Tuesday, October 28, 2008

I am absolutely in love with John Hamm. He is pitch perfect in Mad Men. I mean the scene where he finally, finally, admits to Betty that he "disrespected" her, this man who has built his entire identity on the supression of the truth finally being honest because he realizes that the perfect life he has envisioned is actually the life he wants. And it's all there on his face in that one moment, this desperate kind of hope that he can still fix things mixed with a deep, profound kind of sadness over how much he has hurt the people he loves. It's the kind of television that makes you sit up and sit in silence even after the show ends, just marveling at the brilliance of it all. As Don Draper, John Hamm is just wonderful and devastating. I agree completely with the weird bohemian in the third to last episode who tells him that her father likes him because "he doesn't talk much and he's beautiful." Which if you have eyes then you know is true. And then wonder of all wonders, I find out that my biggest TV crush is also funny. For proof just watch the above clip. I know I've sort of harped on Mad Men lately, but I can't get over how wonderful this show is. The season finale which aired on Sunday was something television shows rarely are; filled with quiet moments, some small, some large but none of them earth shattering, but which looked back on, amounted to something utterly meaningful and quietly momentous. It's a show about sad people living in a deceptively simple time. It's not nostalgia in the way we know it, where we recall fondly a golden age. It's about broken people who are only starting to notice the broken parts of the world around them. At first glance it's a show about the beauty and the gloss and optimism of the early 60s. But on closer inspection, it's really about the consequences of the fact that these things are crumbling right before the audience's and the characters eyes. It's a period show, where both the audience and the characters expect a perfect early 60s world that never really existed, and in its place find something far rarer, a living world with pain and sadness and above all beauty.

Sunday, October 26, 2008


 This is officially the last time in my life I will live anywhere with any kind of homeowner's association. I knew our little marsh side townhouse community had one, had heard rumors of their issues with left out garbage cans, but until today I hadn't really seen their presence. And all it took was the tiniest intrusion of their presence to get me all up on my high horse and outraged. I was forwarded a nasty little letter from my landlord from I guess the "head" of the homeowners' association. Apparently these people have been snooping around behind our townhouse, because they took great issue with the "lumber and plywood" left in or around our back porch, because it does not apparently meet the lovely standards of these homes. First of all, that's creepy that these people have been snooping around our porch, because there's no way you can see it from the front of the houses. If I had seen one of them out there taking pictures or notes or whatever I probably would have thought they were casing the place and called the police. I sort of wish that had happened. Second of all, this "lumber" consists of two fairly small pieces of wood that were there when we moved in three months ago! Third of all, just ughh! I had no idea just how angry it would make me to have perfect strangers complain about the state of my house, when their issues are so incredibly minor and which affect absolutely no one but us, the people who you know, pay rent. 
Okay, maybe I'd understand if we had an entire living room set out on our front lawn, or if we decided it would be nice to start drying our bras from our front porch. I could see the need for interference if me and Laura, out of boredom and a need for some cash, decided to turn our house into a meth lab, or if out of the goodness of our hearts we ran a soup kitchen out of the living room for all of Charleston's homeless population. Even then I'm inclined to say it's no one else's damn business, but I guess I could see that from their stand point it detracts from the attractiveness of the homes and might be enough to drive prospective buyers away (meth labs and homeless people walking about aren't exactly selling points, or not for everyone at least). 
    But for God's sake! These people found the need to send a letter of complaint because we have two small pieces of wood leaning against our back porch that not even our next door neighbors could see unless they stood immediately behind our house. And what if we did leave that wood there on purpose. What if that's where we like to keep our plywood. I could be a carpenter. They don't know. There aren't any garages on the property so maybe I need to keep my supplies outside where they're out of the way. What if we're trying to build a boat? We do live on a marsh after all. And these obviously bored and power mad people think that they have the right to tell us to junk the stuff because it doesn't meet their aesthetic standards? And the thing that sucks, is they do have the right. I didn't have to live somewhere with one of these annoying little associations whose main purpose in life is to keep tabs on the height of blades of grass or the tidiness of someone's deck. But it doesn't mean I'm not angry. And now I know, more than ever before, that I could never live in one of those neighborhoods were people measure the length of your flagpoles or force you to buy a certain style mailbox, or bring out the angry mobs with pitchforks if you have the audacity to want to paint your house something other than cream or beige. How do people put up with it, especially if you own your own house. There's something so absurd and wrong about a little group of people having the authority to tell grown adults what to do with their well earned property. This is America isn't it? Aren't land and individualism and property some of our most prized assets? Don't we have the right to uglify our houses till our heart's content? So my question is why do we submit to it? And the only thing I can think of is that the people who happily live in these little suburban dictatorships enjoy it. And again I'm not talking wanting your neighborhood to look nice. This isn't having a problem with an entire used car lot being on your neighbor's front lawn. That's understandable. This is having a proplem with someone's choice of garden decorations (yeah you gnome hating people I'm talking to you), or getting all hot and bothered when you think someone is painting their house too flashy a color. You know what? Get over it. Mind your own house and your own business and unless your neighbor puts up a 50 foot statue of Hitler, then just deal.
  I meanwhile, will always run screaming from now on when I heard the words homeowners association. I don't care if they have their good points (they do come by and keep things tidy out in front of the townhouses). It's simply not worth it to me. The only capacity in which these kind of groups should exist is when historical houses need protection. And even then these little associations can go a little power mad, and try to bully people over things they should stay out of. I've seen that firsthand in the Fan in Richmond where painting a house an unusual color can turn into a full scale war. So maybe it's impossible to avoid. Whether you live in the suburbs or the city there's always going to be nosy people trying to tell you how to tend to your own home. But personally, all those kind of intrusions make me want to do is do the exact opposite of what these people want. Right now it's taking all my willpower not to go to Lowe's and buy every piece of plywood I can afford and make a pyramid of it next to the porch. I'll pay the stupid 25 dollar fine if it means keeping my dignity (or at least until I calm down enough to accept the fact that I'm so broke my dignity unfortunately is not worth 25 dollars). So maybe I will trash the stupid "lumber" that no one but us can see and which isn't even mine. But I won't be happy about it. And I will do my darndest, whenver I can afford to actually buy a home, to buy one in a place where people have better things to do than send out mean letters about porch tidiness. Because really, all of you homeowner nazis out there, stop creepily snooping around my townhouse and GET A LIFE! 

Friday, October 24, 2008

life lesson learned

Online shopping + two glasses of wine =

i.e. Ralph Lauren riding boots I cannot afford but which I have been coveting desperately-earlier today I almost ordered them and stopped myself, but then thanks to that evil Pinot Grigio-well I couldn't help myself-and now a pair is on the way to my apartment-I have a problem, never again will I do the unthinkable-online shop under the influence of wine-unfortunately I learned that lesson too late

Thursday, October 23, 2008

why this has been a good week

  So I may have woken up on Sunday primed for a self-pity fest (for various reasons, none of which are very important or which I really care about anymore)-but several factors have contributed to make this week a really good one. In no particular order:

1) My dinner tonight-which features a new recipe I cooked for the first time Monday night:

The new recipe was stuffed chicken, which I love but had never cooked before. It's actually super easy, especially because at Harris Teeter you can buy chicken breasts that are already pre- sliced to be super thin so you don't have to mess with that whole pounding chicken breasts with a mallet thing. So all I did was put some fresh basil (also a highlight of this week-today at Earth Fare I found live basil which you can buy-basically a basil plant with its roots submerged in water in a little plastic bag and which you can keep alive in your kitchen-awesome because I ADORE fresh basil; I think the best and most valuable thing I've learned about cooking thus far is that fresh herbs and dried herbs are absolutely not the same thing). So anywho you add about half a cup of basil, two cloves of garlic and some olive oil (I don't really know an exact amount-just whatever looks good) into a food processor-process it all up-and then you have a nice sauce to dress your chicken breasts with. You dress both sides, then spoon however much goat cheese you want onto the middle of the chicken breast. Then you just fold it up, wrap it in foil, put it on a baking sheet, stick it in the oven at 350 for 20 minutes and voila-yummy stuffed chicken breat. And super healthy too. Which is good because I'm attempting to go carb free, at least for every meal except breakfast. So that together with one of my weekly staples-romaine salad with my tasty homeade ceaser dressing (lots and lots of salty delicious anchiovies) made me very happy. And I don't have to hate myself in the morning for it-always a plus.

2) 30 Rock Season 2 on DVD-a bday treat-and I have already realized time and again that if I'm ever feeling blue for whatever reason-30 Rock is the best way to feel good again. Because Liz Lemon is the most relatable and realistic and coolest woman on television-or at least she is for me. Some girls might be able to relate to Blake Lively on Gossip Girl or even Pam Beesley on the Office, but my messy, disorganized, clumsy, wine swilling, always on the verge of falling apart self-well Liz Lemon will always be my personal hero.

3) Feeling like a real journalist. I finally bought a voice recorder after realizing that interviewing someone with a notepad and pen-despite being quaint and old fashioned-really isn't the best way to get accurate quotes. So I got a voice recorder (also a bday gift) and used it on a real life interview Tuesday afternoon (at a Starbucks no less) and well, it was awesome. I could actually listen to what my interviewee was saying, without worrying about writing everything down, and just having the recorder (and yeah this is geeky to admit), being able to carry it around in my purse, and being able to put it on the table during the interview, well it made me feel like a real journalist for well, the first time ever. A couple of freelance articles a month is hardly a full time job-but these tiny snatches I get of what my life could be like, make me really excited for the future. If somehow, I manage to pull my life together and actually make a career of this crazy thing called writing-well I've got a really good chance at being happy doing it-even if I end up writing about things like mountain biking or recently invented sports.

4) Sunday night's episode of Mad Men-if you haven't watched this show, please just On Demand it or ITunes it or Hulu it or do something to expose yourself to the brilliance that is Mad Men. It's devastatingly good. It's somehow poetic and insightful while always, primarily, being entertaining. The acting is fantastic. The cinemetography is consistently stunning. And if you care about none of that just tune in for the costumes and period detail-because it's all impeccable. It's one of those shows that I point to whenever someone has the audacity to say that television is meaningless or just fluff. Television, when done right, like Mad Men, can be the purest kind of art.

5) Jon Stewart's vendetta against Sarah Palin. He puts everything I feel into words and makes it funny. He takes all of the anger and frustration and turns it into comedy while never letting go of the undercurrent of visceral outrage. Sure it would be nice if we could politely converse all the time, but when Sarah Palin is out there talking about the "real America" and how certain, "small town" parts of the country are the only parts that have "real American values", well then politeness no longer cuts it. Jon Stewart is pissed. I'm pissed. We should all be pissed.

for whatever reason I couldn't embed this

6) The overall realization that it is impossible to feel sorry for yourself if you live in Charleston, because this is the view from my porch:

And on Sunday afternoon I went with my parents to Botany Bay Plantation-which has been privately owned until this year and is for the first time ever open to the public. At one time it was the largest plantation on the East Coast-and it feels that way. It's on Edisto Island and it might as well be the whole island-once you're inside the place you feel like you're on a completely different continent-a land of massive live oaks covered with spanish moss that grow side by side with palmetto trees, a land of marshes and salt air and dirt paths. You half expect Rhett Butler to come riding up at any moment. It's this unbelievable mix of old South plantation and desert island. The beach there alone is worth the 45 minute car trip. In a world of ocean front developments, of resorts and golf courses, the beach lining Botany Bay Plantation is a stretch of complete solitude. A tangly, wild forest towers over the shore which is covered with the biggest, smoothest shells you've ever seen. You can turn your head both ways and there aren't any houses. There aren't any hotels or shops or piers or mansions. There's just sand and trees and water. It could easily double for the beach in Lost. I've been to Rome, to Venice. I've been to the deserts of India and the mountains of the Himalayas. I've stood besides the Eiffel Tower and stood on the coast of Normandy. But I have yet to visit a place that exceeds the Lowcountry in beauty. And the fact that I live here-well how could I possibly feel sorry for myself for an extended period of time in a place like Charleston?

Monday, October 13, 2008

Who Am I?

 I have to confess something terrible. I cannot tell you how much this has disturbed me, how disorienting it has been. I don't know which way is up anymore, what the difference is between right and wrong. I don't even know what kind of person I am anymore-if anything I believe in is real. I've been torn over whether or not to say anything, whether I should keep this buried deep within layers and layers of shame. I could hide it away, and never mention it until one day when I'm eighty it would just come spewing out at the birthday party of some grandchild when we're eating cake. But then I'd have to just live with this, and that, well that I don't think I can do.


Okay I just threw up in my mouth a little bit writing that sentence. Then I went and wept in a corner for a little while. But I'm back now, and well it's out. I can't hide it anymore. It started so innocently. I was on the way home from work and I heard the radio DJ introduce the new Nickeback song, and immediately I gagged and lunged for the button to change the station. But then I heard the first few seconds of it, and my finger hesitated. It sounded like, well it sounded, okay I guess. I mean obviously I would hate it because Nickelback represented everything wrong with the music industry, no scratch that, everything wrong with the world. They were the epitome of generic and every single song of their's sounded not only identical to one another but identical to every song ever written by one of Nickelback's counterparts-you know the bands I'm talking about-gravelly voiced singers whose vocals sound like they're trying to pass gas, depression lite lyrics, songs that basically make you want to pierce your own eardrums if only to make the music stop. So I listened for a little while longer, ready to ridicule, ready to mock, ready to hate. But none of those things happened. I felt like the Grinch waiting for the little Who's to wail and moan, but instead he hears them singing. Until that moment I would never classify what Nickelback does as anything remotely relating to singing. But listening to their new song, well they were singing. And then, to my horror, I not only didn't hate the song, well I kind of liked it. I listened to the entire thing, and then when it was over I went into a deep shame spiral and told myself it was just a momentary lapse, that I would hear the song again, hate it, and all would be right in the world again. But then the next day I heard it on the radio again, and like some kind of junkie, I just couldn't turn away. I listened to it from beginning to end, and I didn't hate it. I liked it again, and worse of all, I liked it even more. It was fun and upbeat, with a great anthem type chorus. It was a freaking good pop song. It sounded like the love child of Matchbox 20 and U2.

So that's my confession. My soul is no longer burdened by this dark, painful secret. Here and now I have admitted it. I like a Nickelback song. When I hear it on the radio, I turn the volume up. I don't know what this makes me. I'm not sure about anything anymore. What's next? Am I going to start recording episodes of Paris Hilton's BFF show on MTV? Will I line up for the Beverly Hills Chihuahah movie this Friday? How bad will this get? How low can I possibly sink? I'm not sure of anything anymore. But I have to hope that admitting I have a problem really is the first step. God willing, with time, I will regain my Nickelback gag reflex. God willing the world will make sense once more.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Indian Summer: Chapter 5


So it's been a while since I wrote about my Indian journey, but a few things in the news lately have brought it back to the forefront of my mind. Last I left off, I had just gotten off a camel in Jaisalmer and was about to travel by train once again through the desert to the city of Jodhpur, also in the area of India known as Rahjastan. We were in Jodhpur for one night, one full day, and my memory of the place is full with images of blue stained buildings, towering forts, desert expanses and peaceful temples. Yet a few days ago, other images have been crowding for place in my mind when I think of Jodhpur. I went onto the New York Times website a couple of days ago and saw near the bottom of the page a small headline. 163 killed in stampede in India. There was a time when I might not have clicked on the link. But now when I see a story about India, I look closer. I had to reread the beginning of the article a few times to process that the stampede had happend in Jodhpur, at the gates of its famous and beautiful fort. A little more than 6 weeks ago, I walked the same path where all of those people died. This is sort of a depressing way to start this post, but I guess I just needed to explain how strange it is now to read about these terrible things happening in India, whether it's terrorist bombs going off in the same area where we stayed in Dehli or a deadly stampede in Jodhpur. These things recieve so little coverage here in the US, and that may never change. But after traveling to India, and meeting the people and getting closer to the culture, I can never just see a headline about India in a detached way again. And if that's not an advantage of travel, then nothing is. Travel opens up the world, but it also makes the world smaller, in the best possible way. It creates bridges and ties people together. We should never be detached about death or destruction, not when it happens to other humans. And by never traveling, its possible to tune out the rest of the world, to convince yourself that we're all so different and that the people over there are not like the people here. And in that way you can be detached, even apathetic. So if for no other reason, travel in order to widen your capacity for empathy. Travel so that you can never tell yourself something is somehow less awful or less sad just because it happened to someone on the other side of the world.

So now on to far less depressing subjects! So as per usual, we got from Jaisalmer to Jodhpur by train. And my sister, Lucy, thought it might be fun for us to travel at least once in true Indian fashion, i.e. in the non-AC, lowest category possible car of a train. She has a lot of friends from India, and they all told her that at least once it was worth it to experience the craziness of that journey, and our trip to Jodhpur was only six hours (a milisecond compared to all of our other voyages). I was skeptical about journeying through the Indian desert without AC. Yet I consented. However, we soon learned when we got to the station, that because we were tourists, even though we tried to book ourselves in the coachiest coach class there was, the operators of the train wouldn't even let us on those cars (where apparently goats are passengers and formal seating is not in any way guaranteed). I thought that was hillarious, because it's polar opposite from the United States. Can you imagine the uproar if our government coddled and upgraded tourists and foreigners at every oppurtunity, while booting locals to the bottom of the barrel? Yet, after India, I think it's kind of nice. It shows some nice southern hospitality in my opinion. So we got upgraded to a car that had seat numbers and sleepers (although it was no AC-and that wasn't so much a problem, because it wasn't too hot, the real problem was the fact that all of the open windows in the car let in the contents of the Indian desert-it was dusty to say the least). But it was a cool experience, because while we weren't in the bare bones car, our car did have a lot fewer tourists and a lot more actual Indians. Once again, Lucy, Kevin and I learned what it must feel like to be a celebrity. After the first hour or so of the ride I got used to everyone on the entire train staring at us when they walked by. But the coolest part of the ride was meeting the couple who were seated across from us. They got on a few stops after us, a youngish looking man with dark features and a very pretty younger looking woman with a beauitful sari. I remember watching them, and one of my first impressions was how in love they looked. I wish I had a picture of this woman's smile when she looked at her husband. It was the quintessintial, absolutely, 100%, completely in love kind of smile. It was unbelievably sweet. After a little while, our two parties struck up a conversation. The man and Kevin hit it off particularly well. Indian men everywhere seemed to love Kevin. I think they were all impressed and intrigued by his height. We found out the man was a lawyer (that meant there were three lawyers total in our little space on the train-I seem to find myself surrounded by lawyers a lot in life). He told us about his brother in DC. We told him about where we had been in India and where we were going. We found out that his wife was a teacher. And somehow the conversation turned and we found out that this beautiful husband and wife were the product of an arranged marriage. I was stunned. It's one of things you hear about India, one of the examples of its backwardness, but it wasn' t something I could ever really wrap my head around. It just was so different from all of our concepts of love and marriage here in the US. In my mind I linked arranged marriages with unhappiness, with commanding husbands and meek, timid wives. Yet this couple were none of those things. They were happy. You could look at them from a hundred miles away and be able to tell that, in the way she looked at him or the way he looked at her, in the way she rested her head in his lap half way through the trip. It was one of those moments where your conceptions of something are just blown to bits. Now, I know that not all arranged marriages are going to be like this one, and it would be just as naive of me to think they're all happy and perfect as it would be for me to think they're all horrible. But as we talked to this couple about their arranged marriage, about how the people in their lives who knew them best were responsible for finding them a match, about how they had met before the wedding and gotten to know each other and that nothing was forced or rushed, well it would have been impossible for me to hold onto my judgements about that aspect of Indian culture. It's so easy to get on a pedestal and judge other cultures for what we percieve as being undemocratic or close minded, but until you've quite literally sat across from someone from one of those cultures and heard them explain it, then I think the pedestal needs to be stowed away.

So after our illuminating and very dusty train ride, we arrived in Jodhpur. It was already dark, but as we sped away from the train station (of course in an auto rickshaw), I could already tell that I was in a much bigger city than Jaisalmer, but still not in a place as sprawling and insane as Dehli. After a few minutes, the roads started to narrow and we started going uphill, and I could tell we were getting more into an old town kind of area. We pulled into a little cul-de-sac, and once the herd of cows cleared (I am telling you these bovine menaces are EVERYWHERE), we saw our nice little hotel. I wish I could remember the name, because this hotel was just so awesome, with an incredibly kind and helpful staff. After six, dusty hours on a train, all we really wanted was some food and a cold beer, so we climbed up a very steep flight of stairs to the hotel's rooftop restaurant. And even through the darkness, I was stunned by what I saw. High above us, almost on top of us, was this enormous fort erupting from the rock and stone beneath it. It towered in the true sense of the word. We weren't at the highest point in the town, but even the houses on the higest elevation, directly beneath the fort, were just dwarfed by this thing. A giant, vertical cliff rose straight up from the ground, and perched atop this cliff was just a maze of walls and towers and turrets or whatever the things in forts are called. We all stood, dumbstruck, for a few solid minutes, just craning our heads upwards to take in the sheer size of the thing, how it seemed impossibly far away in height but also impossibly close-this massive piece of God and man made rock looming above the winding town beneath it. After we picked our jaws off the floor, we sat, ordered some yummy food and the requisite Kingfisher beer, and surveyed the world around us. Like Jaisalmer, Jodphur seemed to be a city of rooftops. Spread out around us was seemingly an entire population living outside underneath the stars. There were couches on roofs, televisions on roofs, babies on roofs, parties on roofs. The obvious reason was because it was so much cooler out on a roof than it was inside, but part of me suspects that the people of Jodhpur, even after living their entire lives in its shadow, just couldn't get enough of that view.

(Disclaimer: I did not take this photo. I know this might be a little on the obvious side considering most of you know I don't zip around in a helicopter or have the gift of flight-but thought I'd make sure since all of the other India pictures are indeed my own, unless otherwise stated. I put this one up here because more than any of my own photos, it shows how this fort absolutely towers over the little blue town beneath it)

So after a refreshing night of sleep in our giant room, we set off to take in the sights of Jodhpur-well at least we set off after spending our first hour of the day in an internet cafe trying to book trains, planes etc. and the second hour of the day in a travel agent's office waiting for their snails pace internet to secure us a flight home from Manali later in our trip. Sidenote: without question the most arduous, most tedious, most difficult part of the whole trip was when we had to actually sit down and book things-internet everywhere is interminably slow-like early 90s internet was just invented slow. Plus a lot of travel in India can't be booked online, which means calling places or going in person. It's all an ordeal. In my experience the hardest parts about traveling are the times when things that you've grown accusmted to being easy prove to be extremely involved and difficult in a foreign setting. I can't tell you how many hours we wasted looking for internet cafes, trying to go online in internet cafes, searching our guide book for prices and fares, etc. and etc. So note to self for the future-book as much as possible ahead of time. End sidenote. So after all of that we made our way up to Jodhpur's main attraction-the fort. As you can see in the pictures-this fort is absolutely massive. It's not inhabited like Jaisalmer's fort so the whole thing is basically one big museum, but the coolest, most living, breathing alive kind of museum you can imagine. You walk around and you feel like you're completely transformed to a different time. Like in Jaisalmer the fort is where the maharajah's hung out. I'd heard of maharajah's before, mainly in Disney movies about little princesses, but I had no idea that the entire institution of maharajah's in India is still going. It's sort of like in England where it's basically in title only (India being a democracy and all-autonomous kingdoms with their own rulers would sort of disrupt that process), but from what I saw, these rulers still live very grandly-albeit not in giant forts towering over cities. So we walked around for a good few hours on our little audio tour in the fort-climbing up stairs and down winding stone ramps, and everything about this place was fascinating. The audio guide talked about how dozens of armies had tried to invade the fort but how none had ever succeeded, despite using stampeding elephants to try and break down the walls. I also learned about the very sad and very awful custom of bride burning which had gone on in this area until way too recently. The last bride to have burned herself-bedecked in finery and painted in saffron-she left handprints in the walls of the fort as she walked toward her death. Those prints are still there today. From what I saw in India, museums aren't as prevalent as in some places in the West-or at least museums in the way we know them. There aren't a lot of huge, modern buildings filled with huge spaces filled with cultural and historical treasures. But in India it doesn't seem very necessary to go to a museum in order to be transported to the past. In places like Jodhpur it's simply alll around you. You can't help but breathe it in.

After the fort we spent a few hours wandering around the city which is filled with stands and markets selling everything you can imagine-from camel leather shoes to exotic spices to crispy fried dough things sprinkled in sugar. I made my first real Indian purchase-a beautiful orange bedspread-handsewn by women in the region and emrboidered in the traditonal Rahjastani style-with tiny rounds mirrors that make the whole blanket twinkle in the light. Textiles are huge in this area, and the emporium we went to is apparently a hot spot for American designers hoping to add some exotic spice to their collections. I can't blame them. These pieces of fabric are stunning, and I wish I had taken a picture of the upstairs room of this fabric emporium with its wall to wall textiles-bursts of deep purple and crimson and orange-a kaleidoscope of color and embroidery and detail.

Later that day when we were sweaty and tired from the sun and the walking and the shopping, we decided the best way to cap off a day in Jodhpur would be by paying a visit to the maharajah's mansion. According to the man who sold me a beautiful, handsewn blanket at one of the textile shops in the city, Richard Gere is a frequent visitor of the maharajah. And if Richard Gere gets to hang out there then why can't we? What's so cool about him huh? Plus there was the tiny fact that my sister had discovered in the guide book that a few decades ago the palace was divided in half and turned partly into a fancy hotel with a fancy restuarant. And if we weren't good enough to dine with Indian royalty then we were at least good enough to dine in proximity to it. So off we went, away from the town and up some more winding desert hills (the landscape of Jodhpur was very rocky and hilly) and we arrived at this enormous, well, palace. I couldn't call it a house or a hotel even though it was in fact both. It could be called nothing else but a palace. We took a cursory lap in the "museum" where we were led around the whole time by a man who was apparently speaking English but who could have been speaking Swahili for all we understood him. It was a museum in name but really nothing more than a couple of rooms dedicated to showing how cool the current maharajah is (and how much he loves polo). The museum was just for show though because the real reason anyone would come to the palace was for the vicarious thrill of dining like a royal. After assuring the hostess that we would pay the $50 per person minimum in order to eat there (to keep away the riff raff from dirtying the maharajah's home of course), we were led to our table outside. We sat down at our table which was covered in the crispest white linens and the shiniest and finest glass and silverware. And despite the fact that I was dressed in cargo pants, tennis shoes and a baggy white shirt-well darned if I didn't feel like I was living in colonial era Indian splendor. A serene vista stretched in front of us-the grounds of the palace with beautiful gardens and peacocks milling about-all surrounded by the endless orange of the desert hills. Men in immaculately pressed white coats, crisp white turbans and spotless gloves soon descended upon us for our orders-and as I sat sipping my ice cold Kingfisher beer (out of a chilled glass!) I couldn't help but think how surreal the whole thing was after the hectic, messy bustle of life in cities I had visited thus far-beautiful but surreal. We never did catch a glimpse of a royal (something tells me the palace is not their only home), but fifty dollars was worth it for an evening of absolute peace and calm. Plus the hotel (which is the only area of the palace where you can just mill about) was stunning-all shiny marble floors and dark wooden accents. I didn't go to India to be pampered, and I'd like to think that we were relatively frugal during our trip, but for one meal and for a few hours it was nice to use the exchange rate to our advantage and indulge in an evening that would have cost four times as much back home. And who doesn't want to pretend to live like a maharajah for a night?

We took a late train out of Jodhpur that night, and although our time there was brief-it definitely made an impression. Going back to what I talked about earlier, it's strange that such a tragedy happened in this place such a short time after I had left it. But although I have new, terrible images in my mind to associate with Jodhpur, I hope that the images I keep forever remain the good ones-a towering fort blotting out the night sky, a swath of blue houses contrasting so clearly with the tan of the natural world around them, market places bursting with leather and silk and cloth, the upstairs room at a fabric store where one by one the people who worked there laid out the most beautiful, most colorful, most intricate pieces of fabric I have ever seen in my life, the way the stone walls of a modern palace looked as we ate a beautiful meal underneath the setting sun. When we left Jodhpur, we also left Rahjastahn. I can only hope that it won't be the last time I set foot in that mythical, magical desert world.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

i am working in crack town

So I'm sitting here at my desk at the real estate office where I am currently temping (thank you Charles Foster), and while it's pretty sweet to get paid a decent wage for answering phones (I try to channel my inner Pam Beesley), making copies (biggest accomplishment to date- I learned how to fix a paper jam-not an easy task), faxing things, and spending a great deal of time pretending to be busy while really playing on the internet, I have to say that the weirdness quotient in my life has gone up a great deal since I started here last week. Sometimes I feel like I'm in my own zany workplace sitcome where everyone is a capital C character, and I'm just helplessly flailing around in the middle. The office is like a small house, with a front area where I am-ready to greet tenants and prospects and leads (see, I'm already picking up on the real estate lingo), a conference room, and three large offices. The occupants of those three offices? Well that's where things get interesting. There's the Property Manager, I'll call her R, a loud, boisterous woman in her early 40s, who cusses like a sailor and who from my first hour here has kept me updated on the ups and downs of her dating life. Rhonda has been her one month and she is in constant fear of losing her job. This is because the owners of this business terrorize her, or at least the female owner, let's call her L. L is a small blonde woman who walks briskly around the office when she is here, usually back and forth from her own office to R's office. I have been here four days and I have seen maybe two interactions between R and L, when L is not lecturing/yelling at/pretending to smile while really passively agressively attacking R. When L is here, R seems on the verge of a nervous breakdown. When L is not here, R is usually talking to me about how L makes her feel like she is going to have a nervous breakdown. Meanwhile, I sit helplessly at my desk, trying to commiserate with this woman while also trying not to agree too much with her, because well, L terrifies me too and heaven forbid she somehow overhear me sharing in the smack talk. Yet L hasn't really done anything too scary to me directly. However, I am in constant fear of pissing her or her husband off. Much of this fear is due to R's 757 rules set down for me on how not to piss them off. Rule #1: never and I mean never enter their offices unless I am bleeding profusely from the head or the building is on fire, and maybe not even then if their doors are closed. Yet there have been times when L has asked me to make copies of something and return them to her, or someone calls and asks directly for L. So I have to stand awkwardly at the edge of the office, calling out to them like some kind of lunatic. Rule #2: always look busy. Yet Rule #2 conflicts with Rule #3 which is never bother L with any kind of request. Because often I have been without anything to do and R is unavaible, so the only way to have something to do would be to ask L. Yet for fear that she will eat me if I dare ask her for a task, I have to sit at my desk and find some way to look busy, even if that means moving objects around my desk in an attempt to look like I am doing some long overdue and very important desk organization project. Again I end up looking like a lunatic or someone with OCD. Yet I cannot imagine breaking the rules, because according to R, the consequences would be so dire it might as well be me getting chased out of the office by a firearm brandishing L. But I have no idea if R is just insane or if the rules are in place for a reason. Because she does seem to have a point about L just based on how L treats R. I feel really bad for the woman, because she literally can seem to do no right. Everything ends up being met by a lecture. And the tension between these two ladies was just out of control today. There were doors slammed, heated arguments, behind the back eye rolls. All very much in my presence. I just tried to duck my head and avoid getting caught in the crossfire. Who knew the real estate business was so catty?

So the women I work for are insane, and that's not even getting started on the tenants from the three different complexes managed from this office. I'm at the front desk so I deal with them first, and let me tell you, deal with them I do. There's Ms. P, an older woman who is about four feet tall, who comes into the office maybe 5 times a day to complain about the vending machine, to inquire as to why the housekeeper took away her neighbors mat, etc. and etc. She is the quintessential nosy neighbor. She wants to know everyone's business and she wants everyone to know her's. For example, I already know that Ms. P is diabetic and likes to get her chocolate fix on once a day with a candy bar from the vending machine. She is very upset that the vending machine has not been fixed as promised, because if she doesn't get candy from the machine then she has to go out and buy it and that means she will eat a lot of candy and since she apparently has no will power she will eat it all, fall into a diabetic coma, and die. This is all the fault of the broken vending machine you see. Ms. P is also very anxious about the whereabouts of her across the street neighbor's doormat, because she saw our housekeeping lady Freddie take it and instead of assuming that Freddie was going to wash it, she assumed the Freddue stole it and that her poor neighbors would be robbed of their colorful door mat. I swear this woman is a piece of work. I've noticed that when she comes up to our front door, both R and L scatter in opposite directions and hide, leaving me, of course, to deal with it. There are tenants who come in and tell me their life stories, their sob stories, people who can't pay rent and seem to think that by telling me all about their problems they won't have to pay rent. There are tenants who barely talk and others who have a seat and talk my ear off for a good half hour. If I've learned nothing else since I started here, I have learned that to be a landlord or a property manager of any kind you have got to have the ability to be bombarded on a daily basis by all types of insanity. People are weird. And my life has gotten so much weirder since I'e been here.
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