Tuesday, September 30, 2008



I am a little bit in love with the Rachel Zoe Project on Bravo, Tuesday nights at 10pm. Before I watched this show I kind of hated Rachel Zoe. All I really associated her with was the hobo chic style (ie super baggy, homeless looking clothes on super skinny girls), and some nasty gossip. But reluctantly I tuned in for part of an episode, and then for a full episode, and little by little I've really grown to like her (or at least her television persona). From what I can tell, she's a very succesful woman who loves her job and is extremely good at and passionate about what she does for a living. She seems smart and driven and confident, and the more I've watched the show, the more I've wondered why there seems to be so much negativity directed towards her. While I may not excel at it all the time (let's all point to exhibit A-pink Ugg boots circa 2004), I really enjoy and am fascinated by fashion. Sure it's not curing cancer or saving the environment, but if it makes someone happy and if it makes someone feel beautiful, then why can't it be considered important? And it's a craft. If you've spent any serious time shopping, then you know how vast the differences can be between a well made garment and a not well made one. Same goes for the differences between something that has been well designed by someone who understands a woman's body and a garment at Urban Outfitters that has clearly not been designed with any thought to the fact that there are women out there who (gasp) aren't shaped like twelve year old boys. And in the few episodes of the Rachel Zoe Project I've watched, it really seems like she loves fashion, but more than that, she loves fashion that makes women feel good about themselves. And how can you not get behind that? Plus she's a huge vintage freak, and if you need any indication that someone truly loves the crafstmanship and the artistry behind fashion, then just ask if they shop vintage. And more than anything, what has impressed me has been her interactions with these amazing designers-Donna Karan, Zac Posen, Diane von Furstenberg, Oscar de la Renta. And these geniuses of fashion clearly respect her and her opinion, which I think says a great deal.
So if you're like me and have pre-judged Rachel Zoe then I encourage you to give the show and her another chance. And if you still can't stand her, then at least tune in for the awesome interactions between her two assistants-Taylor (the blunt hair chica with the quasi cynical attitude) and Brad (the impecably styled, dandy-riffic boy who is heartbreakingly earnest and absolutely adorable). Taylor hates Brad and it's obvious to everyone who can you know, see or hear. Brad has no idea. And that makes for some brilliant television.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

bday list!

Okay so I may have stolen this idea from another blog, but I thought it sounded like too much fun to pass up. That, and making up a list of things I want for my birthday somewhat helps to stave off my need to shop for myself. And shopping for myself is something that has grown increasingly difficult as my wallet and bank account have shrunken. Sure, there's more than three weeks until my actual birthday (Oct. 17th in case you forgot!) but this way you have plenty of time to shop :) Or more likely it just means I can look at this list everytime I get that online shopping itch. So here it is, in all of its glory, my (part fantasy-that is unless you're fabulously wealthy and have just been waiting and waiting for someone to give you a reason to shed a little of that cash) birthday wish-list. 

1) New Wine Glasses-if you know me then you know I have somewhat of a problem with breaking things, and my formally robust wine glass collection has dwindled to a grand total of two wine glasses. And instead of getting boring old wine glasses, I thought why not invest in some really, really pretty ones, like this one.

2) Big Cereal Bowls. I love giant bowls. That may sounds weird but I've never really gotten the point of dainty little bowls. When I eat ceareal I want to eat a giant bowl of cereal (ditto for ice cream, pasta, pretty much everything). So portion control be damned! I would love something like this (these ones are from Sur La Table, but really I just love giant, colorful bowls, regardless of their origin).

3) To feed my TV on DVD addiction, I would love Gossip Girl Season One or American Dreams Season One or Alias Season One or many, many others of course.

4)Under the fantasy category I'd like to file this gorgeous Coach Wallet-I would do terrible things to get this wallet in fact. It's a classic (the shape, the leather, the detailing) but still comes in a fun color like Berry which keeps it fresh and young. I am in love.

5) And yet again under the fantasy category-these perfect Marc by Marc Jacob pumps-I feel like if I had these I would live in them. if being the operative word there.

6) I am surrounded by prints from my India trip with nowhere to put them. So frames are high on my list (in particular frames that would fit 5X7 and 8X10 photos). These Laquer Wood Gallery Frames from Pottery Barn are particularly lovely.

7) I have struggled my entire life with jewelry, for two reasons 1) i lose everything 2) i'm not a big necklace or bracelet girl. I love earrings and rings and I tend to go for classic looking pieces or more quirky, costume stuff. Examples.

Quirky Costume: Desert Flora Ring from J. Crew
8) A PUPPY! (okay so file this under the super fantasy category, but a girl can dream right?) And one day I will have a Corgi named Norman and he will look like this. 

For whatever reason I am convinced that if I have a cute enough desk calendar then my life will suddenly become organized. And yes, I live in a land of denial, but it is a realllly cute desk calendar.

10) A really great red lipstick. I'm almost 23. It's time I get over my fear of lipstick. So I might as well start my new lipstick life with the best right? NARS Lipstick in Flamenco, Manhunt or Virdiana. (I also have a hard time picking out the shade, so if you're so inclined, view all three of those and pick for me :)
11) To indulge my tennis sports geek self, I would love to own a copy of the Federer Nadal 2008 Wimbledon final. And wonder of our digital, DVD age-it is available-here.

So there it is, my bday list, or at least the list of things I would get in a fantasy universe. But fantasy or not, creating that list helped to stem my shopping craving, and now I'm pretty sure I can hold on till Oct. 17th. Annnd if you do happen to be so included to purchase one of those items on the list (although I do recognize that some of the items are a tad, ahem, pricey, when it comes to those of us not living off of trust funds), well then I'll just love you forever :)

Monday, September 22, 2008

oh those mad men

  So as I was flipping through channels last night, I caught a few snippets of the Emmys. What struck me most from the whole telecast was when the cast of Mad Men went up to get their Emmy for Best Drama Series. I'm a big fan of the show, for its wonderful writing and acting, but also for its absolutely gorgeous period work; every single detail of this show just oozes with the atmosphere and tone of the early 60s. Now it was a little jarring to see the cast in their modern ensembles, gowns and suits and what not, when on the show everyone is constantly decked out in pitch perfect time period clothes. But even in their modern finery, this cast stood out apart from all of the other starlets and television actors in that building. Whoever cast this show did an absolutely fantastic job. Because last night, amidst a sea of mostly plastic and hungry looking actresses and over groomed actors, the men and women of Mad Men recalled a time when men looked like men and women looked like women.  I'll take John Hamm (aka Don Draper), that impossibly masculine hunk of man over a dozen spray tanned CW boys any day. And the lady who plays Joan, well she is just the epitome of what our society should find attractive in a woman-a glorious display of hips and curves and sheer feminine confidence. Sure Mad Men is a period piece, and the actors reflect the looks of that period, but wouldn't it be nice to still live in the world of Man Men (minus the crushing social repression and constant usage of alchohol and tobacco), or maybe to at least be able to visit that world (I think those cone shaped bras might get a little old after a few hours).

Sunday, September 21, 2008

i have to keep writing about this, or else my head will explode

  I know there's probably nothing I could do or say to make a staunch John McCain supporter change their vote. No article, no video, no piece of evidence would probably be able to make any kind of change. But yet, in order not to have my head explode, and so I can sleep (a little) better at night, I have to try. It might be beating a dead horse, but I love this country too much to just do nothing and watch this tidal wave of misinformation and media incompetence and severely misguided hype carry McCain and Palin into the White House. And I know you, fictional John McCain supporter, love this country too. That's why I'm asking you to please, please, please, stop and think and consider what's going to be best for us in these next four years. I'm not asking you to change your policies, but the most disturbing thing to me about McCain's campaign isn't the policies, but the distortions and the falsehoods and the complete and total manipulation of reality to the point where they've actively succeeded in creating an entirely new reality that somehow people have bought into. The whole narrative of the campaign is such complete and utter bull. What alternate reality are we in where Barack Obama, raised by a single mother on food stamps, can be called elitist while John McCain (who doesn't know how many houses he has) is depicted as this gung-ho, blue collar American? What alternate reality are we in where Barack Obama can be called a sexist for a comment about John McCain's economic policies (oh my god he used the word lipstick-well if you have the ability to read or hear you will know that the comment had nothing to do with Sarah Palin or women)? Or what reality is this where Fox News suddenly cares about sexism in the media-and hysterically calls the rest of the media sexist for their blatant and offensive use of the feminine pronoun. I mean how dare someone call Sarah Palin a woman. Nevermind the fact that these same news anchors hurled genuinely offensive and genuinely sexist lobs at Hillary Clinton throughout her entire campaign. This can't possibly be the real world when a nation that identifies Islamic extremism as its greatest threat, has no problem with a potential VP that can be called nothing other than a Christian extremist. That's a funny phrase, not used very often, but when someone has the audacity to actively support creationism and intelligent design being taught in public schools, never mind the fact that that kind of education completely undermines the idea that our church and our state our sepearated (you know just that tiny thought our founding fathers had-not like it was fundamental to the creation of this nation or anything), then that same person is a religious extremist. Someone is an extremist when they support abstinence only sex education in public schools, because as ideal a world as it would be where that could work and where teenagers would miraculously stop having sex, it hasn't worked and it won't. All that does happen with abstinence only sex education is that girls get pregnant and kids get sick. And what kind of morality is that, when to prove some kind of ethical point, you insist that we only teach kids about abstitence in world with staggering AIDS death tolls and teengage pregnancy rates. Not every teenage girl has a family like Bristol Palin who will emotinoally and financially support them if they get pregnant. A lot of teenage girls get kicked out of their houses. A lot of teenage girls get pregnant and never get another chance at education. Yet in our current political atmosphere, a candidate can get lauded for their family values for having a stance on sex education that, if put into policy, has the inevitable result of tearing hundreds and thousands of families apart. I must be dreaming when the idea is floated around that Sarah Palin is a feminist or in any way good for women. And I'm going to say something here, which I am normally pretty private about. I have gone back and forth but in most cases I am morally opposed to abortion, but that doesn't stop me from accepting the fact that Roe v. Wade will not be overturned by John McCain or anyone else. It doesn't stop me from acknowledging the truth that if abortion were somehow made illegal, women would still continue to get abortions, only these abortions would be secretive and often botched and often fatal. Yet Sarah Palin does not acknowledge these things, because the McCain campaign can woo social conservatives by parading around her beliefs on issues that realisitcally will not be focused on after this election. No, Palin (the woman who could possibly be our president remember) even opposes abortion in cases of rape and incest, a position that I find absolutely appalling, as a woman but more than that as a human being. When can I wake up to a world where the idea of diplomacy is what the majority of Americans hope to be the cornerstone of our foreign policy? When will this altnerate universe end where a candidate can blindly grant Israel the moral right to do "whatever it thinks is necessary to defend itself", and not be immediately called out for it. Because that statement is not only ignorant but it's completely wrong. Countries throughout history have committed crimes in the guise of defense, including our own. Defense can be a justification for terrible things, and our leaders cannot give Israel or any other of our allies a blank check for military action, not unless they want to lead us through the horrors of multiple wars. Can I please wake back up to the real world, where a leader cannot be attacked for being inspirational and articulate but rather gets attacked for things like completely misrepresenting their dealings with government earmarks or you know, not having a passport until last year. Or what about that whole not knowing what the Bush Doctrine is? (and if you say she was confused then just watch that interview again because Charlie Gibson had to spell it out for her despite several prompts) I'm just a political science minor and I know what the Bush Doctrine is. Sarah Palin has the potential to be our PRESIDENT.  I know I sound angry, and I know that just makes it harder for me to concinve anyone of anything because no one likes being yelled at, including me. But all I really want is to go back to a place of sanity and calm. And it is my most genuine desire that you, whoever you are, join me. Barack Obama is not the perfect candidate. But come November, he is the candidate we have to choose. There's too much at stake. We're on the edge of something here. I feel it and I know you probably do too. The next four years matter, more perhaps than any four years out of the last fifty. Please, if you're still not convinced, if you still disagree, just look closer. Listen not to Fox News or CNN but to the words coming from the candidates mouths. And then investigate. Search for the truth. Decide. 

Sunday, September 14, 2008

regarding sarah palin

I could not be more disturbed or disheartened by the sudden popularity of Sarah Palin based on nothing more than a fairly good speech and this whole very constructed and very calculated Alaska hockey mom/ pioneer woman/ fierce momma persona. I could not be more disturbed by news stories about women who voted for Hillary Clinton and who are now going to vote for John McCain because of Palin. Any woman who supported Hillary should have supported Hillary for her ideas and policies. And nothing about Sarah Palin comes close to what Hillary Clinton or the Democratic party stands for. But whenever Palin comes up, I get so frustrated and so angry that I turn into a mumbling, inarticulate ball of fury. I can't even string together a complete sentence and just start muttering about Ms. Palin's dangerous and very narrows views on evolution, sex education, global warming, etc. and etc. I try to explain how insane it is that we're taking this person seriously as a potential LEADER OF THE FREE WORLD when she doesn't know what the Bush Doctrine is, thinks Alaska's physical proximity to Russia counts for experience in foreign policy and has the audacity and the ignorance to tell soldiers going off to Iraq that they are going to go fight the people who planned and carried out the 9/11 attacks. All of the things I want to say, all of my comments on how outraged Americans should be by the fact that McCain picked a running mate for primarily political reasons (rather than, you know, picking someone who would best lead our country in case something happens to him) suddenly turn into mush in my mouth and I'm only able to fume and grit my teeth. So because my fury prevents me from being very articulate, I'm going to let some much more articulate writers do my talking for me. If you have the time, please read. You may completely disagree, but at the very least these writers are going to be wittier and more understandable than my nonsensical raving. But before I go, I'm going to come right out and say something. As a woman, I think that John McCain's choice only firms up that glass ceiling of ours. This is definitely an opinion, but in my (very opinionated) opinion, John McCain picked Palin largely to woo (moderate or liberal) women voters away from Obama. And in doing that he's making the assumption that women have so little political intelligence that we would vote for someone regardless of their policies or opinions but based solely on whether or not they wear a skirt. And for that reason alone, I hope his "bold" VP pick comes back and bites him in the ass come November, when all of us liberal ladies vote for someone who shares our political ideas, not just our X chromosomes.

"For those who haven’t noticed, we’re electing a president and vice president, not selecting a winner on 'American Idol.'"

"An Arctic blast of action has swept into the 2008 race, making thinking passé. We don’t really need to hurt our brains studying the world; we just need the world to know we’re capable of bringing a world of hurt to the world if the world continues to be hell-bent on misbehaving."

Annnd please oh please watch the SNL skit at the top. Never has my love for Tina Fey been so pure as when she is putting everything I feel about Sarah Palin into glorious satirical perfection.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

choosing to remember

Today is September 11th, 2008. It has been seven full years since the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, the attacks on our country, and each year this day on the calendar has slowly taken on the trappings of a normal date. Movies open on September 11th. CDs and DVDs come out. People throw parties, and plan meetings and go out to dinner. It's no longer a day where things come to a grinding halt and where normal ceases to exist, the kind of day it was in 2001. We've kept going, we've learned to be okay again.
But no matter how many years pass, September 11th will never just be another day. How could it? How could anyone who lived through those events not feel something on this day? Yet sometimes I worry that the realities of that awful day will fade. I worry that as a nation, we'll choose to forget, let the old wounds heal and the old horrors fade away. It would be self preservation after all, such a basic human instinct, to turn ourselves away from all of those terrible images and memories, to let go of all of those things we should never have had to witness in the first place; a plane going at a full speed into a skyscraper, an enormous cloud of falling debris engulfing buildings and cars and people, a hole in the Pentagon, a crater in a rural field in Pennsyvlania. We should never have had to open a newspaper and see those blurry, wrenching images of indistinguishable people leaning out the windows of the rapidly burning towers, or the even more incomprehensible images of those same people falling to the ground. All of those things were too terrible to hold on to. And that's why I worry that maybe, eventually, we simply won't. But then I remember the simple reason that we will never forget; we'll remember not because we want to, but because we have to, because it's our obligation as Americans yes, but more than that's it's our obligation as human beings. It's one of our most unreasonable traits. Rational animals would purge themselves of painful memories, avoid any and all contact with anything that could bring back that pain. But we humans are stubborn in our completely irrational need to witness those unspeakable, painful moments in our lives and in the lives of our fellow humans. We witness.
On September 11th, I would imagine there wasn't a household in this nation without the television on. They kept showing the same awful things, telling the same awful stories, but we watched because we had to. And in the days after September 11th, we kept watching and reading and listening. We came together in this sad, beauitful way-an entire country of wounded and angry people, bonded forever by the simple fact that we had lived through these days. And in the days and weeks that followed we continued to witness this moment in our history. I remember the first anniversary of September 11th, how memorials and memories were everywhere-dominating the news and people's conversations. No one could believe it had been a year. This moment in our history still loomed too large and too indelible to feel in any way in the past.
But another year came, and then one after that, and while mentions of 9/11 continued, first in news stories and reports, then in books and movies, it became somehow smaller-farther away. The sight of NYC without the towers, so searingly new at first, became more and more familar. And today, while the attacks and the legacy of the attacks are covered in the news, I think it's fairly easy to spend this entire day without hearing or seeing anything about the tragedy. And in that way, it's at least possible, to not remember, or at least to remember only in a distant, vague kind of way. But I believe that distant and vague are no ways to remember 9/11. This happened in our lifetime. Whether or not we like it, 9/11 has defined and will continue to define many of our nation's actions and choices, not to mention it's overall character. It's our obligation to remember what it was really like on that day, how awful and confusing and terrifying it was. But it has become harder, and so a few years back I made a somewhat unconscious choice. Every year for the last few years, around this time, I force myself to read something or watch something that I normally would avoid. Most of the year I would see a movie or a documentary about the attacks on the television and I would hastily flip past it. Because most of the time, I want to avoid bringing back all of those terrible memories. Inevitably if I do watch one of these things or read a lengthy article about the attacks, I end up reduced to a mess of tears. It's been seven years, but at least for me it doesn't take very much for all of the memories of that day and the days that followed to come flooding up to the surface. In one second, I'm fifteen years old again, sitting on the floor of a highschool classroom, watching the teacher's terrified faces around me as the TV at the front of the room shows the towers falling. So most of the year I keep those memories at a polite distance, but around this time, I force myself to come face to face with them again. A couple of years ago I watched a documentary about the efforts to recover personal items from the wreckage of the towers-how a mangled credit card or a pair of handcuffs became sacred to these families because those meager items were all they ever got of the ones they loved. I cried for the entire thing, but I didn't change the channel.
It's painful and unpleasant, but it's necessary. I think it's important that as a nation we do this. We shouldn't wallow in this tragedy or refuse to move on, but I also think we have to realize that moving on doesn't mean healing. 9/11 was too massive, too awful, too close for its wound to ever completely heal. But I do think that if we let ourselves, we can risk forgetting about the old wound entirely.
So this year don't let yourself forget. It's impractical and messy, but that's how we humans are. When you're flipping through channels pause on a documentary about the attacks or a special news report. It's going to hurt and bring all of that stuff back, but it's important. It's important that we remember for all of the people who aren't here to remember. It's important that we share even a tiny fraction of the burden of the grief with the families of those who were lost. It's important that we remind ourselves of how angry and shocked we were, and how often that anger and shock have been manipulated and used in the last seven years for political purposes. It's important that on this day of all days, we take a moment to cry, because while our capacity for endurance is amazing, what's even more amazing is our capacity for compassion. Compassion is what drove firefighters and police men and medical workers to go into two burnings towers without any thought to their own safety. It's what drove perfect strangers to go with a bucket and their hands to a pile of smoking rubble for days and weeks, or to give blood or to donate money, driven only by the simple desire to help. Compassion is what drives memory. It's what forces us to make the choice every day to remember something terrible, with no benefit to ourselves. So today make that choice. And if you need some help, watch the clip at the top. It's from the first Daily Show after the attacks, and it's only going to take about 30 seconds of this clip for you to remember what it was like back then, how raw and shocked we were, and how determined we were, even back then, to move on without ever forgetting.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Indian Summer: Chapter 4

Camels, Dunes and Dung Beetles

I spent my second night in Jaisalmer sleeping on sand dunes underneath the desert sky. Getting there was no easy task. If you've ever ridden a camel then you know why. We started our journey bright and early when an amiable Indian man picked us up at our lovely hotel. Not knowing what one brings on a camel safari (I'm fairly sure Emily Post doesn't cover that), I packed light, concentrating on the basics-sunscreen, water bottles, toilet paper (not a lot of Porta Potties in the Indian desert). After a few stops on the way out of town (one at a gorgeous burial ground built into a hillside where wild peacocks seemed to have taken up permanent residence), we got on the road and drove for an hour or so. The more we drove, the emptier the land around us became, interrupted occasionally by women carrying water or leading goats. After numerous stops to let herds of cows or goats pass in front of the car and after some helpful advice from our driver (to boil it down-he told us we were going to camp that night about 30km from the Pakistani border, thus it wouldn't be too bad of an idea to carry some kind of firearm), we pulled over. The first thing I noticed when we got out of the car were the four camels kneeling a few feet away. Although I'm not sure kneeling is the right word. If you've ever seen a camel at rest you know how strange this posture is-a combination kneel/squat/sit that is supported by the freakish pads on their knees and stomach.
The second thing I noticed was the horde of school children who ran out to greet us. Now here's the thing about Indian children; they're absolutely adorable, but they also are absolutely curious when it comes to Westerners. Whether you're in a city, on a train, or in the middle of nowhere, the sight of someone with pale skin seems something of a rarity or at least a novelty for kids. I feel like being in India was the closest I'll ever come to being a huge celebrity whose main fan base is children-the guy on Blue's Clues if you will. There were a couple dozen kids or so at the camel drop off-and without exception each and every one of those eyes was on us from the moment we got out of the car to the moment we set off atop our camels. These kids didn't seem to know much English, but they did know "hello" and a chorus of Indian accented "hellos" accompanied our every move. We stood awkwardly for a few moments, smiling dumbly at our kiddie audience-until our driver handed us off to our "camel man." I think my first impression of our camel man will be one of the clearest visual memories I have of India, long after some other memories fade. He looked to be about fifty (although I later learned he's probably a good deal younger than this). The skin on his face and arms was very dark and very leathery-the clear result of a life in the sun. He wore a shockingly bright orange turban, made all the more shocking by its contrast to his near black sin. He was dressed in a white t-shirt and pants and a pair of American style flip flops. He seemed at first to be very serious, as he silently went about the task of readying our camels for departure. My first inclination that he might be more than the strong, silent type was when a German tourist who had evidently just finished his own camel safari from the night before (and who our driver was picking up to take back to the hotel) said goodbye to the camel man with a warm bear hug. The driver and the German left in the car and we were alone with our camel man and our camels. Each of us were pointed to our designated camel and helped aboard, Lucy first, then Kevin. And then there was only me and Matullu (as I later learned was my camel's name). I eyed him warily. Camels are not the most approachable of animals. They seem very nonchalant, above it all, content to sit and mindlessly move their jaws in a chewing motion, even without food in their mouths. They are by no means warm and fuzzy. But there was no way in hell I was going to leave the desert without going on this camel safari, so I climbed atop my steed and as instructed, held on. There's a reason you need to hold on tight when a camel stands up. There is no fluidity in this motion, no simple progression from seated to upright. Camels stand up like arthritic senior citizens-with a series of jerky, awkward, wobbly motions. After a seemingly endless process, I was upright on my camel (and very high up I might add). After being joined by another guide (who I later learned was camel man's brother), we set off into the desert on our camels, loaded up with supplies.

For those first few surreal moments we simply walked, our camel man on foot in the front, Kevin on his camel next, then Lucy on her camel, then me, with our other guide walking up and down along side our comical little caravan. I remember distinctly having to tell myself that this was actually happening, that I was in India, on a lumbering camel, walking away from civilization into the desert with two Indian men I had never met before. I couldn't stop giggling at the site of us. There is absolutely no way to look graceful or competent on a camel. You simply have to sit there and lurch to and fro as your camel slowly plods along, seemingly oblivious to your presence on its back and not even bothering to stop when it needs to heed the call of nature (which is shockingly often). After a while we all began to make small talk-sharing backstories, trying to overcome our somewhat different versions of the English language. Camel man began to show his true personality. He handed Kevin the "reins" to his camel (I use the term reins loosely-it's really just a piece of rope with one end tied into, I kid you not, the camel's nostril), started to walk back in the other direction, waved, told us to have fun in Pakistan, then burst out laughing. After that we settled into a nice little steady pace-that is until my camel also began to show his true nature. I noticed my camel lagging increasingly behind, but was really helpless to fix this. From my childhood riding lessons I remembered that horses go when you squeeze their sides but this is not the case with camels. I tried making noises to encourage Matullu, but this also seemed to have no effect. Finally after lagging behind a good twenty yards or so, I called out for help, not wanting to get stranded alone in the Indian desert. Camel man, with a huge grin on his face, trotted back to me. And this is when I unwillingly experienced what it's like to trot on a camel. Without any warning, camel man got my camel to go from snails pace to speed demon (or speed demon by a camel's standards). Now this speed wouldn't be too jarring on most animals, but on a very tall camel it felt like I was hanging on for dear life. By the look on Lucy and Kevin's faces I knew that the sight of me jogging wildly through the desert on a camel to try and catch up with them was somewhat amusing. Their laughter when I reached them confirmed this fact. After that my camel was always tied to a camel in front of me. Matullu clearly could not be trusted when left to his own devices.
After an hour or so of camel trekking, I began to feel the true pain of riding these weird creatures. Camels are both tall and wide. And straddling an animal like this without the assistance of stirrups or foot rests or whatever means having to exert a great deal of strain on your thighs and rear. Combine this with the constant jostling, and you can imagine that it gets uncomfortable very rapidly. So I was very happy when our camel men stopped us in a wide clearing. Now getting down from a camel is just as disconcerting as getting up on one. They have a three step process for sitting down, and so one second you're pitching forward and the next you're almost thrown completely backwards. I was very happy when I ungracefully stumbled off the back of the camel and felt my sore, wobbly legs reach solid ground. As our camels set off to graze, we plopped down underneath a tree while our guides quickly started up a fire to make us chai followed by a delicious lunch. One of the coolest things about this safari were little touches like that, sitting in the desert watching our guide make fresh bread over a fire. There were no prepackaged meals, no generators, no battery operated devices. You can call camel safaris "touristy" only so far as that they're popular with tourists. But that's where the similarity between Indian "touristy" and Western "touristy" ends. There was nothing sanitized or overly regulated about our safari. You'd do something like that in the U.S. and have to sign liability forms and promise not to sue if you fell off your camel. If you sign up for something like that in most places, you'd have a good time, but you'd never really feel like you were doing something truly authentic, something where you were going to get dirty and go a whole day without knowing what time it was and be with guides who only have a tentative grasp on English. The whole time I was on our safari, I was struck by just how far removed it was from my conceptions of what it means to be a tourist; how in most places simply being a tourist means that you're always going to experience things in a removed kind of way. But out there in the desert, I wasn't removed at all. I wasn't protected or restrained or clean. I was out there, truly in it, with all the sand and the bugs and the animals and there was absolutely nothing between me and this land and this experience. It was unbelievable.
After a delicious lunch, our camel man took away our dishes, brought out a thick blanket, and told us, in no uncertain terms, that it was nap time. Like dutiful children we lay back on the blanket, but as tiring as the camel riding was, I couldn't sleep a wink. I stared up at the sky, and listened to the quiet noises around me-our guides murmuring in Hindi, birds fluttering overhead, the deep breaths of a sleeping wild dog who had decided to join our little caravan. It was the perfect day for a safari in the desert-overcast and almost cool at rest. I have no idea how long we lay like that, but after a while we sat up and after a nature pit stop, (which was a big deal for me-I am not a nature pit stop kind of gal) got ready to depart. Back on our camels we rode further into the desert-with patches of rolling sand dunes appearing more and more frequently. We saw antelopes, eagles, wild camels-a whole menagerie of wildlife that I had never before seen outside of a zoo. Once the pain in all of our rumps was beginning to build again, we stopped at the outskirts of a small village. I assumed that we were just stopping to rest and let our camels drink at a small well (which they refused to do-you can lead a horse to water...), but after we wobbled off our camels, our camel man told us to follow him. At the time I thought we were just at a random Indian village. Soon enough, another herd of school children, all identically dressed in blue button down shirts and khaki pants-began to swarm around us. As our guide took us from house to house and up narrow dirt lanes, more and more children began to assemble. The oldest among them were thirteen or fourteen-and they led the pack-with babies as young as four or five keeping up in the rear. Again I was struck by the weird feeling of celebrity, of what it feels like to have your every move scrutinized. I think it might have been in this village that I began to understand the constant stares and the attention that Westerners sometimes get in India or places similar to India. It's not rudeness or even blatant curiosity-it's that Westerns, Americans in particular, represent something to people who live in circumstances that we would decry as extreme poverty in our nation. We represent a different kind of world, a world where even our lowest classes live in conditions that would be luxury in some of these locations. Whether it's accurate or not, we represent a better life, or at the very least a better chance at life. It's at once extremely uncofrotable and very humbling to realize that your very image means something to these kids-a dream world of Coca Cola and Hollywood and wealth. And it's not like these kids were starving or destitute. Their circumstances in relation to the rest of Rahjastan would probably be considered average. They had roofs over their heads at night and families to go home to. But to compare them to children in America-well it's hard to make such a comparison. As they followed us around the village, they kept asking for pens. Cheap, plastic pens-such a throw away commodity here-well in this place, for these kids, pens were a treasure, a stroke of luck. Not to get too introspective here, but I cannot overstate how different the meaning of poverty is in India compared to what it is in this country.

But like I said before, these kids were not by any means destiute. As I walked around the village, I couldn't help but be struck by how happy these people seemed. They didn't have AC or television or a mall or movie theaters or any of those staples of any modern American chidhood. But these children were still happy children. They played the same way happy kids play anywhere. It sort of makes you think twice about necessary ingredients for a happy childhood-and how few of the things we hold as important really are all that crucial Finally our camel man took us to his little compound. (in the village it seemed that individual families had little compounds with three small buildings bordering a central courtyard-as seen below, ps all of the houses here were made of dried camel dung).

By then we had realized that that we were at our camel man's home, and that half the children following us were in some way related to him-nephews and nieces and cousins and possibly grandchildren . Most had trickled off by then but about five remained. Our camel man took us inside his small one room living quarters-and proudly showed us a wall of photographs-pictures of family but also many pictures of the tourists he had taken on safaris. He led us outside into the breezy open air and insisted we sit while he made chai. The remaining children sat directly across from us, and as we carried out a broken English conversation with our guide-they watched us intently-smiling when we smiled, laughing when we laughed. Every few moments our guide would stop and say something to one of the children in their own language-or he would point out a baby wobbling near the doorway and tell us that was his brother's son. This village was so obviously oriented around family. The kids were eager to do whatever their uncle or great uncle or grandfather told them to. With one word, one of the little boys would race off to get cups for our chai or a bottle of water out of the camel man's house, before returning to us with a shy smile. There were no strangers in this small town whose name I never learned. As we sat and drank our chai-surrounded by the relatives of our camel man-he went into his house and took out a small notebook. With heartbreaing sincerity he gave us the notebook, along with a pen. When I opened it, I saw more than a hundred messages scrawled across the crinkled pages-heartfelt thank yous from the other tourists he had brought to his home over the years. I wrote my own thank you, and it's a special feeling to know that it's still there, preserved in a notebook, in an anonymous village outside of Jaisalmer, waiting for the next foreigner to pass by it over his or her cup of chai.
After our rest in the village we set off again-this time accompanied by several more of camel man's brothers/cousins/nephews. We walked down a dirt road for at time, before veering off the path. I was actually in front this time. I suspect that the guides knew that the only way my camel would not be left in the literal dust would be if he was in front with the other camels tied behind him. I was handed the reins as all but one of our guides peeled off to meet up with another tour group who were going to the sand dunes for sunset only. My guide was beside me, but he told me when to steer right or left, and I started to feel somewhat cocky. Here I was, on a camel in the desert, and I was steering this ornery animal to perfection. I was in the lead-in charge-with the other camels following me and Matullu's lead. I'm not sure when it was but at some point I maybe neglected to steer, and then realized that Matullu was turning and changing direction completely on his own. And then a few moments later he turned again. The damn thing was on auto-pilot. I could have taken a nap and he would have gotten us to the sand dunes. So much for my awesome camel wrangling abilities. Recovering from my initial disapointment, I enjoyed the rest of the bumpy ride as we pulled closer and closer to the dunes.

And then we were there. With my thighs and rear hurting beyond belief, I once again tumbled very gracefully off my camel (i.e. practically fell sideways) and looked around. We were on the edge of some pretty vast dunes, the kind of desert you picture in your head when you think of India or any other Asian/Middle Eastern locale. Hesitant at first, we all walked around close to where our camels were being relieved of their burdens. But then our guide told us to go ahead and explore. We were at the end of our journey-the destination we had traveled for so long to reach. We arrived at sunset on an overcast day-thus no real sunset. But I couldn't have cared less. The three of us started walking together-but without any kind of decision we began to drift and follow our own paths. I walked slowly at first, up and down the windswept dunes-keeping sight of our guide and our camels. But after one particularly steep dune, I looked up and their was nothing-no one, no anything. All above me were mountains of rolling sand-bathed in shadows from the retiring sun. There wasn't even sound. It was spectacularly windy (more on that later), but the second the wind died-there was silence like you wouldn't believe-silence so full and so complete that I had to take a moment to accept the fact that until that moment I had never really experienced silence. When I reached the top of a dune,the landscape was still completely empty. Because of all of the hills and slopes in the dunes, most of the time you couldn't see anyone, even if another person wasn't all that far away. I turned completely around and in every direction there was empty land. And then I started to feel it-this irrepressible, giddy kind of joy. I raced down another dune-no longer going slowly like I did at first. Sliding I reached the bottom of an even deeper slope. Taking a running start I raced back up in a different direction-the cool orange sand slipping and sliding beneath my bare feet. Every once in a while I would catch a glimpse of Lucy or Kevin, or see the camels grazing in the distance, but most of the time I was on those dunes I was the only person on the planet-or at least that's what it felt like. At the time, I remember distinctly thinking that this was the closest I would ever get to knowing what it feels like to walk on the moon. This place was just so silent and so empty and so untouched. But the silence and the emptiness-all of those things we humans tend to avoid like the plague-they weren't scary or lonely-they were quite the opposite-they were invigorating and beautiful.

At one point my 22 year old self just started giggling. I couldn't control it. There was just no other possible reaction to where I was, to what I was experiencing. Can you remember the last time you experienced something so new and so purely joyful that the only response you could muster was a giggle? Most of the time we're so overly articulate (or at least I am) and overly thoughtful and overly analytical that we talk and think and squeeze the childlike glee out of everything. But for the first time since I could remember, I just giggled and laughed and felt freely, wonderfully alive. I've had a wonderful life with so many special moments, but what it felt like, to be alone, running around on those dunes-well there's really no word in this language to describe it. I could have stayed there forever, racing along the dunes as the sun sunk slowly into the sky. It was one of the most, if not the most, awesome (and awesome in its true sense-not in surfer dude slang) experiences of my life.
After the sky darkened enough that it was hard to see my footprints in the sand, I somewhat reluctantly returned to our camp site.

We had reunited with our camel man and some other men and boys from the village-and as it grew darker and darker, we sat and watched them cook our wonderful meal, trading small talk as gracefully as our ignorance of their language and their somewhat flawed version of ours could allow. Full and sleepy, we huddled by the fire as our camel man and his brother joined us. They sang us some of their folk songs-hauntingly flawed and human sounding melodies. Kevin sang them some Neil Diamon (they loved it). After that our camel man regaled us with his favorite stories of various tourists who had spent the night in the desert with him. His face split into a wide grin and his eyes crinkled as he merrily recounted the story of Japanese tourists who were so horrified at the lack of toilet paper that he had to cut up his turban for them to use. He told us of a European couple who got completely wasted out in the desert and danced and sang around the campfire until 2am. He told us of all the tourists he had scared with his warnings of the (imaginary) tigers out in the wild. I was struck by how much this man seemed to love his job, particularly the aspect of his job that allowed him to meet people from all over the world and spend 24 hours with them in such an intimate, unique setting. After the stories we played some games which we Americans all lost miserably, and then it was time for bed.
I have never been camping period, and my first camping experience did not include a tent or lights or anything like that. Nope, for my first camping trip, I slept over one blanket and underneath another, with nothing else between me and the desert sky. Now I wish I could say it was the best sleep of my life. But well, like I mentioned before it was a wee bit windy. Let's just say I now know what it's like to be sand blasted. Every hour or so I woke up with a wave of sand blown directly in my mouth or hair. But I couldn't even be that worried or angry. Every part of this experience was so distinct and special, that I took it all-the sand and the little dung beetles that were everywhere (I actually grew quite fond of these rather pleasant, hard-working little bugs). I woke up with sand in my teeth and in my nose and in every other possible crevice-but I also woke up with a smile. After some chai, I took one last walk through the dunes-wishing I could spend an entire day or an entire week exploring them. Our camels were recovered (sidenote, camels, even with their two front legs tied together-can go an extraordinarly far distance), we got saddled up, and our sore selves started the ride back. By 11 am we had reached the drop off site, and with a hug we said goodbye to our wonderful guides. It's easy to forget that one of the best reasons for traveling is to meet new people from new cultures. Personally, I've gone on vacations and have stayed inside my bubble, only really interacting with my travel companions. But that's a shame, because travel isn't just about seeing new places, but about meeting and learning from new people. Because the only way you're going to even come close to understanding a place is by really talking to someone who grew up there. I think of Rajahstan and of Jaisalmer and sure I have a collection of memories consiting of beautiful buildings and landscapes. But I think those will fade in time. What I hope will never fade is my memory of a crinkled, grinning, dark brown face poking out from beneath a towering, blindingly orange turban. Long after all of the forts and palaces are faded in my mind, I hope I remember the sound of the songs our guides sang to us-the way their clear, flawed voices cut through the utter silence of the world around us.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Gossip Girl vs. 90210

So I promise I'll get back to my Indian adventure in due time (next up...me on a very pokey camel), but I must pause briefly to discuss a matter of inordinate importance to our society-and of course I refer to the season premieres of Gossip Girl and 90210. Sure I may technically be out of my teen years, but that doesn't stop me from having an unhealthy attachment to teen programming, so I relished the chance to see new episodes of Gossip Girl and to get a first look at the retooling of one of the great television shows of all time, Beverly Hills 90210 (for proof simply tune to Soap Net anytime between 5-7; it's all there: the spandex, Dylan, Donna Martin-the ultimate teenage angst soap opera in all of its 90s neon glory, or see below for a quick reminder.

But 90210 (the new edition) failed in my mind to even come close to its predecessor. Here's why.

1) The main character Annie is no Brenda Walsh. Sure, Annie's supposed to play the Brenda-ish part of a naive Midwesterner suddenly transplanted to scandalous Beverly Hills-but whereas Brenda was actually interesting on occasion (come on, love her or hate her, you've gotta admit Shannon Doherty was never bland), this Annie chick is as harmless (and as fascinating) as a guinea pig. And did you see the scene where she dances? I had to change the channel I was so embarrassed-for her, for me, for anyone whose minds were unwillingly implanted with the image of all that dorky, white girl stomping and flailing.

2) Ethan or whatever his name is no Luke Perry. I mean who could really top Dylan? But this kid doesn't even come close. Not only is he "eh" in the looks category, but he has zero charisma, zero charm, and pines away for that Annie girl when he's with the much hotter and much more interesting Naomi. I mean really?

3) All of these girls are way too skinny. Okay this may not really impact the show all that much, but watching last night I was struck by the fact that every lead girl in this show is not only actress thin, but dangerous, Nicole Richie kind of thin. I know realistically that no actress nowadays is going to wear higher than a size 2, but a show about teenagers that is targeting primarily teenage girls is (and yeah I'll say it) irresponsible to cast actresses whose combined weight is less than that of one plus sized model. And to be more realistic, even more impressionable preteens are going to watch this show. I was eight or nine when I caught my first episodes of the original series. But as thin as Kelly Taylor and Brenda Walsh were, they at least had semblances of healthy bodies. These girls look like it costs them effort to lift their stilletos off the ground.

4) The original series featured outfits that were cool then and ridiculous now. The new series features outfits that are ridiculous now and cool never-I'm sorry-I don't care if Lindsay Lohan wears it-high waisted denim shorts and legwarmers with a mini are not okay under any circumstances.

5) There's nothing organic about this series-it's an over produced, over polished piece of fluff that forces characters together instead of trying to build authentic relationships or conflict. The original 90210 was by no means high art-but it's a classic piece of television because at least in its first few seasons it had (occasional) moments that were relatable and real.

Now Gossip Girl on the other hand is one of my favorite guilty pleasures. And you could critcize it with a lot of the same points I criticized 90210 with if only it weren't such an intentional and brilliant piece of satire. Gossip Girl is supposed to create a world that could only exist in a heightened reality. Whereas you watch 90210 and feel that the creators hope to convince their audience that their characters could exist, you know that the Gossip Girl writers are setting out to create a decadent, lavish and highly fictional world. It's not a show about what it's like to be a teenager on the Upper East Side. It's a show about what everyone thinks its like to be a teenager on the Upper East Side. From Chuck-a sixteen year old lothario clad in bright red trench coats and arglye socks to Jenny-a fifteen year old social climber who lies and steals her way into the upper echelon's of her school's hierarchy-the whole thing is just a highly entertaining and highly addictive old school soap opera. It honestly and boldy strays away from realism and morality without any apologies. And it shouldn't apologize, because anyone who watches Gossip Girl and thinks it reflects real life is probably not old enough to be watching television past 8pm in the first place. And to be completely superficial for a moment (but when discussing Gossip Girl it's only right to be so), Gossip Girl wins time 5,000 in terms of general cast gorgeousness (bonus points for the fact that the girls are skinny but Blake Lively has, gasp, hips). I mean have you seen that Vanity Fair picture? You know what, even if you haven't you should-so just take a peek.

So there's my input in one of the most important debates of our time, Gossip Girl vs. 90210. I hope this has been educational.
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