Return from the Windy City

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There are some folks who fall in love with New York City the first time they visit–they decide that whatever it requires, they will find some way to move there and live their best life/work in publishing. I’ve never felt that way about New York: every time I’ve visited, I’ve found it to be overwhelming, and expensive, and cold. Instead, I think I feel those feelings (or the closest I’m ever going to get to them) about Chicago–every single time I’ve visited, I’ve been enchanted by it.

It is also overwhelming, expensive, and cold, but in a way that apparently speaks to me. Perhaps it’s just my love of deep dish pizza.

So, when I wound up with a few days of vacation time that I needed to burn, I flew out to Chicago for a combination family visit/tour of the city. It was ridiculously, stupidly, photoshopped-this-onto-a-postcard delightful (if you don’t believe me, check the photo above), and that’s even with it snowing on the first day. Continue reading

Alcohol is in it!

Alcohol is in it!

Image courtesy of Seth Tisue. Licensed under CC BY SA 2.0.

I have kind of a weird Thing about inane marketing copy. It delights me in my heart of hearts that there’s someone out there who has to write up 20 different ways to say, “It’s a crew neck t-shirt advertised via soft core porn” for American Apparel. (This is part of why I love Decoy Brideour unlucky protagonist has returned home after a failed stint writing catalog copy for a menswear company.)

The alcohol industry is a particularly fertile stomping grounds for this kind of weird, relentlessly-cheerful copy. After all, there are only so many ways to say, “This will get you drunk, which you enjoy!” that still involve you being coy enough about it that the consumer doesn’t feel like they have A Problem.

Until this weekend, my favorite version of this was the Daily’s Cocktails pouch copy. For those of you who spent less of the last few years in college town liquor stores than I did, Daily’s pouches are basically Capri Suns for adults. They contain a mix of sugary-sweet cocktail mixer and malt liquor, flavored like any number of beverages that one might conceivably order at a bachelorette party. You pop them in the freezer and then enjoy them in a hazy cloud of self-loathing/beach vacationing. They are reviewed, wonderfully, in this ChowHound article.

The Daily’s cocktail pouches proclaim, cheerfully, that, “Alcohol is in it!”

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Deep in the heart of Texas

A picture of the South Congress Cafe in Austin, Tx.

Image courtesy of Shu Tu, licensed under CC 2.0 BY SA.

As happens every few years or so, I spent this past weekend in Austin, Texas. (Austin is, of course, the only part of Texas that anyone in my family will admit to going to. We spit at Houston.)

Rather than being down there to hone my South by South Best* skills, I was in town courtesy of my cousin, who–kindly–agreed to be bat mitzvahed*, so that I might eat many breakfast tacos and migas.

She, like her brother a few years ago, interpreted a portion of Leviticus in a way that made my heart swell. Leviticus, for those who are unaware, is mostly full of rules that most folks in the family flavor of Judaism don’t really follow, as mixed fibers are great and smiting is not so much. It takes some skill to really consider what that means for a modern reform Jew, and of course my cousin was great and at the end we got to pelt her with marshmallows. (Ritual pelting = my favorite quality in a faith.)

So that was great.

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Notes From Boston

Hello, friends! I am back from the frigid wastelands of Boston, which–though lovely–caused the lower part of my face to peel off. I am pleased to be back in my swampy, humid, grey homeland. (Besides, does Boston have a Twin Peaks-themed bar with a heated outdoor patio and funnel cake on the menu? Psh.)

The frozen tundra really was lovely, though. Boston is basically a European city, but in the US. I had a moment while I was there, where I was standing outside a CVS. Except across the street from me was the Boston Public Library, which is built as a fantastic public temple (it is so cool, you guys, I am a complete sucker for publicly funded monuments to education), and then on the remaining two corners that I could see were gigantic, cathedral esque Catholic churches. The library and the stained-glass church were in some sort of across-the-street staring contest. And I was sitting there with some hydrocortisone cream for my skin rash. And that is the kind of thing that just does not happen in Atlanta, or in any of the other places that I have lived. So that was wonderful. (Also wonderful: cannoli.)

There was a hilariously weird moment, however, that happened in the Boston Public Library. Led in to the space by my fantastic traveling companions (were it not for them, I would have missed the door), I spotted some big lion statues flanking one of the stair cases. We went up to get pictures in front of the big lions, because statuary! And then, we realized what the inscription on the lions was commemorating. (You can play along at home with this person’s vacation photos.)

The lions were a monument to the men of Massachusetts who had died or participated in Sherman’s March to the Sea. For those of you reading this from the UAE (WordPress tells me there are a few of you), Sherman’s March was a campaign during the civil war in which Sherman marched through the Southern US and–from Atlanta to Savannah–set All The Things on fire in order to capture them.

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Plastic Christmas

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This year, my family finally relented: we bought a plastic Christmas tree.

When I say “my family,” of course, I really mean “my grandparents.” My immediate family, due to the fact that my mother is Jewish, has never had a Christmas tree. (We also used to celebrate Hanukkah at Thanksgiving. I had a religiously confusing childhood.) So every year that I can remember up until now, we have gone to my grandparents’ house and decorated the shedding fir tree in which between one and three cats have nested.

The whole week around Christmas is the most heavily-ritualized time of the year for me. The tree is the kick-off. Later on there’s a family viewing of the lights in the town square, then a singalong on Christmas Eve before we do presents Christmas morning. In between, there is ongoing gossip about people my dad went to high school with. We eat divinity and fudge. (Divinity is like fudge if you abandoned all pretense and just made it out of corn syrup. On a related note, my grandmother is from Alabama.) There are obligatory references to state and local Democratic politics, and there is a three-Clinton-reference quota.

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New Favorite Drink

So this weekend was my little sister’s birthday. It was celebrated, as all good family shindigs are, in a house in the hills. This particular hill house was in Helen, GA.

Helen, for those of you who are Not From Around Here, is best-known for its epic Oktoberfest and–during the slightly less beer-soaked rest of the year–an agressive attempt to stay on theme. (The theme being twee and German.) Helen is the sort of place that is horrifying if you’re between the ages of 14-18, and absolutely weirdly delightful if you’re not.

There’s just something about Ye Olde Fudge Shoppe (and its 18 rivals, the Slightly Less Olde Fudge Shoppes and the Look At Our Fudge Innovation, We Learned This in Europe Shoppe) that is delightful. It’s probably the man in lederhosen outside, strumming his tiny banjo and renting out his parrots to children. As long as you can overlook the Confederate kitten t-shirts (it happened, I swear to you), the whole town is a weird escape from anything approaching real life.

But Alpine Helen eventually wore me out, and it was then that I retreated to the hill cabin to drink.

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Museum Brochures and Crying with Voltaire

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While I was in Paris I didn’t have access to wifi. I still blogged, though! This entry dates from Thursday, the fourth (and last full) day I was in town.

I think today was probably my favorite of the trip, in no small part because the weather was intensely excellent. (The day didn’t even involve any human remains!)

I started the morning off at the Orsay, which I wound up going to mostly as an afterthought to the Louvre yesterday. I don’t care about Impressionist art that much (yes, I am going to hell), at least not when marketed as such–and that’s what the Orsay’s writeups draw attention to. They need to hire new brochure people and reframe it as what it is: a fabulously well-curated collection of really accessibly famous art in a beautiful building.

As stated before, I know very little about art history, but I literally had a moment of, “Oh, wait, those Tahitian paintings that I had to do a presentation on in French class? Those are all here!” There were Degas and a whole room of Toulousse-Lautrec and the original of a Van Gough print my grandmother had on her wall for years, and that was just two random rooms that I stepped into. In addition, there was a great cross-continent look at art nouveau (my favorite!) and the modernist response to it.

I left the Louvre feeling like I had gotten some mildly unpleasant obligation over with. I left the Orsay feeling refreshed. This might have something to do with the Orsay’s beautiful, well-lit building, which used to be a train station. There’s a lot of clock faces and marble and a lot less of the painted Baroque ceilings of glowering allegories of eternity going on. Also, there was basically no one in the museum.

Basically, A+ to the Orsay. Unexpected success!

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Paris Continues to Improve

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While I was in Paris I didn’t have access to wifi. I still blogged, though! This entry dates from Wednesday, the third day I was in town.

So today’s Paris adventure was a marked improvement over the last two days, in no small part because Paris stopped trying to kill me with its weather. Huzzah! As a result, my body could go back to doing what it normally does and try to implode itself. Literally every single muscle in my legs, feet, and shoulders hurts right now, and I’m pretty sure I have given myself some sort of butt rash from a combination of excessive sweating and being gross. (Fellas.) So, you know, the accumulated mass of my various travel injuries should cause me to keel over at around 4 pm tomorrow. I’ll let you know.*

But at least if my injuries will end me, I’m going out on a good note. Today was a great Paris day, tourist-wise. (Minus the six different couples that I saw dry hump in public today. Jesus, people.)

Paris is My Fitzwilliam Darcy

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While I was in Paris I didn’t have access to wifi. I still blogged, though! This entry dates from Tuesday, the second day I was in town.

So I’m pretty sure that I am one of those people who is Supposed to Like Paris. I’m sullen and brunette and like stripes. I am at this moment wearing a boat neck top. La Belle France is the place for me.

I was thinking about this at 2 pm the day that I arrived here, as I stood–feet numb from soaked shoes, being made fun of by some high school student because her very midwestern mother tried to help me with my bag–in the world’s longest taxi line outside of the Gare du Nord.

If Paris is supposed to be my great love, we’re starting out on Darcy and Lizzy Bennett footing. (Barcelona, in contrast, was like a drunken bar fling. I have no idea what anyone was saying, but it was beautiful and fun and full of sangria.*)

The leadup to the world’s worst day was pretty much my fault, sadly. Two things happened: I took the redeye in from Dakar, and I forgot that weather exists. As a result, I was stranded when the woman whose flat I’m staying in got stuck in a meeting, and I was wearing Dakar-appropriate summer clothing when Paris was 50 degrees and pouring rain. I like my $6 Senegalese espadrilles a lot, but they’re basically made of hope and a scrap of fabric–it’s been a day and a half now and they’re still wet from the trip.

Because I got in four hours later and 200% sadder than expected, I gave up on my first day plans of seeing the Pantheon and Saint Chapelle. Instead, I spent the afternoon walking around the neighborhood and taking pictures. I’m in the very heavily West African neighborhood of Paris, which means that I saw eight tailors with wax print in their window and got (charmingly) hit on in the street by two Senegalese men. It was kind of a great bit of weirdness. (Unlike in Dakar, these dudes accepted it when I turned down their invitations for coffee, I wished them a good day, and we parted ways. Yay!) It was nice just to see the neighborhood here, and I stopped in my obligatory paper goods/hipster curio boutique to buy some souvenirs.

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