Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Mundanity a la Caucasus

Here's the thing about living in a baffling new city with an intimidating language. Right, so my Sunday consisted of the following accomplishments:

1) Procure cell phone
2) Activate cell phone
3) Work out at gym
4) Have dinner

Bit of a yawner of a day, huh? Not so! Sunday was a coup, a triumph, a crucible from which I emerged bloodied but victorious! To illustrate, shall we with boring and painstaking detail, walk through item #1? Oh, let's!

For comparative purposes, item #1 in America would be accomplished by the following: go to Cingular store; get phone; go home.

In my circumstances, I had to start by asking where can procure a phone for a reasonable price. I got wind of this market near a stadium, which market I could not locate on my map. So I practiced my Russian phrases over and over and unleashed them on a cab driver:

"I heard there is a market, near the stadium?"
"Da, da!" he grunts and lurches the car onward, suicidally careening down the wrong side of the street.
"And there, one may purchase a mobile telephone?"
"Da, da, one may!"
Well, huzzah, this is all going swimmingly! I'm not fazed by the random, unannounced major street closures that send our driver into a tizzy of slamming meaty palm on cringing dash.

I arrive at said market, and sure enough, many a shop sells phones. Unfortunately, all shops are flush with Georgians crowding the lone vendor, holding up models and shouting questions in Georgian. Don't much relish the spectre of elbowing my way to the front and then stopping commerce and traffic by announcing my intentions in remedial, schoolgirl Russian.

So new plan. Find vendor with no customers, and quickly buy cheapest model available. Hilariously for your intrepid correspondent, this turns out to be a cute little number undoubtedly smuggled from Dubai, as evidenced by the Arabic noodling all over the keypd and the recent news story of illegal Dubai shipments held up at the border.

Feeling cocksure and fancy free, I decide to return home by Tbilisi metro: my first attempt. It's a mere $.15 so quite the steal for the bargain traveler. But inside, I quickly ascertain two key pieces of information:
1) This station is a transfer point servicing multiple lines.
2) There is nary a letter of our Latin alphabet, nor our familiar Cyrillic. Only spaghetti noodle Georgian.

"Well, hell's bells! Where the deuce am I?" I think, morphing into my own personal vision of a 19th century English gentleman. Shall I follow the noodly path to Spaghetti Bolognese or Pasta Primavera? I ask a young woman who looks at me terrified and scurries away. Hmph. I guess on a train. I guess incorrectly. Finally I hazard asking another passenger, who, glory be, is heading towards my very stop and will allow me to trail her like an incompetent G-man. Success!

Such have beeen my days thus far; filled with pantomime and funny looks and general ass-making of self. May have located flash apartment but am deep in negotiating hardball with owners. Have read two books by British authors and chameleon-style, completely adopted annoying fey British dialect. Have not yet referred to apartment as "flat" but catch self saying "lift" constantly. Gastrointestinal integrity trivially breached but generally holding solid.

I have no illusions that this is a monumental let-down of post after a week of silence. I should bloody well have been kidnapped by Chechen rebels by now, I know, I know. All in good time.
I have lots to show and tell but I sit down in the internet cafe and my stories are buried under an avalanche in my mind of Good God, New Orleans is drowning. What a nightmare. The me-me-me stories are going to have to wait until I've processed this, I think. Best wishes to anyone with loved ones from the area.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Administrative Note

I haven't gathered thoughts enough to say anything interesting, but thought I should mention that I've arrived in Tbilisi and I'm just trying to orient myself in the clamor and hubbub. With everything so foreign and overwhelming, I feel oddly, how to say, like Kansas girl in Manhattan. Like I've got my carpet-bag and my gingham dress and cloddish shoes and I'm standing in the middle of Times Square with my jaw hanging open and I'm being pin-balled between passing bodies. But it's all of 1pm on day one, so I think I'll allow myself a little time to adjust.

Seasons in the Sun

Amsterdam seems like it would be a perfectly lovely city to stumble through, dead-eyed with jet-lag until your flip-flops carve bruises into the top of your feet, if it weren't for all the hippies. And hippy paraphernalia. I can only imagine that this is infinitely irritating to more genteel Amsterdamers.

I realized as I sleep-walked back to Centraal Station, that I haven't been in Western Europe proper in High Backpacker season since I was one of those little rascals myself. I knew by the end of that summer that that was it for me. I had had a great time, but I'm sure you're all familiar with the more irritating aspects of the backpacker species, and in Paris I had encountered a gaggle of Americans who banded together in mammoth groups and only left the hostel bar for another bar, and never met any non-Americans, but right as rain would return to their home towns and pontificate on French culture and what was wrong with their crappy food and what-have-you.

So looking at these backpackers, I had a bit of that sour taste in my mouth from that awful Paris hostel chain gang; there was a little disdain for the conformist non-conformity of it all. But at the same time, the tiniest touch of nostalgia. The being young and discovering a continent as if nobody had ever been there before you. Because no matter what great capacity for wonder I still retain, it's clear that never again will everything be as new as all that.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Okay Next Post is from Tbilisi

How to tell when your internet is a problem:

There you are, happily clicking away courtesy of a lovely WiFi connection. You pause to gather your thoughts and your gaze falls to the window, through which sunlight glances in sideways. Through the muddle and muck of your jet-lagged mind, you realize that the city of Amsterdam is beyond that glare—a city you've never seen—you have a good 10 hours left in your layover, and yet you've been reading blogs all morning.

I'm having an intervention on myself. Laptop, closed! Stroopwaffels, ho!

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

On a Midnight Train to Georgia

Next post comes to you direct from Tbilisi, Georgia. I can't lift my suitcases or anything, but we're all thinking optimistically that I'll somehow work it all out. Happy Trails boys 'n girls!

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Why I'm an Awesome Girlfriend

My request for last dinner in America is fried chicken, collard greens, and mac 'n cheese from Oohs and Aahs.

Partly because this is the stuff I'm really going to miss, but partly because I really hate the ritual ceremony of cloth-tablecloth dinners prescribed for "last meals" and "Valentine's Day" and any other landmark dates. It makes everything so stiff and uncomfortable and you're so choked on your special occassion overload and not saying bad words out loud that you can't even taste your $40 entree.

Following as it did so hot on the heels of a post about my racial prejudices, is this post just my unconscious frantically trying to make amends by showing that I like soul food? Or is this update, and my correlation of soul food with black America, just another manifestation of my tortured racist soul? Somebody stop me.

Winning the Battle, Losing the War

Well, it turns out I'm a big racist.

I borrowed Matt's copy of Blink yesterday, which if you've been anywhere near an airport bookstore lately you'll know is Malcolm Gladwell's best-seller on the intuitive thinking and snap judgments that our unconscious mind performs.

At one point, he directs you to a Harvard research project known as Project Implicit, where scientists are working on what Gladwell terms the seemingly obvious, but actually profound fact that humans make connections more quickly between ideas that seem related in their minds.

They have a series of tests on the website, the most disturbing of which, if you're a big racist like me, is the race test. In it, you are shown a series of faces of African Americans and caucasian Americans. Then you have a series of words that are either obviously positive or obviously negative, like "joy" and "terrible." At different parts of the test, you have to match the good words with white faces and the bad with black, and then vice versa. The test will measure if it takes you more time to make the pairing when you have to associate it with one or the other.

In my test, I first had to pair good with black and bad with white. You have to go really fast or your test will be inconclusive. I stuttered, paused, hit the wrong button, and generally bumbled the thing. So, fine, I though, not so good at these. Then it was time to pair good with white and bad with black. And with increasing horror and dismay I watched my fingers, without hesitation, nail it. Boom, boom, boom, I didn't miss a one, and I didn't have to think.

The results, predictably, showed that I have a strong preference for white over black.

On top of being really embarassing, it didn't seem quite right. I like to think of myself as a pretty race-neutral person. I live in a majority black neighborhood in a majority black city, and so it's not like I'm unfamiliar with this foreign idea of African Americans. I talk to black people at bus stops. I never feel scared around groups of black people.

But, that's precisely the problem. When I do pass the time of day with the friendly black lady at the bus stop, somewhere in the back of my mind, I'm thinking "See? Look how enlightened I am. I'm totally comfortable with black people." And when I'm walking around the neighborhood or the metros unafraid, I'm constantly congratulating myself on not being afraid of the black people around me. These are not actions or thought processes that occur around a group of teenage white boys at the metro, or when I shoot the shit with a white kid at the sandwich counter. I'm still operating on different assumptions, and even though my conscious mind tries to counteract it, this test showed that I'm still very much in thrall to my racist-ass unconscious.

At least I'm not alone; I believe something like 80% of the people who take the test end up on my miserable side of the ledger. The makers of the test suggest that if you don't like your results, you will have to make very deliberate efforts to acquaint yourself more intimately with black culture in order to replace the negative associations that have situated themselves in your unconscious mind. I'm all for it, shamed as I am by my results, but seeing as how the black population of Georgia is roughly nil (obviously the country, not the state, eh?), that project may have to wait until next year.

Anyway, try it yourselves, and if you have to lie, please tell me that you're all racists too.

On the other hand, I show no association whatsoever between male and female with science or liberal arts. Must be all those artsy fartsy men I know and those female T.A.s in science courses.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Making Love to His Tonic and Gin

It appears that 2005's ookiest mystery has been solved, more or less. They finally unmasked our old friend the Piano Man, who I first mentioned here, and who you'll recall was found soaked, wandering the shores of a beach in England, apparently mute, unidentifiable, and uncommunicative except for the intricate drawings of a piano he made, and a virtuoso piano performance spontaneously offered to the staff.

Right, so after months of silence, a nurse walks in one day and says, "Are you going to speak to us today?" And he says, "Yes, I think I will." In the movie version, this is where his eyes turn red and lasers shoot out of his mouth as the hell-beast bursts from his stomach. But in real life, he just admits that he's really rather rubbish at playing piano. The hospital clarified that the virtuoso piano performance was really just him hitting one-note over and over. This might sound like we were fed a big swallow of BS, but the hospital staff is a very sophisticated contemporary composition audience, and by golly, they know a virtuoso performance of John Oswald's Aparenthesi when they hear it. Big media philistines.

So he's a German and he's a big faker or something, but this can all be fixed in the editing room says I. Hell beast, people.

Thanks to Ogged for bringing this to my attention and further distracting me from the fact that I'm moving away in 2 days. The dog's been staring at me accusingly all afternoon, making me feel terribly guilty about the whole thing, and then I accidentally called him Kriston, which just opens up a whole big can of psychological projection worms. Oookay, distraction time. How many pairs of shoes do we think we can fit in the suticase? Seven?

Friday, August 19, 2005

Betcha Didn't Know

In DFW airport, on my way back to DC from Texas, I swayed back and forth between purchasing a copy of Freakonomics or the latest Texas Monthly to pass the flight delay. I opted for the Monthly, a gesture of optimism that the delay would be only magazine-sized. (Side note: the website of the Texas Monthly is subtitled "The National Magazine of Texas" which makes me very happy.)

And let me tell you, that little rag is chock-full of very useful information. Por ejemplo, as we say on the border, had it not been for the Texas Monthly, the two-month old story of Governor Rick Perry calling a reporter a "Mofo" might have passed me by. Mofo! Oh, Rick! You're such a potty mouth!

Furthermore, I might have died without ever knowing that there exists a little Country Inn in Snook, TX that will happily serve you, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, a side of chicken-fried bacon. With cream gravy. Says the intrepid Monthly reporter who canvassed the state in search of chicken-fried foods (and discovered chicken-fried foie gras, chicken-fried french fries, and chicken-fried lobster to name a few), "The moment when the crackle of the crust gives way to the fatty, salty taste of the pork is truly transcendent." Am so on board.

Finally, you wouldn't generally look to a Texas magazine to get the skinny on the Boston Red Sox, but the Monthly comes through again with this scathing expose: Curt Schilling is a Nerd. (It appears somebody PDFd the article here). Written by a UT Senior, the article reveals that Curt Schilling and said Texas student share the honors of being chosen as officers in their EverQuest guild. Curt even handed out tickets to a Red Sox/Rangers series to this kid, and signed a baseball with his EverQuest character name.

Here's how the article closes:
We still talk online every day, about EverQuest strategy, recruiting new players—you know, top-secret officer chat. When he screws up, I'll call him a newb. I'll ask about his baseball injuries, or we'll talk about how the Red Sox did that night. Once, our EverQuest guild was on a raid in a level called the Temple of Cazic-Thule, and we were trying to get this poisonous dragon. It got pretty dangerous, but then it looked like we might pull it off, so I said, "Well, after we win, y'all can come over to my place for margaritas." Of course everyone said, "Yeah, where do you live?" I said Texas. And Curt told them, "Yeah, and if you're looking for him, he's the one who's five six and about a hundred and twenty-nine pounds soaking wet."

Sure, Curt. Let him who is without guild credentials cast the first stone.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Wanted: BFsitter

Look, I've gotta get out of town this weekend to drive down to Texas (again). Luckily they finally released Confederacy of Dunces on AudioCD, so I'm golden. But here's the thing; I need somebody to watch my boyfriend. Usually, I just leave him with Matt, but Matt's going to Iceland. And Catherine and Tommy are obliging sitters but they're off to an out-of-town wedding. In a pinch, the internet is a reliable sitter if you turn on the porn-blockers, but his laptop is kaput and mine is going with me. And I've gone a done a very bad thing.

ME: Ooh! Netflix is sending me Felicity Season 1 Disc 1 on Friday!

HE: You . . . y-you realize that all my friends are out of town this weekend? You're going to expose me to the F-Bomb while my whole security network is out of town?

ME: When I come back you will be painting your nails and crying over
tampon commercials.

HE: When you come back to DC and find that you have a girlfriend, you'll have no one to blame but yourself.

On further reflection, I guess I don't actually want a girlfriend. And even if I did I'd be really hard up because the ladies have really never given me the time of day. So please. For the sake of my relationship, will somebody take him out for a walk and water him twice a day? Very grateful.

Where's the Oil and Vinegar Car?

It's hard to fathom, but there do exist people who don't understand why anybody would want to travel to a developing country. It's uncomfortable, it's difficult to get around, everything's a hassle and doesn't work, they say. And usually I just sort of wave my arms around and say something like, "You know! Life! Unexpected experience. And, like, real people" which is not a very convincing argument next to tuberculosis exposure risk. When I had lunch with my boss today, he told me an anecdote about his time living in Georgia, and it's the sort of charming little vignette that you can point to and say: "There. That's why I love to travel."

He and some friends were driving out through the countryside, and they stopped on the side of the road to sit and have some lunch. While they were eating, a beat-up little Moskovitch or some such hoopty came barreling down the road, and as it went passed, he noticed that the car was so filled with red peppers, that they came up to the driver's chest. Clearly, the driver had seated himself in the car, and then somebody shoveled in bushels of peppers until they reached from the floorboards up over the passenger seat and backseats, and flooded the car up to his chest. After another minute, another car came rumbling by, and this driver was buried in a pile of green peppers. Then a third car, a pile of eggplant on wheels with a little Georgian torso manning the wheel. Like something out of Dr. Seuss. They must have been on their way to market and figured, eh, this works.

Zooming vegetable jalopies. Things like this make me happy beyond reason. What a wonderful crazy world. Always wash your vegetables.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Fear and Loathing in Tbilisi

Bless my crusty Beltway soul; I've finally got the heebie-jeebies about moving over yonder. It's not what you think: I'm not especially scared of runaway Chechen rebels or separatist violence or even petty street crime. I live in DC, yo. And while I don't promise not to whine about it, I'm basically fine with spotty electricity and water outages and misogyny spiked with machismo and awful roads and a complete absence of the queuing gene. Look, I'm not immune to life's comforts and my sole survival skill is knowing how to tread water for a long time so I'd last for approximately zero in the wild, but I've bathed without complaint in the brown cholera-prone waters of Dushanbe and stared down the bleak end of unspeakable outhouses, so what we don't have here is Cindy Lou Who about to step into the Terrordome is what we don't have.

A few weeks ago, however, I was speaking with one of the returning grantees from Georgia and he mentioned something that has only now wormed its way through my skull to join cockroaches and shellfish in activating the terror trigger of my brain. Said he: "I think the biggest personality change I had to make in Georgia was learning to speak absolutely sincerely and passionately from the heart, at the drop of a hat. There is no sarcasm in Georgia."


I'd chalked up to language barriers the funny looks I got every time I tried to crack a joke on my last visit to Tbilisi. No sarcasm? My entire system of interpersonal communication: out the window. The caustic bitter foundation for my entire worldview rendered unintelligible. It's just unthinkable. I mean, what happens if you airdrop a hipster into Georgia? Does he just implode? I suppose I made the cardinal sin of mentally equating Georgian humor with Russian humor, which is delightfully wicked and cutting and ironic. But the Georgians apparently are pure and earnest as the blessed promise of a new day. Sorry. Just practicing.

If nothing else, I'm keeping this site up to exercise my sarcasm muscle, and please do call my shit out if I get all, you know, sincere.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005


Look, the thing is, you should just be glad that I'm not posting anything. It's like I've got this song stuck in my head, and all the lyrics are ME ME ME ME ME. Or I'm pregnant and watching soaps but can't concentrate because there's this powerful craving for pickles and ME ME ME ME ME. I've gone so far into my own thoughts about my own self that I'm gonna need Virgil to guide me out, and after a while even he's going to go, "Look, you're on your own; I can't take it anymore." I am, in short, in no position to be anywhere near a keyboard and self-publishing software.

Or maybe I'm just crabby because I spent the entire morning emitting noxious fumes into the ozone layer with a few hundred fellow citizens. Get a load of this: the District of Columbia, rather than authorizing mechanics and garages throughout the city to perform vehicle inspections, requires all registered vehicles to come to one and only one location for the inspection gauntlet. As you can imagine, the queue is mighty and daunting, and well and truly Soviet in its epic girth. As you might not imagine, the wait is conducted in your car. Instead of devising some alternative system, the District of Columbia sends you to the end of the line, in your car, several blocks away, and asks you to putt-putt-putt for one and a half hours as you inch toward the station and try to stop nodding off to Diane Rehm. Your engine grumbles, your gas light gleams, you will surely have dreams tonight featuring the bumper sticker you have been staring at for 90 minutes. There's really no way for this to not ruin your day, so here we are. Self-absorbed and grouchy. It's enough to make you turn Virginian.

Monday, August 08, 2005

The Perils of Womanhood

In lieu of any original content, and apropos of a recent discussion on strange men being inappropriate to women in public, I give you another installment from Overheard in New York:
A crazy man mutters to a girl walking by. She ignores him and keeps walking.

Crazy man: God kill all the lesbians. God please kill all the lesbians. Kill the lesbians. God please kill all the lesbians!

Woman on bench: Yeah, I'm sure it's because she is a lesbian, and had has nothing to do with the fact that he has three combs stuck in his afro and smells like a dead goat.

--Columbus Circle station

Friday, August 05, 2005

14, 15, Reagan, 17

I'm getting awfully tired of Congressmen who don't seem to have cities of their own to screw around with.
A Republican congressman from South Texas has proposed renaming 16th Street NW [in Washington, DC] as Ronald Reagan Boulevard.

Rep. Henry Bonilla, co-chairman of the 2000 and 2004 Republican national conventions, quietly introduced the 106-word resolution before Congress adjourned for summer recess July 28.

Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), chairman of the House Government Reform Committee with jurisdiction over Bonilla's legislation, [...] noted that Congress has renamed Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and dedicated the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center on Pennsylvania Avenue NW. "If Congressman Bonilla wants to name anything else, he has to look at his own district in San Antonio," Davis said.

Indeed. And since turnabout's fair play, Congressman Bonilla, allow me to offer a suggestion: tourists to fair San Antonio might really enjoy a nighttime stroll down The Marion Barry Memorial Riverwalk.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Much Ado About Nothing

I don't want to sugar coat this for you. The Guardian serves up a heaping helping of idiocy a la carte [scroll down]:
Why do theatre companies in former British colonies perform Shakespeare? They do so because English is the language of their governing classes, and by continually re-performing his works they assert their connection to a cultural legacy that makes them feel superior to other people. Why do theatre companies in Japan and Germany and Brazil perform Shakespeare? They do so in order to demonstrate that they, too, can appropriate the flagship commodity of the world's most powerful culture. They do so to show that their local talent can compete on an international playing field. They do so in order to be invited to tour in Britain and the United States.
Wait. I'm confused.

Is this why all theatre companies in these many, many countries perform Shakespeare? For that is truly astonishing. I couldn't even tell you the precise motivations behind all the Tennessee Williams productions in Cook County, but Mssr. Gary Taylor most assuredly has his finger squarely on the pulse of post-colonial artistic psyches, plus, apparently, Japan, Germany, and Brazil.

And who is this "they" that he refers to? Is it the Artistic Director or more likely the Producer of Brunei Regional Theater Troupe that so desperately longs to appropriate the flagship commodity of the world's most powerful culture? It's really hard to say. And what is this powerful culture, specifically, of which Shakespeare is the most valuable commodity? Western culture? Shouldn't the Greeks at least compete for that title? Are the Germans on the outside of Western culture? Or are we talking British culture, which in terms of global power is, forgive me, a pale shadow on the ass of the culture of Britney Spears. Again, I'm not certain.

And, while we're at it, why do the Russians perform Shakespeare? They do it a lot, you know. Is it for the same reasons as Bangladesh? If so, I'd like to notify one of our literature professors in college who offered an entire class on Shakespeare's influence on Pushkin. She ought to get a head's up that Pushkin was merely asserting his connection to a cultural legacy that made him feel superior to other people.

Do not, Gary Taylor, do not make me wax rhapsodic on the enduring universal power of Shakespeare because it's been a long day and I do not fancy ending it by impersonating Harold Bloom. I'll just say that if South Africa can look to a culture as different as Ancient Greece, and take Antigone and turn it into the living, devastating work of art that it deserves to be, the Sri Lankans might be able to muster the cultural sophistication to see something of value in mother-effing Shakespeare you ignorant imperialist twit.