Thursday, November 30, 2006

Hocus Pocus

When I was a teenager, a fortune teller read my palm and told me that I would find true love in my life, and together we would be married and happy for ten years, but after those ten years my true love would die.

Now, I'm usually pretty skeptical. Not hard-nosed cynical, but skeptical. I don't believe that things happen for a reason, I am churchily agnostic, I don't mind opening umbrellas indoors, I am scared of ghosts despite not believing in them, and I'm not entirely sold on electrons.

But unaccountably, I instantly believed this little nugget of tragedy and still somehow do. Amidst all the balderdash I hear and dismiss in a day, something in this rang sad and true in a way that must have satisfied some sense of calamity in me. Now and then, when I remember the death foretold, thoughts of future success and contentment are dogged by an image of me weeping over love lost and wistfully recalling those words and thinking how I knew it all along.

Why am I telling you this? Because there's one other piece of nonsense I believe in, and that's that you can jinx your fate by saying it out loud.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Sea Change

Man, the degree to which the rhetoric on Iraq has changed since the election can really make your head spin, no?

I'm basing this on my apprehension, not on LexisNexis searches, but don't you think? Am I way off, or has inevitable withdrawal from Iraq become conventional wisdom, instead of cut-and-run defeat-o what-have-you. And NBC is sacking up (courageously throwing their lot in with premier experts on the subject) and calling the damn thing a civil war already. And a FT columnist not given to "mindless hyperbole" is calling Bush "arguably the worst president since the US became a world power." Used to hear that kind of thing before, but not from any corner offices, so to speak.

In this age of entrenched political machines and inertia-wracked institutions, it's hard to imagine that an election really can make that kind of a difference. I'm not talking about policy revolutions; we'll wait and see how that all shakes out. But we finally, finally pulled a loose brick in the Bush administration's fortress, and the walls come a tumblin' down.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Hot Peace

Please forgive the uncharacteristic foray into talking shop; I should return to the regular trivialities shortly.

Today, discussing foreign policy and Russia, Matt says:
There's an obvious deal to be cut here [...]we can return Russia's "near abroad" to Russia in exchange for Russian cooperation on Iran and North Korea, or else we can have a series of standoffs across a wide Eurasian arc.
While we can’t return anything to anybody, we can certainly dilute our support of Georgia and thereby remove one of the vanishingly few obstacles between that small nation and Russia’s heavy hand. Our support is less key to Ukraine, and with Yanukovych grasping at foreign policy reins in Kyiv, Russia can play a very different game there. Ukraine and Russia may work out an accommodative relationship, Georgia and Russia cannot. Gas prices are the latest weapon of choice, winter is coming, and if we’re lucky it will be cold, not hot.

Obviously, my sympathies rest heavily with Georgia. They’ve been given every reason to believe that they have Western—and specifically American—support. We have been the premier cheerleaders of their democratic reforms, we have funded, we have trained-and-equipped, we have lavished high-level diplomatic attention. They reportedly have the highest per-capita troop involvement in Iraq, and (as every cab driver in Tbilisi will point out) they even named the highway from the airport to the city after George W. Bush.

But Russia can stonewall on Iran and North Korea. As Russia continues its punishing policies designed to break Georgia, we can push back to a certain extent—throw some mid-level diplomats over to issue a tongue-lashing—but we will not antagonize them to a degree that would threaten our broader interests in nuclear sanctions. Nor should we, I am very sorry to admit.

We’ve already had a taste of the US inclination to accommodate Russia, in the latest UN Security Council resolution on Georgia. The language was a joke, practically printed on Kremlin stationery, placing the blame for recent escalation squarely on Georgian shoulders and cautioning them sternly to tone down activities in the Upper Kodori Gorge—which is on uncontested Georgian territory. I can understand the necessity of these concessions, and there will be more to come, but I don't have to like it.

There’s much, much more to say but I’ll restrain myself. A depressing situation to be sure – our driving interests as a nation must be elsewhere, but Russia domination of the energy transit corridor across Georgia (transporting Azeri and ultimately Central Asian oil & gas to Europe bypassing Russia) is, let’s say, not what BP is angling for. On a human scale, if sentiments from my friends there are any indication, there is a growing sense that the chance of this generation will be lost, and perhaps this winter.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Wrong Mailing List

I'm not sure who sold my contact information to the US Naval Institute, but I fear that anybody whose sales pitch begins:
Dear Ms. S,
Knowing your military interest and background...
has gone and wasted a stamp.

My military interests are decidedly narrow.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Wild Turkey Day

I believe it was after dinner, while our tummies set about the task of digesting glorious globs of Thanksgiving goodness, that Charles' Mom collapsed into a folding chair with a glass of white and an exhausted "Goddamn."

The woman had expertly marshaled 30+ rambunctious Thanksgiving Day guests through appetizers, two quickfire furniture rearrangements, an exceptional dinner, all the while making sure everybody was mingling, introduced, and intimately familiar with the well-worn path to the booze station. A break was due.

That was when I let slip the news that in my family, there's no drinking at Thanksgiving. There is turkey, there is ambrosia (don't ask, yankees), and there is sweet tea, but there is no booze and there is no carrying-on. She was appalled, her face a mix of pity and frightened wonder—the sort of look one might have had after the 2004 elections upon realizing that one's fellow citizens are inscrutable, damaged creatures.

Guys. It's so much better with the drinking.

You get a Thanksgiving featuring toasts such as "All Hail Jim Webb", "All Hail the Stuffing"; there are lascivious song & dance interpretations of "My Humps" by a doe-eyed seven-year-old [who was probably not drunk, but egged on shamefully by the rest of us. It's all funny until child protective services shows up.]; younger cousins suffer heinous atomic wedgies at the hands of the older; a grandmother gleefully proclaims that she was grandmother number 3, but has moved up in the seniority rankings after another grandma kicked the bucket. And Grandma number 1 (who had better watch her back) lords it up all over, announcing to anyone who cares to listen: "I am the matriarch!". I don't know about the rest of you, but I will probably procreate if only to be able to use that line before I die.

I probably should have had a few more drinks myself, but there were squirmy young cousins to lift up and swing around, and I didn't want to drop any on their heads, as did certain parties I could name. Thanks to the Grays for a virtuoso Turkey Day, although I'm sorry (I think) that there wasn't a repeat of last year's storied hot tub episode. Next year I'm bringing my bikini (just in case).

Thursday, November 23, 2006


Last November, I was sitting in a makeshift guesthouse behind a gas station in a little town halfway to nowhere called Akhaltsikhe. The woman who ran the place, half-Russian, half-Georgian, would come hang out in my room because they gave me the one with heat and it broke up her long evenings. She's smoke cigarettes and we'd watch TV and try to chat best we could, in my broken Russian.

She asked me what Thanksgiving was all about, and I tried to say that when America was young, people came and winter was cold. And the, uh, people that already lived in America gave them food so they lived in the winter. So we say thank you every November.

She politely smiled through her utter confusion and went back to the cigarettes. I told her the story but I missed the whole point. She wouldn't understand about Indians and maize, but she'd have understood something about being grateful for what we have. About recognizing that we can't make it alone in this world.

I'm so very thankful, this year, to have people in my life who help me when I need them, and I am thankful to have people who need me to help them in turn. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The Skinny

Dear Fashion Industry,

You can do all the blitzkrieg marketing in the world, but I'm still not going to pay $158 to look like a pear. We are not all Hepburn-hipped, and this poor model probably weighs 98 pounds soaking wet.


Monday, November 20, 2006


No matter how much it amuses me, I really ought to get out of the habit of provisionally titling serious documents with ridiculous headings.

In my addled old age, I forget to go back and change them upon completion, and I very nearly just emailed out a paper on UN transitional administration titled "Light in their Loafers." (It's about UNAMA's "light footprint" approach in Afghanistan, see? Ha?)

Thursday, November 16, 2006

And these kids today and their music?

I can't say for sure, but evidence is mounting that I am becoming an old lady before my time.

1) I have taken to saying "Bless his heart!" about everyone. Old.

2) I have sudden urges to write thank you notes to people. Old.

and most recently, I have found an anti-drug advertising campaign both cool and persuasive and heartwarming instead of totally lame and out-of-touch.

Tell me if I'm wrong. [click on the ad called "Little Brother"] But it seems to me that the kid's catch phrase in this spot is miles above the "Just say no!" and "It's not cooool!" responses we were indoctrinated into.

Or shall I just start dying my hair blue and get it overwith?

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

This is Your Mind on Vicodin

I wonder. If a gay man wants to make a comment to an unfamiliar woman in a public setting that would be off-putting or inappropriate coming from a heterosexual man, but charming coming from a gay man, will said gay man queen it up in that moment, in order to broadcast to the woman that she can be comfortable with his comment? For women who do not have gay acquaintances, could this lead to a general perception that as a group, gay men are far queenier than may actually be the case?

Here Comes the Sun

Right, so the last two days have been much, much better. God decided to stop spitting on me, my shoulders are sore as hell, but I got an orthopedist to see me today.

It was probably one of the absolute best medical experiences I've had in my life. I showed up an hour early by mistake, but they saw me immediately anyway. The receptionists were genuinely friendly, the regular physical therapy patients all knew one another and the doctor and they were bandying about clever nicknames and cutting up. The docs were slapping me on the shoulders and giving hugs when it turned out that my break was in a location that didn't require a cast. Really, it felt more like a neighborhood pub than a clinic. Minus the booze. Although they're very generous with the Vicodin prescriptions.

Now I've got this incredibly over-engineered boot on my leg that is so awesome, I can almost get around without crutches, but definitely can manuever without having to dangle entirely.

And my dear friends have all been lovely and kind and supportive: T hauling my ass around town and offering tips to stay in shape while I mend; K sitting up in the emergency room for six hours on a Friday night with nary a complaint that might make me feel guilty (I did anyway); my roommate playing butler; Catherine coming over last night with her feminine intuition sussing out that what I need is Texas beer and chocolate ice cream and her sweet self; and bunches sending kind wishes by email.

And DC, I must say, has been incredibly friendly. The bus drivers make sure other passengers watch out for my foot, and without exception, somebody has jumped up to offer their seat the second I get on. Even if there are open seats, somebody in the seat nearest the front will get up so I don't have to shuffle on back. Strangers on the street change walking routes to open building doors for me, classmates carry things around, and generally the whole world has conspired to end the pity party.

So thanks, friends and strangers! Spirits high!

Monday, November 13, 2006

Fetal Position Mondays

One very much wants to avoid, in moments of angst and discontent, turning to the internet in order to broadcast one's trivial woes. But today has gone and reduced me into the emotional equivalent of my 13-year-old self, and in this state of mind, shrieking at my diary is entirely appropriate. Shameless pity party to follow:

So, I broke my foot on Friday night and the ER put a temporary splint on it until I could see a real orthopedist. Today was the first day I've had to commute around town on the crutches, and damn. I'm in decent shape, but that is hard. Also it was raining, and umbrellas are not easy to manuever when you need both hands to propel your body down Massachusetts Avenue. I therefore begin my day wet and disgusting, with a big fat foot covered in garbage bags. (I'm imaging Justin Timberlake descending from the heavens like a superhero, finding the distressed me in order to bring the sexyback. Makeover show pitch?)

Also, orthopedist offices were unobliging with appointments, unnecessarily rude and cutting, and condescending to boot. I was called—I do not jest—kiddo, after being told I'd need to wait 3 weeks to see someone.

By the end of the day, the commuting-about on crutches took its toll on my arms, which started to quiver a little, but I managed to arrive at my bus stop, collapse on the bench, and wait to go home. After 20 fruitless minutes of waiting, a passerby told me that this bus changed route weeks ago, they just haven't changed any signs, and I'd have to march myself elsewhere.

So a bit watery-eyed and sniffly to go with my disheveled and garbage-bag footed couture, I slug it to the other bus stop, but was stopped along the way by a concerned old lady who said, "My dear! Please be careful on those crutches! Be sure you don't jam them into your armpits!"

"Yes, ma'am. I'm trying."

"My girlfriend just died from that!"


"Of course she was 93."

After these and other serial indignities, I find my bus, I eventually collapse at home, and what should be waiting for me there? But the pair of sexy, killer pumps I ordered a few weeks ago. I look at the arching, delicate shoes, I look at my big block bandaged foot.

Internets, I need a hug.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Good Morning, or should I say, Buenos Dias

Colbert, last night:
Tomorrow you're all going to wake up in a brave new world. A world where the constitution gets trampled by an army of terrorist clones created in a stem-cell research lab run by homosexual doctors who sterilize their instruments over burning American flags! Where tax-and-spend democrats take all your hard-earned money and use it to buy electric cars for National Public Radio and teach evolution to illegal immigrants!

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The Morning After

What a fun night. In retrospect, I'm sort of embarrassed to recall the number of times I used the word "bloodbath" or "bloodletting." A bit much, really. Get a hold of yourself, woman.

Celebrated with two lovely ladies who have spent so much time in the trenches of the minority, I could visibly see the difficulty with which their lips tried to form the words "majority" as they imagined their new voicemail recordings. Watching the election returns in DC, of course, is like watching the World Cup or the Super Bowl anywhere else. Continuing the metaphor, one of my friends enlightened me, "Yes. And working in the minority is like losing the big game to your rival team every single day."

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Election Day

Civic duty for the day completed. But no "I Voted" sticker. What gives?? Budget cuts? It's like not getting a cookie after donating blood. Furthermore, I continue to be shocked that I do not need to produce any sort of ID at my polling station so long as the name I say to the pollworker happens to be on the list. While observing elections in remote Ukrainian or Tajik villages (pop. in the double digits), I always feel guilty watching the pollworkers greet incoming neighbors that they'd known since birth, then cast a wary eye upon us overseers, then mumble to the neighbor that they'd need to see some ID, please.

Not to mention, at least when I'm observing parliamentary elections, it really sticks in my craw to watch each and every voter exercise a right that I, as a DC citizen, don't enjoy. Blind leading the blind.

At my polling station today, we had the choice of paper ballot or touch-screen. For my highly sensitive and crucial DC vote, I opted for paper. According to the pollworker I asked, everybody's going for paper. That cheered me, a little.

What didn't cheer me is the number of educated, politically minded acquaintances I have that happen to be registered in other states (some hosting crucial races) that didn't bother to get an absentee ballot. What does it take, people?? I have great reservations about mandatory voting systems such as Australia's, but perhaps the threat of a $20 fine would be greater motivation to my friends than, oh, wholesale dismantling of the value system they hold dear. Whatever it takes.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Terrible Music Fridays!!

The way I see it, somebody around here has to do the dirty work and counteract all the fine and inspired music recommendations offered by those in the know. They give you forgotten favorites and undiscovered gems? I give you...


Please, no need for thanks. If I can be your source for terrible Russian pop, that is thanks enough.

How to describe the agony and the ecstasy that is Blestyashie? (It means "Shining" or, like "The Shiny Ones"). Like all Terrible Russian Pop, they feature repetitive unoriginal beats, heavy-handed production, general yowling of inanities, and lots of gratuitous flesh. And I love it.

It was not always so. Their blockbuster single Vostochnaya Skazka (An Eastern Tale) was all the rage in Tbilisi last year, so I heard it about 800 times, scowling and sneering all the while. But then, right around the 801st listen...the started tapping. The throat, humming. Well, I slippery sloped it all the way down and now I listen to Blestyashie while tooling around town on my bike (like I'm in some kind of bizarro world Wes Anderson in Moscow movie).

So, feast your eyes and ears upon Vostochnaya Skazka, (feat. Arash, who is apparently some Persian popstar that can be trained into speaking some Russian). And despite the slutty get-ups, these girls are empowered! Sort of. At one point in the lyrics, Arash says, says "Hey beautiful girl, I really like you. I already have three wives but you can be the fourth." Then the girls are all, "Look dear, I already have 5 husbands. I love them all, but if you want, you can be the sixth." Devushka power! (I swear, listen to it 800 times, you'll looooove it).

Wednesday, November 01, 2006


All this talk about Iran reminded me of the time, almost exactly a year ago, when I was as close as I've ever been to the place. I was down in Lankaran, in the very south of Azerbaijan.

There are two things I remember about Lankaran, Azerbaijan. One is the exciting nearness of Iran (a rather pathetic theme in my life: I get my kicks from orbiting the forbidden at a demure distance), and the second is that it is the first time in my life I've been utterly and completely unable to communicate.

Tried to grab dinner at a hotel restaurant, but the menu was only in Azeri. I asked the waiter in Russian about various dishes—everyone I met in Azerbaijan had spoken Russian thus far—and he looked petrified. Turns out, it was Farsi or Azeri or nothing. This sounds, I realize, entirely unremarkable, but it was unprecedented for me. In all the places I have ever gone, I was either able to rely shamefacedly on English, communicate in Russian, or get by with simple bits of the local tongue or place-names.

But with this waiter, nothing. It's an indescribably helpless feeling, being stripped of that basic faculty. Like I'd just lost a leg but kept trying to stand on it anyway, not able to fathom that it's not there. I am sorry to say, I involuntarily pulled the ugly-American-with-a-twist and continued repeating words in Russian, certain that he'd get it if he only tried hard enough. I ultimately pointed at some kebab or another at random and hoped for the best.

It's odd enough to live in a linguistic environment in which you can communicate, but are not fluent. Prior to my year in Georgia, I hadn't really appreciated how much my personality would change when I could not rely on subtleties of meaning, wordplay, sarcasm, innuendo. There, I was intensely agreeable, always smiling to exuberantly communicate good intentions where my words failed. With most of my Georgian friends I spoke simple English and adopted their phrasing and, although I really don't know why, I almost never cursed. (My terribly potty mouth has returned in fine form now that I'm stateside. So has my scowling and general unpleasantness.)

Back home in the U.S., one of the early unexpected moments of elation came when I comfortably chatted with a salesperson in a store and then even called her back to slightly adjust my request. No silently rehearsing words under my breath, no steeling myself for questions I can't completely understand, no covering embarrassing gaffes and misinterpretations with exaggerated shrugging. I had my language back, and I felt incredibly powerful.

Now that some months have passed, that thrill is gone. But recently I wandered into a Latino-owned grocery on my corner and ordered some ground pork from the butcher, only to find he didn't know a lick of English. Spanish was about a decade ago, and so I stuttered some words and I shrugged apologetically and we both laughed exaggeratedly and I pantomimed until I remembered how to say half a pound. I had lost my language again, but the game was back, and I felt incredibly nostalgic.