Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Hazy Shade of Winter

Spent the day in California checking out Venice Beach and Santa Monica today...

While yesterday was overcast and rainy, it was sunny and windy this morning. Since I'm still on east coast time, I was up and out by 9am. I landed in Venice Beach (like the heroine of Speed, I took the bus) and I walked along the beach up to the Santa Monica pier as the homeless people, the freaks, and the shopkeepers started to wake up. The Pacific is so beautiful but it looks cold - much more blue than the Atlantic. I watched the surfers in their wetsuits for a while and then put on my iPod and walked up the boardwalk.

How did hippies all over the world decide that Che Guevera, Jim Morrisson, the Grateful Dead, bongs, rough knitted hooded sweaters, leather bracelets, pukka beads, 'indigenous' art, and indian clothing symbolize 'alternative lifestyle'? The other thing that kind of makes me laugh is that the sunny California lifestyle that the US imagines and that is reflected on our tv shows completely leaves out all the goths and metalheads that also populate California. In addition to a man in a tiedyed tee shirt selling pictures of Bob Marley and some incense, I saw a woman in a long leather duster, fishnet hose, 6 inch black patent leather heels, and a bustier walking along the boardwalk. And I thought I looked funny in jeans and cowboy boots.

After trying to figure out what the correct 'California' soundtrack should be (Eagles? Grateful Dead? Jane's Addiction? Motley Crue? Beach Boys? Elvis? Green Day?), I just turned off the headphones and listened to the seagulls and the waves and the wind. I felt all the stress from work just evaporating away. I went into Santa Monica and they were having a BEAUTIFUL farmer's market going on. I've never seen so many different varieties of citrus! At one point, I was in the middle of the flower section and the sun was out and shining and the tuberoses were heavenly. I certainly could understand why California is America's fantasy land.

Then the weather got colder. The Santa Monica 'mall' consists of almost all chain shops. I couldn't find a bookstore. I finally found Border's but it was like "Border's Lite" - with only chicklit on display. My feet were starting to hurt. I caught the bus back to Venice Beach and went to a very hip little neighborhood with very trendy boutiques, cool furniture stores, and expensive restaurants. I found another bookstore. It was beautiful - black and white photos of criminals in Times Square in 1965. Cool old garage turned into a sort of open air bookshop. I think it was called Equator Books. Featured in Wallpaper magazine (for the stylish who obviously don't read books). All the books were about pornography, prostitution, surfing, architercture, true crime or were written by hard-boiled 30s - 60s male writers like Cheever, Roth, or Hemingway. They were all the originals from the era and re-bound in shiny new plastic. Most were about $50. So are these the books that you buy to read? I don't think so - I think you buy them to display on your chic Danish modernist living room table that you lean your Surfboard next to.

Browsing around that neighborhood for a while showed me just how lovely, odd, and stylish Los Angeles can be - its such an odd feel - very 40s, film noir, bungalow in the sun filled with old Jewish men who make a lot of money, super skinny women in $400 a pair shoe stores informing the staff loudly what they did on Oscar night, and Latino immigrants riding the bus with me. I walked back to the boardwalk. It was open and more lively now. A man in a leopard print string bikini, a leopard tooth necklace, a fanny pack, and black hghtop sneakers lifted weights in the freezing cold. Several panhandlers asked me for a $1 to buy marijuana. A woman did squat thrusts in the middle of the bike path. I saw another bookstore sign - the Small World Bookshop. I wandered into nirvana.

Wonderful selection of books- funky, smart, new, old, US, and internationalist. Cute smart boys behind the counter and a sleeping cat. Chatted with the bookseller about DC and the LA and the cold. He was genuine and funny and nice. Bought a book called "Eat the Document" about 60s radicals. He said "I hope you like it." I said, "well it said it was recommended by the staff." He said, "Well I don't want you to think we are all dopes." I walked a couple of blocks up to a cheap and cheerful looking Mexican restaurant and ordered the special - taquitos and rice and beans. Then spent the next thirty minutes talking to a young black artist from Iowa who told me that the women of California aren't spirtual enough for him and he needs to focus on his art (which to me, looked the scribblings of a three year old).

Caught the bus back to good ole Culver City where I lie in my hotel - once owned by John Wayne and home of the Munchkins during the filming of Wizard of Oz. A brief nap and then back out to explore the Los Angelese nightlife (or perhaps just to go to the wine bar across the street and read my new book). California Dreamin' on such a winters day.

My loves in Jeopardy.... baby!

So I just finished my first (?) day of shooting Jeopardy on the Sony Studios in beautiful downtown Culver City. Oh my god! What fun!!!! It's so much fun to be there. Everyone is so nice...
Anyway, I signed something saying I wouldn't tell anyone how I did so I can only tell you these things.

  • I met Alex Trebeck (who I called Alec - that's right, baby).
  • Its taped on the Sony Studio lot where they also film Wheel of Fortune and movies like Men in Black II but I did not see any celebrities.
  • We talked about my Glamour Magazine appearance.
  • The set is very cool and metallic-y.
  • The other contestants are pretty cool - we're all feeling pretty chuffed because thousands of people try out, only about 6000 get called into the in person auditions and of them, only 400 get called to be on the show. And we were a part of them!
  • A guy sitting next to me in rehearsal won $15,000 on his show!
  • The show that taped before mine had my most dreaded category - Rivers of Europe!
  • My show airs the week of June 4th.
  • Alex is actually a really nice guy. We learned that he's a big fan of 'fix it up' projects and the crew gives him a gift certificate to Home Depot for Christmas every year.
    He answers questions from the audience during the commercial breaks. And wears a different outfit for each taping (there are five a day).
  • I now have a framed photo of Alex Trebeck and I to hang on my wall. Yea!

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Something in Iraq works at least

Today, I walked down 18th street through the icy remnants of last nights ice storm. Although almost every business had not yet gotten around to shoveling their sidewalks at 9am, the Iraqi embassy on 18th and P Street was busy! Not only were their maintenance crew out there shoveling away, so were several men in ties. So - shut up, Republican naysayers that say the Iraqis can't do anything without the US help! Today, they were actually doing better than most US organizations.

Monday, February 12, 2007

DC Film Premiere, Part II

I remembered the man's name from the DC Film Premiere of "The Situation" - it was Kenneth Pollack of the Brookings Institute - author of "The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq".

To quote from the New York Times op-ed today entitled: "What W.B. Yeats 'the Second Coming' really says about the Iraq war" by Adam Cohen who was inspired by the title of Kenneth Pollack's latest offering on the war in Iraq "Things Fall Apart."

" The confident predictors of who have been wrong in the past do not hesistate
to keep offering up plans...The co-author of "Things Fall Apart", the Brookings
Institute guide to going forward on Iraq is Kenneth Pollack, who is -
incredibly- best known for his 2002 book "The Threatening Storm: the Case for
Invading Iraq." "

You gotta love DC pundits - when you make a huge misjudgement and promote a war that displaces millions of people and kills thousands, just write a new book telling everyone what they should do now...accountability? Not in this city.

Anyway - shout out to my colleague at Refugees International who is heading out to Iraq to look at internal displacement there. Be careful. We need you to come back and hold all these assholes in DC accountable for their sins against the people of Iraq.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Nothing that can't be cured by a hot cup of tea!

My mother was English and one of the things that she taught me was that whenever you are feeling down, there is nothing that can't be improved by a hot cup of tea. I love tea. I drink English Breakfast tea or PG Tibbs tea and occasionally Irish Breakfast tea in the morning with sugar and milk. From time to time, I can be found drinking herbal tea such as licorice root, chamomile, mint, or even unsweetened non-milky "Constant Comment" or "Lemon Lift". But my true favorite is a big mug of English 'workers tea' - the caffeine lift, the burst of sweetness, the comforting warmth.

I had a nice cup of tea ths weekend as I reflected over the week that I had - its been difficult leaving Refugees International. For better or for worse - I have a 'reformer' personality. I want to make things better all the time. I try to curb this behavior but I guess I feel like if I'm not actively trying to make things better, I'm contributing to making them worse. And I'm a 'lame duck' now at the organization - on my way out. Because I have to get a work permit to work in the Netherlands, I've had to give an extrodinarily long notice. And its been an unpleasant feeling. I feel irrelevant at best.

However, upon drinking a good cup of tea, I feel better. Calmer - more accepting of the inevitable change that life brings us. The best way forward for me is to focus on my final projects for them and leave a clean office, organized files, and a kick ass report on gender-based violence in Darfur. I've made some amazing friends at RI and I think they'll be friends for life. I think I've left some concrete accomplishments. I feel good about my three and a half years there and about what I've done to improve the lives of refugees and displaced women around the world.

Change is uncomfortable. It causes me to question everything that I held as true. But with a good cup of tea, I face the future in Amsterdam with Medecins Sans Frontiers and the challenges of finding new friends, proving myself in a new venue.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Do You Remember Where you Were?

Do you remember where you were when you heard that Anna Nicole Smith died?

I was at work - trying to deal with a massive headache so I logged on to (my favorite gossip source) and got the news. It's the lead story on Wolf Blitzer's "Situation Room". It was even sent to me by CNN "breaking news".

I love my celebrity gossip - its my hobby, and obviously I"m not alone in the world. I've decided that when I'm on Jeopardy and Alex Trebeck asks me about my hobbies, that's what I'll answer. I love reading about the vapid lives of the extremely rich and famous. It's ridiculous the way we adulate them. But when I spend all day long thinking about raped women and the injustice that they are subajected to - i need something light and fluffy to engage myself and allow myself to turn off.

It's been my policy ever since I made the mistake of reading "A Bed for the Night" while working in Darfur. I have to cut off my brain sometimes. So tonight, rather than re-reading all of the papers I have on impunity in Darfur, I'm going to think about sad silly Anna Nicole Smith and her little orphaned daughter.

So long live US Weekly and - thanks for making your contribution to making the world a little easier to deal with.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

A DC Film Premiere!

Last night, I was invited to see "The Situation" - a fictional film about Iraq. I was excited to see it because Damien Lewis, an actor who played Soames Forsythe from one of my favorite PBS shows The Forsythe Saga, was starring in it. My friend, Jonathan Morganstein - the Liberal Marine - invited me to go with him. He's served in Iraq and is a democrat so he always has an interesting view on things.

Anyway, the movie was just okay - the acting wasn't very good in parts - too many 'speeches' about how you can't know who the good guys are and how terrible it is now in Iraq compared to under Saddam. I thought it would have been more effective just to show some of it - women having to dress more conservatively, the fear of ordinary things, the power struggles etc. The main character - a female journalist - was terrible. She made all the wrong decisions, put everyone at risk because of her, and worst of all - cried during the big crisis! Of course all the men in the movie were in love with her. Yet another set back for women in war zones. Help us! We are too stupid to get ourselves out of these situations and don't deserve to be there anyway! My actual favorite characters were the "Noble Iraqi Photographer" who was hot and sensitive and funny and the war profiteer insurgent - "Walid", a testament to the actor, I think who was able to really sparkle and show some wit under the turgid circumstances.

The crowd at the premiere was interesting - as a Washington DC premiere, our celebrities were a journalist from the Washington Post and an analyst from the Brookings Institute. Ugh. Dull Dull Dull. Oh- and the Washington Editor of Women came in wearing fur coats but they all wore Ann Taylor 'couture' and had the Washington power hair. If you are over fifty, your power hair is sprayed and bouffant. if you are under fifty, it's flat-ironed straight. There were maybe three non-white people in the audience - two Iraqi women and a black man. Everyone else was the typical Washington wonk types. The old important men speak loudly and jovially and shake everyone's hands. The old important women air kiss each other's cheeks while their dead eyes scan the crowd. The young ambitious senior class presidents from high schools across America looking adoringly at the old folks.

In the end of the film, the American journalist leaves behind the dead Iraqi journalist who lost his life trying to save her. The CIA agent who was trying to make things better is none the wiser. And I left depressed about Iraq and DC - depressed about the self-congratulatory tone of the audience. They all chuckled knowingly when the young new CIA analyst is chastised by an Iraqi diplomat for his ignorance and when the earnest journalist dumps the CIA lover because he says 'its just Iraqis!'.

Jonathan leaned over during the panel discussion at the end and pointed out that the Brookings analyst who was so earnestly promoting his 'new 190 page report on what he thinks about Iraq' and how he wished he could build a time machine and go back to March 2003 was a huge proponent for the war before it began. And that's how it goes in Washington. It's all posturing and politics - no one remembers what you said three years ago, they only care what the executive summary of your latest report says now.

Things I'll Miss about DC

1. The Sunday Edition of the Washington Post
2. The Style section of the Washington Post
3. WPFW's Blues with the Gator on Saturday afternoons
4. The Dupont Circle Farmer's Market on Sunday afternoons
5. Larry's Lounge
6. Landmark E Street Cinema
7. Knowing who the people in are