Sunday, July 30, 2006

The Hell of Dell: Come on Feel the Hate

After a whopping two weeks of blogging, I've already received a corporate response. I wrote about hating my piece-of-crap Dell Inspiron laptop (which I still hate) and I received the following e-mail:

Mary- My name is John, and I am a customer advocate at Dell headquarters. You mentioned on your blog (July 19th) that your system crashed again, and that it was a Dell. I would be glad to assist you if I can. If you need any help, please let me know what is happening, and the service tag of the system for reference, and I will help you in any way I can. Thank you, John Dell Customer Advocate
This is hilarious because:

1) I spent an hour on the phone with Dell haggling and near tears for a replacement laptop. Finally, after being connected to a supervisor and threatening to throw my computer on the tracks of the A train, Dell agreed to replace my laptop under my warranty.

2) Dell's stock is plummeting.

3) Mac's are way better and I curse the day that I ever switched to PC (Poopy Computers)

4) Although the e-mail was sweet, I think it's brilliant that there is someone out there whose job it is to peruse blogs for Dell gripes and contact the bloggers. Kind of an Orwellian system of silencing the opposition. I guess this John guy hasn't heard of the official Dell-haters, not that a website is needed to prove that Dell could care less about their non-corporate clients. It's funny how I get treated poorly when I call in as a college student (I mean, the "Dude, get a Dell" guy went to NYU...Doesn't that grant me any special privileges as a classmate?) but when I call for my dad's business-related issues, they act like I'm a digital goddess.

5) After reading Thomas Friedman's "The World is Flat," I'm super-cynical about large digital corporations and their genuineness. According to Friedman, a lot of call centers (including Dell's) that operate out of India encourage their Indian employees to adopt typical "American" names when they work the phones. They also receive accent training for the different parts of the country to chameleonize with their callers. Creepy.

6) Who is this "John" guy? Is he reading this right now? And better question - why is he paying attention to my blog? Why didn't he comment on my David Hasselhoff video? Now THAT would prove to me that he cares.

Monday, July 24, 2006


Brace yourselves, political junkies, but I've created a COUNTDOWN for the highly anticipated and sure-to-be historical midterm elections coming up this November! (Only 105 days left to buy little American flags and bumper stickers!) Will the Democrats take back the legistlative branch (aka the Revenge of the Yuppies) or will the Republicans maintain their iron grip on 'Merica? (I mean, Katrina/Rove/Plame/phonetapping really isn't THAT big of a deal, right?) I CAN'T TAKE THE SUSPENSE!!!

Screw sports - this is politics at its finest! This handy chart serves practically the same function as a March Madness tournament bracket. Anyone care to join me in a betting pool? Mark your calendars because this midterm election will make Falwells out of McCains and Naders out of Clintons as they align their beliefs with their core supporters, then, like magic, will moderate their views to relate to the electorate (moderates like you, me and everyone in Ohio.) The real games will begin with debates, caucusses (note the extra "s") and political bantering. It's a televised catfight in power suits - does it get any better than that?

Well, I know how I'm going to cast my valuable swing-state, 18-25 year old vote. I'm voting WHIG! Screw Andrew Jackson's vision of an egalitarian agricultural society! Let's hear it for Clay’s “American system” and industrialize! It’s the FINAL COUNTDOWN!!! (Go ahead and click on that last one. You'll be a better person and remember, sometimes it takes some Europe to remind us of the thrills of living in a democratic republic.)

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Worst movie that is loved the most

Last night while discussing film with a friend, we got to the question of what is the worst movie that we love the most. Some of the contenders included:

-Con Air
-Space Jam
-Top Gun
-Johnny English

Now it can't be anything that's really kitschy, (Plan 9 from Outer Space, Killer Clowns from Outer Space) but something that's legitimately despised by others (Gigli, Crossroads). I have no idea why the four listed above are all two-word titles...DON'T FORGET! Movies with Brooke Shields, Steven Seagal and Paulie Shore are automatically on the list.

Really this posting stems from my broken DVD player angst and the rented movies that I have to return unwatched....grrrrr...

But I digress...what's everyone's favorite cinematic guilty pleasure? Am I the only one that revels in the joy of bad acting???

Friday, July 21, 2006

Happy Friday from the Hoff and me!

This week is sooo dead to me and the weekend is finally here! To celebrate, watch the following...

Yes, that's THE David Hasselhoff in an honest-to-God #1 music video (in Germany, of course) that garners a whole other level of appreciation on the cusp of the weekend. That's one mighty fine hunk of man loaf. Personally, my favorite part is the pelvic thrusting in the Eskimo coat.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Fry an egg on the sidewalk and call me crazy

So temperatures here in New York City are touching 100 degrees...not to mention the humidity. This is my first summer in the city, or out of Eugene for that matter, and I'm observing rather strange phenomena. (And no, it's not just the pit stains and the depressing lack of deoderant on the uptown A train.)

People are going crazy. Yesterday I saw a rather mild-mannered security guard lose it and get in a fight (who the hell do you call when security goes crazy?). I was robbed a few nights ago (see previous post). On the subway, people were fainting, dropping like flies, left and right. Children were screaming with renewed agony. That line from Alice and Wonderland keeps running through my head: "We're all mad here..." And that poor Mad Hatter with all those layers!

Meterologists, psychologists and Spike Lee have made the connection between heat waves and crime waves. (This concept inspired Lee's AMAZING film "Do the Right Thing.") It's a repeated phenomena that when the temperatures rise, so do murder rates. I don't know if it's just because people have more time on their hands to get around the the slaughtering that they've put off for the last few months or if being sweaty all the time makes them really, really angry, but at any rate, already neurotic New Yorkers are no longer on the brink of insanity. The crazy train has left with all of us on board and of course, there's no air conditioning.

So these next few weeks will parallel the childhood nightmares I had about being stuck in an oven. But let us stock up on dreamsicles and tank tops, knowing that with global warming on the way, we're only destined to get hotter and therefore, crazier. Somewhere, Al Gore sheds a tear.

(In other news, my computer has crashed again...never by a Dell!)

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Not so grand larceny

I come bearing bad news; sometime this weekend someone got into my apartment and took over $1,000 clams of Marythings. It was all electronics (two digital cameras, iPod charger, camer accessories, etc.) and has creeped me out extensively. I live in a safe building in a safe neighborhood...why do people steal anyway?

It would be cool if was ever reunited with the camera that I JUST got for my birthday two months ago and could again frolic and take photos. I don't care who did it, I just want my stuff back. I'm looking into whether insurance covers it, because, suprise suprise, NYU will do jack shat for me, even though I live in an NYU building and am not at fault.

Sorry to wax maternal, but here are some tips that NYPD passed on to me about how to prevent/alleviate situations like this:
- ALWAYS use your deadbolt
- Don't leave electronics out, even if you don't have roomies
- Keep track of who is coming and going in your place
- Record all serial numbers of valuables
- File a police report ASAP
- Look alive for any suspicious folk
- Know your insurance policy and if you're covered while your away from your home

Some days you're the dog. Some days you're the hydrant. But, as Simon assured me, we all have the ability to be the hydrant that explodes and shoots water on the dog that tries to tinkle on us.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Spain Blog

Y'all can relive my mad fall posted on myspace... (again, start from the bottom of the post because I'm too lazy to fix it...)

Sunday, December 18, 2005
trapped in denver: weclome to the USA
So I'm spending my first night in the U.S. in a shitty airport hotel in Denver, Colorado....not at home with my friends, family, and boyfriend in Eugene, Oregon. Contintental Airlines SUCKS in every way, shape and form. I haven't slept in 30 hours, I'm culturally shocked, sick of airports, and just want to go home and celebrate Christmas!!!
Why does the U.S. suck soooo much sometimes?
I apologize for the whininess, but MAN, THIS SUCKS!

Wednesday, December 14, 2005
el gimnasio
Three to four times every week, I´ve enjoyed a very underrated sector of Spanish society.
I´d like to say flamenco dancing, cooking classes, or catholic church visits, but no. I´ve found something even better: el gimnasio.
I knew that my señora would continue to shove copious amounts of food down my throat, so instead of fighting with her, i joined a government-owned gym near school so i wouldn´t step off the plane a gordita and maybe improve my running time. Oh, but I would get so much more!
Maybe it´s the old spanish ladies who chat with me in the locker room before heading off to their water aerobics class, or the janitor who vacuums the tile floor. For whatever reason, my frequent pilgrimages to the gym have proved to be a source of physical, cultural, and spiritual reawakening. Not only can I practice my spanish, but I can rock my iPod and a treadmill for an hour and reflect upon mi vida.
I´ve become a regular...the call me reina americana (american oxymoron i know, but sweet nonetheless) and swipe my monthy pass with a smile and buenos dias.
My favorite gym encounter so far (oooh, it´s so hard to choose only one) occurred a few weeks ago. I was jogging in my purple NYU shorts and a nice old man said hello to me. We chatted for a bit about Zapatero and fascism and then he walks over to get a drink of water. I notice that he´s wearing red short-shorts, which reminds me of home, where it´s socially acceptable to wear shorts like that in public. he turns around, and to my wonderful suprise, i see that they say "caliente" on the butt...yes, they are booty shorts and this man is definitely retired.
I comment that i like his shorts and ask him where he bought them. He replies, scratching his grey chest hair, that his wife bought them for him, just like the rest of his clothing. Now THAT´S an amazing husband.
Tomorrow morning, i´ll make my last gym visit. I´ll say goodbye to the old ladies, the janitor, and yes, even hot shorts man. But it´s all good, because even though i might leave the caliente, the caliente will never leave me.

Friday, December 09, 2005
when in rome
The following represent a fraction of the crazy thoughts which have whirred through my head endlessly in the last week…

Sometimes life just seems wonderful. You doubt it for a while. Then you go to Italy. And you realize why DaVinci, Michelangelo, and Botticelli were so compelled to create beauty: in Italy, it fills the air.

Five days in Rome and Florence: cities strewn with history and artistic inspiration. The whole country of Italy just feels like a never-ending museum. In Rome, you turn a corner and there’s the Pantheon. You turn another, the Coliseum. Around the block, majestic fountains, churches, theaters, and in between, wonderful pizza and gelato stops. Nothing short of paradise.

Italy combines all of the characteristics I love in Spain (crazy people, good food, moderate weather, history, fun language, etc.) with the enigma of the unknown. People really did speak in the sing-songy stereotypical way and throw their arms up in the air in fiery curbside drivers. They drive like maniacs and dress better than, well, let’s just say us Americans got some shopping to do. It’s a country of passion where lovers stroll the banks of the Arno in a PG-13 manner. I’ve concluded that anyone who returns from Italy less than inspired and changed forever has no soul.

It rained, which I actually kind of liked for a change. We stood in awe of the Vatican and the Sistine chapel. We strolled the circumference of the Coliseum by night and basked in the glory of Fontana della Tartarughe by day. Name a sight in Rome or Florence, we covered it.

Cheesy as it sounds, the museums blew me away. I got to thinking about the Renaissance, and not in that shitty memorized art history way (that’s next week). Why can’t I as an individual or we as a society have a renaissance? Or are we in one now and just don’t know it? What would DaVinci say about the internet? Will I or anyone I ever know create something that will change the course of human history? Michelangelo sculpted David from a piece of “scrap marble”…what can we do with our intellectual scraps?

On the train and plane ride I wrote oodles. Nothing profound or life-changing, just an attempt to get my thoughts straight. Well, I’ve been trying to get my thoughts straight for 19 years now and foolishly thought that journeying to where the masters flourished would shed some light on it all. But perhaps the genius of the Renaissance lies not in filling in bubbles, but in asking questions. I put down my pen for a moment in repose. Let us query and seek answers as the masters did and let the social, and personal, renaissance will follow.
Currently reading: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance : An Inquiry Into Values (P.S.) By Robert M. Pirsig Release date: By 02 August, 2005

Sunday, November 20, 2005
portugal or my life as a fugitive Current mood: shocked
Last weekend I took an 8 hour bus ride with 4 fabulous friends to Portugal. I figured that while I'm in Spain, I might as well fully rock the Iberian peninsula and get a much-needed view of the Atlantic ocean (I waved to all of my homies on the East Coast). I was a little afraid that being around all of that Portugese might screw up my Spanish, but alas, I packed my backpack and headed west.
Portugal might be the most beautiful, untainted, quaint European country. It's got the Arabic influence of Morocco and Southern Spain, the charm of rural France, and the windy streets of London - and everything is cheap. We were able to speak Spanish to everyone and delighted in the vivaciousness of the Brazillian imports. Everyone was so nice and genuine. The only tourists there were little old Spanish ladies, which are now a cultural favorite of mine (I live with a fabulous one, after all).
So we're walked through this main plaza in Lisbon and see a large stage with colored lights, fog machineness, and hear loud ass music. We stumbled upon the largest portugese christian festival known to man, complete with christian rock. Very strange, considering that around the corner was a packed bar that sold beer for less than a Euro a glass. Such is Europe - the class between the revelers and the religious.
Surrounded by this intellectual warm-fuzziness is when I had the scariest moment of my European experience. I don't know how familiar people are with metro/train systems, but it can be pretty damn difficult - especially in a country where there isn't a straight street or even ticket machines. We walked on the train not knowing where to buy a ticket and thinking that the trolley was just another by-product of socialism (everything is paid for by the government in europe...democrats rejoice). We quietly chatted until the train reached the end of the line (near our hostel) and were pretty excited that in addition to the cheap chestnuts, room and board, and potatoes, that we scored free transport.
That was, until 4 tall, dark, scary portugese men walked onto the now empty tram with angry looks on their faces and train conductor hats. I'm not sure if they were with the transportation authority or the cops, but they were packing heat and not about to show any mercy for four american girls and a half-mexican, half-chinese boy.
They start talking to us in Portugese (which sounds like Spanish pronounced with a French accent) and ask us for our tickets. I have a wrinkled up ball of something in my purse - not a ticket - and play dumb tourist. I tell them that I don't know what's going on (even though I understand every word that they're saying) and look at my friends with a confused face. He asks for our passports. I don't have mine. And even if I did, I wasn't about to risk being deported. I hand him a crummy student ID.
He tells me that the fine for not having a ticket it 70 euros a person...I don't got that bank to spare! I think about putting my gym visits to the test and running out of the train (some pedestrians are now watching us through the windows) but persist with my dumb American routine (speaking spanish...he definitely thought I was on crack or something).
After a while, he gets bored, walks us over to a small ticket booth and forces us to insert some coins in and buy a ticket. He scolds us (flashback to kindergarten) about being irresponsible and how there is no such thing as a free ride. We smile and flee the scene and spent the rest of our pleasant trip feeling like fugitives.
I loved Portugal and dream someday of renting a vespa and going from the Northern border to the Southern, hitting up all of the tiny pueblos along the coast. I mention the vespa not merely for it's classic, Roman-Holiday charm value, but also because it's utterly clear that I've worn out my welcome on the Portugese train system.

Monday, November 07, 2005
pass the dutchie and dam the amster
Amsterdam: hookers, weed, canals, clogs, windmills, tulips.
All of the above is true.
The “Red-light” district is a neighborhood where women, prostitutes (they’re not only legal, but they’re unionized and make more moolah than I probably ever will) stand under blacklights in store windows. They’re scantily clad, not that attractive, and all look utterly bored. Flocks of tourists wander about, mostly older men, and ogle, even at the ones who talk on their cell phones and file their nails. With a 50 Euro minimum, few actually purchase. But when her curtain is drawn and the blue light (as opposed to the red light) shines in the window, it means that somebody well, you can fill in the blanks.
The weed is not smoked on the streets, but rather in “coffeeshops.” They are forbidden to sell alcohol in the same place as weed/shrooms/peyote/etc. So people sip on sodas and coffee, roll joints and pass around a hookah-esque objects. Most of these coffee shops have several different flavors and experts on hand to aid in making the correct choice. The place reeks of Eugene (in fact, I ran into a kid from Bend, OR, in a coffeeshop), but most Dutch people aren’t stoned out of their minds. It literally is just about as exciting to them as sipping on a cup of coffee.
The entire city of Amsterdam feels as though it could just float away. Canals act as streets, complete with paddleboats (wwaaaayyy too much fun!) and flocks of bikers along the narrow sidewalks. In fact, I’ve never seen so many bikers in one place in my entire life. Hundreds of them, either in motion or tangled up with each other in a puzzle of metal, locks, and tires. The water and the dozens of twinkling bridges are pure eye-candy but can make for a chilly evening. This is how I imagine Venice: a city that is anchored by the energy and passion of its residents.
I take a lot of heat for being half-Dutch, but I didn’t buy any clogs. I saw a few people walking around in them, but for the most part, people in Amsterdam dress like any other trendy European. It was a little strange how everyone looked like they could be related to me somehow. I’ve never felt so ethnically in place in my life.
I didn’t see any windmills in the city, but I didn’t care. The Van Gogh Museum (a European must-see) and the flower market Sunday morning made up for it.
I could and should write a whole blog about my experience in the Anne Frank house – I’ve never felt so eerily moved by anything in my life. I’ll leave it at that because it really deserves a thorough discussion and deep thought. It’s worth going to Europe just for that museum. Read her book. It will change your life, or at least it changed mine.
As I sat on the plane home, I try to think what it was about Amsterdam that drew me…was it that every man on the street looked like a relative? The Oregon-esque liberalism? The fluttering pedestrians a la New York? The European quaintness of Madrid? Amsterdam literally is all of my homes compressed into one, and for this, I’m glad I found my little spiral of canal coziness: it’s nice to know that home has existed long before I ever set foot upon its soil.
Currently reading: Pride and Prejudice By Jane Austen Release date: By 01 December, 1983

Sunday, November 06, 2005
prague blog
They don’t celebrate Halloween in Spain, so I did what any red-blooded American girl would: I fled to Prague for the weekend.
Okay, so I went to Prague the weekend before Halloween (Oct 28-30), didn’t wear a costume, nor was there any Czech Republic trick-or-treating to speak of. But I had to drown my sorrows somehow.
It’s becoming a pretty common story now: Mary knows nothing, Mary goes to country, Mary learns a lot, Mary returns with a more expanded world view, Mary churns out a blog some time later that fails to capture her sentiments. But I find that the more I travel, the old cliché remains true: the more we’re different, the more we’re the same.
My experience in Prague was a strange hybrid of my Russia trip and my German trip: cheap beer, strange language, colder climate, stunning architecture. We stayed at this sketchy hostel downtown full of Brits, a bachelor party, and a random Chinese family. My housemate had a couple of friends who were studying at NYU’s Prague campus, so we met up and had the experts show us the town.
Prague is TINY. It’s smaller than Portland and the most beautiful parts of the city are along the river, which is crossed by several small, quaint bridges. Throughout most of the city, including the more obscure areas, I saw more tourists than Czech folk, but thankfully our guides showed us some less touristy bars, restaurants and hangouts.
I just HAD to stop at the Museum of Communism, which didn’t disappoint. It’s strange that only 16 years ago, the Czech Republic was on the last legs of communism. Unlike Russia, Prague has completely transformed into a thriving capitalist society. No Lenin statues, more smiles, less of a sense of complete overwhelming. In fact, I would even say that at times, Prague seemed rather perky.
That was, until we went to the Jewish neighborhood. It’s the area where Jews have lived for centuries and was occupied by Nazis during WW II. The museum is mostly a bunch of synagogues and artifacts which left me stunned. I couldn’t believe that so many synagogues remained after all that Prague has been through. They had this exhibit featuring pictures that children drew during World War II while living in the closed-off, occupied neighborhood. There’s something about seeing a child’s interpretation of their home as a prison that tears at the heart. There’s something even worse about knowing that it’s true and still happens.
My trip to Prague teetered upon this, contemplation of the deepest and often most harrowing kind, and frolicking around a city with a nightlife that doesn’t quit.
I feel like Prague is truly one of the world’s greatest cities. I’m kind of sad that millions of other tourists feel the same way, but in spite of this, no one can take away the Czech charm.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005
french folk really do have funny laughs
Although it was less than two weeks ago, I feel like it’s been too long since my trip to Paris.
I’d been to Paris once when I was sixteen and found myself (and this time again) completely captivated by the passionate romantic pull of the city: the squabbling Frenchman, overtalented and unemployed artists, and of course embracing couples. Paris is romantic in the broadest sense – one does not feel merely the livelihood of interpersonal relationships, but the centuries of art, history, and culture as well. Being in Paris made me wish that my smiles were brighter, tears were colder, and anger was hotter. People are so beautifully aware of their emotions and not afraid to let them go.
Me and three lady friends flew on Air France (shameless plug, but quite easily the best airline ever!) and landed on a Thursday night. We paid a tragically high amount for a cab to our hostel, but as soon as we got downtown, we wasted no time journeying into the heart of the city.
Paris is split into two by the Seine: a canal of a river that glitters at night with party boats and the reflections of café’s candlelight. Although throngs of tourists would later drive me batty at the Musee D’orsay (I know I’m butchering French, but bear with me) and the Louvre, not even they could destroy the blissfully cliché magic of the city of berets.
The other hostel we stayed in was kind of in the ghetto. I was actually kind of excited about this because it exposed me to a part of Paris that I otherwise would have overlooked. It was kind of a throwback to my Morocco experience: so much Arabic being spoken. It was odd to go to the poverty of a former French protectorate and then to France in back-to-back weekends: talk about contrast between East and West.
We ran around the tiny streets of the Latin Quarter, climbed the Arc de Triomfe and the Eiffel Tower, stood in awe of Notre Dame’s stunning stained glass, and pretty much rocked the city out of it’s socks. We heard KILLER jazz at this charming jazz club in a less touristy part of town and delighted in the Nutella crepes (if you do not know the magic of Nutella, I must educate you upon my return). I can’t explain the Paris attitude, but there’s something about it that I just can’t get enough of.
By the end of the wonderful, but tiring, excursion, I was a little heartbroken by how much English I heard. No wonder French people hate us (Americans): we crowd their cafes and take flash photos of their masterpieces. Contrary to the common U.S. stereotype, if anyone was rude in Paris, it was the Americans. Kind of embarrassing.
On our last morning, we climbed this hill near our ghetto-fabulous hostel to see the Bascilque du Sacré Coeur, a beautiful church with a stunning view of Paris. At the base of the hill, we spot a true Frenchman wearing a beret and feeding pigeons a baguette and muttering something in French.
Hemingway is right: Paris truly is a moveable feast.

Sunday, October 23, 2005
Morocco = magnificent
If you ever get a chance to visit and Islamic country, do it.
Two weekends ago, I participated in a 5-day exchange to Morocco, a country that lies on the Northern coast of Africa, but just a strait (of Gibraltar) away from Spain. I was to travel with a small group of students, see the rural and city life, and live with a family. Sounded pretty standard for a student trip. I expected something; I didn’t know what...anything could happen.
Not to wax too political here, but it seems like in the months after 9-11 I read/watch/was bombarded with news item after news item about radical Islam, how oppressed the women are, the terrorism of the East. Poor Muslims was pretty much the attitude of the American media and I couldn’t help but agree. I was (and still am) pissed at Democrats, Republicans, and everybody else out there. Unfortunately, there are radical Muslims out there, women are oppressed, and terrorism is a very real thing. But there are also radical Americans (remember when the term “terrorism” was used to describe the Oklahoma City bombings, the unibomber, and mass-murderers on the home front?), Europeans, Africans, etc. What the hell do any of these terms mean anymore?
I’m the first to admit that I am not an expert on world religions. On the 8-hour bus ride to the strait, I took a crash-course in Islam. I read about how peaceful the religion is: the prayer rituals, how it is considered crass to eat with the left hand, the rites of passage, how hospitality is key, etc. I also would be traveling in the middle or Ramadan and was warned that most people would be fasting and very conservatively dressed. Arabic and French are the two most spoken languages there, and although Moroccans have an amazing aptitude for languages, I knew that with my English, Spanish, blonde hair and blue eyes that I would be more than out of place.
We spent most of our time in Rabat, the capital city of Morocco. An amazing family (only the sister spoke English) took me and two other students in, fed us, clothed us, did extensive henna designs on our hands, showed us their Ramadan traditions, and made me feel like I always belonged there. They lived in the medina, this tiny little labyrinth of un-drivable streets, white and blue Arab homes and mosques, men selling raw fish, and Aladdin-style fabrics hanging everywhere. Since it was Ramadan, the medina came to life at night: children playing, families out, everyone knew everyone, smiling, laugher, the works.
I read statistics about Morocco – the poverty, the illiteracy (60 percent on average and that number is higher for women), the political situation, etc. – and my heart aches. Never before in my entire life have I felt like such a welcome outsider and so obligated to share and listen to knowledge. After all that they’ve been through, they welcomed me, an American, with open arms and wanted nothing more than to have a real, genuine conversation with me. My sister tells me that she and her family cried when the two towers fell because they were so disappointed in what people had done in the name of jihad (which is almost always poorly interoperated and taken out of context in the Western media).
But in Morocco, I felt no anger. Just hope.
We took an hour long hike off of a dirt road to visit a village with less than 100 families. I saw 4 generations of women, complete with a 19-year old with her baby strapped on her back, backing bread in a clay oven and getting well-water for us. A girl on our trip comments that “they have nothing,” but I couldn’t disagree more. They have everything: family, food, satisfaction, love. They don’t have all of the things that we clothe ourselves with in the Western world to hide the truth (money, fashion, movies, blah blah blah) and they maintained a deep sense of satisfaction that I have yet to see in America or Europe. I could go on forever about Morocco…
We talk with a man who is the first in his village history to go to college. He tells us, in perfect English, about how he can’t find a job, nor can he leave the country. I cross the border into Spain and see thousands of Moroccans, recently deported trying to cross illegally. With our U.S. passports, we were ushered in quickly, past the scarf-wearing mothers with children, starving men, and ailing elderly. I want to massify the message of the amazingness I felt. Within minutes, I see ads for Spanish tourist resorts and McDonald’s and experience a earthquake of culture shock. Where were the smiles? The Arabic? The dates (yummy Moroccan food)? Where was my sister who eagerly showed me around her neighborhood?
I arrive back in Madrid, feeling like the girl who expected anything and realized from people who had everything that when you really get down to it, nobody has just nothing after all.

PS- Done with midterms on Tuesday...yeah!
Currently reading: A Man in Full By Tom Wolfe Release date: By 30 October, 2001

Monday, October 10, 2005
barcelona barbarians. dumb ashton kutcher. Current mood: chipper
Went to Barcelona this weekend with some friends...amazing weather, architecture and a bounty of things to do. We toured the Gaudi cathedrals (one of those "you must do this before you die" experiences) and partied it up on the beach and downtown.
I think that our hostel was run by a con-artist. Not only did he charge me two euros for a crummy towel that left little cotton balls all over me, but we saw him hustling some people in the lobby and lying about how many vacancies he had. You can be we´ll be posting on about this one! He even had the bed of chest hair poking through his shirt. It bothers me how people assume that because I´m Amerian, I automatically can´t understand a word of spanish. I´m learning some swear words now for my arsenal of comebacks.
Other than that, life was fab. We read that Ashton and Demi were honeymooning nearby, but alas, no sightings. News of the Boy George drug bust has made me sad, but I know that it´s a lie! Will follow news closely...
Sunday morning as we strolled around Las Ramblas before our bus, we saw dozens of barbarians walking around (see profile pictures). I think that they were filming a spanish made-for-tv movie or something. At any rate, we stood for an hour or so, dumbfounded by the hairy spainards with their spears and shields. Some were on cell phones and smoking. Gotta love those historical discrepancies.
Back in Madrid...the examencitos, the ensayos, school...the agony! The beauty of these little weekend excursions makes normal life seem dull. But then I wake up and hear the racist yelpings of my señora, spread some nutella on my morning toast, and know that life here in Europe is pretty darn amazing.

Thursday, October 06, 2005
solar eclipse Current mood: peaceful
Monday I sat in my spanish lit class around 11 a.m. I noticed that no one was started to get dark outside. A couple of other people walk in at 11:15 and tell me to go outside.
In the courtyard, dozens of students are wearing cardboard glasses and staring at the now darkened sky. People in neighboring buildings pop out of windows and more on the street stand paralized.
A 90 percent solar eclipse hit the Iberian peninsula (Spain, Portugal, northern Morocco). There won´t be another one until 2028. I don´t know which was better: seeing the sun going back to bed in mid-morning or all of the madrileños stop dead in their city tracks.
Sometimes, nature just kicks ass.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005
here's to soggy leiderhosen! Current mood: ecstatic
I think we’re all pretty familiar with German stereotypes: big, blonde, leiderhosen-wearing, beer-drinking, David Hasselhoff-loving krauts. Trying to be culturally sensitive, I left these preconceived notions at the Madrid airport. But in my first hour in Germany, I saw HUNDREDS of Uter (the exchange student on “The Simpsons”) look-alikes and a “Baywatch” marathon on the TV in our meager hotel. Not to mention the plethora of beer ads and angry-sounding German conversations. Culture shock? Maybe. But I fell in love with Munich, Germany, faster than you can say “Kazuntheit.”
Amber and I booked our Oktoberfest weekend as soon as we heard that there were spots still available. This weekend kicked my pocketbook in the arse a bit, but it was worth every penny. Our generation tragically lacks a Woodstock-like event (sorry to the oregon country fair fans), but Oktoberfest, the largest festival in all of Europe, proved to be a once in a lifetime event.
The festival lasts for three weeks, but we could only go for three days this weekend (damn class!). We checked into our hotel after major culture shock in the airport and in the metro. The complete and utter state of confusion reminded me of being in Russia, or New York City for the first time. What the hell did all of these signs say? Why is everyone so tall and wearing hiking boots in the city? Is that really a small child engulfing a bratwurst the size of my arm? Why is everyone named Hansel?
To get to the center of the action (where we would spend the majority of our three days), Amber and I went to the “grounds” – a huge field that’s sole purpose in life is Oktoberfest. I saw a map of the grounds before we left: 10 beer tents and some carnival rides. Sounded kind of touristy and hoaky.
But what nobody told me is that each of these tents holds 10,000 (!) people, an amazing polka band, and festivities straight out of a movie. The first tent we walked into, we saw thousands of decked-out Germans swinging beer steins (they serve beer by the LITER) singing drinking songs and dancing on the tables. Each tent had a certain magic to it – we sat with complete strangers and conversed with Italians, Germans, and Austrians using our English and Spanish. It was pouring the entire time, but nothing could dampen the festivities.
Sure, we ran into some sleazebags (the Italians who offered us “spaghetti and sex” come to mind…we fled ASAP), but the overall awesome funtime award belongs to a group of Bavarian college kids (one was studying to be a carpenter…I didn’t know that people our age still wanted to go into that) who traveled from their hilltop village to attend their millionth Oktoberfest.
We told them about America, they told us about Bavaria – the songs, the dances, and hell, even the leiderhosen. They explained to us with honesty and humor how the waitresses could carry 12 steins of beer at a time (“German women are bigger…evolution”) and the best places to go in Europe.
Politics came up on numerous occasions and for the record, Europeans really do hate George Bush. One of the Germans I talked to was in the army and went to Iraq for six month. Although his English wasn’t the best, he explained to me the horrors of what he saw and how upon his return, his girlfriend (“a beautiful girl”) found a new boyfriend. Talk about someone who could use a pretzel and shashlik. But his attitude about the whole thing seemed relatively healthy: “It’s okay. I’m here now with my friends and a new and different future.”
People can say what they want about Oktoberfest, but for me (here comes the cheesiness) it wasn’t about the beer, the carnival rides, or the bratwursts, it was about hundreds of people from around the world getting together with the common goal of having a good weekend.
Three days passed far too quickly. I hope that someday I’ll return to Germany – a land which swept me off my feet only to re-plant me on firmer ground. But until next Oktoberfest, I can only nibble on my German chocolate bar and listen to really bad techno. Sigh.
Currently reading: Three Lives and Q.E.D. (Norton Critical Edition) By Gertrude Stein Release date: By 01 November, 2005

Sunday, September 25, 2005
sex, sangria, and salamanca!
I have seen more churches in the last 50 something hours than I can believe. So much Catholocism here, odd considering that people here are totally down with gay marriage.
Our group went to Salamanca for an "academic excursion" (people were soooooo grumpy and hungover on the bus ride back today) which consisted of lots of tours with an actually amazing tour guide and roaming around charming spanish towns. I think I want to retire here.
The sex referred to in the title was on FIVE of the twenty TV stations in the hotel room (porn that I think would be illegal in the U.S. was playing right along the cooking network during broad daylight). Let's just say it involved the ass, plastic objects, and german...needless to say, little mary was slightly traumatized.
The sangria refers to the pitcher that little Pantea, my friendly Persian friend downed, resulting in her giggling the rest of the evening. Twas pleasant to be around a jolly little tipster. We went out for hot chocolate at 1 a.m. that was unlike anything I've ever drank. Heaven.
And Salamanca...another town which displays the utter beauty and charm of Spain. The winding streets, the bocadillos, the people...sigh. It's quite wonderful, even if I did stumble upon some raunchiness in the hotel.
Next week: OKTOBERFEST!!! (Munich, beware...)

Monday, September 19, 2005
the M.J. zombies of San Sebastian, Spain Current mood: scared
Every country in the world should have a San Sebastian. Well, I guess that’s one of the things that make Spain España, but nonetheless, I think the world would be a much better place if by a train ticket’s whim everyone in the world could travel to a conch-shell shaped beach where the streets are narrow, the tapas are cheap, and feel like a movie star, even if only for a weekend.
That’s where I was last weekend. Three of the ladies here in Madrid and I embarked on a 6-hour train ride (the voyage there was much more pleasant than the return trio) with swimsuits, Euros, and cameras in hand. We needed a break from our not-so-difficult classes and were yearning for the beach like nothing else.
We arrive at our hostel, supremely located in la parte vieja (charming downtown) and assume our respective rooms. Me and Sara's room is full of dusty Spanish volumes covering such topics as “Conspiracy Theories,” “The Truth About Assassinations,” and “UFO’s Explained.” Amber and Grace’s room has a samurai knife hanging on the wall, a dozen crucifixes, and a bookshelf full of ominous religious paraphernalia (figurines, crucifixes, Jesus stuff, etc.)
The skies were slightly cloudy, but that didn’t stop us from swimming in the immense waves. As we left the beach, we saw a crazy woman get towed away by the cops and a husband-wife duo building a sand castle roughly the size of a car. And this was BEFORE we read about Cuba Gooding Jr. and Wilem Dafoe being in town for the film festival.
Speaking of the film festival, much of downtown had red carpet rolled and the streets were brimming with artsy-fartsy film people. It’s like they transplanted the most arteestic coffee shops of Greenwich Village to this European oasis. Lots of berets (no joke), cigarettes, and tight, black shirts.
We scored tickets to the film festival’s screening of “Bad Lieutenant,” a Harvey Keitel movie that made me realize just how messed up the 80’s NYPD was. We found ourselves at the theater very early and sojourned to a touristy bar nearby…a bar which I will never forget.
It was called “Rock Star” and inside, we hear Tom Jones playing. My heart skips a beat and we hit the PACKED dance floor only to realize that we are the youngest ones in there…by about 30 years. Middle-aged people shook their booties and moved their hips in ways that I never though possible, no matter what age. Most of them were American (fat, balding, poorly dressed, rich) and oddly enough, sober.
They teetered between my karaoke-singing father and the zombies in the “Thriller” music video. Cheesy, but oddly alluring.
The next morning, we boarded the train for Madrid with our heads hung a little lower than before. We were out danced by middle aged people. Maybe I’ll return to that bar in San Sebastian someday – a little wrinklier, wiser, and nerdier – and outboogie those damn young exchange students who meander in. But until then, I’ll just have to practice my tootsie roll pelvic thrusts.
Currently reading: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (Perennial Classics) By Betty Smith Release date: By 18 January, 2005
Tuesday, September 13, 2005
bull about bullfights Current mood: crazy
Going to Spain and not watching a bullfight would be like visiting France and not munching on a baguette. (Insert snotty Frenchman laugh here.) Sorry to all of those animal rights activists out there, but I just HAD to go. I’m here. Bulls are here. They’re going to die whether or not I watch it, and for whatever it’s worth, the bulls here are raised just for the purpose of being used in bullfights, so there aren’t any little baby bulls roaming the wild wondering where mommy toro is. And after they kill it, they use the bull for something, so it’s not a total waste. I also read that bullfighting employs nearly 500,000 people. So I’m helping out the economy!
Now that I’ve fully justified myself, I can explain why the bullfight was the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen. We got kind of screwed by a scalper (we paid 10 euros for 2 euro tickets, but we didn’t really have a choice) but it was well worth it. The arena is huge – could seat about 20,000 easily. However, our señora informed us that this is the off-season for the toreadors, therefore the quality of the fights would be lower. It’s kind of like asking for Tom Cruse and getting Tom Selleck instead…well, even the Tom Selleck of toreadors has a good moment or two, so we decided to go anyway.
The arena was maybe a quarter full, but that didn’t mean that there was any less pomp and circumstance. They kill 6 bulls in 3 hours. One toreador (you know, the really cool guy with the tight pants, Mickey Mouse hat, and sequins) per bull. But before each toreador, five practice ones come out and warm up the bull. They had pink capes and the main guys have the traditional red ones. There’s a pseudo-referee on a horse who prods the bull with a long white cane after he’s run around the capes for five minutes or so.
I don’t know who out there has seen a bull in person and who hasn’t, but let me tell you, these toros were HUGE. Even though their fur was black, you could see the shiny spots where they would start to bleed. They had these huge horns that would race past the toreadors stomachs, coming within only inches. It’s like seeing a crazy naked hippie. You cover your eyes because it’s wrong, but peek anyway because you can’t really believe what you’re not seeing.
There’s a pep band (one drummer and three trumpeters) who play little suspenseful diddies throughout the whole thing. Then three of the little mini toreadors come out and each stab two, shorter, brightly colored prods into the bull. It looks painful, but the bull keeps running around with as many as six of these things dangling off of his back. To me, it was amazing how much all of them could take. The rule of bullfighting is that either the bull or the man must die. The entire time, I wasn’t really sure who the audience was rooting for, adding to the strangeness. Last night, the bulls lost. Part of me wonders if it’s like pro-wrestling and fixed, but at least this has a degree of majesty to it.
So after all of this, some cape waving and maneuvering by the toreador, he approaches the bull slowly with a 3-foot long sword in his hand that one of the pink guys hands him. He walks in front of it, and by now, the bull seems too weak to charge at the man who is literally in his face. The bull pants heavily and lifts his head to see the sword slowly come down upon him and dive into his massive body. Only one of the toreadors we saw actually did this “correctly,” getting the sword’s blade all of the way in. The bull twiches (more like convulses), then slowly the movement stops. One of the pink matadors takes a smaller sword to his head, to ensure that he’s really dead, and twists. We sat so far away, but the popping sound seemed so loud, clear, and the most dramatic part of it all.
The toreador takes a victory strut around the stadium, the band plays, and the people stand and cheer. The bull is dragged away by a team of three horses and his blood streaks the dusty ground behind him. A guy walks by to offer you popcorn, beer, or coke.
I don’t really know what to make of all of this. It sounds a lot more gruesome and touristy than it really was, but I’ve just never seen straight up man vs. beast action. And think, bullfighting is considered tame compared to some of that ancient Roman and Greek shit. I think of Hemingway (sigh), carnivores, and vegetarians. I don’t know what to make of it all, and I don’t know if I ever will. Spain…

Monday, September 12, 2005
An encounter with the Spanish mafia

Every penny I spent, all of the language classes I’ve taken, all of the burritos I’ve consumed, all of it paid off last night at a quirky little sports bar near La Plaza del Sol.
First of all, sports bar doesn’t mean what it does in the U.S. Soccer is a RELIGION here and even bigger than football or basketball combined in the U.S. The fans get into brawls regularly and people travel around the world to see their favorites play.
The main team in Madrid (there are three), RealMadrid, is very competitive (and Beckham plays for them. Wowza) and the world stops when a televised game is on. I’m not a huge sports fan, but soccer (futbol) is near the top of my list of sports worth watching, largely in part because of the crazed fans. So three other people and I go out for tapas (really yummy Spanish food…more detail later) and then mosey to the nearest place we can find that is playing the game. Given the national obsession, it didn’t take long.
So we’re sitting there, watching everyone smoke, laugh, and watch the game when I feel a gust of cold air. The door opens and in with the cool, night breeze, come three of the most glorious specimens of human I’ve ever seen. Think Madrid Vice. Greased, long black hair, white blazers, gold necklaces, shiny black shoes, the whole deal. The pants were pressed, the pelvises thrusting, and my God, the chests were gleaming. Combined, the three of them probably weighed 300 pounds.
They walk in and start playing some electronic gambling machines, curse a bit, and strut like I’ve never seen anyone strut before. I’d heard of Eurotrash before, but I didn’t anticipate my ability to smell these guys over the smoke and chaos of a sports bar. It reeked of L.A. Looks 80’s hair gel and, well, does amazing have a smell? The walk in and out of the bar (drug deal in the bathroom maybe?), laughing, smoking, and running their hands through their long, black tresses. Amber and I can’t keep our eyes off of them. Was this really happening?
The Spanish Mafia left after an all too short time in my life. In one moment, I the term “mafiosos” was redefined for me and my jaw never hit the floor quicker. Perhaps as I stroll through the city, our paths will cross again. But until then, all I can do is cherish the memory of the Don Juan/Don Johnson hybrid. Sigh.
Currently reading: The Razor's Edge (Vintage International) By W. Somerset Maugham Release date: By 09 September, 2003

Wednesday, September 07, 2005
Housemoms and lost roommates

She stands about five feet tall and looks at me through eyelashes clustered with mascara. Before I can finish precariously stepping out of the taxi, she opens her arms to their full span. “Mi hija!” she exclaims, affirming her desire to be the Spanish mother I never had.

I’ve never seen this woman before. She’s never seen me. I’ve spent the last day and a half on planes and in airports, trying to focus on crummy magazine articles and horrid in-flight movies, but instead staring out the window lazily in a state of insomnia. I couldn’t believe that here, in the middle of this bustling city, could someone offer hospitality and tranquility.

María Luisa sweeps me away to her large 8th floor apartment, complete with a large terrace which overlooks Madrid’s cozy business district. Churchbells ding and dong in the distance as she shows me her quaint European home, complete with miniature appliances, a parlour and modestly furnished guest rooms. “Mi casa es tu casa,” she says, smiling and offering me towels. My house is your house. Neither my housemate or my roommate has arrived (as of Sunday night, over 24 hours from her expected arrival, my roommate is still absent) and María Luisa’s excitement overwhelms my tired and rusty Spanish conversation skills. She seems so genuine.

Hospitality – it’s a concept that I’ve been forced to redefine these last few years. But María Luisa rolled out the Spanish red carpet for me. And pardon the shameless “Jerry Maguire” reference, but she had me at “Hola.” Here I am, thousands of miles away from my friends, my family, my love, my native language. I hope that María Luisa’s determination to make this fall fabulous proves contagious.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005
problemas con las computadoras
Current mood: blank
I´m here, I´m safe, and I´m also without internet on my laptop. For the last couple of days, I´ve had limited access to those silly standing computers. All in all, things here are faboo and hopefully tomorrow I can actually post something halfway insightful and/or descriptive. Damn those university internet time limits to hell!
Besos a todos!

Russia blog rehash

Here's a blast from the posted on my myspace blog A YEAR AGO, here are some of my postings from Russia. They go from newest to oldest, so start from the bottom. Enjoy, comrades.

PS - Sorry bout lack of pictures and whatnot...still figuring out the technical end of all this madness.

Friday, July 15, 2005
Homeward Bound

Tomorrow at noon, I board the train. Last night rocked. See the Oregonians soon.
I'll save the profound thoughts for later. But in short, Russia rocked my world.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005
Lo. Li. Ta.

In a quest to Russianify myself, I'm reading Nabokov right now - talk about an amazing writer. English is his second language, but the way he messes with words, sentences, graphs! Alas! I highly recommend it.
I leave here on Saturday (for 60 hours of travel...) and am trying to process what the last few weeks have meant. I didn't know what to expect when I signed up for this and I'm so completely overwhelmed by the people I've met here, the research, the music, the food, the attitudes, the politics...I don't think Russia will sink in until I've been in the States for a while. Anything I say at this point will just come across as a cliche ("There's no other place like Russia," "I now see the world from a different perspective," etc.) so I think I'm going to save the real cogitation for the epic plane, train, and automobile trip back.
I did my last load of laundry today (by hand) and my last official day of reporting. One story is in the can and another (extra credit) story is in the works. It won't be as compelling as the first, but it seemed inappropriate to waste precious translator time. I'm trying to think of ways to say thank you to all of the people who have helped me here. Hospitality redefined.
Home - another concept that seems bigger than I am. I strain to wrap my brain around all that is Oregon, but again, these efforts are in vain. I'll just trust that it hasn't gone anywhere. I miss everyone back home a lot, but Russia will be harder to leave than I thought...
Tomorrow, writing, writing, a peroshki, and more writing. I have some last-minute souvineers to purchase and photos to snap. This week like the past 5 will fly by uber quickly. This is life. This is Russia.

Currently reading: Lolita By VLADIMIR NABOKOV Release date: By 26 April, 2005

Saturday, July 09, 2005
Yesterday, Kate and I discovered that we both enjoy jazz and black humor. So, I spent all yesterday afternoon hanging out with her and her friend Maya on the other side of town drinking tea, looking at photos, watching movies, and laughing so hard that my face hurt. All in all, awesome.
I submitted my first article for editing (yeah!) and did some reporting for my second story - women's fashion. I'm still talking about pitches with some of my editors. Tres exciting.
Today, I must buy a swimsuit (blech!) for tomorrow's trip to Taganrog, the home of Chekhov. I'm pretty down with Chekhov and I'm even more down with the idea of a beach and maybe getting a tan (or more freckles).
Last night was our latest night on the trip and we played this celebrity game, ate a lot, and giggled mucho. I rekindled my giddiness about Kinder suprises and crispy pillows - the two best foods of all time - and felt very humiliated by my inability to describe historical characters to others. Nerd moment.
NOTHING officially planned for this leisurely saturday. I'm running low on reading material...a totally new scenario for me. Ahhhh!
And for those of you counting at home, 9 days until my triumphant return to Eugene (8 till NYC). I love Russia, but I can't wait to read a menu in English and see those whom I the meantime, I'll just charge my iPod and search for vodka per my brother's request.
Currently reading: Into Thin Air : A Personal Account of the Mount Everest Disaster (Modern Library Exploration) By Jon Krakauer Release date: By 22 April, 1997

Thursday, July 07, 2005
London Calling

After an unexpected flurry of e-mails regarding the subway explosions in London, I would just like to say that our posse here in Russia is safe. I don't know why people thought that I would be there (however, I do have long layovers in Moscow, Paris, and NYC - other Olympic bid cities) but we're fine. Some students here had connections in London, which of course raised some concern and a plethora of phone calls, but according to the NYU study abroad office in London, no one has been hurt. Nonetheless, the attack sounds terrible.
I arrive home in 10 days, but am prepared for massive delays and increased customs. 10 days seems like a long time, but judging from the way the past 4 weeks have flown by, it really isn't.
London...a beautiful city which I adore (I went when I was 16...the place oozes with charm). Just like the rest of the world, we'll have to wait to see what news unfolds...
On another note, I finished a story yesterday. Holla! I think my next one will be about women's fashion here and the politics surrounding it. But first, the gears of the editing machine...
Currently reading: Crime and Punishment (Crime & Punishment) By Fyodor Dostoevsky Release date: By 01 June, 1984

Wednesday, July 06, 2005
Contemplation of the massive type

At present, I'm rather overwhelmed by the power of mass media - this industry that I've spent so long fascinated by.
Today we toured a state-owned television station that reaches over 5 million viewers regularly. gets millions of hits reguarly. Hell, this bizarre blog gets hundreds a views a week.
Our inherent need for information is a healthy one - one that must be satiated but with caution. People must view the meida like food - junk is okay every now and then and you should not consume what you can't identify.
It never ceases to amaze me how much media we have - attempts at communication at every level imaginable, yet how alone and isolated people this inherent to mankind? I read news from around the world, and even help write it, but still, as I roam the streets here, feel completely disconnected and ill-informed. Russians ask me about America, and I don't even know where to begin.
No one told me that all of this mass communications stuff would be so philosophical! Nor did I realize that it would conjure up such a flow of identity questions. I think we fear thinking of ourselves, the world, and relationships because of the potential for dark findings. But tis this quest - to become a better version of the self - of introspection, external is what la vida is all about!

Monday, July 04, 2005
Fireworks..or lack thereof
There's nothing quite like spending the 4th of July in a former communist country.
Our little posse has spent the last week trying to find one tiny little firework, hell, even a sparkler or a lighter that plays music, but to no avail. Tonight, instead of the barbeque and light show, we'll probably end up eating borscht. Yeah America.
The irony of this quest to find things that light up is that me, Vijai (roomie) and Jocelyn (neighbor) have been without power for nearly two days. Everyone else seems to have light, but we had the fun of showering, peeing, and trying to walk around in the dark. It's kind of fun and reminiscent of camping, but getting a little old. Someone is "looking into it," which is an international euphemism for "deal with it, you whining piece of kartoshka."
Reporting today was successful and I've decided that I LOVE talking to people. I expected people here to be totally distant and cold towards talking to me, not only an American and a journalist, but a young girl who sticks out like a sore babushka. My amazing translator and partner and I had oodles of fun strolling up and down the street and talking to people about the monument issue. I would even venture to say that the people I've talked to so far in Russia were even more open and kind than Americans when it comes to dealing with the press. Since the government (still) controls most of the media, people seem eager to voice their opinion to a more independent and international source.
Yesterday, our crew took a long boat ride, full of techno music and drunk, middle-aged men, to a Cossack village. Not only was I literallyswept off my feet by a Cossack singer and dancer in front of everyone (my Russian dance skills are rusty, to say the least) but I learned tons about this very intriguing group who was persecuted for so long. It's fascinating to me how culture can flourish in spite of attempts at oppression...but on the other hand, I learned that 70 percent of my monument (for the story) has already been destroyed by communists during the revolution.
I wish I could offer some sage, Eastern European perspective on this fourth of July. But I guess it was all summed up this morning when I walked into class and a Russian classmate told me "Happy Independence Day." I told her that I didn't know that Russians celebrated this holiday and asked her how she knew about it. She replied "everybody knows everything that is happening in the U.S." I thought of the movie theater, McDonald's, and Calvin Klein store down the street and realized that the American sphere of influence extends to more corners of the world than I ever imagined.
Not to me a mucky Mary, but perhaps the lack of fireworks is for the best.

Friday, July 01, 2005
Brewery, bustin out, bugs

A few things, out of chronological order...
Our crew took a tour of the Baltika (a very popular Russian beer) factory, which other than reminding me of "Laverne and Shirley" proved to be quite interesting. In the end, they gave us free salted fish and mugs! (Can we say...father's day gift dilemma resolved!)
THEN John, Kate and I tried going to another hip hop club that was rumored to be where it's at. A good time was had by all, but it was pretty much a restaurant with Black Eyed Peas playing the entire time - not exactly the perfect slice of the Rostovian Rap scene pie.
Speaking of fruitful reporting, my historical documents and info so carefully obtained by the government are being translated as we speak! Hopefully I'll have a really sassy draft by Tuesday or Wednesday of my feature. From what it sounds like, my team is making the most progress, but I don't want to jinx it...awesome partner and amazing translator make Mary a happy girl. After reporting, we went shopping and ate yummy Armenian food. Journalism is soooo rocking right now.
Last night, after weeks of struggle and wasted rubles, I finally got to call the Nolan! Granted, it was 7:00 a.m. in Oregon and I woke him up, but it was still so nice to hear that life not only exists outside of this massive country, but it's still as nice and charming as ever. This morning, as I awoke to a cold shower, no electricity, and ants in my bed, I couldn't help but be jealous of Nolan and his cozy down comforter, void of bed bugs. In the words of Susanna, "stupid nolan choi!"
Today, we read our travel essays to each other (I'll post mine up here some time soon) and say farewell to one of our professors.
So, in my freakish quest to keep up with U.S. and International affairs, I read that Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Conner is retiring...not only is she my favorite supreme court justice (I know, i'm a government nerd) but this should open up a wide array of pissiness and ickiness in terms of who is next in line...part of me is glad that I'm not in the U.S. right now....any thoughts? I say they appoint Michael Jackson...not only is he well versed now in legal matters, but I think the black robe would really compliment his snow white complexion.
(By they way, I find the number of people who read this blog kind of creepy...especially since not too many people this a new kind of guilty internet pleasure?)
Currently reading: A Werewolf Problem in Central Russia and Other Stories By Victor Pelevin Release date: By May, 2003

Wednesday, June 29, 2005
ants in my pants...for real

It all started with a HUGE thunderstorm Monday night. I'd never heard anything so loud. It was around midnight, and to be honest, I was thankful for the poetic sound of the rain (wow, that's really NW of me) and the break that my downstairs neighbors took from playing loud eurotrash techno.
The next morning, due to the thundah, NO internet! Alas! I had research, e-mail, bank accounts,, ah! This state of internetless lasted for over two days, in which I felt bizarrely detached from the world. I tried repeatedly to get a phone card (it's been two weeks since I've talked to anyone on the phone) but it's been a PURE NIGHTMARE. Hopefully tomorrow will be my lucky day...
So yesterday, I decide to do laundry by hand. I've got all my goodies, ready to go and I pick up this huge pile of dirty clothes. Dozens of little ants scurry from the pile and even more have nested inside my shirts, jeans, socks, and, yes, my undies. It was the grossest thing ever. Two hours later, I hang the last clean article on the line on the balcony and with a gust of wind, half of them fall down. Eventually, I finish, and we go get pizza. Yummers.
One of the NYU kids is working on a story about Russian hip-hop, so a few of us venture down to Lila, a real-life Russian rap club. Inside, we find a flurry of 16-year-olds rapping about God only knows what. Our translator tells us that "it's vulgar" and rolls his eyes. The kids were dressed like skaters and at some points were trying to sing along with American rap songs, but it was blatantly clear that they didn't speak any English. Kind of funny, but sad at the same time. The bar had this weird, underground, Tiki theme and maps up on the walls. There were maybe 4-5 girls in the entire place. The highlight of the evening came when a kid who couldn't have been more than 11 started to rap it up about "friends." He was no Aaron Carter, but I was impressed.
Today was spent at a rather dull Russian-style press conference, finding a phone card, and writing up an even duller article. Internet juice kicked in this evening and during dinner at a nearby cafe, I acquired 5 new bug bites and heard the Bee Gees. My reporting partner and I worked on our story (we went to the monument we're's INCREDIBLE!!!) and tomorrow are heading to City Hall to grill some folk.
Tis late here. The website is updating more and more and hopefully tomorrow's reporting time will bear some journalistic fruit.
Monday, June 27, 2005
stinky pits, commie encounters and WEBSITE
Okay, so I just realized today that the date heading for all of these blogs is on Oregon time, so instead of me making the effort to change it, just add 11 hours...that's right, I'm ahead....those Russians, always thinking.
So today we had a press conference with this local bigwhig in the Rostov Communist party. I just wrote up this mediocre article about it (it is a bit on the bland site) but my favorite quote was "with growth of industry comes growth of the human." Granted, this was all through translation, but still...the idea was there. Stalin? Bad? Nooooo!
So the team's website is up
Check it out...there's pictures, blogness, and all sorts of nerdy info. And Brad, the WEBMASTER is working hard on it. Woot.
Tonight, laundry. I'm tragically stinking. John managing to buy clothespins without speaking any Russian other than "da."
Last night, Julia, one of the Russian professors hosted this clubbin/party thing. All of us ladies got all dressed up and arrived fashionably late. It was good to see and meet people, but I forgot how much I really don't dig techno. All was fine and dandy until Vijai accidentally spilled a mug of beer on my lap. The wetness was worse than the stench, but we left pretty soon after that. Soaked in beer, surrounded by euroboys, and free condoms at the door...being rebellious was never this knarly. I wanted a shower and hot cocoa.
People are actually reading the blog, which tickles me pink...I'm trying to navigate photoshop in Russian, so patience with the photos. I look pretty much the same, but the Russians here can spot us Americans from a mile away. I've never seen so many well dressed hipsters in one place at a time, and remember, I've lived in New York for a year. Fashion is HUGE here and everywhere. People at the club last night were decked out, and the weird thing is that people dress like that all the time, even when going to the grocery store.
By the way, I bought food for the week for 5 bucks or so. Lunch cost 60 cents. But coming home to a warm shower to clean off my brew-soaked behind...priceless.

Saturday, June 25, 2005
FUTBOL and stalkers with vodka

Last night (Saturday) I did the amazing...went to a European soccer game.
Of course, out here they call it football and throw things at the field. Rostov took on Moscow and after our stadium "tour" (by tour, I mean that a Russian walked us around the stadium in the heat and took 30 minutes to help us find our seats), we sat down and watched a pretty exciting first half. (Soccer here has two, 45-minutes halves). BUUUTTTT, those lowsy Moscowites won, 2-0 because of two penalty shots. Talk about cheap. People started to get pissed at the ref and chanted "The ref is gay" in Russian. Security is pretty tight at the stadium, in terms of trying to make you get rid of anything throwable, yet a few objects were hurled onto the field...mostly bottles or paraphenelia of the like.
Half of us left a little early and had pizza with sauce that tasted EXACTLY like spaghetti-o sauce. Vijai and I then split some yummy cake from a quaint bakery next door and ventured back to meet up with people at the dorm.
There's a salsa party going on in front of the building, so we checked that out, then went up to see Christina and Kate. Kirill, our Russian "RA" was also there and we all started chatting. Within minutes, a crew of Russian boys show up saying "drink the russian vodka with us," leaving us in a state of unease. The other half of the people from the game show up and a good time was had by all. Kirill posed as an American and the Russians bought it....the whole thing kind of reminded me of being 15 except that no one seemed to speak English.
At about 1:45, I turned in. Just as I was finishing brushing my teeth, I hear a knock on the door. Vijai's asleep, so I answer quietly. It's one of the Russian boys who is VERY trashed. He mumbles something to me and does this weird pelvic thrust thing. I point to the end of the hall and whisper-yell "GO!" He doesn't move, so I just shut and lock the door. Something must have happened, because this morning when I got up to run, he was gone.
Russian and American friends are all good and dandy, but all of this traveling makes me realize how lucky I was to find some of the friends I've got. Last night was this strange hybrid of awesomeness and people trying to relive their early adolescence.
Anywho, tonight is Julia's big party - black and white themed. I think this afternoon I'll read, research for an article and shoe shop. Bloody Sunday...
Currently reading: Resurrection By DAVID REMNICK Release date: By 26 May, 1998

Thursday, June 23, 2005
Gettin Cozy and RIP
Rostov is a city in Southern Russia with about 1.5 million people. For those Oregonians, it's kind of like a Russian Portland. But it's such a weird city in that the division between the rich and poor is soooo sharp. Where we are staying, near the university, buildings are new, hundreds stroll the promenade, and everything is relatively clean. But only a block away, you'd think you were in Bosnia during the early 90's. Hopefully soon I can post some new pics (we're still adjusting to the computers here...imagine navigating Windows in cyrillic...). Last night, John, Brad and I wanted to see Batman Begins in Russian, but the last showing was too late (damn dorm curfew!) so we'll have to do it another time. We window shopped, got kicked out of the park by cops for no real reason, then met up with the rest of the group and ate at this quaint restaurant whose name translates to "the Hokey Pokey." While walking in the street, a random Russian man took a photo of me with a digital camera and ran off. I immediately checked my clothing, my face, everything, to see if there was any glaring reason why he took my if you see any weird pics of me on the internet that were NOT taken by Alex, please let me know...tres creepy.
On our way back, we discovered an INCREDIBLE dessert bar, but did not partake out of fatigue...hopefully today I can finish where I left off, he he...nothing caps off a day of class like warm cocoa/ice cream/tarts, etc. Yummy.
Classes went well, but the translation process takes some getting used to. The Russian students I've met so far are so accomplished, but have a very different (and often more admirable) work ethic. Since our key professor is gone, another one is filling in and trying his hardest, but so far things have been pretty lax...not that I'm complaining! We also haven't officially started reporting, which should be a challenge.
Nolan sent me some sad but inevitable news from home: little Anna May, the perrenial puppy of the Pilon family was put to sleep a couple of days ago. She was about 18 years old and far past her prime, but in her heyday, she was one hell of a dog. I knew that it was going to happen, but I feel bad that my dad is so busted up about it and there really isn't anything I can do. Our other dog, Lucky, died a few months ago, so for the first time in my entire life, there is no doggie to greet me when I come home :-( As kooky as it sounds, this will be a very odd type of adjustment. But, in short, All Dogs go to Heaven :-) and little Anna May (not Anime) is no exception.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005
Choo Choo Rostov!

Moscow=rain. I brought my oregon curse with me. We awoke to POURING rain, but since our time there was so limited, we journeyed across Red Square to the Kremlin for a tour anyway. The Kremlin, for those who don't know, is the center of Russian government. It's designed like a huge fortress with a giant brick wall surrounding the complex and Lenin's tomb is right in front. You know all of those pictures of Russia with the swirly buildings? Those are the churches of the Kremlin and outside red sqaure. It looks kind of like a Communistic Disneyland. Tres cool.
So, me and some of my NYU journalism compadres admired the magnificent decor of the Cathedrals and roamed around Moscow soggy as all hell. There's such a heaviness to the city...and everyone seemed so angry...even more so than NYC. Granted, we're annoying tourists who know little Russian, but still, the city kind of weirded me out. There were amazing fireworks at night and a lot of Russian students had their prom that weekend, so we saw a lot of decked out teens. Kind of made everyone nostalgic and then turn to vodka. Hmm....
We also went to the CBS Moscow bureau and spoke with the chief and cameraman there...their take on things was fascinating...(I can elaborate for those international news nerds upon request) Putin has completely changed the face of Russian capitalism and the role of the's eerie.
We boarded a train, for 18 hours, that had the most amazing pink curtains. I heart the train. We had a great time just hanging out and watching the green countryside roll by (sigh). Part of me was sad to see the ride end...but we have another one back to the airport, so no worries.
Rostov, where we are now, is where the Russian-American journalism institute is and where I'll be for the rest of the time. We moved into our dorms and went out to the open market to purchase some things to improve our humble surroundings...hopefully I can post some pictures as soon as we get kind of settled.
Ah, Russians are so awesome! We met some of our interpreters and the Russian students here. They are so sweet and have that charming, Eastern European accent. And Russian women are so glamorous! I might even write a feature about it. More details to follow...

Monday, June 20, 2005
Moscow a go-go
I'm listening to really bad Russian techno (I'm at the point where I can actually recognize certain songs) at an Internet cafe outside the Kremlin. Life is good.
So we got on the train last night from St. Petersburg and I was dreading the 8 hour ride, until I saw our adorable little sleeper cabin! I felt like Harry Potter journeying off to Hogwarts (don't worry, Nolan, plenty of people were on hand to make fun of my dorky comparison). The train literally rocks you to sleep and we saw some of the Russian countryside. All around the outskirts of the cities there are these HUGE housing complexes built under communism right next to factories for the workers. They're in shitty condition and soooo bland. Even though Communism officially ended in 1991, there are still many red flags and images of Lenin everywhere. Whatever you think of politics, the effects are still soooo apparent here, from their economics to the way people walk, talk, and dress. I can't wait to start reporting in a few days when we get to Rostov...which also means another train ride! Woo hoo!
We're staying at the largest hotel in Europe right near Red Square. We checked in this morning, I took advatage of the AMAZING shower and napped a little after the tragically cut short sleeping. My roomie, Viajai and I watched a little Russian TV (sooooo weird) then the group headed over to Moscow University to meet with their professor of media law and tour.
He was fascinating. They don't have satire here because thousands of journalists every year get sued and charged with defamation. That's political cartoons, SNL, or Daily Show. I know that these aren't "real journalism" but the impact that they have on the people and the rest of the media is tremendous. It's interesting to see a culture so void of absurd humor. People and government are so ridiculous sometimes that they deserve to be made fun of, yet there is no real freedom for that here. They have freedom of speech in their new constitution and a tremendous increase in media liberation, but still a large piece of the puzzle is missing.
Blogging has also been a frequent topic of discussion, both over meals and when meeting with Russian journalists. This is my first time blogging, and I don't know what the hell I think of it. On the one hand, it's the purest form of democracy - even the little man can share his voice. On the other, it doesn't go through the scrutiny of an editor or bear the implications of published work...I guess it all boils down to question the source, which very few people do nowadays. Hmph.
Lenin's tomb is here and I really hope we get a chance to see it. He is fully embalmed and you can see his face and everything...totally creepy, in addition the fact that it's friggin Lenin. The rainy weather today really put a dampener on our sight seeing plans, so we hope that it will improve and we can see more tomorrow.
The little bit of Moscow I've seen seems AMAZING...I'm even more swept away by it than St. Petersburg. We'll be here for two nights, which seems like not long enough. Everything in Russia is so epic, even a month doesn't seem like enough to take in everything. Well, we'll see how I feel about all that 4 weeks from now.
Well, just like Russia, this blog is epic. So with that, I'm done.

Saturday, June 18, 2005
moscow, ahoy! Current mood: happy

Time limit on the hostel computer....bear with are some highlights...
Tonight we leave St. Petersburg for Moscow on an 8 hour overnight train. Everyone got really trashed last night (they give you vodka free with your meal and beer is uber cheap) and as a consequence, is very bitchy about this morning's early wake-up call. We're meeting and spending time with some of the Russians from the institute, and they're absolutely grand.
The Hermitage is the world's biggest museum, and yesterday I spent three hours there and maybe saw a fifth of it. In a word, amazing. This museum alone (not to mention all of the Rasputin history) made the plane ticket worth it.
We tried to go to this spa/sauna thing that Kate heard about in the guidbook, and after an hour long walk in the toastiness, we end up at the location, which is in a Russian ghetto (most of St. Petersburg is rather posh) and see a KBG arrest...even though the KGB was supposed to disappear with communism. There was a red flag, a paddywagon, the works. But Russians are so weird in that they're used to this...dozens walked by and didn't even glance over.
Last night we took a boat ride and ate at this exceptional restaurant with Russian music and a lot of drunk Russians dancing. All in all, I've had an awesome stay at St. Petersburg....Moscow, beware. Wow, that sounded more cliche than I thought it would.
Much love to folks, wherever they are. Comrades, be in good spirits.

Thursday, June 16, 2005
hostel but not angry
Current mood: confused
After over 10 hours on planes from JFK to Paris and onward, our group arrived at St. Petersburg yesterday around 3 in the afternoon. We're 11 hours ahead of Oregon, so my whole concept of time is perquacky. I fell asleep in the van on the way to the hostel and everything seems pretty surreal. There's a HUGE statue of Lenin down the street, everything is huge, and I feel like a little kid who can't read anything. After being showed around thehostel, we went out to this restaurant where I learned that Russians (and Europeans) don't really get the idea of customer service. It took two hours to get a mediocre (but cheap) slice of lasagna. I was STARVING and tired, so I called my dad (Nolan wasn't home :-() to tell him I got here ok. At 10, I fell asleep.
Now it's 5 a.m., I tried calling home again (no answer :-() and I don't really know what the plan is for today...the weather isovercast, so the tiny amount of photos I tried to take didn't turn out to well. In fact, the first thing I thought of when I got off the plane was "gee, this place seems like Oregon." Tres weird
This keyboard is akward and has cyrillic letters on it. Please forgive my sloppiness...I'm so jet lagged it's not even funny.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005
plane insane Current mood: nervous

So this afternoon, I'm supposed to meet the gang (I don't really know anyone who is going) at JFK airport. We'll then take two red-eye from here to Paris, then from Paris to St. Petersburg. I think it's around 16 hours on a plane...I've got some books and stuff, but damn, that's a long time to sit still. Anna takes the 18 hour flight to Singapore, but she had the magic of Law and Order to get her through...hopefully the movie is good.
I just got off the phone with Nolan and I'm making those last minute, U.S. non-international-roaming cell calls. It's $2.29 a minute to call from Russia. Yowzah! I could be buying Tupac ringtones with bling like that! do I get myself into this crap? I think my suitcase is too big for the train and people will make fun of me...but in the words of Jill "SUCK IT!" Here's to stickin it to the man and spreading communism...errr...I mean capitalism with fervor and passion.
Bon voyage and don't be suprised if the next time you see me, I answer only to "comrade."

Tuesday, June 14, 2005
NYC and jamacian me crazy
Current mood: tired
Here's a rundown of today...
3:00 a.m. - Alarm wakes me up after an hour (?) of sleep
4:00 a.m. - Myron and I head off to Portland, suitcase and backpack in hand. He's grumpy because I used his coffee mug to hold milk. The milk is yummy.
6:20 a.m. - We arrive at Portland airport after an exhilerating sunrise drive to the tunes of 80's pop. Myron talks a lot. I smile and nod. It hasn't hit me yet how early it is.
7:00 a.m. - Plane for Cincinati boards. My seat is in the back row next to two snobby women with Coach bags. During the 4 hour flight, the woman sitting next to me with fake nails longer than Florida drinks five, yes FIVE bloody Marys at 10 bucks a pop! She's giggly and more annoying than piss.
8:00 a.m. - I inflate my travel pillow. I kind of doze. The food and beverage cart passes me. I awake parched ad confused because "Robots" is playing and the woman next to me has the same pink iPod as me, even though she's older than my Dad.
2:30 p.m. (EST) - The plane lands late into Cincinati becase of a thunderstorm over the airport. It was just like the friggin Truman show. Just over the airport. Drunk woman freaks out and asks me if I like gold earrings. (?? I know!). I tell her that I find them elegant on some, but I'm more of a silver girl and my flight for NYC leaves in 13 minutes....
3:15 p.m. - (thankfully) my flight to NYC is delayed so I make it. I sit in the back again and the flight attendants are late with the food and the drink cart, so towards the end of the hour and a half flight, the angry British woman announces "the back 20 rows will not get beverage and snack service." My soul burns with hatred for the system....grrrrr....
6:00 p.m. - I hop aboard the bus from JFK to Grand Central and the bus driver is a Jamaican guy who looks like Don Cheadle. It's uncanny really. The foriegn people on the bus stare and act like it's really him...the keep saying "Rwanda."
6:40 p.m. - The bus breaks down on Park Ave, mere blocks from Grand Central. Don Cheadle starts to laugh/cry and gets out of the bus swearing. He calls the station with this 80's cell phone and tries to fix the bus. 10 minutes later, he gives the gas another thrust and it goes. The busload of people clap and say "I heart de citteee!" I think I'm the only one who speaks English, which, in turn makes me love new york.
7:20 p.m. - I take the Metro north to Bronxville where my pregnant cousin and her mutally exhausted husband pick me up and we go eat Japanese food. The put a bid on an adorable house in Connecticut after YEARS of searching, so they're jittered and worried about finances. Ah, the hormones of pregnancy. Food yummy, family grand.
9:30 back here at their apartment. It's friggin HOT here in New York and being back makes me realize how much I love it here. Sigh....
Anyway, more later when I'm not in such a notetaking mood. I'm alive and more details to follow...