Friday, July 30, 2010

The Craft Redux

Since I've returned from my trip, I've been staying at my mom's place deep in Brooklyn (think of the last stop on the 2 train right next to Brooklyn College) since my subletter has my place until the end of the month. Though I've found it annoying to be so far from everything, her house has one distinct advantage: television.

I don't own a television (wow, try saying that without sounding pretentious) though I do watch a healthy amount of it on my laptop. On the other hand, my mother, who doesn't own a computer, has a sattellite dish, which means lots of channels. I have mostly been watching the History Channel and repeats of Law & Order SVU (I prefer my L&O with some sexual deviancy) but the other night I stumbled onto a broadcast of the late 90s film The Craft and decided to take a break from shows about the formation of the universe.

I had only seen this film one time before- when I was a patient at Boston Children's Hospital in 1997. I had just undergone spinal fusion to correct severe scoliosis. I was miserable and angsty. I was 14. I spent a week and a half in the hospital trying to make everyone as miserable as I was- the doctors, nurses and especially my mother. Needless to say, I was not a fan favorite on the ward. (One nurse kindly reminded me that, "There are some kids here who have cancer." Burn.)

But one nurse took pity on me. She had been a gymnast and understood that I wasn't simply mourning the loss of my spinal mobility but of the sport that demanded it. She loaned me gymnastics tapes from her own personal collection and one time offered to rent a video for me and my mother on her way to work.

I had wanted to see The Craft when it was in theaters but never made it to a showing so I asked if she could get that for me. She looked towards my mother to make sure she didn't mind her young, Orthodox Jewish daughter watching a movie about witchcraft. My mother simply nodded. (Even if she had been the type to censor what I read, watched or listened to, at this point I had broken her will to live. Since I couldn't sleep due to excruciating pain, I decided that she shouldn't sleep either. Such is 14 year old girl logic.)

The nurse delivered the tape to my room the next day and we watched it that night, my mother sitting in the reclining chair next to my bed. I raised the head of my bed so I would be upright. While I immediately fell in love with the film and overidentified with the girls' teenage angst, wishing I had had the power to fix my back via magic (as did one of the girls to her burn scars), my mother was less keen on it, especially when it came to the snakes. My mother has a strong fear of snakes and couldn't sit through a showing of Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark. When it came to the third act scenes that were filled with snakes and other creepy crawlies, my mother climbed into bed with me and hid her face.
As I watched the film for the second time 13 years later, a few things struck me. First of all- The Craft is actually a good movie. Decently scripted and acted with special effects that didn't seem especially low budget or cheesy upon review over a decade later even after James Cameron brought us Avatar, which I still haven't seen. And then there was the nostalgia part- Aw, remember Robin Tunney and Neve Campbell? Where are they now? (Of Party of Five alums, I'd much prefer that Campbell had a career instead of Jennifer Love Hewitt, who I've never been able to tolerate.) And though I no longer overidentified with the characters' angst-I am pleased to say that at 27, I have finally overcome my adolescence- I still appreciated the story and development. Also, from the perspective of a feminist adulthood, I do appreciate that men weren't the main focus and that the heroine saved herself without help from a romantic lead.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Vacation Round Up

After spending a few weeks traveling through Austria and the Balkans, I have surprisingly few observations about the life and culture of Central Europe and the Adriatic coast, probably since most of the people I encountered were also tourists (mostly of the Australian persuasion).

But here are a few of my take away lessons from the trip:

1. The regional theme song is Lady GaGa's "Alejandro." Since I was traveling without my Ipod, it was impossible to banish this song from my head with something from my own play list. Needless to say that after enduring 3 weeks of this song, I dreamed of turning the machine gun bra Lady GaGa wore on the cover of Rolling Stone on her.

2. Not an area known for its culinary prowess, the only reliable food group in the Balkans is gelato. (Not that I am complaining about that.) Some of the best I tasted was in Dubrovnik, Croatia, and not just because I got it for free. Twice.

3. Socialism is bad for service. I know this should be obvious but this was my first experience with European socialism. At one point in Salzburg, Austria, just a few minutes after a friend and I had paid the full fare to go across town, the bus driver did a U turn so we were now facing in the opposite direction and got off the bus. Apparently, his shift was over and he would not drive off the clock for one minute. He was replaced by a driver who was now headed in the opposite direction. He did not care about the original direction of the bus or that we had already paid to go the other way. We ended up walking the rest of the way to our destination. In Dubrovnik, I ordered a cup of coffee from a waiter who was already annoyed that it took me and a new friend (Brazilian this time) more than two minutes to order. When my coffee arrived, I asked him for a bit of milk, which only seemed to vex him further. He did oblige me with the milk but also with a separate bill for it. It came to 4 Kuna, which is about 75 cents, outrageous considering I was already paying Starbucks-esque prices for this small cup of coffee. When I summoned the waiter and told him I was sending both the milk and additional bill back, he asked, "What am I supposed to do with it?" To which I wanted to respond, "Charge the next unfortunate sucker for it." But I didn't since I was trying to stay away from the Ugly American stereotype while abroad.

4. And last but not least- always wear long pants when partying with Aussies. I know I've already devoted a full blog post to this particular lesson, but it is so important it's worth repeating.

Me in front of Riesling vineyard in the Wachau region of Austria.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

On Jerusalem, Mostar and Destruction

This year was the first time in many years that I did not hear Megillat Eichah (Book of Lamentations) recited on the 9th of Av since I've been traveling through the Balkans yet in many ways, I probably had a more meaningful fast and day than I've had in a very long time.

The problem that many confront when commemorating this day is how remote the tragedy feels. After all, it took place nearly 2,000 years ago. When I was younger, I was at sleep away camp for Tisha B'Av and we routinely watched a film about the Chofetz Chaim which warned us against speaking gossip about one another since baseless hatred was one of the causes of the destruction of the Temple. (Less directly responsible for the smoldering ruins- the Romans. Also, we didn't actually watch the movie on a real television screen. It was shown to us on a Commodore computer monitor. It seemed that to the camp administrators, that even the technology of TV was tainted, not just the content.)

In addition, we had a daylong program intended to bring us to the brink of tears. "If you can't cry for the destruction of the Bais Hamikdosh, if you can't cry for the widows of Yerushalayim," we were told, "then you should cry for the Inquisition. The Holocaust. Anything bad that has ever happened to you in your life." Though later I was able to cry on demand in order to avoid a traffic ticket, the massive, I couldn't seem to bring on the waterworks for some of the more tragic moments in Jewish History so I went with my parents' illnesses. If it hadn't been for the loss of the Temple, I thought, my mom would've never had breast cancer. It sounds absurd and I'm not sure if it's psychologically healthy to tell young kids that every personal tragedy has just one cause, the loss of a Temple but it worked. Most of us managed to cry by the end of the day so our counselors must've judged the program as a success.

But this year, I began my fast in a city that was destroyed much more recently than 70 C.E.- Mostar. During the 90s, it was bombed by both the Serbs and Croats. Its iconic Old Bridge fell into the river after heavy bombardment. (In 2004, with help from the international community, it was reconstructed and rededicated.) Though shops and cafe were open for business and I had some of the best vegetarian food of my time in the Balkans, the city is still marked by war everywhere. Half the buildings are bullet pocked. Many are still in ruins and the new cemetery is filled with graves, most of them belonging to men, and all with the same death year- 1993. If the Mostarians were to institute a Tisha B'Av for themselves, they probably wouldn't have to dredge up their parents' divorces in order to cry. They can just look outside their windows.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Always wear pants when partying with Aussies

Though I have enjoyed the sights and activities immensely since I first arrived in Central Europe- the lakes, the architecture, the biking- I hadn't yet gotten rowdy with a large group of comparably aged people- until last night.

After a long day of mountain biking and swimming in Lake Bled in Slovenia, I returned to Ljubljana and my hostel to shower before dinner. While I was bathing, a young woman with an Australian accent called to me from the adjoining stall, addressing me as though I was her friend, which she thought I was. She told me that she was part of a large group- round 28 people- mostly Aussie and all staying on our floor. Apparently she was traveling as part of the Contiki tour, which takes young Aussies on tours of Europe. They should probably be offered a hot tub and a show on MTV, but desperate for a little bit of drunken fun I asked to crash the evening's festivities.

Their tour guide brought us to a bar with a 2 for 1 drink special whose most popular cocktail is called the Green Bastard. It looks radioactive. I refrained, not because of the color but because I detest Red Bull. Whereas I drank just one of my twofer deal (my friend drank the second mojito), everyone else imbibed in multiples of 2. As the evening went on and everyone got progressively drunker, I learned that some of the tour members were Kiwis (New Zealanders) and that Australians and Kiwis have a relationship that is not unlike the one we have with our Canadian neighbors to the north. I also (un)intentionally insulted one Kiwi when I told him that we didn't know about his country until the Lord of the Rings came out in movie theaters.

After several rounds of 2 for them (and just little bits of the Aussie blokes' drinks for me) we exited and sat on a cafe on the banks of the river. It was a lovely candlelit night and I was distractedly flirting with a young Australian when I felt a burning flit across my leg. I cried out in pain when one of the young Aussie women apologized and then giggled. She had been picking at the candle with her drink straw and flicked it at my upper thigh accidentally.

"I usually pay for this sort of thing," I thought of telling her, referring to the medieval torture exercise known as bikini waxing but she clearly felt guilty and I didn't want to make her feel worse. She even offered me the ice from her cocktail to lessen the burning.

As my friend later pointed out, I learned an important lesson the hard way: Always wear pants when partying with Aussies.

Feeling Frisky, Part 2

Here is another piece of mine that went up on the Frisky yesterday about my love-love relationship with breaking in their "Love Your Body" section. Though I suppose I do love my body, breaking is hardly the way most people show their limbs any sort of affection.

And though most of my writing in the body remained intact, the title was changed (like the first article I had up on the site) to something about as subtle as a sledgehammer. Oh, maximizing search terms and Google ad words.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Viennese Waltz

So I guess I lied about staying away from this blog. I'm not much of a travel writer and I'm pretty sure that anything I write has been said before (and better) so forgive me if any of my posts bore you.

I landed in Vienna without my luggage yesterday- it failed to make the connection with me from Heathrow- and headed quite tired and jet lagged from the red eye flight directly into the city to meet up with my traveling buddy, who I'll call Mr. Type A for any trip related blog entries. (Though I have and will continue to needle him for his hyper planning, I must say that I would be thoroughly lost without him since I lack any sense of direction and sometimes can't make my way out of a parking lot.) We immediately went to see the wealth of the Hapsburgs at the Hofburg Palace. As a general rule, I am not overly awed by big, expensive gold plated dinnerware. I guess I won't be registering at Hapsburgs R Us.

Today we went to the Schonbrunn Palace, the Hapsburgs' summer home, which is a mere four miles from their year round residence. I suppose no one ever told them about the beaches of the Caribbean. Also of amusing note, our audio guide twice informed me that Emperor Franz Joseph was a simple sort of man who didn't go for extra frills by noting how sparsely furnished his bed chamber is. Dear Mr. Audio Guide- that would be an easier sell if that "spartan" room wasn't located inside a 1,200 room palace.

But what has been very odd for me (and not in a bad way) has been being surrounded by the German language for the first time in my life. Having been raised on a steady diet of Holocaust movies and WWII documentaries, the only German I ever heard growing up were ones like "schnell" being yelled by a Gestapo officer at a Jew. (I regularly watch the History Channel and in college would stay up late at night watching programs about the Third Reich. Back in those days, it seemed that the channel's slogan was, "All Hitler, all the time." I also rather enjoy pieces about the Civil War. Inside of me, there's a 65 year old man trying to get out.) So it has been particularly amusing to hear the language put to everyday, non-genocidal use. But better than that has been seeing the ethnic variety amongst the German speakers. Though I am aware that Europe is a much more diverse place than it was at the end of the WWII, I hadn't done much research into its present demography before visiting (I left all that to Mr. Type A.) But I don't think that knowing more would've made it any less surreal when I heard a Muslim woman wrapped in a head scarf of North African descent speak German into her cell phone. Somewhere, Hitler is rolling in his grave. Now if only the History Channel could document and broadcast it.

In other news, my luggage was eventually returned to me late last night and one of our hostel mates is a journalist from Romania- I peppered her with annoying questions about the country's gymnasts. She was much more knowledgeable about 30 Rock than back handsprings. The other is from Newfoundland and she has the most delightful Canadian accent.

Oh, and I smell like cigarette smoke. Where is Mayor Bloomberg when you need him?

Monday, July 5, 2010

Explorers we are!

Dear 3.5 readers,

Tomorrow I will be leaving the country to explore (as did the NATO forces that went before me) the Balkans. I don't expect to be able to update this blog while I'm abroad so this will be it for now. I will leave you with a quote from a Calvin & Hobbes treasury. (I owned all the books as a kid and they got me through many a long, boring Shabbos afternoon.) But this particular poem is dear to my heart since I used it in my valedictory address when I graduated from high school. (I'm pretty sure that when I jokingly referred to the boy and his stuffed tiger as the "renowned philosophers Calvin & Hobbes, everyone thought I was quoting John Calvin and Thomas Hobbes. Or perhaps I'm giving them too much credit.)

Explorers we are,
intrepid and bold.

Out in the wild,
amongst wonders untold.
Equipped with our wits,

a map and a snack.
We're searching for fun,

and we're on the right track.

Have a great summer!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Happy Shiny Bike People

I spend a lot of time making fun of bikes, frequently referring to them as "two wheeled instruments of death," and calling myself an "avid pedestrian," which I am. But what I often don't admit is that I wish I could be one of the happy shiny bike people, those cyclists that zip down the streets of my Brooklyn neighborhood, weaving in and out of traffic with so much ease and so little regard for personal safety. Biking in NYC is dangerous though you wouldn't know it, judging from the cyclist's brazen attitudes. Having undergone two orthopedic surgeries for issues unrelated to biking, I am not looking to have any more procedures, I am fearful of more injury and subsequent rehab. When I do ride my bike through traffic, I clench my shoulders so tightly I could wear them as earrings. (This was also how I wore my shoulders during the first 6 months I lived and drove in L.A.)

I am also particularly if foolishly jealous of those cyclists who managed to dress fashionably whilst pedaling without a helmet. I have curly hair and I hate mashing my kinks every time I put mine on. It is impossible for me to arrive anywhere after a bike ride looking remotely attractive. And I know it's stupid but biking without a helmet, like smoking, is cool.