Monday, April 30, 2007

A moment of glory

At C'est Bon Convenience today at 11:20 am, I see a severely obese man buy a six-pack of beer and a scratcher lottery ticket. The only way this could have more completely represented American excess is if he went on to bomb a small country.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Lakers vs. Suns, Game 4

Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant are not men. They are basketball robots, designed in laboratories to be un-freaking-believable at one thing in life.

Seriously, when do we get to call Lakers-Suns a legitimate rivalry in the NBA, and a great one at that? They're in the same division. Their games looks like March Madness in terms of intensity. Kobe Bryant and Raja Bell are a constant risk to decapitate one another on the court. I would pay $500 to be at the Staples Center right now.

Comically awkward moment of the semester

So this morning, I go to hit the shower in our hall bathroom. The shower is occupied so I take the time to brush my teeth at the sink. While I'm brushing, I hear the shower turn off, but minutes pass and no one comes out. I can hear sounds of towel-drying, but I finish brushing my teeth and I'm just standing there waiting, thinking to myself, "What could possibly be taking so long to dry off?"

Finally, the shower door opens, and a guy emerges and moves quickly toward the exit. I take a step toward the shower.

Then the second guy emerges from the shower and heads for the exit.

There needs to be a name for this. It's like the towel-dry-of-shame.

Friday, April 27, 2007

This is the natural effect of finals week on one's disposition

It makes you listen to a song called "I Hate Everyone" on repeat.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Drew Barrymore will forgive me for being mean

I'm sorry, but this is a poor decision in every way. Drew Barrymore as the Most Beautiful Person? As this picture demonstrates: on looks, wrong. As her filmography demonstrates: on talent, wrong. And as the quotes in the article demonstrate amply: on personality and intelligence, wrong and wrong.

What a needlessly bitchy post this has been.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Dream log '07, continued

In today's chapter, Ken plays a Blade-like character who is battling some vampires and trying to discover why they have embarked on a systematic campaign of violence against regular humans. Ken discovers that the apparently decidedly prudish vampire community is looking to terrify and appall humans into passing laws to ban references to vampires and the supernatural in literature and media. Even in his dream, viciously attacking hundreds of humans strikes Ken as a somewhat overkill way to go about achieving this goal.

I would like to add this phrase to my daily lexicon

Second frame, last speech bubble.

Monday, April 23, 2007

This is why I'm hot

It would appear that fly and hot are interchangeable. If you are one, you are both; if you aren't at least one, you are neither. I'm a little rusty on my formal logic, but if I understand this article correctly, I'm actually both.

If you find completely overlapping Venn diagrams visually unhelpful, consider this tautology:

Credit to Jesse, my formal logician.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Important developments

Had a long gap time from the last post, but perhaps this is the most important development of all. Normally, as soon as I stop updating the journal for a week, I'm done for a year. I'm a big kid now. I can take week breaks.

So what are the big news stories? Well there's TNC (it's dynamite!). Hopefully somebody gets the AC/DC reference. But actually, TNC is The Negotiation Challenge, which was my excuse for putting off starting my papers/learning corporations law for another week or so, and go to Leipzig, Germany instead. While there, I succeeded in all of my primary goals: going to Germany, drinking considerable volumes of German beer, not doing schoolwork. You will note that "winning Negotiation competition" was not among those goals, and we didn't bother tacking it on while there (though the other Harvard team did...congrats to the awkwardly-named Leipnitzians).

Perhaps even more important has been the arrival of sun in Boston since my return. Sister Mila is in town, and evidently she brought it in her carry-on (I wouldn't think she'd be allowed to travel with it, since it's got to be more than 3 oz. worth of liquid). We had up to around 75 yesterday, 65 today, and -- dare I dream? -- over 80 tomorrow. I have taken advantage of this fact to play volleyball, do the swan boats with Mila in Boston Common's Public Garden, and generally wander the city. Much to my amazement, I have not hated Boston, and actually liked it. There I said it.

I've always acknowledged my Seasonal Affective (Dis)order (props to Trevor for pointing out the Order/Disorder distinction, but I think the SAD acronym is too appropriate to let go of). But now I think that it may play an even larger role than I ever realized in my distaste for this place. Boston itself seems to be fine. But I'm still allowed to hate winter, Boston winter, Massachusetts generally, Boston values, Boston accents, the word "wicked," Bostonians, and the Boston Red Sox. None of those have done anything to redeem themselves with me.

And in the category of little things that bring happiness and fulfillment to an otherwise meaningless and lawyerly world: today, while meeting Tina to walk down to the Square for the HLS Drama Society Banquet, her phone call was timed perfectly so that I exited my building and met her at the sidewalk just as she passed the gate, with neither of us breaking stride at all. It was seamless and maximally efficient. And an apt start to a lovely banquet, which totally reminded me of how right I was to involve myself with all those wacky drama kids in the first place. So yay that.

But the bad news is, just as Mila brought the sunshine with her to Boston (apparently, it started raining in LA when she came here), she's taking it with her when she leaves...the bitch. She heads back on Tuesday, and the rain arrives on Wednesday and Thursday. Doesn't she know we need the sunshine more? Measures must be taken...

Monday, April 09, 2007

"He died at his storyboard"

Turns out the guy who created the "B.C." comic strip died yesterday. I was never a fan of "B.C.," and haven't really read newspaper comics for years, having long since abandoned them in favor of webcomics. But one part of the obit jumped out at me: he apparently literally died at his storyboard.

On the one hand, there's something very poignant about that. On the other hand, it's only poignant because being a cartoonist seems like a fun job and because the guy seemed to genuinely love doing it. If I died at my law firm desk, no matter how old I was, I would consider it an unmitigated tragedy.

Incidentally, this is exciting to me: Oasis, the Killers, the Kaiser Chiefs, and Travis covering "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band?" Yes, please!

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Modern air travel is the greatest contemporary threat to the human soul

April 2, 2007. My flight is at 6:05 pm.

I arrive at Heathrow Tube Station at 4:35 pm. My Travelcard has £3 remaining on it, plus the £3 deposit for getting the card in the first place. £6 is $12. I want my $12. I ask the information and change counter if I can return my card to him and he points toward the enormous line at the ticket booths. I want my $12. I get in line.

4:36 pm and the line has not moved. All of these people have just arrived in London and are going into the city. I'm the only one who has a flight to catch by a certain time. I want my $12.

4:37 pm and the line has not moved. I try to read my book, but I just keep stopping to look at the clock face, cold and unmoving. I want my $12.

4:38 pm and the line has not moved. I crane my neck to see what kind of public transport transaction could possibly take 3 minutes. I see an elderly gentleman behind the counter's glass trying to explain something to a seemingly un-understanding woman clutching a bag. I want my $12.

4:39 pm and the line has not moved. I resolve that if the line does not move by 4:40 pm, I will give up on my $12.

4:40 pm and the line has not moved. I give up on my $12.

I speed toward my terminal, down the people-mover, hopeful that the combined force of my legs and this conveyor belt can carry me through in time. With every stride, my bag slams down against my left shoulder. My backpack strap slides uselessly off my left shoulder and slams in time with the luggage bag on the right. My shoulders throb in rhythm with my steps. I arrive at the ticketing area and whisper "thank God" to a deity I don't believe in because the American Airlines counter is close by.

It's 4:45 pm. My flight is at 6:05 pm. I arrive at the American Airlines line and find it's long. So long I don't know if I can make it. I find an American Airlines employee and ask if I'll make it through in time. He replies by humorlessly asking why I arrived so late in the first place. I have no good answer so I weakly reply, "Not by chance, I can assure you." He says to get in line and promises that "if things get desperate," he'll pull me out. I get in line and pass a sign that says "flights close for departure 30 minutes before takeoff." 5:35 pm, I think. That's plenty of time.

At 5:05 pm, the voice comes over the loudspeaker, informing us all that flight 155 to Boston is now closed. I open my mouth to let out a stream of curses but see children under 10 on either side of me and think better of it. I allow myself a slightly too-loud "what the hell" and politely ask a neighbor to mind my bags while I investigate further.

I find an employee and start explaining to him my situation. He cuts me off at the part about the employee promising to pull me out of line. "What employee was that?" he asks. I look around. The first employee is nowhere to be found. As I scan the area, the new employee breaks back in. "Well what are you standing around for, then? Get your bags!"

The counter agent takes my passport and ticket. One. He reviews my bags and notes that I have a large bag, a backpack, and a boxed hookah from Morocco in hand. Which 2 will I be checking, he wants to know. Just the 1, thanks. I won't make it through security, he tells me. I note that my backpack and box together are well under the size limit for carry-on luggage...perhaps he has some duct tape with which I could stick them together. He asks again which one I'll be checking. I give up the hookah and run upstairs toward the departures area.

I approach the security area and a woman asks for my passport and boarding pass. Two. I pass through the metal detector and the guard standing by examines my passport and boarding pass. Three.

The x-ray operator pulls my bag for further inspection. I glance at the time. 5:20 pm. My flight boards in -- I check my boarding pass -- now. I stand by as the screener goes through every single someone else's bag. I have to wait my turn. I ask an idle guard if perhaps they'd be available to screen by bag, as my flight is boarding now. He assures me I'll be fine and goes back to looking blankly in the opposite direction at nothing at all.

The luggage screener pokes through my bag, swabbing around, looking for something in particular. And there it is: my Moroccan Coca-Cola with the glass bottle and the Arabic label. "A real shame too," he laments. "It's a lovely souvenir." As he holds it over the trash can and readies to drop it in, I manage to convince him to pour out the contents and let me keep the bottle. I collect my things and exit the security area, muttering to myself about how I'm an idiot for forgetting the (totally pointless) rule about carrying on liquids. I pass a counter where the attendant checks my passport and boarding pass. Four.

I race toward my gate, which seems impossibly far away. I run down the people-mover and get caught behind a group of twenty-somethings who are standing still, chatting. Who the hell stands on a people-mover when they are young, able-bodied, and have no luggage, I think to myself. I glare at them as I shimmy past.

I arrive at Gate 21 and find another line. My chest heaves and my hair sticks sweatily to my forehead. As I step in, I ask a young American-looking guy if this is the line for gate 21. "Yeah, for Boston," he answers cheerily. "You look like you just went through what I did. You have a connecting flight?"

"No," I reply. "I'm just an idiot."

A few spots ahead of the American is a primly-dressed middle-aged woman with a young child, perhaps 8 years old. The girl pouts and whines. "But I don't wanna go to sleep."

"Sure you do," answers the mother.

"But I'm nooooot tiiiiiired," the girl protests.

"Sure you are," says mom.

The girl buries her head in her mother's hip and twists and contorts around. "I'm nooooooot."

The mother is unmoved and looks forward, out over her daughter's head, seemingly speaking to the air. "You will be."

I reach the front of the line and find a desk blocking the entrance to a waiting room. As I approach, I pass a large, unattended stack of matches and lighters, any one of which I could easily pocket without anyone noticing. The woman at the desk checks my passport and boarding pass. Five. I take 3 steps into the room and reach a roped off area between me and the air bridge, with another woman standing by. She asks for my passport and boarding pass. Six. I cross the room, taking about 20 steps to the entrance to the air bridge, where a third woman stands by to check my passport and boarding pass. Seven.

As she checks the pass, I ask, "How far do you suppose it is between here and the first desk over there?" She stares at me blankly. I go on. "What, maybe 20 yards?"

Her blank stare continues. "I really don't know sir."

I take one last look at the desk, and say, "Oh. Okay. Thanks." I move into the air bridge. Where I promptly encounter...another line. I think I feel my shoulder tic. I pace my way to the front and reach a flight attendant, who examines my boarding pass. Eight.

As I start down the aisle, I look to my right. The pouty girl is in the first row of first class, settling comfortably into an enormous leather chair that could hold 3 of her.

I shamble my way to my seat in the second-to-last row. I drop my backpack, sit down, and retrieve my book. I try to open it, but my hands are shaking. I maneuver toward the dog-eared page, but the book bounces around uselessly in my trembling fingers, finally falling to my feet. I lean forward and rest my chin on my hands, trying to steady them. I stare at my reflection in the screen installed in the seat back in front of me. My fingertips shift and tap. My cheek tics. My eye twitches. My face is there, but distorted in the darkened screen, the eyes shifted and hollow and empty. My cheek tics again. To anyone around me, I look like a crazy person. In this moment, I am a crazy person. I slide my hands over my face, letting my hair wisp down between my fingers. I gasp for air. I choke and tremble and gasp for air and I pray for the catharsis of tears that won't come and no one asks me if I'm okay.

Travelogue: April 2, 2007

Where Are They Now, and Other Final Thoughts

It's really interesting to play a sort of "Where are they now?" game with people who were close friends but who you haven't seen in so long. In the 3 years since I saw everyone last, they graduated from college, so now there's sort of different categories that they fall into. There are the Masters students, most of whom are less interested in the Masters itself than in the extra year it affords them to figure out what they want to do. There are the worker bees, who are living some kind of productive life, and therefore existing in a world far outside my own understanding. And then there are the people who aren't doing much of anything at all...working as movers ("white van man"), or just traveling around and intermittently seeking employment. By all accounts, studying law in Britain is a lot like studying it in America: there are the people who are genuinely excited about it, and then there are the masses who say, "Welp, can't think of what I want to do, so I guess I'll do my law conversion!" So there are some people doing that too.

I definitely came to England with a 3 year-old conception of what the social situation was, and that's certainly be corrected. People have sort of factioned off into their various splinter groups, and I was seeing various people who never actually see each other anymore. At least some things don't change, though...during the time I was there, one couple that got together for the first time in my presence, in a dingy basement club in Covent Garden, got engaged. It's actually impressive to see a few people, 3 years later, still with the same significant others. For the most part, people do seem happy, and that's the best I could ask for, even if much of the rest doesn't match my expectations.

As I was sitting on Nelson's Column reading my book, my parents called to see how I was doing. When they asked how I found the city, I answered without hesitation: being there for just a few days instantly made me wish I had found some way to come back for longer, to go to school there again, to work there, something. It's still more my home than Boston ever will be, even if the particulars of the social scene aren't exactly as they used to be. It's a pity that there's no great way to do litigation and to work abroad, since my chosen legal path apparently leaves me with no realistic way to even get a year's posting there, or anywhere else outside the U.S.

It's sort of funny how going somewhere that seems so home-like for me totally rekindled my nomadic instincts. I want to go somewhere (California), settle in, buy a place of my own, invest in it and make it nice and livable. But I also want to go back to London, or find a new city that resonates with me the way London does, do something other than entrench myself. And these are not two seemingly different desires that can be magically reconciled into a coherent course of action. These are two completely opposing, mutually exclusive instincts. I want to finally move to California for good, and I want to stay the hell away for a while.

So basically, I had a wonderful trip, which awakened my vintage state of dissatisfaction, just in time for me to be smacked over the head with a whole lot of backlogged schoolwork. Sweet. But it was still totally worth it, and I can only hope that it isn't another 3 years before the next time I go back.

So maybe it's not Faulkner but it'll have to do

I've long had this romanticized notion that I could totally produce great creative work if I could just get myself into the perfect setting. In my mind, that setting involves a typewriter, a glass of scotch, a cigarette, and candles. Unsurprisingly, I have never succeeded in getting all of these elements into place at once, and I'm sure that even if I did, my usual crippling dissatisfaction with everything I produce would eventually come into play.

Nevertheless, the last week or so, I've at least tried to adapt the concept to maximize the productivity of my 11 pm - 3 am block, already my most successful time of day for actually getting things done. I've taken to doing my work with the lamp off, by candlelight (well, candles and the light from the computer screen). It's actually been somewhat successful. I'm either getting more work done, or I'm feeling like I'm getting more work done, and honestly, I don't much care which it is.

Travelogue: April 1, 2007

Maybe They Can Teach Me to Be a Proper Gentleman?

I met up with Tom today (previously mentioned in this space) and met his friend Kitty from Kings, along with her sisters Lily and Bella. Collectively, these 3 sisters are the poshest-named family I've ever come across. Everything about their manner is consistent with this. They live in a home in Mayfair, across the street from the Sultan of Brunei (that guy whose main residence is a 1700-room palace that's bigger than the Vatican). Outside their house is a sign that says "Fight discrimination: repeal the ban!" I thought to myself, what ban could that be? The headscarf ban was in France. Tom explained: a more complete version of the sign would read "Fight discrimination against the wealthy: repeal the ban on fox hunting!" Though actually, this is apparently a very heated issue...a protest about the ban broke down into fistfights last year. The 3 sisters are actually the only residents of the home: their parents live in the country, and keep the London house for the girls while they're all in school.

As we headed out for the afternoon, Bella lamented that she had hurt her feet by walking around in uncomfortable shoes the night before, and was stuck wearing a "dreadful" pair of boots. The boots, of course, looked like positively glamorous formal riding wear to me, but hey, what do I know?

As we passed the stables in Hyde Park, one of the girls scoffed, "The horses in Hyde Park are such nags. I mean, I barely like reading my own horses, why would anyone want to ride those things?" The conversation then turned to horses, polo, and other things that seem very interesting to me but that I know absolute nothing about. Horses are pretty. I like them. Yep, sure do.

I should follow all this up by saying that they were quite nice, and made for quite good conversation. I liked them all, and I didn't think they were being intentionally ostentatious or anything like that. Still, one can't help but feel a little class consciousness in such company.

God Save the Queen...or I Will Take God Down

There was one exchange today that I found to be incredibly revealing about British society. As we were sitting in the pub, having a few pints, Tom got a text message reading, "Mate, have you heard? The Queen died." A pallor fell over the whole group. They very immediately realized it was likely an April Fool's joke, as there's no way they wouldn't have already seen or heard it somewhere, but the reaction was palpable. This was not perceived as an appropriate joke, and Tom called his friend and gave him a bit of a railing for making it. Monarchy seems like this totally alien concept to most Americans, and totally anachronistic but it's pretty clear that for these people, you do not fuck with the Queen.

"Release Our Seamen!"

I went with Tom and the ladies to a protest outside the Iranian embassy to call for the release of the 15 British Navy soldiers being held by the Iranian government, with a dispute over whose waters they were actually in at the time they were captured (editor's note: after being compelled to declare their own guilt on camera for the Iranians, the British soldiers have since been returned to the UK unharmed). One entertaining part of this whole crisis, by the way, has been seeing all of the amazing yellow journalism in the British papers. After the Iranian government started releasing videos of the captive soldiers admitting to invading Iranian territorial waters, the UK papers responded with headlines like, "Who do you think you're kidding, Mr. Ahmadinejad?" and "Our soldiers forced to lie by the Iranian cowards." It's like William Randolph Hearst is still running the papers. Many of the English people I talked to about this couldn't understand how headlines would look any different in the U.S.

Anyhow, about 20 of us collected outside the Iranian embassy in Knightsbridge, waved amusing signs in the air (Tom had been planning his since we had lunch 3 hours earlier), and chanted various things at the impassive building across the street. The London Police officially moved us across the street early on, but a few sympathetic officers kept letting us creep more and more into the street to get cars attention and solicit some honks. A good time in spite of the low turnout, but I think we have a lot to learn about protests from the Iranians themselves, who managed to turn their own government's aggressive act into an excuse to throw firecrackers and rocks at the British embassy in Tehran. Yeah, that'll learn the Brits for asking for their own soldiers back.

For the record, we ultimately declined to create another sign that would read, "Apply heavy-handed pressure until they release our seamen!"

Clausewitz Trained on a 19th Century Battleship Game

Went deep into Zone 5 of South London to visit with some of the War Studies folks for dinner and drinks this evening, and spent much of our time at a pub with a healthy board game collection. Alex, 80s Tom, and I got there early, and decided to immediately indulge all our old War Studies instincts. There wasn't enough time for a full round of Risk before the ladies arrived, so Battleship it was. We approached that game like a strategy exercise in a military academy. Look at that intensity. Look at that focus. No, this was no mere game at all. This was the culmination of everything that Carl von Clausewitz and Lao Tzu (patron saints of the KCL War Studies program) stood for. A game like Battleship is the ingenious product of a truly militarized society. The perfect way to prepare our youngsters for the inevitable conflict ahead. "Ender's Game" is just an extension of whatever Battleship started.

And really, it was a good way to capture being 8 years old again. Alex emerged as champion, triumphing over both Tom and myself with his ingenious and counterintuitive grouping strategies. Man, Alex wouldn't have let 15 British Navy soldiers be captured by Iran, that's for damn sure.

Maybe I don't hate the law after all

Went to dinner today with Simon, the Climenko Fellow I work for in BSA, and Sheila and John, my fellow BSAs (for non-law students, that's the program I work as a TA for in the 1L legal research and writing classes). Over dinner, we talked about a wide variety of things, personal stories, news items, whatever came up. A fair amount of the conversation was dedicated to various legal topics, and get this: I didn't want to shoot myself in the head! The revelation of this feeling (or lack thereof) was like every summer break or long flight I take, when I crack open a book and rediscover that I don't actually hate reading, I like reading and I just hate school. I think this dinner revealed very much the same thing. Some of our talking points were the kind of thing you might hear in a really interesting class where everyone is very intellectually involved. The moral of the story is, I don't actually hate the law, I like the law and I just hate school. On some level I probably knew that.

Travelogue: March 31, 2007

Hey Look, the Sun...Let's Make Out

Today was an amazingly sunny know, the kind of sunny day that all my normal friends who went to Mexico and Jamaica and the Virgin Islands have been having all week. I spent the whole day outdoors, wandering up and down the South Bank, standing in massive groups of tourists, watching street performers of variable quality. Here was one of the better ones: a cross between an English Bobby, a ballerina, and Hitler. Okay, Charlie Chaplin, but it's funnier when you say Hitler.

For the most part, I had a very simple way to take advantage of the sun: pick up a book, sit on Nelson's Column in Trafalgar Square, put on my headphones, and hang out. It's exactly the kind of total afternoon laze that I needed out of this Spring Break. Of course, all of the Londoners had another idea: make out, constantly, everywhere. In the park, make out. On the riverbank, make out. On Nelson's Column, right in front of me, there were two Goth kids giggling and necking. What the hell is that? You're supposed to be angsty and miserable! If you're going to be all smiley and lovey-dovey in public, you take off your goth gear. I'm not even goth and I'm ready to kick you out of the club.

Dinner With Tom (Or, Why I'm in London)

I had dinner with Tom Kinsley today (also known in college as BGT, or Big Gay Tom, to distinguish him from the 2 other Toms we knew and to mock him for his male modeling career) and Sam Smith (an American who came back to London after graduation, thereby become the expatriate I always envisioned myself as but never had the courage to become, and my host for my stay here in London). The dinner was unremarkable enough...catch up, tell a few stories, gossip, that sort of thing. But it reminded me exactly what I'm doing in London, and made me feel that much sillier having waited nearly 3 whole years before making my triumphant return. Studying abroad is cool, no question, but it's hard to properly describe the kind of effect an experience like that has on you. I am psyched to get to do it again this fall.

I Am a Trained Dancing Monkey

We went out in a big group tonight, which was notable for two things, primarily. First, the return of the Flaming Sambuca, without the kind of face-melting disaster I had predicted last week. Tragically, pictures with flash just can't capture the sight of fire spewing from someone's mouth, but since I had a picture like this in my first post from London, I feel compelled to include another one now.

Second, I have discovered yet another way that Parody has inexorably tweaked me: I can't hear any song from the show without immediately entering into rehearsed dance mode. This is perhaps most severe with "Sexyback," which I have to actively remind myself is not, in fact, called "Scandals Back." It doesn't require any interaction with a dance partner, and bits of it are the closest to something you could do in a bar without attracting a lot of attention to how ridiculous you look. At this bar, at one point we had "Sexyback" ("Scandals Back"), "Hips Don't Lie" ("Junior High"), and "Promiscuous" ("Republican Girl") come on all in a row. If I had other Parody people there, they would understand. They would do little stretches of moves with me, and collectively we would all stand in a circle and block the outside world from seeing our secret shame. As it was, I was pretty much on my own.

The Trick Is, Don't Get Run Over

As I was walking back from the bar at 2 am or whatever, I passed a man leading his drunken ladyfriend through the streets, stopping her at a crosswalk, looking both ways, and advising her, "The trick is, don't get run over." Immediately, this struck me as such sage-like advice, beautiful in its simplicity, undeniable in its truth. Of course, the two girls standing behind me didn't hear him, because they decided to bolt in front of me and nearly get run over by a sports car rounding the corner. And I just stood there, thinking "Watch out!" without ever managing to get the words out. Man, that could have been traumatic. When it was clear the girls were okay, I wanted to run across the street, grab them by the shoulders, shake them back and forth and scream, "The trick is, don't get run over, you idiots!"

Must be creative about my own creativity

I'm constantly tempted to try to use the blog format as a convenient forum to indulge my lingering desire to write creative fiction in nice, easily-manageable little blocks, but I think the market is pretty much cornered on ways to do it about the legal industry in any remotely original fashion. Anonymous Lawyer, of course, sets the standard. The thought had crossed my mind to use my extra time this summer, as well as my extra source of inspiration, to do an AL-style concept for being a summer associate. But it seems that BabyBarista has largely filled that role as well, at least from an English perspective. And while I suppose that the American version, for all its wining-and-dining, would have something extra to offer, between AL and BB, would I really be bringing anything new to the table? I doubt it.

Then again, the advantage of going for a legal theme is that you just have someone forward the link to AutoAdmit or Above the Law or any of the millions of other sites dedicated to our ridiculous, insular little industry, and bam, built-in audience. And I've already discussed my stance on the joys of having an audience.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Travelogue: March 30, 2007

I Know Why Dali Does Art

Salvador Dali died in 1989, and still he managed to rip me off for £10. Actually quite impressive when you think about it.

I started the day off by going to the Dali exhibition at County Hall. I had wanted to do this when I was last in London in 2004, so when I saw the £10 admission charge, I shrugged it off as necessary to fulfill something I should have done long ago.

Until I got inside, and discovered that there were almost no actual Dali paintings there. It was only later that I realized that I entered from the rear of the exhibition, but the first thing I came to was a bunch of Dali prints, statue replicas, and lithographs on sale for exorbitant amounts of money. I was not pleased with the realization that I had just paid $20 to look at things on sale.

Once I got to the main part of the exhibition, I found that there was, in fact, an artistic element to the set-up after all. But even then, there were next to no paintings there. Some sculptural highlights to be sure, but it was mostly obscure illustration series that look like Dali spent about half an hour on some of them. It was advertised as the largest and most comprehensive collection of Dali's works in the world. Well sure, if you're going to take all the stuff no one else would ever bother exhibiting.

Still, I should have known what I was getting myself into as soon as I saw the first poster next to the entrance I used (pictured here).

Transatlantic Party of Elites...or Whatever

Sek hosted a shindig at his place today, and there was quite the company present. The party itself was a get together for Cambridge alums who knew Matt back when they were all at MIT at the same time. Academically, the party represented Harvard, Cambridge, and Oxford. Nationally, Australia, India, Germany, South Korea, UK, US, and Canada were all in the house. Engineers, consultants, investment bankers, lawyers, doctors. At one point, I had to sit back and realize that this was perhaps the most prodigious-yet-diverse collection of academic distinction and professional success I had ever been a part of. In the 19th century, a group like this would have meet weekly for scotch, cigars, and conversation. You know, if the 19th century wasn't totally racist and wouldn't have excluded most of the people present from any form of social advancement.

When I first got to HLS, I had a period of time when I was perpetually intimidated by the people around me. It wasn't that I necessarily thought people were smarter than me, but they were all so damn accomplished and experienced and worldly, and I felt totally out of place. This is probably the first time since then that I've experienced that feeling again. But unlike before, it didn't make me feel uneasy or unworthy, it just made me feel privileged to be in that kind of company, and honored to be accepted into it. This is something I hope I can hang onto: to enjoy traveling in those circles, but to be humble about doing so.

I'm also proud to report a small victory. The party was low-key, and eventually poker was introduced into the affair (in the 19th century, I guess it would have been bridge). Most people were novices, some refused to gamble even £1, and very quickly it became clear that only one other person (Samir, an Indian Oxford engineer) and I had any clue what was going on. So when the game ended, we reached into our wallets and put whatever we had on the table for one round of heads up: £12 from my wallet, and €20 from his, about equal in value. What happened next, I consider to be a victory of America over England for best international superpower, Harvard over Oxford for best superpreppy university, and Jews over Indians for best overachieving minority. Of course, Samir may have the last laugh, because now I have €20 in my wallet and no way to spend it.

When the Sky Betrays You, Drink More Tea

Weather-wise, the day was a minor disaster. No Boston, of course, but chilly and rainy. Actually rainy, not the usual heavy fog/mist that qualifies as London rain. But I took it in stride, and basically turned the chill temperatures and unfriendly outdoors into an excuse to consume tea or coffee in 3 consecutive settings, including a proper high tea at the Orangery in Kensington Gardens (complete with cucumber sandwiches, scones, and clotted cream). And I feel as though my flexibility and perseverance have been rewarded, because walking through town at 2 am after the party was through, the sky was as clear and the air as warm as they've been this whole trip.

The human condition

I think I've sort of convinced myself that it's okay that I've had like 17 blog updates today alone (neurosis alert: I insist on having one buffer post between every new travelogue post), and it's okay that I spent hours doing this instead of work, because this way I am eliminating my number one temptation/distraction that's keeping me from starting on my papers.

But I think that deep down, I know it's not going to work that way...

Travelogue: March 29, 2007

I Love Dinosaurs

Started today out by going to the Natural History Museum and re-learning about dinosaurs. Seriously, dinosaurs are fucking awesome. I have no idea why, but they have always fascinated me. For example, when I was 2 years old, I would often approach complete strangers and announce, "I can spell dinosaur! Wanna hear? D-I-N-O-S-A-U-R. Dinosaur!" This may have had less to do with my love of dinosaurs than with my precocious spelling talents, and my early-onset haughtiness about said talents.

Nevertheless, I spent about an hour and a half with the dinosaurs, including a special exhibition on what dinosaurs ate. That was interesting, but the Brits seemed to have an odd preoccupation with dinosaur excrement. The picture here represents 3 weeks worth of dinosaur feces, and was accompanied by an actual sample of fossilized dino-poop that challenged, "Do you dare touch real dinosaur poo?" Oh, I dared.

Bad news for all you Jurassic Park fans out there, though: turns out that velociraptors are smaller than you think, and have feathers. It's a pity too, because after they opened that door in the movie, I think many people crowned them as the new bad-ass dinos. And I really feel like the feathers take away from this pretty severely.

Clap Your Hands Say Tate

Ever wonder what going down a 5-story spiral slide looks like? Wonder no more, thanks to my handy camera:

Pretty cool, huh? The Tate Modern's big exhibition room now has a series of slides of various lengths, up to 5 stories, for spectators to slide down and "become part of the art" or whatever such pretentious concept the artist is embracing. I'm not a big fan of modern art (read: I usually actively loathe modern art), but the Tate Modern never ceases to entertain. In 2004, the big warehouse space currently housing the slides had a fake sun which cast everything in a monochromatic yellow-orange light. Also cool, I think, as you can see here.

I pretty much made my way through the whole Tate gallery listening to Clap Your Hands Say Yeah on my iPod on repeat. I have formally determined, in my exclusive authority, that it is the ideal musical complement to modern art, since it's the sort of odd, eccentric, non-literal musical equivalent.

I also found it interesting how, when you go through gallery after gallery of abstract art, completely insulated from outside sound by your headphones and completely focused on the images before you, you completely lose a sense of place relative to the rest of the world. Anytime I removed my headphones every couple of minutes for whatever reason, I would always be surprised to hear British accents learn anew that I was, in fact, in England.

I Accept Marks and Spencer as My Personal Saviour

If you've been to the UK, then you must know what I mean when I say that Marks and Spencer is my daddy. I had an M&S ready-to-go lunch between my trips to the Natural History and Tate museums, and it brought back memories of my British Isles run in 2004, in which I was basically sustained by a series of delicious Marks and Spencer lunches. Each of which was very reasonably priced, and with so much variety available, I never had to have the same lunch twice! It's like Whole Foods on steroids, with rainbows and magic. Mila, if you're reading this: (1) I know you agree, and (2) I have goodies for you when you come to visit in Boston.

Use of the British spelling of "saviour" is intentional.

Law That Matters

Sometimes, the law can seem so esoteric and pointless. Today, however, while munching on a Jaffa Cake for dessert after my M&S lunch, I learned from Sek that it can answer really important questions. Like, is a Jaffa Cake a cake or a biscuit? It's a quite significant question...there's a 17.5% tax at stake! Apparently, Sek informs me that in Australia, such penetrating legal reasoning has gone into answering a similar question: when is cooked chicken hot cooked chicken? Because if it's raw, you don't have to tax it, but if it's cooked, you do. Unless it's cold, in which case you don't. And what's the role of the spit on which it's rotating. What's the role of the spit?? See, people like to act like lawyers don't create real value in the world, but these are vital questions, and it's clear that we're the only ones who can possibly answer them. I demand that Harvard adds a class dedicated to comparative food classification law!

You know what the Easter Bunny is doing the other 364 days of the year?

Kicking ass!

Still, I can't help but think they owe a little something to these guys.

Travelogue: March 28, 2007

Home Away from Home

Hit the streets of London today and led Matt and Jung on my standard walking tour of London, just as I developed it 3 years ago. Jung had never been to London at all, so I got to feel especially hot shot, pointing out specific photo ops. "This is the best place to take a picture with a red phone booth! If you take a picture laying down here, you can get the classic 'Big Ben is my giant wang' picture!"

In case you're ever in London and want to see all the major super-tourist landmarks in a row, here's your path. Start at Green Park Tube Station, enter Green Park, and cross through the large tunnel of trees. This will deposit you right at Buckingham Palace. Ooh and aah. Walk through the other park in front of Buckingham (St. James Park), and stick generally to your right. When the park ends, continue going down the street on the right (Birdcage Walk). On your right is Westminster Abbey, and right in front of you are Beg Ben and the Houses of Parliament. Take your photos. Hang a left down the street on which Parliament sits, and head down Whitehall. Pass the Ministry of Defense, Horse Guards, and 10 Downing Street (Prime Minister's residence) on your way into Trafalgar Square (pictured here, looking absolutely splendiferous, with a gray tone that make it look like a 1950s-era engraving or something). Take your photos with the lions, maybe check out the National Gallery. Have a scone at the Crypt in St. Martin's in the Fields, if it isn't closed for construction. Head up the street to the right of the National Gallery, called Charing Cross, and pass a bunch of theaters. Turn left onto Cranbourn St. and go through Leicester Square. Stay on the street as it becomes Coventry St., the most abominable assembly of hyper-American franchises in a small span anywhere in the world (Starbucks, McDonald's, KFC, TGI Friday's, Starbucks again, Hard Rock Cafe, Planet Hollywood). Follow Coventry St. into Piccadilly Circus, the Times Square of London, and sit on the statue of Eros as you contemplate your day.

In case it isn't already apparent, I spent 6 months in London 3 years ago, and still the place is more my home than Boston is now, over 1.5 years into my 3-year stay. This is simultaneously a testament to the splendor of London and to the misery of Boston.

Self-Hating Russians

It's not that the Russians hate themselves, actually. It's that I hate them. Or rather, I hate running into them as tourists. First of all, when I'm with my family, it completely obliterates our comparative advantage of being able to talk about people behind their backs in Russian. Now how do we know if the person we're mocking mercilessly actually understands us?

But 9 times out of 10, Russian tourists are the most shameless dilettantes out there. They're nouveau riche, which is fine, because I totally want to be nouveau riche, but they have no actual appreciation for the things they're experiencing. By itself, this is not a problem for me. People don't have to like art or architecture. I don't like most jazz or modern art no matter how hard I try, I don't think less of myself for it (well, slightly less of myself for not liking jazz, but I cope). My complaint is that they just keep on with it so that they can check things off their list and go home and tell people that they saw some famous painting, even though they didn't actually look at the painting, they just saw a crowd gathered in front of it in the museum and decided to stand next to the crowd for a few seconds, perhaps taking a picture of the crowd itself.

And every year, there are more of them, thank you very much high oil/natural gas prices and economic revitalization of Eastern Europe. They haunt me more with every passing trip.

Possibly the Cutest Thing I've Ever Seen

One of the more prominent paintings featured at the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square (incidentally, one of my favorite art museums in the world) is Georges Seurat's "Bathers at Asniéres," possibly the most famous pointillist painting of all time.

I've always liked this painting, and whenever I go to the National Gallery, I always stop to look at it to discover some new detail. The yellow and purple points in the boy's red hat, the use of complimentary colors in points to create the illusion of sheen, etc. As I was standing in front of the painting this time, a very large canvas, an elderly couple approached, with the man rather rotely describing to the woman the various features of the painting...the fashion of the man's coat, the breed of the dog at his side, that sort of thing. At first, my reaction was disgust...either this woman was grossly overpaying for a very half-assed guided tour, or her husband/gentleman caller was trying desperately to seem cultured and artistic, and was obviously falling flat.

And then I noticed the woman's cane and realized...she was blind. All at once, the scene turned into something so sugary and sweet, my teeth practically rotted on the spot. All of my disdain washed into a vague sense of shame for judging these people so quickly. Suddenly, instead of seeing an overpriced guide or a misguided suitor, I saw an adorable couple, probably 70 years old and married for 50 of them, having a lovely afternoon together. I imagined the patience and care it must take to lead someone through a museum and to try to make them see what you see, and I saw the expression on the woman's face and the way she clutched at her beau's arm as the image really seemed to take shape before her.

And of course, they were both so adorably British. As the man tried to express to her the subtlety of the pointillist coloring technique, he mused about Seurat, "He's quite a scientist with color, and I'm sure if ever you met him, he'd bore you to death about color."

And that, ladies and gentlemen, was possibly the cutest thing I had ever seen.

12:45 am and bored? Ride your bike!

So I'm sitting here working on my travelogue journal entries before they're too dull in my mind to be any good to me, and suddenly there's a commotion outside my window. I look outside, and inexplicably, there is a convention of about 20 bicyclists amassed on Mass Ave. outside Hastings. But it's not 20 dudes on Huffies, it's guys on low-rider bikes, lifted bikes, and at least one high wheel bicycle. I think if I were in Berkeley right now, this wouldn't phase me at all. But Cambridge? People don't have imagination or soul here! And it's cold!

Travelogue: March 27, 2007

The Pride of America

Went to the Koutoubia Mosque today, the biggest mosque and minaret in Marrakesh. Outside, we came across this glass installation out front, which showcases an excavation of the original mosque on the site. Turns out that the first building wasn't properly oriented toward Mecca, so they scrapped the whole thing and rebuilt on the same plot of land. That is pretty cool.

What is not, in fact, at all cool, was the observation of a pair of American tourists from Minnesota, something along the lines of, "Oh, look, this must be, like, a really old greenhouse." When I contemplate that level of vapidity, my brain hurts. But when I step back and compare that level of vapidity from these "worldly" (they were traveling), "educated" (one of them had a University of Minnesota college sweatshirt) Americans to the general thoughtfulness and erudition of Ali, the Berber walking guide from the Atlas Mountains, my soul hurts.

Major Zoos in the World: San Diego, Bronx, Ken's Shoulders

The central square in Marrakesh has had this carnival-like atmosphere all along, and we discovered today that it's an interactive carnival. Obviously, the people who bring exotic creatures into the square are doing it for profit, and they sort of sign you up for that profit whether you really like it or not. So, lesson #1 learned: if you look with interest at a man with a snake, he will put a snake around your shoulders, sit you down, and have a cobra dance before you. Note, I do have a pretty substantial phobia about snakes (up there with spiders and heights as my big 3), so the look of terror on my face there is real (also note, I would never put such an unflattering photo of myself on the Internet if I didn't feel it served a very vivid illustrative purpose). Equally real was the look of indignation on my face when the snake charmers demanded 200 dirhems (about $25) for the privilege of foisting their serpents upon me. I gave them 20 dirhems, and they should have felt fortunate to get it.

And of course, let us not forget lesson #2: if a man with a monkey asks to shake your hand, and you agree to shake said hand, that monkey will climb onto your shoulder and not let go. He will hold onto your hand and nuzzle your face (perhaps inspiring you to apply Purell to your cheeks when he is finally done). He will clutch at you in a way that says, "Please, take me away from my Moroccan taskmaster and his evil chain! Take me with you to freedom!" The best I could offer was to give his handler 15 dirhems (about $2) and hope that the monkey would be spared an unpleasant yank of the chain for a few precious minutes.

Final Scores

Since we left Morocco today, I thought it right to take some final scores for the trip:

- Six (6) times our Asian travellers, who were Malaysian and Korean by descent, had "konnichiwa!" shouted at them by local Moroccans in the marketplaces.
- Five (5) times I was offered hashish, at various times of day and locations throughout the city.
- Four (4) times that Adam, our resident Scotsman, had "lovely jubblies!" shouted at him to get his attention in the marketplaces.
- Three (3) times our group was offered Berber wives (Matt accounted for 2 of these on his own).
- Two (2) times Matt was called a liar and/or a bad Muslim (he's not Muslim) by spurned Moroccans in the marketplaces.
- One (1) partridge in a pear tree.

Hey law students: how close is your summer job to your summer housing?

Green is home. Red is work.


Travelogue: March 26, 2007

The Face of an International Druggie

As of the end of today, I have been offered hashish on 4 separate occasions since arriving in Morocco. This is especially impressive when you consider that I've only been in Marrakesh for part of the time, and I don't think there's much of a thriving drug trade over in Telouet. There are few things worth noting. First, that these offers come in various parts of the city, at various times of day. Second, that no one else in our group has been offered drugs even once.

So what is it about me that screams, "Please sell me drugs!"? Let's break it down.

(1) Hair: Long, and totally unkept. Hasn't seen shampoo for a few days. Hasn't seen a brush for a few months.

(2) Eyes: Tired and sleep-deprived. Is this the normal fatigue of an active travel schedule? Or is there something else keeping these eyes open at night?

(3) Facial Hair: Unshaved. Splotchy and awkward...nothing you'd necessarily call a beard, but this face isn't going to any offices anytime soon either.

(4) Buttons: Vaguely indie style. Indie kids totally love drugs, right?

The peace-sign could count for a #5, but because I don't walk around with it at all times, I have decided to omit it from the list.

This Better Be the Best Dried Fruit Ever

So we're walking through the Djamaa El Fna, which is the Main Square in Marrakesh and a total circus. I see dried fruit and think, "Oh, that would make a nice dessert for lunch/snack for later. And we're in Morocco, it will be so cheap!" So I go up to one of the booths and start nosing around. The guy speaks no English, but he's offering me various nuts and fruits to try. Finally, I settle on a batch of dried apricots and one of dried figs. He hands me two huge bags, which are way more fruit than I actually need or want, but what the hell, I can chew on it all day, right? I pay the guy the 140 dirhems he asks for and start to walk away, but he's super excited. He seems I'm with some other tourists and motions for me to come over and stand behind the cart with him. He puts his arm around me and takes a picture with this huge goofy grin on his face (that picture is on Matt's camera and I haven't retrieved it yet). I sort of roll with it and finally get on my way.

Then I realize why he's so damnably happy: I just bought $17.50 worth of dried fruit. How do I go to a third world country and spend $17.50 on fruit? How do I hand over a bunch of cash and not stop for a second to calculate how much I'm actually paying? I consider myself a savvy traveler, and that was a serious personal and moral defeat.

To be fair, it was very good dried fruit, but I still think I got the raw end of that transaction. Nevertheless, I made sure none of that fruit went to waste. We ate it as we walked. We ate it as we hung out at the riad after dinner. We ate it on the plane back to London and we ate it in Heathrow while waiting for our bags to come to the luggage carousel. We ate it at Sek's flat in London. We ate that fruit till it was all gone. I was not about to buy all that fruit for naught!

I Hate the Phrase "It's a Small World"

Walking through the Bahia Palace, one of the big royal palaces in Marrakesh, we randomly stumble into Adam, a Scotsman, Cambridge alum, and Sek's coworker at BCG in London. Jaded as I am, that is pretty cool.

Long Line. Gonna Suck. Let's Do It Anyways.

The human capacity to stand in a line for no apparent reason, just because it's there, astounds me. We go to some fancy tombs, pay the dollar or whatever to get in, and run into a humongous line. We're looking around, we see what this place looks like. We can see some interior areas, though not the one to which this line leads. There is no question in our minds that whatever this line leads to, it cannot possibly be worth the humongous wait involved. We vocalize this thought to one another.

We get into line.

I am pleased to report that we were, in fact, right. Yep, that sure was a tomb. I mean, it's fine, it's a lovely tomb, but it's not a "pay money and then stand around for 40 minutes while the evening falls and temperature drops" lovely tomb. As we walked away from the little room (which we could not enter, but merely look at and photograph from the threshold), we immediately began to congratulate ourselves loudly on correctly predicting that the line would not be worth it. Which, of course, drew the attention of an attendant standing by, who saw fit to even more loudly reassure the nervous-looking people in the line that it was a lovely tomb and would be worth their while. Well, they'd figure it out for themselves soon enough.

This Coptic is a Bad Muslim!

The main square in Marrakesh, every night, becomes a humongous food festival of salmonella and E. Coli waiting to happen. We decided to put our intestinal fortitude to the test and try it out.

As we approached the carnival, we passed one vendor we'd met when we walked through the square on the night we arrived. He immediately remembered Matt. "Canadian!" he shouted out, and re-invited us to his booth. We glanced over, decided it might not quite be the level of sanitary we were looking for, and nodded absently as he insisted that, if we eat in the square, we come to his booth. Eventually, we settled on a place, had a pretty good meal that did not, in fact, make any of us sick, and trotted of contentedly (note: newcomer Adam is featured in this photo, second from the left). As we headed back across the square, though, we were confronted by that other vendor.

In Arabic, he proceeded to berate Matt about how he was a liar and a bad Muslim. Matt -- a Coptic, or Egyptian Christian (they apparently claim a lineage to the pharaohs, but Matt may have just made that part up to sound awesome) -- declined to explain that he wasn't in fact a Muslim, to avoid creating the inference that Christians were liars instead.

The Worst Part About People Who Are Wrong Is When They Think They're Right

We decided to close out the night by heading back to the riad, hanging out in the courtyard, hitting the hookah and eating some of my dried fruit (okay, the dried fruit wasn't part of the plan, but I made it part of the plan, dammit). Around 11 pm, some angry-looking, bleary-eyed Brit storms out of his room and cheekily suggests in a demanding voice, "You know, there's a perfectly good roof where you could go and talk loudly all you want. Some people are trying to sleep around here!" We just blinked at him confusedly and repeated "Sorry" several times as he continued to rant at us over our apologies.

11 pm is early enough, but I won't contest a man's right to sleep at that time if he so chooses. I don't think we were being especially loud -- certainly laughing a bit, but I wasn't doing too much of the talking, so my booming voice wasn't an issue -- but I'll concede that for the time being. But I hate that he decided to storm out in a huff and start bitching at us without at least having given us a polite, "Excuse me, would you mind keeping it down?" first. Had we ignored that, he'd be fully justified. But as it was, I just sat there, steaming, cycling through British insults in my mind: "Fuckwit. Tosser. Wanker." That was as far as I could get, actually.

The part that really grinds me on, though, is that I just know that Angry British Man trotted back to his room, looked at his wife, and made some comment about how he told us a thing or two. He settled back into bed, self-righteous, convinced that he was the representative of good in that little altercation. But he wasn't. He was objectively incorrect, and totally unaware of that fact, and that part gets to me most of all. All I really wanted to do was to knock on his door and inform him of that fact, to deny him the smug satisfaction of falling asleep, thinking himself righteous and victorious. I restrained myself. The fuckwit.

Inernets explosion, the sequel: now more stolen from other people than ever!

Are you from a Scrabble family or not? My family was Scrabbophobic, but that might have something to do with the immigrant thang. We were Trivial Pursuers anyhow, but it's still interesting to see how the other half lives.

I spent so much time in England listening to my friends rant about the joy of "watching chiseled hunks in pants fight for 2 hours" (editor's note: their "pants" is our "underwear"; their "trousers" is our "pants"), and still I have not seen 300. For shame! But now I might wait for the PG version to hit on DVD. I mean, Sparta is interesting and all, but I'm more curious to learn about Caketown:

Of course, the English boys' fixation on the men in pants does raise other questions, particularly when you compare it to the sometimes peckish behavior of their royals.

But I guess it's true you can never really trust your leaders these days. I mean, just imagine: if Darth Vader could be implicated in the destruction of the Death Star, then nothing is holy!

Things like this make me realize how badly I need web-minions:

See, this? This is genius. And all it does is make me want to have someone take Phil Collins' "In the Air Tonight" or some other such masterpiece, and set it to an equally worthy bit of 80s cinema. Someday, I will have these minions, and they will serve my will.

P.S. Special shout-out to Jamason and Jesse for having a competition to top each other with web-nonsense, and being the sources for most of this post, which is allowing me to not start writing my 30-page paper.

Travelogue: March 25, 2007

The Secret Lives of Private Drivers

Today, we had a driver take us to Telouet, Morocco, a town of about 800 people in the Atlas Mountains, 3 hours outside of Marrakesh. We're staying overnight, and apparently so is our driver, who's basically just going to hang out until we tell him, "Okay, we're ready to go home now." This led me to envision a vivid, scandalous secret world of private drivers. I can totally imagine this guy keeping women in every village within a day's drive of Marrakesh, kids, families, telling each of them that's his homebase, and he just has to work a lot. He can pocket all the money he's paid for overnight trips, because he stays and eats for free with his local family. His wife and kids have never even left the town they live in, and he regales them with tales from around the country. He brings the kids something from the city...a football jersey or some foreign chocolates. Then, just like that, he's off again, driving us home before reuniting with another family -- perhaps his "main" family -- in Marrakesh.

But no. He spent the whole day chatting with the owners of the hostel we stayed in and watching football on the television (we watched with him for a while). Too bad.

"My Carrot Is Not Ready"

We spent most of the day on a hike through the Atlas Mountains. The terrain has this interesting chaparral character...dry, but alive. Not exactly what I intuitively associated with Moroccan landscape, but interesting.

The landscape has baby pine trees dotted around, and our Berber guide, Ali, explained to us that there was an official reforestation program going on in the area. Arid is at all looks, the area used to be lush forests. Telouet, however, had developed as a stopping point for caravans operated by many of the 100 or so tribes in the area, and as they used it as a camp more and more, the entire area was basically torn down to provide living space, construction materials, and kindling. We hiked up about for about 2 hours outward from the city before returning, and as we started back, we crossed paths with a small group of locals with donkeys, carrying massive loads of kindling with them back to town. It would have been infinitely easier for any of these people to just cut down some of the young pines on the hillside that's a 20 or 30 minute walk from the town -- and there's certainly no visible enforcement mechanism anywhere in the area -- but everyone respected the reforestation program and worked around it, even if it meant tripling or quadrupling their walk.

Ali's English took some work to understand, but once we picked up the accent, he turned out to be the most interesting part of the hike. He regaled us with legends about the area, how there was supposed to have been a large lake in the valley that was visited by Vikings, but that it had receded to the mountaintops. He told us stories about leading tourists and multi-day hikes between towns, and about overconfident French tourists nearly collapsing while trying to hike the highest peak in Morocco. And best of all, when we asked Ali, who's 34 years old and an otherwise very quiet and serious individual, whether he was married, he smiled us as slyly when he answered, "No. My carrot is not ready." It took us a second to process what he just said to us before we all started busting up laughing. "Ah," he responded. "You understand."

Berber Hospitality

Considering that the 4 of us were, as far as we could tell, the only people spending the night in Telouet that night, one would expect that the service would be good. But "good service" isn't the right way to describe it. The people here aren't taking pride in waiting on you because it means they're doing a good job or to attract more tourists or out of service industry convention. I get the distinct impression that they just view you as a visitor to their country, their town, their home, and as such, they are taking it upon themselves to make sure that you enjoy yourself as much as possible. They are genuinely concerned with your well-being, and they are more than happy to sit with you for a glass of mint tea and see how things are going so far.

Mint tea, by the way, is the simplest, most ingenious drink ever devised. First, take a pot of green tea. Then, add several mint leaves. Then, add sugar. Now, add more sugar. Now pour in whatever's left of your sugar. Finally, pour it in extremely extravagant fashion, extending your arm as far as possible from the cup. Aaaaaand enjoy.

My Moroccan Villager Knows More About the UN Than You

Ali sat with us over dinner, and that might have been the most interesting part of the trip of all. With our international cast of characters, Ali managed to have a detailed and intelligent conversation about anything at all. When he didn't know a word in English -- his third language, behind Arabic and French -- he graciously asked for help in finding it by working through the definition. He discussed Malaysian election politics with Sek, Egyptian theology and philosophy with Matt, and UNESCO and UN policy with Jung and myself. In fact, when he brought up UNESCO and Jung asked what that was, Ali proceeded to take out a piece of paper and map out the general structure of the United Nations and all of the major sub-bodies.

There's a castle in Telouet called the Glaouis Kasbah, which was owned by a historically powerful Moroccan family during the 19th and 20th centuries. After Morocco achieved its independence from France, the Glaouis were marked as collaborators, the family patriarch was banished to, like, Madagascar or some such, and the castle was officially taken over by the Moroccan king, who removed all the valuables and furniture let it fall into disrepair out of disdain for the Glaouis. Now, the exterior is collapsing and the structure looks hundreds of years old, but the traditional Arabic design interior is still lush. Ali laments that the castle hasn't been given protection as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, because it would obligate the Moroccan government to maintain the damn thing, and would drive countless tourist dollars into the local economy. But the Moroccan government has to officially endorse any UNESCO application, and the Moroccan king still has enough ill will toward the Glaouis to refuse to do so (or at least to create interminable delays).

All in all, Ali makes for an interesting human case study. People in the West, myself included, tend to presume that those who live in traditional cultures or small towns in developing countries just lack the "opportunity" to get out. That given the option, they would always move themselves toward the more urban, the more metropolitan. Ali spent 7 years studying in Marrakesh (which is where he learned his English), hated it, and came back to Telouet. His father was a blacksmith, and he does want more for himself, but that doesn't mean moving to the big just means owning his own business so that he can have more financial stability than his father did. He values the peacefulness of living in the Atlas above the "opportunities" available by moving elsewhere. He likes the chance to meet random people from different countries and to get to know them (the worst, he says, are "individualist" tourists, who don't want to talk or smile to anybody). Normally, when I hear that people like their rural lifestyles and wouldn't want to change them, I always assume that it's because they haven't been properly exposed to the alternative and don't know what their missing. But Ali had 7 years. So now...well I guess it's the sort of thing that makes you reevaluate your assumptions of what people want.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Battle of the American presidents!

If you're anyone that I want to be remotely associated with, then you already know about how bad-ass George Washington was:

But ho! There is a challenger to his throne of presidential awesomeness! Enter JFK:

Fight! Fight!

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Travelogue: March 24, 2007

I Am a Dancing God

I think I owe Peru a great many thank yous: it has allowed me to key my dancing expectations for myself to an impossibly high level, so I'm always pleasantly surprised when I come off looking good. In South America, I have roughly the dancing skill of a one-legged pre-teen with Down Syndrome. Roughly. But then I came back to HLS and did the Parody, and discovered that apparently I would be needed as a "feature dancer," which I still contend says more about the quality of the male dancing pool at HLS than it does about me, but still, I appreciated it.

And now, even better, I go to England and am reminded about how hilariously lacking in dancing skill Europeans are. I mean, the English are no Germans in this respect (think the old "Sprockets" sketches Mike Myers did on SNL), but once again I have succeeded in surrounding myself with a culture with so little focus on dancing skill, that I come off looking awesome. We went to a Cuban-themed club last night, and my Winter Term training came in handy. Forget Peruvian political history...that was the real lesson I picked up for the term. Score.

Will You Be Having the Caviar or the Solid Gold Babies?

Breakfast with the Guests this morning was a veritable feast. Eggs, toast, bacon, beans, potatoes, mushrooms, tomatoes, chocolate croissants, juice, and tea. Top it all off with a copy of the Financial Times, classical music playing on a record player in the background, and a little bit of political conversation about the ongoing Iran crisis (15 British navy soldiers captured in the Persian Gulf, dispute over whose waters they were in). This is a lifestyle I could get used to.

Stop Being So Damned Polite

As we got on the plane for Morocco and headed for our seats, I spent a full minute standing behind two people who were "arguing" over which of them would defer to the other and take the center seat in their row. Politeness is lovely, but it really leaves me with no appropriate way to say, "Excuse me, your inspirational display of selflessness has trapped like 40 of us in this aisle here, thanks."

6 Out of 7 Ain't Bad

When we landed in Marrakesh, we disembarked from the plane via steps to the tarmac rather than an air bridge. Which was great, because it gave me the satisfaction of walking down the steps, measuring my pace, and thinking, "And this is continent....6!" as I touched the earth. It's a small victory, and the extent of my Asian travels is 2 days in Turkey (but we did cross the Bosporus), but I'll take it! And my study abroad in the fall should help flesh out the whole Asia thing.

Cast of Characters

At this point, I should introduce the highly international cast of characters of our little story, as I imagine I'll be mentioning them from time to time. Let's go from left to right. Sek is our Cambridge-educated (the 1000 year-old Cambridge, not this Boston crap) Malaysian-Australian London-based management consultant. Matt is our Arab-speaking, Egtyptian-Canadian-Coptic-extraordinaire Harvard 2L. Jung is our Korean-American all-Ivy League all-star Harvard 3L. I, of course, am the Russian-Jewish-American London-studying Harvard 2L on the right. And the pretty one in the group.

Do They Allow Jews to Be Sheiks?

We got to our riad (a house arranged around a large interior courtyard, often used as hotels), and immediately, I felt unworthy of the splendor in which I was being indulged (and this is after having that monster breakfast the same morning). Seriously, the place was a palace, as this picture only starts to capture. This large living area was actually roof-less, as it was the interior courtyard. An attendant was on duty pretty much 24/7 to wait on us. When we came back from dinner at 11 pm, having purchased a hookah, he went out and bought us flavored tobacco and coals (which we then smoked in the most atmospheric pillow-filled little nook off that courtyard, while sipping on pointlessly expensive 21-year scotch that Jung bought at Heathrow before we left). After we officially retired to our quarters, I decided to take advantage of the set-up and returned to the nook to write a letter by star- and candlelight. The attendant brought me an extra candle. The only thing that was missing was a harem for my personal use, and I'm not convinced that I wouldn't have found one if I had just looked a little harder.

My religiosity is well-established

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

My title haunts me

We had wintry mix today. On April 4. It is 1 am and it is still snowing.

Man was not meant to live like this.

5-day forecast in Los Angeles: 72, 75, 72, 71, 68. I feel like if it didn't slip below 70, it would make my point better, but the point stands.

Edit! Care of T-Sinister, it seems that I'm not the only one who fears the scourge of wintry mix. The relevant quote:
I don't know if any of you have ever had the pleasure of experiencing a Boston winter, but if not let me awaken your senses. It's basically an 8 month-long night of sitting in your bathtub tearlessly crying while listening to Townes Van Zandt/Joy Division mashups, half-heartedly trying to cut your wrists with the Lady Bic of some jawn you were hot for that you just found out gave brain to Mr. Len in the bathroom during some poetry slam in Central Square. No. It's really like that. For everyone. 8 months.

Procrastinating at enjoyable things

So I totally intend to put up a travelogue for my Spring Break trips. I have little notes taken on things from various days, and I've actually written out a couple of the days, but I want to post them all chronologically, and I've been writing them out of order. They're more for my benefit than anyone else's, to tell the truth, but there should at least be some amusing pictures embedded.

This wouldn't be the first time I've posted travel experiences on the interweb, but I'm hoping this will be the least disastrous time. One of the advantages (I guess) of having gone through so many distinct blogging phases is that I have collected a vast library of experience on things that I have done poorly, stupidly, or downright catastrophically in the past. Here are some past mistakes I hope not to repeat, arranged in a convenient collection of -ities.

- Verbosity: You mean I have a problem with this? Shut up. I mean, seriously, be quiet. Do not sit here intimating that I sometimes use 10 words when 1 word would do. Really, I will keep going on about this...
- Specificity: So when I was in England, I updated my blog daily, and announced defiantly that I was keeping it for my own memories, and that it would be 100% open and specific and explicit, and if people didn't like it they could just not read it. Yeah, that had a real chance of working. The end result is that I actively pissed people off by not adhering to the "if you don't have anything nice to say don't say anything at all" model. Or I would say something nice about them, but I'd also say something mean about them. Whatever. The point is, I will only be mocking and complaining about anonymous strangers. Anyone I know personally will be described neutrally-to-positively. I really don't need to have another night where I go to a bar and have to figure out that the reason why one of my friends doesn't want to talk to me is because I said something mean about one of her friends in my blog the night before.
- Emotionality: A certain level of candor is necessary. Earnestness is a respectable thing. Writing things that make you sound like an emo teenager 3 years later -- because you were basically an emo teenager at the time -- is nothing to be proud of. Thank god for the post locking feature on LiveJournal. I guess this part is an advantage of writing all these posts a week after the fact.
- Totality: I don't need to write about everything even if it's boring or pointless. Even my records don't need to be that complete.

Keep an eye out for travelogue posts over the next couple of days. Hopefully I'll get them done before I leave for Germany next week and, you know, have more traveloguing to do.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Inside Ken's dreams

Last night, I returned from my Spring Break trip (more on that forthcoming). My first dream upon my return to the United States included quite the motley crüe: Mrs. C (one of my teachers from high school), an anonymous high school student I didn't recognize, my Aunt Lena (who I see about twice a year, last in December), and Andrew (yes, you, Estes).

From what I can recall, Mrs. C was teaching anonymous high school student about trademark law, and I'd chime in a bit with information about the likelihood of confusion standard. The student got frustrated and started saying he was going to fudge empirical data for his paper, and my Aunt Lena kept chastising him that it would be a waste of all the work he'd already done collecting legitimate data. Then Andrew arrived with a digital camera to take some pictures of everyone, and he and I were looking at taken pictures when we dropped it and somehow jarred the lens and distorted the viewing screen. We then fumbled around with the camera and tried to fix it, unsuccessfully. Then I woke up.

My interpretation of this dream: my body has been completely and irreversibly poisoned by alcohol and must be destroyed. But the only way I know to do that is with more alcohol.