Friday, January 30, 2009

social media madness: 25 random things about me

Certainly if you're on Facebook you've seen the phenomena that is the "25 Random Things About Me." Well now that I've been "tagged" multiple times I figured I'd go ahead and do it, when I came home from happy hour this evening. So here's your factoids and I'm only tagging folks who tagged me, because I don't believe in chain mail karma (I guess that's a bonus fact for you!).

1. I moved 2,000 miles away from home, in part to escape my family. The distance has tremendously improved our relationship over the past 10 years. Now my mom joined Facebook and I feel like I'm 17 again, needing to hide everything I'm doing -- even though none of it is bad.

2. One time I came home from college and I forgot I had a mostly-empty pack of Camel Lights in my bag. I tossed them in the garbage in the bathroom I shared with my then adolescent brother. My mom blamed him, he blamed me, I blamed my friend Lisa (one of the friends that was "mom-approved"). I don't smoke anymore. The idea generally disgusts me, unless I'm ridiculously stressed. But I found out my mom sneaks one every now and then.

3. My best friend, Kat, and I have been through things together that would fill a whole week on Lifetime Movie Network. Luckily, we don't think like women who actually buy into LMN, so we've gotten through it all just fine. Also, Kat and I can go for months without communicating (when she was in Germany, pre-prolific internet we'd actually write infrequent letters), but we always slide back into conversation with the greatest of ease.

4. The great love of my life and I never did anything more than accidentally hold hands in the theatre during "Bowling for Columbine." I don't know if it was on purpose or just going for popcorn simultaneously. I thought I'd find out, but then he got a Marcia-Brady looking girlfriend who inexplicably hated me. When I found out they were getting married I reacted like Carrie to the Big & Natasha storyline in "Sex In the City." When I found out via Facebook-stalking that she is pregnant and they've moved back to Milwaukee, I didn't know how to respond because I no longer had an equivalent pop culture reference.

5. I used to be a hopeless romantic (see #4), but I found that makes your heart much easier to smash when things don't work out. After a few rounds of that, I have a heart of steel. My last break up should have devastated me, but I picked up the pieces fairly quickly. I attribute that to the steelheart, the support of my amazing friends and all those who crushed me before. I may have cried over those guys in the past, but I'm kind of grateful to them for making my life a lot easier now.

6. I have traveled many places by myself, but I've gone with a buddy to my two "I" countries: Italy and India. My friend Kristen and I have always talked about going to Iceland for the Airwaves Music Festival (she's been once before). Despite their collapsing economy and government, I think we may just have to go for the trend's sake.

7. Emerging unscathed from corners of the world where the guide books warn me about scammers and pickpockets, I have been robbed twice. My bike was stolen at a jazz festival in Milwaukee's posh Third Ward neighborhood and my purse was stolen at a bar in Wrigleyville, Chicago. The lesson? Beware of yuppies (and Cubs fans).

8. I love my job working for, living and breathing the transit system. I was actually so excited about it when I applied that I barely told a soul because I was terrified of jinxing it. People had been telling me for years to "do what I love," but unfortunately having W as president for most of my adult life put a huge damper on my choices. Once I started promoting public transportation though, I knew what they were talking about. I wanted this job so badly because I felt I could help create change (and this was BEFORE Obama started encouraging everyone to do that). I know it's an uphill battle, but it's easier to fight when you have faith in your cause. I hope I can connect better with the amazingly dedicated community members who fight for this cause, because at the end of the day I'm one of them. I also hope they understand that I don't have a magic wand and that patience is a virtue until the ink is dry on a dedicated funding source. My two main selling points to get the job were: I don't have a car and I'm from Portland, Oregon. Those still hold up both internally and externally.

9. Throughout my tenure as a Wisconsin transplant, I've my Portland roots have earned me cred amongst the following groups over the years: college stoners, music fans, hipsters and transit advocates. Hypothesize what you will about overlap. It also blows people's minds that I was born in Portland, Maine but raised in Portland, Oregon.

10. It's always been a slight fear that I hit my prime at 17, when I appeared on the 1997 Jeopardy! Teen Tournament (and no, I didn't win, but I was an alternate for the second-round, which meant I got a free trip to DC (the first time they took the show on the road) and didn't have to stress about being on national TV again). Yes, I did meet Alex Trebek, but I also met several awesome fellow nerds who I don't really keep in touch with, but a few are Facebook friends. I gave a much better performance on Portland's locally-produced "High Five Academic Challenge." This resulted in my first real date (awful) and meeting one of my good friends freshman year who recognized me in the Cobeen (dorm) cafeteria as "that girl from the High Five commercial." Yes, when you tuned into your syndicated "Fresh Prince of Bel Air" reruns after school, I'd inevitably pop up on the screen buzzing in and saying "Wagner?" This commercial could very well still be running in the greater Portland area. While I never gained fame and glory from my teenage trivia antics, I did land on Varsity College Bowl as a college freshman and would get sporadic freaked out calls from acquaintances when a rerun of Teen Tournament would pop up on the Game Show Network (see #9, Group A).

11. There's apparently a such thing as a "Classic Meghan Story." I believe my retelling of them, after you buy me a pint or two, is only enhanced by my ethnically inherited Irish Gift of Gab. Unfortunately pretty much none of these stories are "family-friendly" (see #1), so as entertaining as they are I think I'd have to publish them under a nom de plume. Still, I don't know if writing them out would translate the nuances of the oral presentation.

12. I have zero interest in going to Germany, but have two friends marrying Germans in Germany in the near future, so I guess I'll go. All of my good friends from high school were fascinated with the place and the language. Kat and Mary Ann both studied there in college, but I never visited. I have a "Classic Meghan Story" about a German exchange student, but you should know you're not going to hear it right now if you've read #11. I do like German film however, with Metropolis, Run Lola Run, and The Lives of Others ranking quite favorably on my list. Of course, most of all I like making fun of Germans -- so Beerfest ranks even higher on my movie list.

13. I'm a little out of control in my film snobbery. Luckily I have an outlet in volunteering for Milwaukee's film festival. I usually am disappointed in buzz movies (i.e. Slumdog Millionaire). I am a firm believer that foreign films more accurately and unapologetically capture the human experience, so I'm always pleasantly surprised when an American film (i.e. The Wrestler) does so as well. My most-hated film of all time is The Notebook, despite having several really good friends who have tried to convince me otherwise. I actually think people claiming it is a good movie only adds fuel to my fire of loathing. I love the classics and am grateful for taking a Hitchcock class in college, even though I ended up only auditing it (thanks to the computers in the brothel that was Cudahy Hall giving my disk a virus and eating my entire final paper). I don't believe in favorites, so I don't have a favorite movie, but All About Eve is pretty well up there.

14. Music snobbery is another one of my traits. I fully credit my college boyfriend, Stew, for defining my indie musical path and my dad for making me appreciate the full unabashed glory of rock n' roll (I went through a phase in high school where I'd come home and rock out by myself to the Led Zeppelin II record every afternoon). I'm fortunate enough to have seen most major musical acts that I've wanted to, traveled to multiple music festivals, and caught amazing indie bands. My last boyfriend, Phil, introduced me to a lot of Milwaukee's local music scene and I'm grateful for that. He also sold me on the importance of donating to community-supported independent radio and really appreciate the magical goodness that is WMSE. My defining music moment though was seeing Arcade Fire OPEN for the now-defunct Unicorns at Mad Planet. There were maybe only 10 people there (this show often is confused with a later packed AF show at Mad Planet after the buzz had started) and we were all drawn from the bar to the stage, gaping in awe at the incredible sound filling the venue. I knew this was special. But not enough to not have the band sign the handmade EP I bought directly from them at the show. I felt then, and still do, that this band is this generation's U2/Radiohead-caliber band.

15. For someone as "artsy" as I may appear (see 13 & 14), I love sports. I lost my first tooth at a Tacoma Tigers (AAA?) baseball game. I was there with my dad. Despite taking quite the hiatus from baseball, I am now a huge Milwaukee Brewers fan. I believe this was destined to be, because when I was a kid I always chose the Brewers baseball helmet sundae at Baskin Robbins. I'm really glad they half-rock the old logo. Before I moved to Milwaukee there was a huge political debate about the new stadium and I know a lot of very liberal folks who refuse to step foot in Miller Park. I think this is dumb. I also think these people wouldn't be baseball fans anyway, and using politics as an excuse is easier than explaining that you just don't like sports. I challenge these people to start fessing up to the latter, because honestly at this point you just sound like a tool. I do wish I'd gone to a school with a football team, but Marquette Basketball helped me discover my love for the NCAA Tournament. What would my March be without brackets? I have adopted UW-Madison as my football team and love getting the chance to go to Badger games with my friend Cramer. Ten years in Wisconsin has turned me into a Packers fan, but I don't think that transformation will be complete until I make the journey to the Holy Land, aka Lambeau Field.

16. I have not eaten red meat since December 31, 1994. That was a pot roast. It was my New Year's resolution to give up red meat and it stuck. It was supposed to be a stepping stone to going full veg, but the thought of Thanksgiving without turkey really depresses me (even though I've skipped it some years -- see #17). I also love seafood, despite all the mercury. Despite a campaign waged by many to get me to embrace the apparent deliciousness of bacon, I haven't caved. I actually don't think I'll ever eat pork again, because a meat banned by two major religions can't be good for you. I figure I may end up eating beef again, should I ever become pregnant. I think one day I'm just going to yell "THE BABY WANTS STEAK!" and go dive into a hamburger. Right now I can always tell if I get a trace of forbidden meat in my food because my stomach quickly rejects it. It's not pretty.

17. Since 1998, I've only had one Thanksgiving with my family. I've spent one in Southern Illinois with a college friend, two in Northern Michigan with my college boyfriend, three in Wisconsin with friends and/or their families, two in Ozaukee County with my ex-boyfriend, one in Wales & England and one on a train from France to Barcelona with an Australian girl I met that day. The Welsh one is my most memorable. I'd been off exploring in Cardiff all day and returned home to find the 400-year-old farmhouse I'd been staying in filled with a delicious aroma. My friend's mother and aunt had a full spread on the table and invited me to sit down after we all enjoyed a cup of tea. They announced that we'd been having Shepherd's Pie and my stomach churned (see #16), but I was so grateful for their hospitality I decided to suck it up and hope they had good plumbing. They scooped a huge plateful for me, a dark meat swirling around with veggies and flaky crust. It smelled amazing, but I was terrified. I waited for my three dinner companions to take the first bite, took a deep breath and took a nibble. It tasted -- familiar. After my feigned approval, one of the hostesses proudly said, in her lilting accent, "We know it's Thanksgiving in America, so we wanted to make sure you felt at home. We went to the market and found a turkey for the pie!" I immediately dug into my plate and enthusiastically "mmmed", "aaahed, " and exclaimed "this is delicious!" Later on the way to pub I explained to my friend about my eating restrictions. He was incredulous, "So you were just going to get sick?!" I responded with, "Well I didn't want to be rude!" I believe he then commented about Americans being polite at the oddest times.

17. I constantly disagree with Catholicism, but I can't ever see myself switching teams. I do consider myself a very spiritual person, although I don't discuss it often. I am vehemently against evangelizing with hatred (i.e. "you're going to Hell if you don't do this). I don't understand Christians who nitpick passages out of the Bible to throw stones at people who are different from them (gays, those of different faiths). It seems to me they're ignoring the basic teachings of Christ, which in my understanding are love and tolerance. I silently cheer for interfaith dialogue and was impressed that Obama's inauguration speech also gave a shout out to non-believers. Although I've been to some of the most amazing cathedrals and churches in the world (including St. Peter's) as well as on several retreats during my eight years of Catholic school, the most incredible spiritual experience I've ever had was in none of them. It was in Rome, but completely unexpected. My friend and I were on the tour of the catacombs and met a family from Wyoming, a couple from Nebraska, and the couple's friend, a monsignor at Creighton University. After the tour the couple and the monsignor noted that they were going to celebrate the Eucharist in the catacombs. The family from Wyoming kinda freaked out and exited. Andrea and I were like "what the hey?" and stayed on. It was the most intimate experience I have ever had with God and it really sunk in saying the same mass (albeit in a different language) as people 2,000 years prior.

18. I advocate for gay rights, not because I'm gay, but because I feel that no one should be denied the right to the pursuit of happiness, especially when it's written into the Declaration of Independence. I don't understand people that think being gay is a choice either. It's hard for me to comprehend that this country is still restricting people's rights. And it really sickens me when people compare homosexuality (between two consenting adults!!) to pedophilia or bestiality. Again, going back to #17, I can't understand Christians picking random passages out of the scripture instead of going with the overall theme of love and acceptance (and you don't have to love in that way). Gay rights are a human rights issue to me and I'm happy to do what I can for the cause.

19. When I was a child my biggest fear was spontaneous human combustion. Now I think it's either being buried alive (a la Kill Bill Vol. 2) or drowning while trapped in an enclosed space. I don't think either would be very pleasant.

20. I got more out of a few days volunteering for the Obama campaign in the central city (I was eventually moved to my own neighborhood), than out of the months I spent schlepping for the Kerry campaign in the suburbs. To echo my friend Beth's sentiment, "I still stop what I’m doing and smile whenever I hear 'President Obama.'" Reading this article about how he's changing the work environment at the White House, made me smile even more. I love having a cool president!

21. FUEL Milwaukee (formerly Young Professionals of Milwaukee, or YPM), despite all its faults, is a huge factor as to why I've stayed in this town. I have made so many wonderful friends and connections through this organization and don't feel I would be who or where I am today without it. I certainly would not be on the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network-Milwaukee Chapter Board, without having gotten my start with YPM.

22. One not so exactly "family-friendly" tidbit (see #11). I have kissed someone from every civilized continent except South America (although I appreciate Beth's comment that she needs to get there "before cartographers pull a Pluto on Antarctica and it won’t count anymore," I do recognize that it has no native human life). My ongoing joke is always "I need to find a Brazilian and a penguin and be done with it."

23. I have several tracks for my future that I realize are completely unparallel: A) go to graduate school for a joint Urban Planning/Public Administration Master's; B) pay off my debt and save enough to buy a house; C) pay off my debt and save enough to quit work for a year and travel around the world before I'm 35; D) find someone, get married, reproduce. Actually I think D=disgusting at this point in my life. I'd actually rather find someone to travel around the world with me and then go from there. Although a recent joke on that note was "I need to find a guy who would build me the Taj Mahal." Uh, yeah, at this point someone who would pay half my rent after a couple years of dating would be just fine with me.

24. To echo Bill who tagged me, I also rejected the "digital converter box" for my television. I am perfectly fine with utilizing Netflix and watching my shows online. I never personally owned a TV until after college and thus missed some great shows that premiered between 1998 and 2002. Luckily TV on DVD has caught me up on Freaks and Geeks and The West Wing.

25. I am deathly afraid of needles thanks to a rogue phlebotomist during my pre-kindergarten physical. Because of this I've never gotten a tattoo or tried heroin. As traumatic as that phlebotomist was to my childhood development, I am grateful to her now to preventing any missteps in my lifestyle.

happy friday!

TGIF all.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

music madness: the pabst theater is going to break the bank

Fortunately my parents/Santa did give me a $50 gift card to the Pabst/Turner/Riverside for Christmas.

Unfortunately, it's already spent about 10 different ways in my mind.

Fortunately, I can't complain because even if I don't make the shows, I have to credit this entertainment group for vastly improving the music scene in Milwaukee.

The only tickets I have so far, luckily, are for Animal Collective on May 19. I say "luckily" because that show sold out within a day!

Here's what's already on my "really want to see" list, with more shows being announced constantly:
And I saw a twitter rumor yesterday that Dan Deacon is about to be announced.

Woe is me, indeed.

That's why I suggest that the Pabst group start a frequent concert goer card. They already have an e-member program where you can get pre-sale information, but pretty much anyone can sign up. I would love if after you went to 5-10 shows you could start receiving discounts, or even 10 shows, one free or something along those lines.

A girl can dream!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

WTFisconsin: don't breathe deep

For those that think the state of Wisconsin is one big pot of fresh air, think again. Granted it's not India, where my Kleenex turned black when I sneezed, but unfortunately a new study came out today that showed Milwaukee is the second most challenging place to live with asthma.

The factors that ranked cities poorly were:
  • Prevalence Factors – morbidity and mortality statistics
  • Risk Factors – air quality, pollen, "100% smoke-free" laws, poverty and more
  • Medical Factors – medication usage and access to specialists
It doesn't take a scientist to hypothesize from those risk factors.

Our air quality sucks. It's winter and we are under advisory for particle pollution. Wisconsin, the home of the founder of Earth Day, is mired in political infighting which results in its residents unable to catch their breath. Green solutions are never built and things like progressive public transportation (such as that in my hometown of Portland) never get off the drawing board.

Poverty, of course, is another issue, even prior to this economy. The city has the 7th highest poverty rate in the country, and a HUGE disparity in wealth and poverty between Milwaukee and its surrounding counties.

Finally, we have no restrictions on smoking whatsoever. I completely agree that this should be a statewide ban, and not just city-based (God knows Milwaukee does not need another city-suburbs battle factor). However, this needs to happen sooner rather than later. I cannot tell you how lovely it is to travel to cities that have smoking bans. I have plenty of friends that smoke and they don't mind going outside if they don't reek in the morning. Tonight I was only briefly in Flannery's, it wasn't very crowded and I only noticed a couple of folks smoking. Yet I get home and my freshly laundered jeans stink of stale cigarettes.

Maybe the detergent industry is the secret lobbyist in this state?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

monday munchies: tuesday at libiamo

I wanted to hold off on writing my Monday Munchie column this week, as I had a "special" dinner planned this evening.

A couple of weeks ago I was surprised with an email from Travelzoo. Apparently a couple of people had signed up for their email from my forward and they wanted to reward me. I got a link to select $100 in dining certificates from Pretty cool.

Yes, there are some restrictions. Yes, you have to spend a minimum of $35 to use your $25 offer, but all-in-all, not a bad deal. Plus, I can appreciate four local restaurants this way.

The first on my list I used tonight, when I went with my friend Larissa to Libiamo. I'd been here a couple of times before (including on my first date with a previous boyfriend), but never as an aspiring food critic (also, hard to chow down on garlicky Italian when you're on a first date -- I think I had a salad then, and a LOT of wine.)

We started off with a carafe of Cecchi Sangiovese Bonizio, a nice robust Tuscan wine. We tried to get an appetizer, but unfortunately they were out of fresh mozzarella (at an Italian restaurant? Who would've thought?), so we could not get the Caprese Bruschetta. We settled for the salads that would accompany our entrees.

I probably will have halitosis from my salad for the next 10 days, but it was mighty tasty. Lars and I both opted for the roasted garlic dressing, which was pretty much thick, pureed garlic. It only took a little to add a lot of flavor to the mixed greens and cucumber on our plate. The salad course was partnered with a bread basket of tasty fresh Italian bread with a sweet basil butter spread.

Our server did a great job of timing when he brought out our main course. Lars enjoyed her portabella mushroom ravioli and my Pesto Palermo was buono. Fusili Lunghi tossed in basil pesto with artichoke hearts, sundried tomato. Deeee-lish--eee---oh---so.

Plus I have plenty for lunch tomorrow.

Because we were there in the name of culinary research (and since it was from Travelzoo, felt like we should eat as if we were traveling), we opted for dessert. Unfortunately they only had one item (and I was so looking forward to a tiramisu or something typical). Fortunately, it was a divine Turtle Cheesecake.

Overall, the experience was quite good. It was a bit worrisome that the dining area was empty, but the bar definitely had some regulars in it, so hopefully this tasty gem can make it through the crappy economy. We also passed by a meeting going on in one of their banquet rooms on the way out the door, so hopefully that's helping them too.

We did splurge a bit with the wine and dessert, but you could definitely reasonably feed two people or a group here on a moderate budget. Also, I will have enough leftover pasta to last me at least one or two more meals!

The atmosphere here is lovely as well, and conducive to catching up with friends. Lars and I sat there for a long time after we'd paid the bill, finishing our wine and mulling life. We discussed naming one's blog and the first time we drank, amongst other topics. Do you think I can write that off on my taxes?

thankful tuesdays: thank you for being a friend

Just a quick "thank you" to all of my friends.

I really am a lucky person to have all of you in my life.

milwaukee challenges: trip to the east library

The month is almost out, but I finally got a start to one of my self-issued challenges for the year.

You may recall Milwaukee Challenge #1: Read my way through Milwaukee's Public Libraries, in which I pledged to obtain my 12 books--for an online "Support Your Local Library" challenge--each from a different branch of the city's libraries.

Even though the official challenge doesn't have a "one-per-month" limit, that's how I've elected to pace myself. I knew I had to get cracking. So after work today, I swung by the East Library to begin.

Remember the library at your elementary school? That fairly accurately describes the layout and decor of the East Library. It's one big cozy room with a community reading area running down the middle between the shelves. The walls are red brick and I think there's purple or some other retro-color carpet, that likely has been there since the place was built in the late '60s. There are some very swingin' looking chairs and I regretted that I did not have time to hang. The place WAS packed though, not surprising given the increase in library use due to the recession.

A more accurate description of the layout from the branch page:
East Library, located at 1910 E. North Ave., opened in 1968 and features a special art collection, Works of Wisconsin Artists, donated by William and Virginia Vogel. A striking feature of the building is the ceiling-height, multi-colored glass panels, designed by Conrad Schmitt Studios.
I wish I'd looked up!

There's definitely a sense of community in this library that doesn't exist at the grandiose Central branch. When you enter the building it's via a long hallway scattered with bulletin boards and fliers, some for events I never heard of outside of that realm.

I picked up two newsletters while I was there as well to learn a bit more about my surroundings. I grabbed a copy of the Milwaukee Public Library Reader, as well as the Murray Hill Neighborhood Association newsletter, Murray Hill News.

Still have to peruse the latter, but the former has some tips on what's going on in February at the libraries. It looks like I will be hitting up the Martin Luther King branch as that seems to be the hot spot for Black History Month.

Obviously the destination is only part of the challenge, I still have to pick out a book. The layout of the place was a little confusing, so I was first drawn to the "New Releases" shelf. I selected a fiction book called A Map of Home by Randa Jarrar about a girl immigrating to Texas from the Middle East. One of the last fiction books I read in 2008 was about an American girl of Middle Eastern descent living in Texas, and I am curious to compare the two. That book, Towelhead by Alicia Erian was extremely gritty, but a solid read. A Map of Home also had an intriguing book jacket blurb:
"Funny, charming, and heartbreaking, A Map of Home is the kind of book Tristram Shandy or Huck Finn would have narrated had they been born Egyptian-Palestinian and female in the 1970s"
I then slid over to the New Non-Fiction and spotted a book that's been highly promoted on Pitchfork -- It Still Moves: Lost Songs, Lost Highways and the Search for the Next American Music by Amanda Petrusich. The Amazon review is a little disheartening, but I'll give the book a whirl.

Since it's extremely difficult for me to walk out of a library without my hands full, I noticed a small "librarian's choice" table as I headed to the desk. I was ridiculously impressed that they'd pulled together a selection of John Updike works, complete with a framed obituary, since the man died TODAY. I'm actually not sure if I've ever read any Updike (maybe a short story along the way of my storied career in English Lit?) so I picked up Rabbit, Run to be my first official book of the challenge. I suspected the copy may have been procured when the East Library was built, but upon further inspection it looks like it was printed in 1991. Also, not to be crass, but it seems perversely appropriate that a copy of a book by a man who died of lung cancer would reek so badly of cigarette smoke.

If you're the mood for multimedia, or you speak Russian, apparently the East Library would have a lot to offer you:
In addition to providing an especially strong fiction and videocassette collection reflecting the diverse and eclectic interests of the East Side community, the library also maintains a small collection of materials in the Russian language. Patrons also have access to bestsellers, classics, picture books, magazines, newspapers, books on tape and a compact disc collection which includes many jazz and classical titles.
I'm glad I stopped by and took a little more time to learn about this asset nestled on the Upper East Side.

Monday, January 26, 2009

girl on film: "buzz" season

For the past year I've been in a serious movie void. Now that I'm back in "finding Meghan" mode, I've been trying to get back to one of my favorite places -- the movie theatre.

Yeah it's expensive, and yes DVD technology and online streaming make it easy to catch up at home, but I am definitely in the group that will argue that there's nothing like watching a film on the "big screen" and sharing that experience with others.

I previously mentioned my experience at the Milwaukee Film screening of American Movie, but in addition to seeing "classic" flicks, I caught up on three "buzz" movies last weekend and tonight.

First, I saw the "it" movie of the season Slumdog Millionaire at the Downer Theatre. The cards were stacked against me liking this.

A) I should've seen it before my big trip to India
B) I should've seen it before all the hype
C) I should've seen it not knowing Danny Boyle's potential to make good movies, like Trainspotting
D) I should've seen it not being a complete film geek who's grown extremely disdainful of contrived love stories ever since she watched Titanic multiple times as a teen.

I mean, the movie wasn't horrible, but it wasn't mind-blowingly good. It was overly predictable. The destined lovers were also 18 YEARS OLD, which made me want to puke a little. Yeah, the hardships of India were accurately portrayed, but I can see a much grittier version in Salaam Bombay! or a host of documentaries, including the standout Born Into Brothels. But mainstream movies aren't made for me, they're made for the idiots who buy the extra large popcorn with refills.

Next, I saw Milk at the Oriental Theatre. I didn't think the film cut too much new ground as far as biopics went, but of course being Sean Penn, the acting was phenomenal. The focus on the gay rights movement was really interesting, as was the implication that the antagonist, well-played by Josh Brolin was possibly a closeted self-loather. Overall I liked it better than Slumdog, because it didn't underestimate me as a filmgoer as much, but at the same time it didn't blow my mind.

After the Oscar Best Picture nominations came out this week, I began to hope that Benjamin Button, The Reader and Frost/Nixon are worth it. Apart from The Reader though, I hadn't really heard phenomenal things. I wondered, can a good movie even get attention these days?

Then I saw The Wrestler tonight at the Oriental. And now I'm PISSED.

Yes this movie is getting "mainstream" attention for Mickey Rourke and Marisa Tomei's acting, and rightfully so, but there's more to it then that. Milk and Slumdog should both be bumped from the nominations list for this sorely overlooked film. This movie did not underestimate its audience AT ALL. It RESPECTED the audience. It actually developed characters, versus just giving a nice sketch of them. They were human. Like other Darren Aronofsky movies there was a scene that made me squirm, then curl up, then cover my eyes (not just think "oh that kid's covered in poop, eeew" or "oh will those adorable children (who've we've already seen as healthy adults) escape that bad man with the acid"). Most of all (gasp!) there were LOTS of questions left unanswered. It all didn't miraculously come together all happy (or sad) at the end. It ended in the perfect spot that an intelligent movie should end.

It made me love movies again.

And it made me hate what passes for "movies."

Saturday, January 24, 2009

milwaukee props: library usage increasing

So even though those unfinished challenges are still unfinished, I read this week that more people are getting out to use Milwaukee's Public Libraries. It's unfortunate that it takes a huge recession to drive that usage, and it's extremely unfortunate that fantastic independent bookstores are dying at the same time. However, I am glad to hear that people are finding value in an underappreciated and essential public resource. Hopefully they're doing more than just using computers and DVDs -- hopefully people are rediscovering the joy of reading!

Thanks to Left on the Lake for bringing light to this issue.

Friday, January 23, 2009

daily inspiration: my mom's take on the obama inauguration

Although I'm still processing my thoughts and words on the historic significance of this week, I was thrilled to receive an eloquent essay from my mother about Obama's inauguration. I asked her if I could share with you all, so here's her take:

As I sit here tonight, I find myself reflecting on the events of this day. But I also find myself remembering the events that made this day possible.

I was fortunate enough to watch some of the inauguration, but the business of teaching was what needed to be done. However, today everything felt different. Today I was inspired to become a better teacher. Because the future for those I teach is now very real. No longer will I think of a child as just another student who, though full of potential, may not succeed in life because of the color of his skin or her gender. I can truly say for the first time in my career I can look at each student – black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, bi-racial, male or female and think: anything is possible for this child. Anything!

As I stop to think about this day, I am jolted by the realization that is a family of color at home in the White House tonight! There is a man who will wake up tomorrow morning and begin leading what again can become the greatest country in the world. With this man’s guidance, we will be inspired to walk behind him – no WITH him – to build a better America than ever before. He will inspire us to become not only once-again proud Americans, but better people, stronger people, responsible people.

Of course, this would never have been possible without those who stood, and sometimes died, before him. How fitting that he should use Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King as is role models. How fitting that he has called us to service like John F. Kennedy. How wonderful that we feel so inspired to listen, and do.

There were other people of course, perhaps not so great, perhaps just ordinary people, who were just as instrumental in bringing about this day. The children of slaves who continued to labor, making minimum wage, or less, yet quietly instilled a work ethic in their children and their children’s children. The woman who was just too damned tired to walk all the way to the back of the bus. The civil rights workers who stood up for what they knew was right. The African immigrant who came to this country, fell in love and married with a white woman, and produced an extraordinary man. The women who, in the sixties, began to speak up that yes, while their roles of child rearing and homemaking were indeed important, they could do other things just as well, and made all things possible for my generation and those of my daughter’s. These people sometimes quietly, sometimes quite loudly worked for change. But change did come.

I grew up in a time when I would visit the south, and saw the “whites only” signs on the drinking fountains, the front doors of restaurants, the restrooms, and accepted this as just the way it was. I grew up in a time when the “N” word was commonplace. I grew up in a time when young girls were told they couldn’t go to college – that they were just going to get married and raise a family anyway. I grew up in a time when people would’ve laughed heartily if a young black boy said that he would president someday.

Thank God those days are gone – forever! Thank God I was able to see this change. Yes, I can reflect, but I can also look forward to a future that is bright with possibilities as we all move in a new direction. I can hardly wait!

Thanks Mom for sharing! And thanks for making sure I grew up with an open mind, so that I to could celebrate the joy and triumph of the American people this week.

I'll just add that I had the same thought on Tuesday morning when I saw a young mother board the bus with her toddler son. I teared up looking at that kid and realizing "Oh my God, he's never going to know a time where he would have completely dismissed the thought of ever being President of the United States."

As a woman, President Obama (I smile ever time I type or see that) has pleased me this week, sticking up for my rights. He repealed the Global Gag Rule which stripped developing countries of critical reproductive health assistance (you can thank him here). Additionally, the Senate quickly passed the Lilly Ledbetter Act, a critical piece of wage discrimination legislation.

Of course, I'm pretty happy about sticking up for the constitution and closing down the torture chambers of Gitmo. And despite the inherited mess of outdated equipment, the embrace of technology the administration has already shown by overhauling the White House website and including a BLOG!

weekending: despite settler FAIL edition

Okay, I know I bitched about it before, but SERIOUSLY, why did people settle in the Upper Midwest? Was it a trick? Were they all masochists?

I should not have been "pleased" with the "balmy" hovering around freezing temps this week. Zero degrees Celsius seemed just peachy.


Because once again we're in for ZERO DEGREES FARENHEIT or less.
Luckily (or unluckily because it takes me outside), I'm keeping busy to help combat the winter doldrums.

Last night I joined my pals Becky and Maribeth for dinner at Beans & Barley (I can never get enough of the Chicken Salad Plate with Creamy Garlic Parmesan Dressing). Afterward, we joined our friend Marcella at the Milwaukee Film screening of American Movie celebrating the 10 Year Anniversary of the documentary. I hadn't watched the movie in probably about seven years, so it was a nice refresher to see it again. Still effin hilarious. And now that I know Milwaukee a little bit better, I watched it through the eyes of resident, not just a transient college student.

After the screening there was a Q&A with the two stars, Mark Borchardt and Mike Schank, and the latter's new wife. That part was definitely pretty surreal. I mean, everyone sees those guys around town as "guest celebrities," but it was awkward to have them pop up after just watching a documentary on their life 12 years ago. Marcella described it as "sort of like performance art." Especially because there was this whole tangent on translating stories from Albanian and using that as a dieting technique. Uh, yeah, I guess you really had to be there.

Marcella and I swung through the post-party at Landmark Lanes, as she had never been there. It was kind of hard to tell what was really what with the whole "party" thing, so the two of us just grabbed a booth and caught up. Always good to do that!

Tonight I'm off to a "Summer in Winter" party in Cudahy with Becky, Brooke and Craig. The Bennett-Frizzells are cooking up some mango chicken and I am providing sherbert for dessert. It was supposed to be tropical lime bars, but I kind of didn't have time to make those.

We're also drinking some yummy "rumaritas."

Tomorrow I hope to brave the cold and get to yoga at The WAC. I really need to get back to my 30 By 30 focus. Of course, after that I'm going to add on some calories by taking my friend Margaret to the Lakefront Brewery Tour (since I realized it's been awhile).

The evening is reserved for my friend Jane. If I decide to make it a later night, my movie buddies are all going to Mad Planet for a Love Sounds dance party.

Sunday morning I hope to make it to this new "Try It Hip Hop Yoga" at the WAC. Don't ask, I don't know. Then for lunch I have a date at Izumi's (I have a gift certificate) with my friend Monica.

Of course in the meantime, I hope to clean, do more laundry, and get to some of those unfinished challenges from last week.

I do have to say that it's a myth that Milwaukee is only fun in the summer. Although it's ass-cold, I'm obviously not lacking in stuff to do.

What's on your plate this weekend?

Thursday, January 22, 2009

keeping busy!

Busy day today, with dinner, film screening and post-drinks. Will update tomorrow.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

milwaukee props: wisconsin products represent

Saw two briefs today on Wisconsin products that played a significant role in the inaugural activities yesterday.

From Milwaukee Versus:
One of Neenah Paper’s greenest papers, CLASSIC CREST Papers Recycled 100 Natural White was chosen as the paper for the official invitation to the January 20 inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama.
From The Milwaukee-Journal Sentinel:

When MacFarlane sales representative Mary Jo Bergs heard the menu for President Barack Obama's inauguration luncheon included pheasant, she started making some phone calls. MacFarlane had recently shipped 400 pheasants to a distributor in Washington, D.C.

Bergs says the distributor confirmed the pheasants for the luncheon came from MacFarlane.

Hopefully it was not the bird that did in Byrd.

Sorry, I couldn't resist.

I also thought it was pretty cool that I saw two of the featured performers at the Neighborhood Ball last night. Both Sting and Stevie were highlights of my summer. Glad I choose my concerts wisely!

Luckily, I did not see Ray Romano.

"hope over fear"

Apparently not for these people who have been so whipped into a fervor over obscure Bible passages that they reject the main teachings of Jesus. I really hope they fade away in this new era.

As much as I cheered for the Brewers to beat the Phillies in the MLB playoffs, I can't help but have a major internet crush on the Phillies fan at the end of this short film. I actually am extremely impressed by all of the people who stood up to these haters. And the positive message at the end gives me extreme hope.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

thankful tuesdays: president barack hussein obama

Need I say more?

this is history

Wow, wow, wow. January 20th is HERE.

Only a few more hours with an idiot as president.

Welcome to the White House, Mr. Obama!!

milwaukee props: go brew crew!

The Brewers have already surpassed 1 million tickets sold for the upcoming season.

I'm so excited that folks are finally supporting this team, but a little nervous about how I'm going to score tickets for Opening Day.

I'm sensing a tailgate-only event.

At least I can rest-assured that those damn Cubs fans will also have a tricky time getting into the game. Maybe they should just stay in Illinois.

Monday, January 19, 2009

WTFisconsin: economy kills indie book store

First Atomic Records, now Harry W. Schwartz books.

I was devastated when I saw the news of my favorite local independent bookstore closing. As you recall, I specifically targeted Schwartz for my holiday shopping.

The silver lining? The store manager is going to reopen the Downer store location as Boswell Books.

I'm also trying to gather momentum for an Atomic/Schwartz Grieving/Shopping Spree. Still working out details in my head, but I'm thinking Saturday, February 7. So spread the word.

daily inspiration: "the dream" realized?

I still don't think I've fully grasped the significance of what is about to occur in this country.

Oh trust me, I understand, it's just something I don't feel I can summarize it eloquently enough.

There's just so much that I'm processing right now. Since November I attended the most significant event of my life, I've embarked on a journey of personal reflection on peace and justice. I haven't really blogged it out, but it's swelling and moshing around in my brain. The election, the trip to India, visiting the Gandhi memorials, traveling to Sarnath, reading Fr. John Dear's autobiography A Persistent Peace, paying attention to the causes of other local bloggers, getting angry about Prop 8, seeing Milk yesterday--it's been a lot to digest. And I'm not sure where I'm going with any of it.

But I do know that I am going to cry tomorrow.

Bawl like a baby. My eyes are welling up just thinking about the momentousness of it all.

I realize that Barack Obama is just one man. I realize that he has flaws. I realize that today's political environment may not allow for the sweeping reforms of another FDR, or even programs like JFK proposed.

But I also realize that he is the physical representation of what so many people fought and died for.

That is what I feel so blessed to see in my lifetime. I can't even fathom what people in my parents and grandparents' generation who actually witnessed the birth and execution of the civil rights movement are feeling.

No matter what occurs in the next four or eight years, we are light years ahead of where we were four or eight years ago.

But we can't quit fighting.

monday munchies: back in the kitchen

Though I'm still shaking the exhaustion (of course my combined total of 9 hours sleep between Friday and Saturday nights may have something to do with it), I went back in the kitchen tonight.

The result? My $3 vegetarian chili, which apparently costs about $10 now to make, but it's still cheap and delicious!

And I now have lunch all week.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

milwaukee props: beercession beercess!

Despite macrobreweries not doing so hot these days (take heed: you shouldn't leave Milwaukee), it seems my favorite local microbrewery, Lakefront Brewery, is rocking the sales these days.

That reminds me, I need to get down for an "infamous tour" sometime soon. It's been awhile. Perhaps since my brother was here. August? That's FAR too long. Oh wait! I was there for the Santa Cycle, but that did not involve a tour. Just drinking.

Not to say I haven't done my fair share of sampling Lakefront's wares. In fact, at my birthday party on Friday night at MAM After Dark, there was a beer tasting component. I tried Lakefront's Klitsch Pilsner and their seasonal Big Easy. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately as it was delicious!) because of the long line to get to the tasting part of the night, I'd made my way through one and a half Futhermore Make Weights before getting to the samples. I learned at their table that my drink contained almost 9% alcohol. Thus the samples were not appreciated for the fine craft that they were.

I do recall in the haze and chaos trying a couple of brews each from Great Lakes Brewery, Ale Asylum and Unibroue. I know there were more, but to give myself some credit the tasting portion of the event was really poorly organized. There was no flow and no one really seemed to know how it worked. Hopefully the art museum improves on this in the future, as it was a great idea!

For other beercess news, check out the Beer Runner's take on how Wisconsin suds will play into Madison's hosting of the cycling events in the 2016 Olympics.

Oh, and as a p.s., I completely blame my "research" for this blog entry as to why I did not complete any work on the Milwaukee Challenges this weekend. Whoops.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

weekending: can't just stay home

After an epic evening last night (I'm not kidding, it was unreal -- though not suitable to recount to this blog audience), I would kill to stay in tonight. But, my far-suburban troops are crossing the Milwaukee County line and coming out to Points East Pub tonight. My friend Ryan's band, Dustworks, is playing a show. Should be a good time if you're looking for something to do (at 8 p.m. on a Saturday night and you have no plans....)

Also, I seem to be ending my twenties in style. If 29 keeps up at this pace it's going to be one eventful year!

Friday, January 16, 2009

music madness: c-c-c-o-l-d classics

Last night I attended the second in the Classical Connections put on by the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. I have had a subscription for I believe four seasons now, and what began as a group of five or so has ballooned to around 20 people. It's actually pretty fantastic as this series is geared to young professionals, so I enjoy being part of a large percentage of that audience at each performance.

The series differs from a regular symphony performance in that there's interaction with the audience (as well as a tad shorter program). In previous seasons there was a host, former art (?) director Evans Mirages, and a lot of interaction with him and MSO conductor, Andreas Delfs. Well Mirages moved on and Delfs is in the process of transitioning out to the amazing Edo de Waart, so this year's series is also in transition. It used to be six performances, now it's four. Hosting duties are split between Concertmaster Frank Almond and Principal Cellist Joseph Johnson. And there's a flurry of guest conductors swinging through this year.

There's a series of guest soloists as in year's past, but I don't think we're scheduled to be treated to any musical phenomena (and/or eye candy) such as Joshua Bell, as we've been in year's past.

Still, it's really worth the price (under $100 for front and center seats for ALL four concerts) to go. And you always come out learning something about classical music. For me, who only took a year of cello for her musical formation, it's education much needed.

Last night however, we all learned more than we ever needed to know about the [French] Horn. It was actually quite entertaining, although I think my word for it later was "trippy." William Barnewitz, principal horn for the Milwaukee Symphony, performed two of Mozart's horn concertos and then gave a step-by-step, note-by-note look at the evolution of the incident, and while interviewed by Johnson gave a full history of his bizarre route to professional musician. The most fascinating part was probably how he'd quit the horn and returned to it while scrubbing out a wine tank and listening to "bad" musicians perform Dvorak on NPR.

We also learned about the amount of spit that accumulates in the horn. It's one sexy instrument. Um, if you like spit.

After the hornfest, we were treated to an interview with guest conductor, Gilbert Varga, who was very very enthusiastic about Ravel's La Valse. It was cool because he broke down the individual sections, by instrument for the audience, but I think you have to be really into music to get the "joke" that Ravel sets the piece up to be. Although according to Wikipedia, that "joke" is the destruction of Europe. We didn't really cover that last night.

The piece was interesting enough, but moreso was Varga's conducting style. I've never quite seen anything like it. I described it today as watching him "gyrate in a fashion that was a cross between a Ukranian gymnast and one of those insect sex documentaries."

After the event, we went to the sponsored reception across the street at the ever-sophisticated InterContinental Hotel. It was great to catch up with friends, talk about the big trip, and have Larissa buy me a birthday cocktail!

If you'd like to catch a more-structured version of the program, the MSO will be performing the above selections and more all weekend.

Resoluting: January

I'm ready to announce my first resolution for 2009.

Yes, I realize it's January 16th, but give me a slight break -- I was out of the country for the first 12 days of the year.

Instead of making a long list of things I will break at the beginning of the year, I'm taking a baby steps approach and adding on one resolution each month. By the end of the year I should have 12 resolutions that I'm keeping.

January's resolution may sound simple, but it's harder than you think. I was spoiled with a dishwasher for a couple of years and about 18 months ago went back to the good ol' sink'n'scrubber. While I don't mind doing by hand, I also don't mind letting them pile up in the sink.

Thus, January's resolution is: Don't go to bed with dishes in the sink.

I'll be adding February's resolution in a more timely manner, promise.

Also, as you may recall I issued myself three Milwaukee Challenges toward the end of last year.

I realize to stay on track I need to start tackling some of those this weekend.

There's nothing better than killing two birds with one stone, right? For the library challenge, I am going to start with the East Side location and then head to Ss. Peter and Paul for their 5 p.m. mass to meet my "tour Milwaukee's churches" challenge.

As for the transit portion of the challenge, I think on Sunday I will tackle one of the routes out of the Downtown Transit Center to simplify the round-trip.

I will keep you posted.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

weekending: arctic belated birthday blast edition

After hibernating for a few days due to the combination of jet lag and frigid temperatures, I'm being forced out of my hole tonight to attend Classical Connections put on by the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. This is the second in a four part series for the season.

Tomorrow night I'll be celebrating my birthday by rolling into the MAM After Dark event at the Milwaukee Art Museum. I'll be there from about 7 p.m. onward, so please stop by and buy me a birthday beer!

WTFisconsin: Jazz in the Park Shoots Itself In Foot

I usually defend Milwaukee. Especially when people from more "enlightened" cities try and use it as the butt of a joke. I am quick to point out all that Milwaukee has "going on," especially in its fabulous summertime. One of the top five "cool" factor things I inevitably will point out is Jazz in the Park.

"Jazz" is a Milwaukee Summer Institution. And it's one of the reasons I live where I live, one block east of Cathedral Square. A Thursday night gathering of the masses, this chill event is the place to catch up with friends, people-watch, halfway listen to music and imbibe in a couple glasses of BYOB wine.

Until today, the COLDEST DAY IN 13 YEARS in this town that cherishes every ounce of its summer....when the East Town Association announced the most devastating news ever.

There will be no more carry-ins at Jazz in the Park.

They cite some state statute that apparently isn't anything new, it's just been overlooked apparently for 19 years.

Ever heard of changing the law?

Nope, instead they are disappointing thousands of Milwaukeeans, many of whom are the exact young professionals they always whine about not retaining.

In my opinion, this is the most colossal Milwaukee blunder since my alma mater Marquette University tried to change its mascot to the "Gold," instead of keeping it the Golden Eagles or moving back to the Warriors. Luckily the community voice was strong enough that the decision was reversed within days.

Will it be the same with Jazz? The Twittersphere exploded right away, with several folks vowing to contact their alderperson. I emailed mine, Bob Bauman, immediately. I will keep you posted if his office responds. has a much more level-headed view on this than I do (I never claimed to be an unbiased site, I just keep some opinions in check because of the nature of my day job), and I encourage you to read their opinions. Their suggestions for alternate revenue options are definitely something the Jazz folks should go back and consider.

In the meantime, I'm curious if there would be enough folks who could unite for a little good ol' fashioned civil disobedience at the first Jazz this year? I'd love to see them filling up the paddy wagons with young professionals grasping their Two Buck Chuck. I bet nothing would get the laws changed quicker.

Yes we can!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

one week ago...

I was here...

More posts and pictures to come this weekend. Jet lag is waning, but after making it through work successfully today and having a cocktail with Wren tonight, I'm ready for the hay.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

thankful tuesdays: i guess the US is pretty great at times

I am thankful for:
  • Clean water
  • Public sanitation
  • My bathroom
  • My bed
  • Traffic laws
I am thankful for:
  • the fact that I had the opportunity to travel halfway around the world
I am thankful for:
  • the kind and friendly people of India
  • the Sharma family in the US and abroad for their recommendations and hospitality
  • fellow western travelers and my travel buddy Jason
  • the flight attendants on Continental Airlines flight 83 who rubbed my back and gave me cold compresses while I took ill in the back of their plane
I am thankful for:

back to the grind

Heading out in a moment under about 20 layers to catch the bus to work.

Couldn't fully sleep in this morning and my internal clock is all sorts of messed up.

The problem with living alone is there's no one to hear you whine "Mooooooooooooommmmmmm, do I have to get up?"

Monday, January 12, 2009

back in the us of a

Good evening readers. I'm officially back in action, although have really done nothing but sleep today. Up for a couple hours and about to pop an Ambien so I can go to work tomorrow. Did not get sick the whole trip, until midway through the flight last night. Fun times. Thank goodness for Cipro.

Pictures, etc. will slowly be going up this week. Still processing it all!

Thanks to all those who sent birthday wishes. Even though I spent it physically alone, I'm glad to have so many people there in spirit with me.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

globetrotting: 29 in Delhi

Today is my birthday and I'm currently spending it in an Internet cafe in Delhi listening to a complete douchebag talk to his buddy about his business trip to India. Do I really want to go back to a country full of Frat Boys?

Sample quote: "The difference between her grades and my grades is that I knew people and she did the work...I definitely hit on girls to have them send me their review's all about the networking."

Earlier he was talking about how the laundry service in Bangalore lost his "express designer jeans."

Yeah, yeah, so I guess I'm ready to leave India, but I have been rebitten by the travel bug (and hopefully that's the only bug that's bitten me here, yeesh). Trying to figure out if I can hop to Europe for a long weekend this year and still stay on my budget track. I think my next "adventure travel" journey is going to be to South America.

Sorry for not posting about my travels. I think I'm going to wait to upload the photos. Agra, Tundla, Varanasi, Sarnath, much to tell! But right now I'm distracted by Frat Boy and by slow Internet. If I get a chance to post later I will. Flight is very late tonight. Off to go see the Lodi Gardens now.

By myself today (Jason flew out at 3 AM), but I may meet up with this couple we met at the train station in Tundla en route to Varanasi. Depends on their flight in from Kathmandu, but they are on my flight to Newark tonight. There are some decent travelers in India!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

globetrotting: yes, i'm alive

Unfortunately the pigeon shitting on my head in the Tundla Junction train station did not provide good travel luck for us two nights ago.

After an epic train odyssey, which I will blog about when there's not a line for the computers, we arrived in Varanasi about 10 hours late. Having lost a day we crammed much into today's activities and I am just now briefly checking my email and letting my mom know that I'm not floating down the Ganges.

Lots to tell about Varanasi when I have the chance.

Monday, January 5, 2009

globetrotting: 300 concubines and the city of bees

I'm in Agra still, waiting for the fog to clear so we can go visit the Taj Mahal. In the meantime catching up on emails and facebook and watching monkeys scamper through the alleyways.

Yesterday we took the bus out to Fatehpur Sikri, about 30km from Agra. This is an abandoned city built by Akbar the Great in the 16th century. We started at the 'Sikri' part of the monument, which was mind-blowing. You read about 'pleasure palaces,' but you never really fathom them until you visit. We hired a guide after paying to get into the monument (and paying Rs10 to use the 'english toilet'), which was well worth it (as was the toilet). In a green tweed jacket and khakis, our guide was right out of a Wes Anderson movie. We did have to explain to him that I was in no way Jason's 'main queen' as he tried that joke on us early in the tour. Akbar had three main wives (a Hindu, a Muslim and a Porteguese Catholic) and built the palace and city on this spot b/c this is where he prayed for an heir (apparently despite having 300 concubines, Akbar was little bit of a blank-shooter). The hindu lady was the lucky (or shrewd) one and bearing an heir got her own ginormous palace within the palace. The other two fared pretty well also and all three of them had distinct palaces reflecting their chosen faith. It was really interesting to see faded images of saints amidst the sandstone Hindi and Muslim carvings.

The wives had such nice palaces to themselves, they must not have minded Akbar's playroom where the other ladies hung out. Seriously, Akbar was the original Hef. The playroom contained a platform the size of my apartment to hold Akbar's bed. It also had a platform overlooking a beautiful pool where you know those concubines frolicked in the nude. The columns leading into this section of the palace also had erect phalluses sticking off the tops...umm....yeah, no explaining this place away.

All joking aside, the red sandstone palace was one of the most beautiful places I've ever been, truly a wonder of the world. Very glad we made the trek out.

If Sikri was a paradise, Fatehpur was a nightmare to me. Yes, there was a beautiful white mosque (which we opted not to bring the Rs500 offering into as our guide instructed), but the city was overrun with a most unwelcome resident. Not just the touts (of which there were plenty, Jason ended up with a handcarved souvenir), but millions of BEES. Giant bees! The biggest bees I've ever seen!!! And they were dead and dying all over the grounds. And since it was a holy place we had to walk around in socks.

I freaked. Totally freaked.

Which meant I got out of buying a handcarved sculpture. Which meant I didn't have to make a smartass comment to our new guide (the Wes Anderson one ditched us when we wouldn't buy the offerings) when he tried to make me feel bad not buying an object he worked for 10 days on. He'd already told us that he spent two hours a day studying the Koran (and more time studying English, French and German), and I was tempted to say "well if you didn't study so much you could carve a lot faster." But I didn't. I also had low blood sugar when the bees attacked. Bad combo. All this after I made a wish with a piece of "lucky red thread" in the White Mosque. At least I didn't pay for that.

Instead I waited in the open, dodging bees while Jason made his purchase. I found my headscarf to be quite handy dandy in preventing the insects from landing in my hair and I tried to keep still. You see, I stepped on a bee at a reservoir when I was a kid and so they are particularly traumatic to me. Jason was unaware.

The architecture was pretty sweet though. Especially from the outside (where we finally escaped). The gate to the city was something like 52 meters high. Talk about somewhere you wouldn't want to invade.

We made our way back down the beeless hill and stopped at the first restaurant we found (all that fear makes one really hungry). Here we discovered what bad Indian food tastes like. The garlic naan was like cardboard. You know when you get disappointing pizza? Yup, just like that. Flavorless dal, and passable potato dish. The servers were really nice though and we felt a bit guilty for our disgust at the cuisine. Luckily while waiting for the bus I had time to lose my street food virginity and grabbed two delicious samosas. The flavors exploded in my mouth. Chilis and potatoes dominated my tastebuds while all sorts of unknown spice mysteries danced down my gullet. Granted I could've scarfed a bottle of Tums later on in the evening and didn't have much appetite for dinner at "The Stuff Maker" restaurant back in Agra, but it was soooo worth it.

I realize I still have to blog more about food, my visit with my friend Ritu's lovely sister, our trip to the Gandhi National Museum, heck, my flight here and Ice-T sighting in Newark -- but right now I think the fog is lifting and my Rs30 is due for this hour online.

Hope to update you before the 11:30 night train or from our next stop in Varanasi!!!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

globetrotting: greetings from agra

The Accidental Wisconsinite is alive and well and blogging from an Internet cafe-cum-convenience (department in indian english) store in beautiful foggy Agra. Agra, home to the Taj Mahal, from the bit we've seen of it seems to be the Wisconsin Dells of India. Our budget resort hotel -- Hotel Sheela -- is a nice little respite from the insanity that is Delhi, so no complaints--especially since we switched to a "hot water" room this morning.

Please excuse any spelling and grammar errors, it's COLD here and Indian structures aren't built for such nonsense. I am convinced I have some sort of cold miser curse as most vacations I've taken seem to subject my destinations to unseasonably frigid weather. I just want to be warm and toasty!

Oh, and also my travel companion pointed out that there's a little mouse running through the room we're typing in. eek.

So what have I been up to? Besides being cold and queasy about wildlife?

For starters, being thrilled that I decided to take this trip.

I don't know if India has yet "completely changed my life, man." But it's definitely given my a new outlook on the current US economic situation. Yes people are having to foreclose on their house. But what? They move into a smaller house or apartment? They eat out less? Slums and shanty towns are not popping up outside of our cities. There are no straw huts in the fields. There is no raw sewage running in our streets and waterways (well the latter at times when the MMSD has flooding issues). Jason and I have been discussing how it's going to be difficult to hear people complain when we get back home. But at least I have grounds in the future if I ever a spoiled child to say "You know, in India...."

As you've probably heard this is a country of chaos and constant surprise. The New Delhi train station is total bedlam. I feel like I got training to be a Brew City Bruiser roller derby girl after pushing and shoving my way to the 2 p.m. Agra train yesterday. The train left an hour late, although some tout tried to convince that the train was indefinitely delayed and we should follow him. Luckily we're getting really wise to scammers, especially Jason who has two weeks on me.

Jason pretty much has to deal with anything anyway, since I'm a woman and apparently not worth speaking to. I'm offended, yeah, but it's also kind of nice to "check out" for a little bit. Jason is super-offended by this treatment. The funny thing is, I'd probably be a lot harsher to the scammers anyway, so they're lucky their cultural misogyny prevents them from dealing directly with me.

In addition to reflecting (a lot), we've also you know, like seen some historic stuff.

My first day (after a four hour sleep and a four hour toss/turn), we took in parts of Delhi. There's been this awful fog here, so our views were a bit obstructed, but it didn't lessen the impact of the architectural glory. Jason had discovered the wonders of hiring a personal auto rickshaw-wallah for the day, so we arranged with a guy for 500RS. We began at the Red Fort, built and held for centuries for various regimes of India's invaders, and now a symbol for India's independence. The vastness of the fort was a lot to take in. There was also an Indian military museum which had an odd assortment of ancient and modern weapons. A bit disconcerting for two admirers of Gandhi.

Following the Red Fort, we went to Jama Masjid, one of the largest mosques in the world. Apparently it holds 25,000 people. Out of cultural respect I did cover my head with my pashmina when I went in, but was surprised at the westerner women who did not. This was my first time in a mosque and being that it was almost the size of St. Peter's and there were several clerics actively praying inside, I was impressed by the holiness of the place as well as the physical structure. As much as it may haunt on film, there's nothing like hearing the singing prayers from the Koran echoing through the arches of a gigantic mosque. Despite the fog, we also paid the Rs100 to climb to the top of one of the minarets. Quite the hike, but worth the view. On our way down one of the workers (?) passed us huffing and puffing and asked "You been to India before? Good exercise, no?"

All the climbing made us hungry and we asked the rickshaw-wallah to take us to a good but cheap restaurant. He took us to "Splash Bar and Restaurant" chock full of westerners. I'm sure he got a nice commission, and the food really wasn't half bad (I owe a food blog later). After lunch we headed over to Humayan's Tomb, which is considered a nice warmup to the Taj. we were a bit rushed on our visit here, but wow, we can't wait to see the Taj if this is a cheap comparison. The pristine grounds were a lovely respite from our gritty neighborhood as well.

Unfortunately my jet leg began to set in at the tomb, so a lot of the experience is blurred. I tried a quick nap upon returning to the hotel, but to no avail. At 4:30 it was time to take a taxi out to my friends' sister's house for dinner. And have the taxi-wallah become desperately lost in the vast suburbs of Delhi. I will explain all in another blog, but my time is running out here and we must go see an abandoned city outside of Agra today. Tomorrow the Taj!

Thursday, January 1, 2009

globetrotting: countdown begins

I'm shutting down my computer momentarily before I jet off across the world. Your good thoughts, prayers, universal harmony, etc. is much appreciated as I set off on the longest journey of my life.

I have no idea what the next 10 days hold. I only know I will be going to India and I will come back a year older. And hopefully several years wiser.

Thanks to everyone who has doled out advice for this trip. I am lucky to know so many advanced travelers.

I'll try and update my twitter, blog and facebook when I can from the road.

Happy New Year!

very superstitious

I'm extremely superstitious that my New Year's Eve is the bellwether for my year. This year the party we were at (hipster dancefest) got busted by the cops 1/2 an hour before midnight. We ended up back at the Iron Horse Hotel for champagne. We single ladies only had each other at midnight, but did have a Dee-Lite dance party soon after, because who can sit down during "Groove is in the Heart?" How is this year gonna go?

Note to hipster DJs: Get a liquor license.



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