Friday, May 28, 2010

Three Completely Unrelated Things

1. Wow am I sucker for an elegant ESPN produced tennis montage. You know the kind? With the sweeping music and the golden hued shots of the players reaching up to serve in the fading light and the overcoming obstacles and the quiet but regal voice over. Heck, I'm a sucker for any of these montages, regardless of sport. I would watch a montage about a ping-pong player if it was shot beautifully enough. If I'm completely honest more than half of the reason I even watch the summer or winter olympics is for the NBC montages, preferably ones with hefty doses of pathos and hard fought triumph.

2. I want to model my summer style off of Amanda Seyfried's character in Letters to Juliet. I thought the movie was cute-sweet and airy and light, like a vanilla cream puff, but what really stuck with me were the visual elements of the film-all of those sun streaked shots of Italy. Not to mention Seyfried's clothes. They weren't glamorous or particularly fashion forward or bold. But they were clean and fresh and young, and it is my mission to replicate their easy sense of style, with their blush colors and summery utility. Also this only reinforces my desire to grow out my hair. By August it will be at least somewhat long, so I can let it air dry and wear it wavy and loose with a simple, pretty sundress on a hut, humid day.

3. On a completely unrelated note, I just have something to say to the people who are against the plans to build a mosque near the site of Ground Zero, particularly the people who have said it is a temple for Muslims to worship their "monkey god" or the radio host who suggested that if they build this mosque then they deserve for it to be "blown up." To these people I say, shame on you. You are small and ignorant and hateful. How can you not understand the irony of it, that you are hurling these simplistic, hate fueled generalizations toward an entire religion the same way the people who carried out the 9/11 attacks used simplistic, hate fueled generalizations about the United States to justify killing innocent people. If you choose to deride Islam for the actions of a group of people who have twisted their faith to justify violence, then you must also deride Christianity, for those (and there have been plenty) who have murdered in the name of their twisted interpretation of that faith. Shame on you. America was founded by people desperate for religious freedom, and that freedom has always been allowed. The terrorists who attacked America attacked us in part for that strain of freedom, for being a country that allows both zealots and atheists to not only coexist but to shout their beliefs from street corners. Many of the places these terrorists come from, the places America has sent troops to "liberate" do not allow that kind of freedom. And so do you even realize that by attacking the idea of this mosque, you are attacking that freedom, you are suggesting that the US become less open? What if instead of suggesting that this mosque would be an "insult" to the victim's memories, think about the fact that it might honor them. These people died as free Americans. They died because they were free Americans. And maybe this mosque would stand as the ultimate proof of that freedom, the inclusiveness and understanding and tolerance that these terrorists attempted but ultimately failed to bring down a few blocks away on a clear day in September.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

J'aime bien les posters!

Zut alors mes amies! (my French is a little rusty but I'm fairly certain that translates into "Blimey my friends!) Today is the first official day of the French Open, and I am jazzed. I love tennis. I love France. And after missing all three of the summer slams last year, I cannot wait to feast on some Parisian set world class tennis over the next two weeks.

I noticed the official 2010 Roland Garros poster online and on Tennis Channel and was immediately struck by how gorgeous and cool it was. I think it's vintage-y and whimsical, but strong and sporty as well. It's by the artist, Malini Nalini (isn't that a great name? I might use it to name my firstborn). But my point is I think this would look amazing framed and put up on a wall (in my imaginary apartment of course).

So I did a quick search to see if it was sold anywhere online and stumbled across assorted Roland Garros posters from the last 20 or so years. And they are all absolutely incredible. Apparently the French Open gets contemporary artists to do their posters, ala Spoleto, and I want all of them. Unfortunately the older ones fetch up to $2,000, but a girl can dream right. Here are some of my favorites.

1981 by the artist, Arroyo

1984 by Aillaud

1984 by Razzia

1985 by Monory

1990 by Garache

1994 by Pignon-Ernest

1999 by Segui

And perhaps my absolute favorite, 2003 by Hammond

One day I will decorate an entire room with these posters. I think they are just so striking. Ils sont magnifiques!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

this isn't Thailand

Central World is on fire. That's what I keep getting stuck on. It's a shopping mall in Bangkok, one of the several dozen major buildings set ablaze in the past day or so. A shopping mall on fire does not even compare to the tragedy of a body on a stretcher or a blood stain on concrete. I know that. But yet, this image above is what I keep going back to. I've looked at pictures of this over and over again today, from different news sources and photographers. I've looked at a variation of this image from a photo posted on the Facebook wall of a friend who lives in Bangkok. I can't not look at it. I can't not study it, can't not inspect it.  Because if I look at it long enough, then I've got to be able to find the obvious alteration, the computer generated trickery that must be, that has to be the explanation for all of this. That would be logical. That would make sense. This, this image, and all of the other images coming out Thailand right now, are just impossible.

As I've written about before, Bangkok was a second home to me during my time in Thailand. But more specifically the area containing the above shopping mall was a second home to me during my entire stay in Thailand. If I went into Bangkok for the whole weekend I always stayed at a guest house within walking distance of CentralWorld. But even if I just came in for the afternoon, as I did whenever no other foreign teacher friends were going to be in the city, I came here. For the first couple of months I would take two buses and the skytrain to get to this part of Bangkok from my apartment in Prapradaeng. But when I realized a taxi took fifteen minutes and cost less than five bucks, I quickly ditched the bus commute. The first few weekends, when everything in Thailand was so new and scary and different, this part of Bangkok, with its high end, shiny malls was just such a blast of Westernism. It couldn't have been more of an antidote for culture shock or frankly, homesickness. I could get Subway or McDonalds, buy Goldfish and cheese, see an American movie, buy American gossip magazines, shop at American clothing stores, all within this tiny part of Bangok. Yet even as the weeks went on, and things weren't so scary or new or different, even when I acclimated to Thailand, I continued to go to these malls whenever I wasn't traveling on the weekends. Even when it was just me, even if I vowed to do something cultural, I would always end up finishing my day off at Siam Paragon or MBK or Central World.

Maybe I should be ashamed of this. Maybe this makes me shallow or ignorant or silly. But I don't really think so. Five days of the week, I was living in a Thai community, teaching in a Thai school, completely immersed in Thai life. I lived alone in an apartment with no hot water, no cable, no internet, none of those things we've grown so depedent on back home. For the first three months, I was pretty much sick constantly, culminating in a bout with swine flu which was the sickest I've been in my entire life. I loved my Thai kids and my school, but teaching was without question, the hardest thing I've ever done. It could be brutal. It could be beyond brutal.  Not too mention the fact that I couldn't stop injuring myself or getting all of my valuables stolen, sometimes both simultaneously. My point is, even though I loved every second of it, a lot of my time in Thailand was just plain hard. But no matter how rough my week was or how sick I was or how klutzy I was, there was one thing that I could count on to be easy, my Bangkok malls. I knew that I would walk from the heat of a Thai afternoon into the crisp, cool, AC'd entrance way of one of these shopping behemoths, and everything that had happened, all of the anti-biotics and feathers and glue and deranged British men holding my passport hostage, well they all disappeared. For the hours I was in these malls, I was safe.

I was safe in these malls, safe from my mishaps and my crazy students and my homesickness. I was in a little commercial cocoon, where I could go eat popcorn and watch silly American action movies or browse an English language bookstore for hours at a time. And even when things got easier, when I no longer really needed a cocoon, I continued to spend time in these places, to walk the gleaming hallways and window shop at all of the stores I could never in a million years afford. I did it because when I was there I felt like home wasn't so far away. Plus I didn't stick out like an escaped zoo animal like I did in my town. I was safe.

And now, the places I felt safest in Thailand are ironically in the center of a street battle. Central World is on fire. And like I said before, trust me, I realize that a fancy mall set on fire is so insanely far down the list in terms of things about this situation that are horrible and tragic. People are dying. A nation is verging on splitting in two. People are scared and hurt and angry. Those are the real tragedies. I understand that.

But in the smallest, most inconsequential, admittedly self-centered way, seeing Central World burn shatters something inside of me, because for six of the scariest, hardest, most amazing months of my life, for this brief little moment in time, I felt safe there.

And because I can't bear to end this on a depressing note, because Lord knows there is just too much depressing information out there right now for anyone to really handle, I offer this. These things, they are happening in Thailand. They are happening to Thai people.

But they do not define Thailand. They do not define Thai people. One tragedy that could come out of this heap of tragedies is that the rest of the world begins to identify Thailand with violence and anger and unrest. I know that these images don't do much to dispel that, but you have to understand that as someone who lived in this country for six months, not in hotels or on vacation but alongside Thai people, working with them and teaching them and befriending them, this, all of this, it isn't Thailand.

Thailand was kindness and generosity. It was the first time I tried to take a bus to visit my friends one town over and had absolutely no idea what the frick I was doing. This was obvious, so obvious that one Thai man not only told me when to get off the bus to change onto a new bus, he also got off with me and pretty much held my hand until I was safely deposited on the new bus.

Thailand was the owner of my apartment building, who spoke very little English and who I rarely did more than wave and smile to, but who after I came home from Ko Samet on crutches, opened the building's door for me and helped me up the stairs to my apartment. I thought it would end there. This man came back fifteen minutes later with a card with his cell number on it and instructions to call him if I needed anything. I thought it would end there. This same man came back the next morning with a bag of food from 7-11, several Toasties (like delicious heated pop-tarts), some yogurt, some canned milk, and gyoza. It was the most bizarre collection of breakfast food you could imagine, but it almost made me cry. I thought it would end there. This same man saw me try to leave the apartment the following weekend to go into Bangkok, no longer on crutches but limping nonetheless. And he insisted that I not take a taxi or bus but that he drive me, through heavy Bangkok traffic, on an afternoon where he had better things to do, to my destination.

Thailand was the fire-dancers on Ko Samet who took two silly, careless, sopping wet American girls who had just had all of their valuables stolen, and who at 3am not only let us use their internet and call our banks but who cleaned and bandaged the huge cut on my knee as gently as if I had been their five year old daughter.

Thailand was the doctor on Ko Samet who gave me his clinic's only pair of crutches, free of charge, so that I wouldn't have to crawl to the ferry. (if you've only recently started reading this blog, Ko Samet sort of equaled disaster for me in Thailand, and yet I adored it)

Thailand was the hundreds, possibly thousands of other moments of ordinary decency and kindness and generosity I came across constantly from the people who live there. Thailand was the respect shown to elders and to monks and to fellow human beings, a respect that is learned from birth, a respect marked a million times a day, in every single greeting.

Thailand was all of these things. Thailand was and is a big, crazy, hectic, complex, beautiful nation, one that I was proud to call home for half of a year, that I will always be proud to have called home.

I hope with all of my heart that this violence will end soon, and that Thailand will return to the peace it so deserves. Because what is happening right now in Bangkok simply isn't Thailand. I hope you can believe that, because no matter what happens, I always will.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Random Friday Night Conscious Streaming

  • Google's current homepage. Nothing much to say in the way of commentary. I just thought it was beautiful and worth sharing.

  • Babies are fascinating. I know this because I spend give or take 50 hours a week one-on-one with one. I've been reading Diane Fossey's Gorillas in the Mist, which is her account of her time spent observing gorillas in their natural habitat. And sometimes I totally feel like I'm doing something similar, out in the wilds of baby land, studying and watching baby and baby things for hours on end. And like Fossey, I spend an absurd amount of time dealing with poop. So here are some of my observations-my niece in the last couple of weeks has started laughing. And my question is, how in the world do babies learn to do this? You would think it's just them mimicking what adults do, but that theory doesn't hold weight. Because if it was just mimickry then babies wouldn't laugh when they were happy or thought something was funny. But they do, even when they're tiny they get that laughing is the appropriate reaction to something hilarious (which for babies is really almost everything). Which really means that they're born with that, the connection between finding something really funny and giggling. Which means that we were all born with laughter inside of us. Which is just really freaking awesome. Other observations-babies have more facial expressions than an entire theater troupe combined. Here are just a sampling of the expressions my four month old niece makes on a pretty much hourly basis-there's her "Holy Shit guys this is AWESOME" face which okay for her, to be fair, can be elicited by running water. There's her "I am seriously perplexed" face which can easily be mistaken for her "I am currently pooping" face. There's her sleepy smile which is very much like a drunken (or stoned) adult smile. There's her startled, "WHAT THE FRICK IS GOING ON!?" face, which again, to be fair, can be elicited by a jangly set of keys. But really this is only a very small sampling of about a thousand very distinct baby looks. We're still working on Blue Steel.

  • I find this song and this video absolutely infectious and oh so charming. And yes, it's HANSON, which for a brief period in my life when I was about nine or ten years old, was a band whose name you never heard not accompanied by fanatic shrieking. And yes, to some, Hanson is now a 90's novelty act ala Boys 2 Men, a "remember those adolescent days" piece of nostalgia. But the truth is, I'm more of a Hanson fan now than I ever was when I was little (for me it was really all about N'Sync). These boys (now all with children, which makes me feel really old) are talented musicians who know how to write a damn catchy song. They've always played their own instruments and written their own songs, and as proved in this video, they have a lot of fun with their music and image. Plus Taylor Hanson is still completely dreamy. And if you still are laughing and mock singing Mmmbop, then please just give this a listen, and try not to smile.

  • At some point this year I have started looking forward to the 8-9 hour on NBC as much as the 9-10 hour. For those of you non-television geeks, this means that I heart Community and Parks and Recreation just as much as The Office and 30 Rock, and on occasion, like last night, I heart them more. First of all Joel McHale should never wear sleeves, period. But really last night's Community, which was an homage/send-up/parody of every single zombie/action movie that has ever been released was so smart and funny and spot-on that it may have been one of the best things I've seen on TV all year. And then there's Parks and Recreation which makes me giggle uncontrollably. Maybe it's because Amy Poehler is just so insanely funny in her every line reading. Maybe it's Ron Swanson and his beautiful Ron Swansonisms, like this gem: “Give a man a fish, you’ll feed him for a day. Don’t teach a man to fish and feed yourself. He’s a grown man, fishing’s not that hard.” Or the relationship between Andy and April which is as cute and endearing as Jim and Pam in their prime, only with more quirks. For all of these reasons and more this show has become a must watch for me.

  • I've had my ups and downs with Lost but I am fully on board for this final season which is now nearing the end (sob!). And speaking of sobs (and lots of them) last Tuesday's episode absolutely wrecked me. The tragic and beautiful and tragically beautiful and did I mention tragic, watery deaths of Jin and Sun turned me into a blubbering mess. I honestly don't think I've cried that much during any episode of a television show ever. I had the baby on my lap watching the DVR'd episode the next day, was totally unprepared, and ended up sobbing on the couch with mascara streaming down my face while the baby happily played with my car keys. And I kept crying for about an hour after it ended. Baby by this point thought I was completely nuts, but I kept making her give me hugs and cuddles (pretty easy to do since she doesn't have complete control of her body yet). I just think in a show built on compex characters and relationships, Jin and Sun's stand out. I remember at the beginning of Season 1 thinking Jin was a jerk face when he made poor Sun button her shirt all the way up right after the crash. And somewhere along the way they turned into this beautiful, devoted pair who searched for each other across time and space and multiple seasons of television. And maybe it's the fact that both actors are so gorgeous. Or maybe it was that they died a watery, Titanic-esque death so horribly soon after they were FINALLY reunited in the previous episode. Or maybe it was Jin's refusal to leave his wife's side. Or maybe it was his repetition of it, in Korean, one final time, as the water rose around them, that he would never leave her again. But it crushed me. And this is why Lost is the definitive television event of the last decade. It has created a world and a cast of characters that mean something, that mean a great deal in fact, enough so that we want to debate and theorize and sit on a couch in the middle of the day crying our eyes out over.

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