.

So, that was it, all over but the stretching. And the complaining, for the next day or so, about how much the various parts of my body hurt. And the celebratory dinner involving fruity cocktails. And the ibuprofen (not in the cocktails) (might have been a good idea, though). I didn't run at all for the next week, but that's going to change soon; it looks like we're training for the Austin Half in the spring.

I'm getting my own watch.


Well, that last post was kind of a downer. How about something a little more upbeat?

There. That's better.

Of course, it would have been even better if they had included these guys.

(Original version here)

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Saying Goodbye

This post was supposed to be about my move last Saturday. I was going to write about hauling everything out of my old apartment and moving it a whole block and a half to the new place, about how I dragooned my parents and Cameron into packing and carrying all the stuff that comes with being the last person to move out of a shared apartment (anyone need any shot glasses? I have extras) and how Alice won massive friend points by driving all the way down from Berkeley to help, even though it was a ridiculously hot day that no one in their right mind would choose for any kind of physical activity. It was going to be a fun, moderately exasperated (thanks to the old landlord, grr) but ultimately cheerful post. But then, on Sunday, my cat died and I didn't feel all that cheerful anymore.

I got her when she was eight weeks old and I was a sophomore in college. You were allowed to keep cats in the Caltech dorms; it was actually a determining factor in my choice of colleges. In retrospect, that may not have been the best way to handle that decision-making process, but it worked out okay. She was tiny when I got her, just a little double-handful of kitten, hiding behind the litter box in the cage the cat adoption people had set up at the pet food store. I named her Miss Marple, after the Agatha Christie character, though she ended up having little in common with that sharp and perceptive old lady. My Miss Marple would occasionally run headlong into walls.

She was always terrified of people in general, though she did warm up to me. Actually, she did more than warm up, she bonded to the point where she kind of became my stalker. If I ever went into another room (like, say, the bathroom) and closed the door, she would sit directly outside of it and wait for me to come out. In the morning, after I took my shower, she would meow from the time the water went off until I opened the door and let her in. Which is not to say she wanted me to pick her up and hold her or anything. I mean, she would let me, but she clearly considered it an imposition, at best.

Which was a shame, because she really was wonderfully soft.

I had Miss Marple all the way through college; even smuggling her in when I got stuck living for two terms in Avery, the crappy new dorm that didn't allow cats. We shared a tiny, absurdly overpriced studio in Sunnyvale when I was working for a biotech startup there at the height of the dot com boom, and she moved back home with me for my unequivocally disasterous grad school experience, and ensuing year of unemployment/recovery. She stayed with me through my reentry into industry, though I believe she remained unimpressed by things like lab moves and clinical trial failures. She was, in short, a rare constant through all of what might be imaginatively considered my adult life. But, of course, nothing is constant, particularly pets, and I should know that. I guess I just thought she would be around to see a few more upheavals, whatever they might be.

I think she would have liked the new place. It has a balcony she could hang out on and plenty of birds in the trees for her to watch, plus lots of closets to hide in and make me wonder if it's possible she could have actually dematerialized. She would have spent the first day under some piece of furniture (probably the futon), the next day rubbing her face on everything to mark it, and the rest of them trying to get into the rooms I wanted to keep her out of. Trust me, I knew her.

Friday, September 26, 2008

If Everyone Else Jumped On a New Internet Trend, Would You Do It Too?

Because, apparently, I would. That's right, I've got a Twitter page. Not sure what I'm going to do with it, but look! Shiny!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Coming to Fox, Fall 2009

That previous clip was from a program called "Hole in the Wall" which, as you may have guessed, was adapted from a Japanese game show. And now that American networks have discovered this treasure trove of inspiration from the East I have a feeling we will be seeing more of these beauties.

I call this one "Holes in the Floor With Girls With Pork Chops on Their Heads Coming Through Them to be Terrorized by an Annoyed Monitor Lizard," and I think it's going to be the next big thing:

That is, if they don't get to testing the weightlifting prowess of stray cats or holding drag pageants first.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The One Good Thing About Moving

The realization that there is no reason to bother refilling the ice cube trays.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Les Mots Justes

Because sometimes life dresses you in a shiny silver suit and sends a giant Styrofoam wall at you with a hole in it you could never possibly fit through, and in that case there really is only one thing you can say:

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Key Quotes From the Movie "Anaconda 3" Starring David Hasselhoff

"That abandoned factory is just the kind of place a giant snake would want to make its home."

"Where there's blood, there's more blood."

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Somebody Up There Hates Me Update

Does anyone out there know a ritual for placating the car gods? Do you build a little shrine out of air filters and brake pads, and leave it offerings of premium gasoline? Take a carburetor out to the coast and toss it into the ocean, while singing "Little Deuce Coup?" Make a pilgrimage to to Detroit, or perhaps Tokyo?

I ask because this morning when I got up, I found that someone had thrown a chunk of concrete through the window of the Jeep and stolen the (nonfunctioning) satellite radio tuner from the cupholder. So, clearly, I have angered someone and I just want to know how to get it straightened out.

Maybe if I sacrificed a chicken?

Friday, September 19, 2008

On Second Thought

I think I like these boots even more:

And they're waterproof! That makes them a necessity, exempt from the purchasing ban, right?

(Thanks to The Manolo, superfantastic as ever, for the inspiration.)

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Update Night

Car Update: My car is still waiting for its new engine. For some mysterious reason, Mazda 3 engines seem to be in high demand these days. Meanwhile, having totally failed in my attempt to use public transportation, I have found a reprieve in the form of Mom's Jeep, which I have until she needs it. I was going to try to take the train today anyway, but I didn't. By the way, have you ever noticed how comfortable beds are? Especially first thing in the morning.

Cat Update: Last week my cat, Miss Marple, escaped from her temporary home in the cabin at my parents'. She has kind of a habit of vanishing, even when indoors in rather small spaces, so it wasn't until the next morning that anyone realized she was gone. Everyone (including me, coming up from work on the ultimately vain hope that she would come out for the person she knew best, and also, incidentally, picking up the car) searched and worried to varying degrees and no avail. Then, four days after she went missing, the little monster showed right up at the door, meowing to be let in so she could have her dinner. Apparently, the amusement value of watching us crawl around under the deck had worn off and she was looking for a new source of entertainment. And also dinner.

Cake Update: Cake is still delicious.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Freeze, Sucker

Recently, it seems like various drains on my finances have been kind of a theme around here. There's the car, of course, which has already racked up some impressive debits just for the rental, and it's only going to get more exciting when it comes time to pay for the replacement engine. And then there's the fact that I have to move at the end of this month, destination unknown, but definitely more expensive. Which, if you combine them with the fact that the way things are going for my employer, raises are probably not going to be a big priority any time soon, gives you some annoyingly strained finances. Which is why, in a bold approach almost certainly doomed to failure, I have decided to institute a buying freeze through the end of the year.

That's right, Daisy isn't going to be purchasing anything (barring gifts) for the next three months. No clothes, no accessories, no books, no purses. No (gulp) shoes. Not even if they're on a really good sale.

Of course, as soon as I decided this, I realized that what I really need is a denim pencil skirt. And a watch. And some boots.

It's gonna be a long three months.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Foot Soldier

It has come to pass that my car has had a certain degree of misfortune, involving the engine, a non-functioning oil light and a really horrible noise. So it went to live at the dealer's, where it has stayed for the last month while the issue of whether or not they will honor the warranty in the absence of proof of recent oil changes. (Today's lesson: Save your receipts.) Which means that I have been driving a rental car in the intervening time, at great expense to the management, but with no end in sight, changes had to be made. All of which is a long way to say that, as of Friday, I will be totally without personal motor transportation.

That's right: Daisy's taking the train.

Public transportation and I are not friends. I do not function well with regards to schedules, and I have too many memories of hurrying after busses that have already left, oddly sticky BART seats and one odd moment when my trip home was delayed by a driver who wanted to stop and steal fruit from someone's bushes. Besides, I'm a Californian. We are defined by our vehicles; they make us what we are. A person without a car might as well be from Oregon.

But the train station is walking distance from my apartment, and they do run a shuttle to and from work at regular intervals. So maybe it won't be that bad-- at least I'll have a chance to get some reading done. While I take public transportation. Because I don't have a car.


UPDATE: Mazda has now officially refused to do anything about my car, because they're jerks like that, so it is on its way to a shop in Berkeley and I am waiting for the ferry.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

I Guess We're Not In Kansas City Anymore

As you may have already guessed, I made it out of Missouri safely, via what may be the nation's cutest airport. Seriously, there's a cornfield next to the Dollar Rental Car. Also, the security checkpoint is directly in front of your gate, which I believe is one of three on hand. I kid, but really, it was clearly an airport that dated to a time when you could park your car at the curb and come in to see someone off, possibly all the way to their seat.

And I had plenty of time to examine the facility, since I had been off rather significantly in both my memory of when my flight was leaving and how long it was going to take to get there, so I had about an hour and a half to get familiar with the place. I spent some of the time being the sole patron of the only available restaurant, with a terrible food and a very nice waitress, who brought me a whole glass of milk for my tea and told me she'd made my table #7, since I was the first customer of the day.

"I always make the first one lucky number seven, no matter where they sit."

Which was nice, though to be honest, I would have been happier with a lucky not-microwaved-from-various-packages-of-frozen-things meal, but then I suppose that's just my slickster big-city ways talking.

At any rate, Kansas City was a fine place to visit, and I would recommend it to anyone looking for a medium-sized Midwestern city to attend a wedding in. Be sure you try the barbecue.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Main Event

That's right, I was in Kansas City for a wedding, wasn't I? A wedding which I, coincidentally, attended, which was handy, because I already had the dress. And the purse. And, most critically, the shoes.

The wedding in question was that of my friend Lisa (she of the apartment of the actual-Empire-State-building view) to her boyfriend Ryan, also known as "New York boy" or "Disco," depending on which side of the aisle you were sitting on. So it was that a passel* of Techers put on their nice clothes and descended on a charming, if ever so slightly under-air conditioned suburban church to cheer them on. The ceremony was lovely, (which I would say even if it wasn't, of course, but it was), with the traditional and personal mixed well and uncheesily. Lisa, being one of the approximately three people in the world who can actually pull off the long-grand-strapless wedding gown look was likewise (there's that word again) lovely. Even the bridesmaids looked nice, and I do believe a fine time was had by all.
(I will say, though, if you are really that offended by the presence of religious content in a religious ceremony, performed in a church, then perhaps you would be better to just skip straight to the reception.)

Speaking of which, the reception was held in the main branch of the Kansas City Public Library. No, really, the actual library, with all the books and everything. But it's also a big, grand, neo-classical (I think) building, with a main open area big enough for about a hundred and fifty people to eat dinner, dance and drink slightly too much. (I think I set a personal best for champagne consumption.) (Speaking of, I'm really sorry about that glass-- I swear, I barely brushed it.) What's more, it's very well air-conditioned, which was good because, as I discovered after the ceremony that my lovely, shoe-and-purse-matching dress had developed mysterious dark patches in the armpitular region. Not lovely. But they went away, not that I would have really minded by the end of the evening, what with all the champagne.

As for the rest, I will say only that there was dancing, there was eighties music and there were photographers, and I am somewhat concerned. I will keep you updated on further developments.


*Yes, passel.

Friday, August 22, 2008

What I Dream of Seeing, Someday, In the Course of an Olympics

A diver step to the edge of the ten-meter platform, position his feet, raise his arms, and scream, "Cannonball!"


I only had one clear plan on coming to Kansas City (aside from attending the weddings, which was kind of assumed) and that was to have some barbecue. I even brought my copy of Roadfood, but I didn't end up needing it. Because Lisa informed me that the place to go was Gates, and the thing to order was "barbecue beef in a bun." She also warned me to be ready when I got there, because they ask you right away for your order. She wasn't kidding.

I went to dinner with Ben and Beverly, who got in this afternoon and were the only other people I know here who aren't at the rehersal. Also they had a rental car and enjoy barbecue, so that worked out well.

We found the place thanks to Ben's fancy talking gps phone and sure enough, as soon as we were through the door the woman behind the counter called, demanded, really, "Hi, can I HELP you?" She said the same thing, the same way, to everyone who came in, a kind of combination of service and bullying. Thoroughly intimidated, I stammered out my beef/bun order, which she turned around and dreamed to at the kitchen. Somehow I also managed to acquire a root beer and pay. Ben and Beverly got a large plate of meat with a side of beans. I would estimate that, between us we had approximately eight and a half million calories. Good thing I worked out today.

If you're interested (and I know you are) Kansas City barbecue seems to be a beef-heavy affair, with a sauce that is thinner and less sweet than your standard potato chip flavor, with a distinct spiciness and a tendency to get all over your hands. It was, in your high-class foodie parlance, tasty.

After dinner we went to get frozen custards.

Kansas City State of Mind

What does a Californian do with a spare day in a Midwestern city? Answer: Anything she wants, provided all she wants is to wander around an outdoor mall until the heat and humidity get to be too much for her and she has to retreat to her hotel. Fortunately, that did happen to be what I wanted, so it worked out.

I'm rooming with Laura and Jora who are both bridesmaids and were therefore required to spend the day in their bridesmaidly duties, such as getting manicures, having brunch and sacrificing a goat to Impedimentia, goddess of large weddings. So I was on my own, at least until I remembered that David and Chiros were similarly unoccupied, so we went to lunch together, at a restaurant I chose because it looked popular. Unfortunately, what I didn't realize was that all those people weren't there because they liked it so much, they were everyone who had ordered food there since Tuesday.

After we ate (eventually), we went to find David a shirt to wear in his role as an usher tomorrow (sadly, sans hat) we split off, them to seek out a PA system and me to go shopping in exactly the same stores I shop in at home. (What? They have different stuff in their sale sections, ok?) That lasted until the atmospheric conditions finally got the best of me and, sweaty and frizzy-haired, I admitted defeat and took it inside. Then I changed into my workout gear and spent an hour on the hotel's stationary bike, because if you're going to be sweating that much, you might as well get some good out of it.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Midwestern Idyll

Yes, I'm travelling again, this time to Kansas City, cosmopolitan heart of the greater Kansas City area. I'm here for Lisa's wedding (you remember Lisa, right? The one with the apartment in New York), here on Saturday. It's a little different from my last travel experience; in terms of both neon sign and humidity levels. Flying in, it was like you just took off red glasses, everything looked so green.


Who I am Cheering For in the Olympics And How I Chose Them

Geographical Proximity:
2. Canada: USA! US-- OK, no. But close enough.
3. Mexico: North America! North America!

Personal Heritage:
4. Lithuania: Two great-grandparents. Not a huge contender, though surprisingly strong in, of all things, basketball.
5. Switzerland: One great-grandfather, distant relatives still living there. Seem to turn up in rowing and equestrian events.
6. Ireland: One great-great grandmother, but it's a dominant gene. Possibly moot, because I don't think I've seen them in any finals yet.
7. Britain: Pretty much all the rest of my ancestors. Still, hard for me to really get behind.

8. Any African or Caribbean team in a non-running event.
9. Any non-African or Caribbean team in a running event.
10. Any country that has never gotten a medal in an event before.
11. Japan: They seem nice.

And a few countries I am, unfairly or not, consistently rooting against:
1. Russia: Because I was a kid in the eighties and, even though they have faded as an Olympic power to something around the level of Austria, I still get a little thrill when they lose. Ungenerous? Maybe. But hey, guess who lost the Cold War? Suckers!
2. China: I feel a little bad about this one, because I'm pretty sure it's partially driven by NBC's desire to set up a rivalry at these games, because anger=ratings. But I still can't get behind them. Partly because of their almost Yankees-like determination to purchase as many gold medals as possible, and partly because I kind of suspect that if they thought they could find a way to attach a rocket pack to a three-year-old, the hundred meter dash would never be the same.
3. Germany: I just don't seem to like Germany.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Shiny Little Gymnast Butts

Lately, in what appears to be an unanticipated side-effect of watching way too much Olympics, I have been having a small problem with the random appearance of gymnast butts. Not that they're stalking me or something; I don't go through the day fearful that any moment a spandex-clad and unnervingly firm hind end will jump out at me from behind a cubicle. It's more like, you know when you played too much Tetris and every time you closed your eyes, you could still see the pieces falling? It's like that, only rounder.

I guess it could be worse. I could be haunted by the oddly (one might even say suspiciously) broad and manly shoulders on these little girls, or the deranged-stewardess smiles they paste on for the events, because it's not athletic if you're not smiling*.

But what I really want to know is, why doesn't this work with swimmer abs?

*Female athletes only.

Friday, August 15, 2008

The Olympic Beavers

Today's Olympian Of The Day: Keith Beavers.

He is, of course, from Canada.

It's not that I'm here to take cheap shots at someone's name, I just wonder, what if that isn't a name so much as a descriptor? What if Canada, having run out of actual people to enter in the Olympic games, dressed a bunch of beavers up in a person suit and sent them? I'm sure the IOC would be fine with it, as long as they had convincing passports.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Bo Burnham

We saw this guy open for Joel McHale in Vegas and his set was really funny, made more so by the appalled reactions of the nice ladies seated to either side of us, who just wanted to come and see that cute guy from The Soup. Let's just say he works kind of blue, and also very nerdy. (Sample joke, which is appropriate for the blog and which I believe I was one of three people in the audience to laugh at: "Whats the opposite of ln(x)? Duraflame, the unnatural log.")*

Anyway, here's the number he opened with, "My Whole Family Thinks I'm Gay":

My Whole Family Thinks I'm Gay - Hollywood Improv

*That one's from his song "New Math," which is so very NSFW. Just warning you here.

Monday, August 11, 2008

World's Worst Advertising Slogans: Bad Timing Division

Greyhound: "There's a reason you've never heard of 'bus rage'."

Olympics '08

Of course, it would happen that my (highly enjoyable) trip would coincide with the beginning of one of my other favorite things, the Summer Olympics. And since it didn't seem quite right to spend my vacation holed up in the room watching fencing, I put my faith in my Tivo and headed out. Which is why, apart from a few minutes seen in the lobby and the airport, I am only now starting to watch (so far: equestrian cross country eventing) and, considering that I have about fifty hours saved up, I have a feeling I'm going to miss a bit.

Of sleep, I mean.

Bullets From Vegas

Went to Las Vegas last weekend, where there was lots of sun but no free wireless. I'll try to do some in-depth posts covering as much as I can remember, but in the meantime, here are some bulleted highlights of the trip.

-A six am flight doesn't sound that early when you are booking it.
-Southwest ticketed check-in: not nearly as efficient as one would hope.
-Ghost towns aren't necessarily all that ghosty. But they can still be kind of cool.
-"Cool" is not a word that can otherwise be used to describe the Nevada desert in August.
-For the first time in recorded history, the sentence "Wow, we saved a lot of money by shopping at Whole Foods" was deployed with a total lack of irony.
-People who are playing the slot machines don't really look like they're having that much fun.
-If you spend enough time immersed in a world of tacky, a thirty-foot fake waterfall surrounded by desert-inappropriate plants can look positively restrained.
-It may give you comfort to know that there exists, in this great wide world of ours, a store devoted to Cher. Or it may not.
-Wolfgang Puck has a lot of restaurants in Las Vegas. And some of them are a leeetle bit more expensive than others.
-I bet thirty dollars on a UFC fight, won, and blew all my winnings on coffee and donuts. This would be the sum total of my vacation gambling experience.
-There doesn't seem to be a clear consensus as to what constitutes appropriate night out attire in Las Vegas.
-It is possible to construct an entertaining Magic-type game out of the cards distributed on the strip advertising the services of obliging young ladies. Rules to follow.
-Sometimes, fabulousness in shoes is more important than little details like being able to actually walk in them. And there is no shame in taking them off and coming back into your hotel barefoot.
-Okay, maybe there's a little bit of shame.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Ol' Man River

Saw the 1936 version of Show Boat last night, at the classics theater in Palo Alto. (I thought it was going to be the 1951 MGM version, because I'm not that careful about reading listings, but that's neither here nor there.) It was fun, if a bit inclined to melodrama and seriously cringe-inducing in places, but by far the showstopper was Paul Robeson singing Ol' Man River in the first act:

So good I could just listen to it all day. In fact, I think I might.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

To Live Endive by the Bay

Spotted on the side of a truck for a produce company on my way into work:

"Lettuce Romaine in Your Heart"

This is exactly the sort of depravity you can expect with an unarugulated advertising industry. If we ever get around to cleaning things up, they're going to be sorrel.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Project Hairway 2

Project Runway is back, for its last season before the Lifetime crapocalypse! In honor of the event, I am returning with my tradition of judging the contestants by their hair:


Beehive, tattoos, black clothes-- it's kind of like if Amy Winehouse discovered deep conditioning and sandwiches.


"Hey, did you know there are guys who are, get this, attracted to women? No, seriously, it's like, genetic or something. Anyway, sometimes we have hair like this."


Bettie Page, of course. Retro chicks always go for Bettie Page. Whatever; wake me up when someone turns up styled like Frederick Handley Page.


The kind of long, straight style that would make Nick on What Not to Wear repeatedly use the phrase "security blanket."


Hey Terri, Donna Summer called. She was going to ask for her hair back, but then she decided it looked pretty good on you, so she's letting it slide. I'd stay away from the one-shoulder shirts though, just to be on the safe side.


My first impression: kinda cool fifty-something aging-surfer-dude. Actual fact twenty-seven year-old designer.
Seriously, buddy, the tanning booth is not your friend.

Some people look to past fashion icons for their hair choices, some draw inspiration from art or nature. And some people, apparently, style themselves after a home pregnancy test.

(This season: Suede. Next season: Naugahyde.)

The kind of long, straight style that would make. . . Wait, didn't I already do this one?


When the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning is to take a nice, refreshing swig of vodka, your grooming regimen had better be fairly simple.

One box Clairol Nice N' Easy hair color in 124 (Blue-black): $7.99
One Supercuts basic trim-and-bangs: 19.95
Knowing what an alternate-universe Cher who never made it big and got all the plastic surgery, and instead lived out her days busing tables at a leather bar in Duluth would look like: Priceless.


And in the category of Even I'm Not That Stupid: Me making fun of her hair. Next!

Fine, go ahead and hide that headsuit under a jaunty hat. You still can't stop me from commenting on that artfully cultivated stubble, can you?
Seriously, do you have a special razor setting for that, or what?

On the other hand, why bother with hats when you can make your own ski cap out of hair? I guess when you're a designer, everything is material.

Wait, this guy was on the show? Seriously? Huh.

Jerry, Wesley

Okay, guys, listen. Just because you take a bit of your hair and make it stand up in the middle does not mean you have "style". Try again.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Redwood City Crime Wave!

From my work email inbox this morning:

"There have been reports that thieves have recently been stealing the catalytic converters of certain vehicles, especially Toyota pickup trucks and SUVs, in the Redwood City area. These thieves go under a target vehicle and quickly remove the converter with special tools. At least two such thefts have occurred in [our] complex in the past few weeks – one of them last Friday in the parking lot in front of building H."

The thrills, they never end.