Sunday, July 29, 2007

The Police Part II

This is not my picture, but rather courtesy of a person whose name completely escapes me on the Creative Commons.

Here is my disjointed account of the concert:

I always forget to bring my camera when it matters. LK took some pics on her phone, but we could have brought a bazooka, and they would not have cared. They even did not scan our tix, but just tore them off, in the old-fashioned way. For some reason I am still stuck in the era of concertgoing when they frisked your bags with intensity akin to airport security, and I always forget they don't care about cameras anymore.

BTW, what is it with people taking pics of themselves at concerts? Who cares that you are sitting in a sea of other people in a stadium? Wouldn't it be better to take pics of the band? Just a thought.

Friction Plane, Joe Sumner's band, opened. Not my kind of music, but Joe looks, sounds AND moves on stage like his dad. Genetics are an interesting thing. Nobody in the stadium cared about Friction Plane, unfortunately, as the average demographic was 40.

Umm, what I said yesterday about "wrapped around your finger"? Absolutely true. Haunting, beautiful, a religious experience. I think it was the best performance of the set, with Roxanne being a close second, and Every Breath You Take fitting for the encore. The actual closer for the set was Next To You, which I don't know well, but it totes did not matter, because the showmanship was excellent, and the light show looked like a fireworks finale.

Everyone said how Sting can't hit the high notes anymore, and it's true, he can't. Not in "Walking On The Moon" anyway. But do we really care? Didn't think so.

The stage design was clean - I love it when bands use white light and graphics, because white is so effective. Don't get me wrong, there was lots of colour as well. In addition to the screens and scores of automated light rigs above the stage there were six hydraulic platforms with moving lights upstage, providing interesting backlight. These cracked me up slightly, because they were oval, and at times they moved between songs in the dark, looking like menacing UFOs. However, in my book, U2 takes the prize for light shows and graphics.

I kept wondering if Stewart was not having a good time playing, as the man never cracked a smile. Andy was clearly enjoying himself, and Sting is just...Sting. When we saw him at the Orpheum, he played for two hours straight without breaking a sweat. I guess (tantric) yoga really pays off. However, for the bows all three laughed and thanked the audience, Stewart beating his chest over his heart, and Andy taking photos of the audience. So I guess Mr. Copeland just needed to concentrate really hard on keeping up with the pace of the concert?

Fenway Park as a concert venue? Rather poor, I felt. I hope nobody I like ever plays there again, because you can't really see the performers unless you are in the $500 field seats. Mind you, we had good seats, but I've been spoiled by smaller venues (even the Garden has better vantage points, and it's HUUGE). The sound was great though.

Yesterday's sighting of shirtless Sting was a bonus, because tonight the shirt stayed on. The man's bass looks like he fought a battle with it, all chipped and chewed up. But neither he nor Andy changed their guitars during the show, which I found unusual - most acts I've seen in the last few years change instruments multiple times during the show, either to achieve a different sound, or as a preference thing. On the other hand, Stewart threw his drumsticks around like candy, almost after every song.

Pet peeve of the evening - a couple in their early 20s texting incessantly in the seats in front of us. The girl must have sent 40 messages. What could POSSIBLY be so important to text every three minutes? For fuck's sake, the concert was only 2 hours long! Can you really NOT go without talking to others for two hours? I was reading over their shoulders, since the phone screens were annoying the crap out of me, and the girl was composing things such as "btw are you moving 2morow?" and getting responses like "i heart you"! I saw that the guy was writing a set list, which is silly, because it's posted on Wikipedia, and they did not deviate.

All in all, an excellent evening. This particular concert redeems my next musical indulgence - Justin Timberlake at the Garden in two weeks. I'll report on him bringing sexy back in a totally different way from Sting...

Saturday, July 28, 2007

The Police Part I

As the entire universe should know, The Police were playing Fenway Park tonight. LK and I have tix for tomorrow night, and as we live within a stone's throw of said park, we thought we'd enjoy the concert remotely, as a little preview. There was some question as to whether or not the torrential rains that knocked out our power will allow for the concert to go on, but by 6 pm all was well.

We went out to dinner, and as we were passing behind the Green Monster on our way back home, the ethereal voice of Gordon Sumner (aka Sting) filled the entire neighborhood. It was seriously akin to G_d speaking to you about being "wrapped around your finger." I have this T-shirt from the last Sting concert we attended that says "There is no religion but Sex and Music", and it felt quite to the point.

We stopped to listen, and stayed for the rest of the set. Right before the encore, we noticed a limo cortege pulling up to Gate C, which is right at the edge of the stage. The same limos with police escort we saw at 6 pm entering the park. Hmm, coincidence? We walked over, parked ourselves on the sidewalk, and our patience was rewarded. The band exited the stage right out of Gate C after the last song, and Sting stopped and (very consciously and exuberantly) waved at the fans (us and maybe 50 or so others) right before getting into the vehicle. He was shirtless. And hot.
Andy and Stewart were right behind. Lots of screaming ensued, much of it from women AND men standing around us. The van pulled out of the gate, and all 3 members of the band actively waved at us as they passed.

I am not a celebrity stalker. Celebrity doesn't really phase me. I find most celebrities to be as flawed (and maybe more) as the rest of us, and respect their privacy. I also fully realize that what makes them a celebrity is a talent in a particular field, just as the we all talented in our own, not quite as glamorous, fields. But as Sting was standing by the side of the van, LK turned to me and said "Ok, I am straight right now." And I wholeheartedly agreed. If I was alive during the height of Beatlemania, I would have been one of those girls waiting hours for the band to arrive/depart. As it is, we will thoroughly enjoy ourselves tomorrow night.

Friday, July 20, 2007

New Cambridge One!!!

This is an item for the two of you who read this blog who are actually FROM Boston:

The main reasons I EVER go to Harvard Square are OM and Cambridge*1. Now there is one less reason, as I just discovered a brand new Cambridge*1 on the bottom floor of the T
rilogy Building (across from Landmark center.) Like, they were installing the awnings as I drove by, and sitting in traffic I could see that the decor is the same, and I am assuming the menu is the same - I am going to check it out ASAP. This in addition to Harry Potter coming to my door tomorrow morning makes me a very happy girl indeed!

Summer pet peeves

I have been in Harry Potter land - after the movie I realized I had absolutely NO idea as to what happened in "Half-Blood Prince", and I am getting "Deathly Hallows" on Sat at 8 am (yay Amazon! I think I will be sad to not have these random morning deliveries,) so I am speedily re-reading. And the funny thing is, you how you read something a second, third time, and you know where the plot is going, and remember the characters, etc? Well, not me! I am reading the book and I think "when did this happen? and why is Harry being so dense?" as if I'd *never* laid my eyes on it before, which is disturbing, 'cos I totes read it two years ago. Every once in a while I get flashes of recognition for small plot points, but they are very far in between.

So since I am kind of busy, here's a post I wrote last week:

I am not generally prude. I work in theatre. I am not often surprised by nudity or compromising situations, and found myself discussing dildo design at dinner tonight. Since I currently can’t think of a good blog topic that has to do with dildos, but have been wanting to post this screen caption forever, I am just going to do it:

That’s from The Libertine. Crappy movie, that. Even Johnny Depp is not excellent. On the other hand, everyone in that film is a snappy dresser, leaving no room for my pet peeves. I have a ton of pet peeves that deal with appearances. I’ve mentioned a couple of these in my earlier Summer post, but I think this deserves a closer look.

People often wear ill-fitting clothes clearly without thinking about what others might see. I’ve been guilty of that in the past, as I am sure we all have (umm, 1980s, anyone?) but mostly because I did not care. At dinner last night my entire thought process was thwarted for good 3 minutes by a lady who paraded past us to the maitre d’s desk to find out the wait time, and paraded back at the same rate. My friend SB was rendered speechless as well. Why? Because this woman’s girls (as Stacy London would note), which were at least a D-cup, were trying to escape her very open v-neck sweater, quite dangerously. In fact, I was kind of afraid that her breast would fall out at my feet and roll down the hallway, as it was being basically bisected in two by her bra cup right above the aureolae. As some bits of this woman were tan, and some were not, her breasts also caught light at a funky angle, drawing extra attention to flesh that should have been covered. Now, do you think she was getting dressed at home and thought “well, this bra doesn’t really fit me anymore, so maybe I’ll get some action if I just bare as much as I can?”

On the same note, a news item appeared today:

BERLIN (Reuters) - A German bus driver threatened to throw a 20-year-old sales clerk off his bus in the southern town of Lindau because he said she was too sexy, a newspaper reported Monday.

"Suddenly he stopped the bus," the woman named Debora C. told Bild newspaper. "He opened the door and shouted at me 'Your cleavage is distracting me every time I look into my mirror and I can't concentrate on the traffic. If you don't sit somewhere else, I'm going to have to throw you off the bus.'"

The woman, pictured in Bild wearing her snug-fitting summer clothes with the plunging neckline, said she moved to another seat but was humiliated by the bus driver.

A spokesman for the bus company defended the driver.

"The bus driver is allowed to do that and he did the right thing," the spokesman said. "A bus driver cannot be distracted because it's a danger to the safety of all the passengers."

But hey, at least she was mostly dressed. Not so much some others I’ve seen this week. I’m not even going to expound on girls in dresses and skirts that are so short they should be worn over pants – too easy. People wearing white – do you NEVER look at yourself in the mirror before leaving home? Do you not KNOW what happens to white cotton when lit from behind by strong afternoon sun? Sure, white is all light and summery and deflects the harmful rays, keeping you cooler, but…we have this fabric in theatre called “scrim”, which basically is a specific cotton weave. When you light it from the front, it’s opaque. When you light it from the back, it disappears, revealing whatever is behind. This is what happens to your skirts, ladies in white cotton. The thinner your skirts are, the more I can see. In certain situations this would be a good thing, but not on strangers, and not in Boston – not exactly the capital of pretty people. My high school graduation dress was fairly see-through, and my conservative grandmother insisted I buy a slip for under it. Boy, was she right. There is a video that shows my graduating class in all its see-through glory in the morning sun. The same exact thing happened with my college graduation (what IS it about schools I attend and white?) And my dress was only transparent to where you could see a slight shadow where my body ended and the skirt began.

Yesterday I saw a girl who wasn’t wearing any undergarments under her white skirt – kind of gross in the first place, or maybe she was wearing a dark g-string, either way there was a dark triangle visible. I think I need darker sunglasses to remedy this issue. In the same intersection I saw a man in white pants with – you guessed it – no undergarments. How do I know that? He dressed to the left, and if there were boxers involved, the pants were so tight I should have seen man-panty lines. So for people wearing white until Labour Day, here are some rules:

1. Briefs for men were invented a long time ago. Make use of them.

2. Undergarments should be worn at all times when in public! These consist of slips, bras, and panties. Unless you are planning on some tryst al fresco with your boyfriend/girlfriend in the extremely immediate future, or are returning home from same. In which case I salute your fascinating sex life, and STILL don’t want to see it.

3. When undergarments are worn, they should be nude or white. Black, red, polka-dotted, whatevs are NOT acceptable under white clothes. Unless you are having your period, in which case you shouldn’t be wearing white anyway.

4. Tight-fitting clothes only look good on people with zero body fat. Tennis payers look GREAT in stretchy white. So do dancers and faithful yoga practitioners. Size 14 women – not so much. Thankfully, the only men I see in tight white garments are Red Sox fans, and that’s a whole different shade of fugly.

5. Watch where you might sit! Grass stains on your ass as you walk down Boylston st makes me wonder if you were involved in #2 above. Same for general dirt stains. White is hard to keep clean, I know, but do try!

6. Unlike some people I know, I don’t actually have a problem with people wearing white when it’s not summer. But all of the above rules apply.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Bastille Day!

Today is Bastille Day. Vive La France! To celebrate this event, I went to see Pixar’s Ratatouille. More about that later. In other news, and this is for MK:

Ani DiFranco never fails to brings the ladies and a few sensitive dudes to tears or soft, gentle whimpering with her honest lyrics, music, and tight body. Anais Mitchell opens. Her folk-rock tunes of love gone gosh darn crummy start at 8 p.m. at the Warfield, 982 Market (at Fifth St.); Tickets are $40.50.

I stopped listening to Ani circa 2000. The most I ever paid for her concerts was $22. My college roommate used to go see her in clubs in NYC for free. I realize $40 is not nearly the same type of inflation you now get with really famous bands (you don’t want to know how much we are paying to see The Police in Fenway Park), and that musicians need to eat too, but this is sad.

Oh yeah, Ani - there was only so much tragic whining I could handle. Plus, she stopped being intriguing when she got married. That ended in divorce, yeah? I am happy she is still making music, and there are still people coming to ogle her tight body. Maybe if I listen to her again now (her new stuff, I mean) I might like her again. I should experiment.

But back to rats in the kitchen. In his excellent book The soul of a chef: The Journey Toward Perfection Michael Ruhlman says the following:

“When we braise meat, we can if we choose, connect ourself with everyone who has ever braised meat and everyone who will ever braise meat…to connect to that same pleasure, that amazement, to connect to that same gratitude. This is the kind of satisfaction that people who truly love to cook are after. We seek, in our collective struggle, to learn more and to cook better, but we are in fact reaching for that connection to humanity that we’ve lost or maybe never had or simply want more of. This connection will forever elude us…if we ever lose sight of cooking’s fundamental importance to others.…never forgot for a moment what the work was all about: to cook for people and to make them happy.”

That’s what food is all about. And that’s what Rémy, the cutest rat in history of film, wants to do for people, and does with great success. He has pink ears, nose, and paws, and is great at using these to express emotion as only a rat might. I predict a huge surge in pet rats this year, as there were thousands of clown fish being acquired after “Finding Nemo”, and dalmations a decade earlier. The depiction of the food and the restaurant business in Ratatouille is flawless, and I dare say Rémy’s fur is more realistic than that of James P. "Sulley" Sullivan (or as I like to call him, “Kitty” in “Monsters, INC”.) Aforementioned Thomas Keller, chef/owner of French Laundry, served as an adviser on the film, providing his recipes for the dishes, as well as the model for the way the kitchen should be run. In return, to quote SFGate’s Stacy Finz “To pay homage to the cooking profession, the filmmakers used Keller's voice for the role of a restaurant patron. The French version of the movie has chef Guy Savoy playing the part; the Spanish one substitutes the voice of El Bulli chef Ferran Adria. In the British version, "The Naked Chef" Jamie Oliver has a cameo as the restaurant inspector. My hero Tony Bourdain called this film “quite simply the best food movie ever made”, and anyone who has any modicum of interest in food (not even cooking, just eating well) should see it. I am done gushing now.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Harry Potter

This is a rare live blog post.

Reasons I LOVE Harry Potter movies and books:

1. confirms my inner geek. I have an outer geek too, but I try to hide her.
2. do y'all have flying dreams? 'cos I do. and Harry Potter movies just throw me into those dreams, because flying on a broom has got to be the coolest thing EVER. Also totes reminded me of my absolutely FAVOURITE ZEMFIRA song: London Sky - forgive the quick translation, I totes thought I translated it before...

I dreamed of the London sky
Of a long kiss
We were flying, not holding onto anything
Which one of us will fall down first,
Break into pieces, onto the Tower Bridge?
In the morning,
I will find out in the morning...
You will find out later...
There is nothing more precious than these dreams.
Without these reminders
I am a lone wolf
What if I miss in the middle of the night,
Take off,
And nobody will know?
Just that lone wolf,
I am counting the steps until the very last destination.
Let’s run and fly!
I dreamed of the London sky,
Of a long kiss
We were waking on clouds there,
Pretending to be London rain,
Together sprinkling on the asphalt.
In the morning,
I will find out in the morning...
You will find out later...
There is nothing more precious than these words.
I am a lone wolf
What if I miss in the middle of the night,
Take off,
And nobody will know.
Just that lone wolf,
I am counting the steps until the very last destination.
Let’s run and fly!
I dreamed of the London sky…

3. People die, and teens have to deal with that. Even if it's just on the screen. For Harry Potter it's totes for real.

4. Emma Watson/Hermione Grainger is hot. She's also a know-it-all, which reminds me of ME being 14. Except that I wasn't a witch OR hot.

5. I REALLY REALLY want to believe in magic. I also totes wish there were Harry Potter books when I was a kid. They make growing up easier.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

"Relaxation Audio Music That Will Help You Connect Faster With The Universe While Doing The Shamanic Ritual"

I already got this out of my system today while talking with LK, and then I got pissed off again.

I like my job. It’s the first job I’ve had since grad school where I am appreciated, and I can actually use my expertise without other people questioning it. I’ve been working in my field for 13 years. I have a Master of Fine Arts terminal degree that proves that I can build and paint and budget and supervise and move and shake and destroy theatrical scenery like nobody’s business. I can build machinery and upholster furniture. I can teach students and program light-boards. I can lift 60 lbs on a regular basis (which happens to be in my job description, and sucks, btw.) I can even mop floors for dancers, move pianos, and change lamps in work lights!!!! (yeah, three guesses as to what I did at work today…) But according to the 2007 Boston State Payroll tables, as published by the Boston Herald (does anyone read that piece of crap anyway?), I make quite a bit less than an Administrative Assistant at the Mayor’s Office. Now, I understand that working for the City and the State is lucrative. And it probably takes a lot of acumen to keep up with the Mayor’s appointments (that’s why he has 3 Admins.) And any idiot could move a piano. But a fucking secretary makes more money than I do after 5 years teaching at university level?

A lot of people who have “real jobs” – i.e. not in the arts or education – always make the assumption that we work in theatre “for the love of it.” Yeah, we might love it. We might also all be masochists, because 70-hour work weeks, never seeing your loved ones, doing menial labour, never seeing the sun, and zero public recognition are only SOMETIMES worth it. And call me crazy, but love alone does not pay rent or school loans. Especially not in Boston.

To alleviate some of this rage, I spent a long time hanging out with Miles – here he is in all his glory:

Of course, what makes me especially peeved about money and fairness of compensation is the fact that I have recently started a process of becoming a legal resident alien. Within this process, processing priority is given to people with higher degrees of education. Since the USCIS works with the speed of a melting glacier, the higher degree you claim, the better your chances are. Unless you can’t use your degree because your employer can’t afford to pay you the rates the Department of Labour thinks are commensurate with that MFA, thereby rendering it useless. Did y’all follow that? Good.

And now, for something completely different, and inspired by TMB. I was looking for an e-mail that mistakenly got dumped into my SPAM folder, and my eye caught this gem:

Ani, you using shaman's rituals in your life yet?

Intrigued, I opened the message, hoping to learn secrets like never before – after all, it’s not every day that one receives offers of spiritual guidance through SPAM. My mother would be so proud! As would LK’s mom, too. This is what I found:

Hey Ani -

I just got off the phone with Robert (umm, who the fuck is Robert? Am I supposed to know him? - Ani) and he was telling me about his new book about getting what (and who) you want with the power of Shamanism

Yes, I said Shamanism.

The helpful, spiritual sort of thing that can put you back in peace and harmony with the universe and make your
wises and desires come to life...(I am not sure I want my wises to come to life, but ok…)

Anyway, he told me about the amount of copies he was selling on a daily basis (So what makes Robert an expert on shamans?) and (after my jaw absolutely dropped) I was convinced we are in the middle of a 'spiritual revolution'

He doesn’t know how long he can offer this book, so I wanted to make sure you had your chance to read it
before it’s gone, Ani. I am SURE you will love it :-) (OMG, the smiley face did it! I MUST buy this book!)

Blessed Be
With the Powers of Shamansim,

Bob Andrews
Currently near
Ciaro, Egypt (Is that a new settlement? Oh, that’s right, you can’t spell!)

Of course, I was curious, and clicked on the hyperlinks. This is where they all lead:

Exclusive Information For The Next 365 248 Visitors... (I clicked a couple of times, and the counter never changed…)

"You're About To Discover Secrets That Most People Will Never Know About MAGICK..."

Inside you'll uncover how to...

Have a magnetic charisma to make all people love you (even the ones that hate you right now)
Get as much money as you want for your personal needs. (You won't have to save money again).
Become one of the most beautiful people in your community. (Dieting, exercising or even liposuction won't produce such powerful results!)
Conquer fear and feel unstoppable energy to do anything you want to do. (You will never feel drowsy or depressed again.)
Win friends and influence people. (Your popularity levels will skyrocket)
And this literally only the skim on the surface... After you'll discover the 100 Shamanic rituals that are the most powerful form of Magick ever created, your heart will triple its beat rate! But more on that in a few seconds...

And then you had to sign your life away, yada yada yada, visa card, $37.00 for a discount from $399.00! whatevs. Oh, and you get "Relaxation Audio Music That Will Help You Connect Faster With The Universe While Doing The Shamanic Ritual" Now, I have nothing against shamans, although I seriously doubt they have allowed some douchebag write abour 100 rituals. Also, they need to be specific about the shamans themselves – Native American? Aleut? Yakut? Chukcha? Mongol? ‘Cos they all believe in different spirits and procedures, and the spirits might get pissed at us for using them for our own gain. And MAGICK? Really, Bob Andrews, really? I think I will buy a $2 volume of Dale Carnegie, since you seem to be using his copy.

And this is the last time I read SPAM. Well, for now, anyway.

Sunday, July 8, 2007


And since I am posting pics left and right, this is from July 4th. It was raining, but the Boston fireworks are the best in the country, as far as I am concerned. And fireworks make me happy.


So I got totes distracted with the whole Death thing. I was PMSing like no other time. Lots of people get irate when they have PMS. I get depressed out of my gourd and cry non-stop. Or read books about dying. Or think everyone I love will die soon. Or have absolutely no control over my emotions. Or all of the above. However, onto happy things:

Last weekend my best friend MK got married to the lovely RB in upstate New York. As I am writing this, I realized I never asked if she was changing her name. Not that it really matters, but it was brought to my attention by another friend who got married the same weekend (and whose wedding, sadly, I was not able to attend) that if you don’t change your name legally on the marriage license (when it’s free), it gets really complicated. Anyway, we were waay, waay upstate, not like Westchester upstate. The ceremony was at a vineyard on the shore of Cayuga Lake. Did you know they make wine in upstate New York? Neither did I, and being used to California wines, I had my doubts. It’s good wine though. I tried the merlot, and hated it, but the Riesling was perfect.

This is the view from where the ceremony took place. That’s the bride and groom having artistic photos taken. It was the most perfect weather you could ask for. The winery apparently does upwards of 50 weddings/ceremonies/celebrations per season. It’s a party factory.

This buddy was part of the ceremony, as you can tell by his collar. His name is Flash, and after the wedding he got a little sister named Sophie, which he is not too happy about (a canine sister, weirdos.) Isn’t she cute?

In fact, the running joke at the wedding was “No, we are NOT pregnant.” What is it about family pressure on people in their late 20s-early 30s? MK and I talked about how when our parents got married, it was all about a legal and societal permission to have sex. (I know, not a super deep thought, but bear with me.) Since in our lives, nobody gives a damn if people have sex outside of marriage (unless you are deeply religious, of course, and I am not discriminating among the major religions that frown on premarital, recreational sex. Don’t even get me started on religion and gays…) marriage is more a symbolic gesture of commitment, and an excuse to get lots of gifts and have a party. But EVERYONE expects you to get pregnant right away, as if marriage was only a front for procreating, and nothing else. I am sort-of totally anti-marriage as a concept, when it comes to my own life, and everyone I know keeps saying “you’ll change your mind when you have kids” and maybe I will, but I don’t really feel the need to be sanctioned by the state to love LK. This does not make me anti-gay marriage. That would be dumb. Just anti-Ani marriage.

But this is about someone else’s choices, no? So I was in the ceremony, as MK’s Best Lady (I think that’s the term we ended up with) together with his sister (to balance out the party, the bride had her brother as an attendant on her side…so we were all “boy-girl” on the wrong side…) but to match the bridesmaids, I had this lovely bouquet. Which promptly died from heat throughout the day, which was sad.

What wasn’t sad were the favours. Both bride and groom are potters. So they made 200 of these lovely vases, 8 different designs, slipcast and glazed with the groom’s specially invented glaze, with the wedding details inscribed on decals. It took months to make these. I now have two lovely ones at home to add to my collection of MK pottery.

And the cake rocked. Both beautiful and tasty. And the design whore that I am, here’s my gifts collaged with the cake. I picked paper to match the wedding, totes unaware. I knew the wedding colours (red and chartreuse) but I didn’t know about the cake.

The next day another groomsman and I went on a hike at Taughannock Falls State Park, which apparently houses the tallest single drop waterfall in the NorthEast (215 feet, taller than Niagara Falls by 33 feet.) Unfortunately, there wasn’t much water flowing through the gorge at the time, so the waterfall was not impressive. Apparently one could swim in the basin and walk under the waterfall into the 1980s. But then probably some idiot drowned while drunk, and the Park Services prohibited any such foolish activity. Truth be told, it is still really easy to get under the falls, if you walk on the creek bed, but you would probably get arrested. Oh yeah, and I learned a cool trick. If you stare at the water falling for 30 seconds, and then shift your gaze to the rock wall next to the water, the rocks move up the wall in this slow morphing motion, like a special effect. The longer you stare at the water, the longer the rocks morph. It’s like hallucinating without any drugs.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

DEATH Explanation

I was trying to decide if I should publish the last 5 posts, and thought it a bit ridiculous to write and then not do anything with it. So just in case, gentle readers - I am fine. Just having a bad reaction to a mediocre novel, like a hangover of sorts. And once again, please read in Roman Numeral order, because clearly I suck at top posting.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007


On May 9, 2003, I got a horrible phone call. My only uncle, my mom’s brother Valera, had passed away. There were three circumstances that made this waaaaaay more painful than any of the previous deaths. The first was the fact that he was 45. The second was that he died in his mother’s arms from acute alcohol poisoning that basically stopped his heart. The third was that there was no way I could fly there for the funeral, not in time, not that summer, all because my employer did not file my visa renewal in time. I was stuck in Boston with my grief, and a complete inability to do something about it. Moreover, I was so fucking angry at my uncle. Angry for being selfish, for going out drinking with his friends before the holiday (V-E Day, a huge holiday in Russia), for knowing what alcohol can do to him (the man was a fucking doctor, ok? A radiologist!), for not calling the ambulance fast enough. Angry for the ambulance for dilly-dallying, for making him get dressed before they tried to take him away, for treating him just like another alcoholic, instead of a man with a medical degree who self-diagnosed. Angry for the broken-down social systems in Russia that turn a talented doctor into a depressive alcoholic because his salary is not enough to live on apart from his mother, because every day he doled out 4th Stage lung cancer diagnoses to teenage girls and working men in a dark office with ancient equipment and complete inability to help his patients, because life is just too fucking depressing and needs to be escaped. So he did. In a major way.

In Russia we bury our dead in their physical bodies. Cremation is against the tenets of the Orthodox Church. It is believed that when the day of Judgment comes, the dead will walk among the living, and they need their bodies for that. The soul also is believed to not leave the body until the 9th day after the passing, so you kinda need the body for that as well. On the 9th day it is good to go to the cemetery and talk to the decedent, giving them a shot of vodka covered in a slice of black bread. This usually gets drunk and eaten by the bums who hang out at cemeteries after you leave. On the 40th day, the soul leaves this world, having corrected all its earthly sins and mistakes. It is also necessary to go the cemetery then. So this very natural system for grieving is built in, a gradual way to let go of your loved one, a way of communication that is both consoling and reassuring. My grandmother went to the cemetery every week that year, rain or snow. It helped her to not lose her mind completely. Helped my mom too. They buried Valera next to his father. Most cemetery plots have little tables and benches installed, if you wish. It’s oddly comforting to visit their graves with my mom and grandmother, and have a meal with them, telling them about the events of last week/month/year. I just wish I could do it more often, because not being able to tell the dead you love them is a terrible burden.

However, I can tell Jasmine I love her almost all the time. In June 2005 my pretty blue-eyed Tonkinese seal-point princess Jasmine, aged 11, was lying on the cool tile in front of the fireplace, and panting like a fish out of the water. She was diagnosed with a malignant lymphoma in August 2004. One day I was scratching her throat, and felt a lump. In a few days it was the size of a golf ball. My original idiotic vet put her on antibiotics, which only spurred the cancer. Once in oncology, they excised the growth and put her on chemo. The chemo made her so sick, she stopped eating and sleeping. By Christmas she was in complete remission, but literally starving to death. LK and I spoonfed her every four hours. I was exhausted and scared. I’ve had her longer than any other cat ever. She was my friend and my baby. She had the most intense blue eyes, and the most annoying, endearing meow. She did this thing, where when you were sad (and I’ve been sad a lot!) she would lie on the pillow next to your head and pet your face with her paw. She would literally stroke your cheek or forehead, as if to say “it will be ok, you can stop crying now” which of course made me cry even more sometimes. When LK came to my apartment for the first time years ago, Jasmine sat on her chest, stared in her eyes, and said “you are ok, you can stay.” So when at Christmas we knew she was suffering so much we had to put her down, we still couldn’t do it. It would’ve been akin to euthanizing a fucking person.

On the morning of January 6, 2004 (which happens to be Orthodox Christmas) Jasmine walked up to her food bowl and ate solid food. She continued to eat and gain strength and generally behave normally all through the spring, testing in remission, until we found another lump on her throat in May. By early June she couldn’t breathe. The look in her eyes as she laid on that cool tile said “I’ve done all I can, please help me now.” LK cradled her while our friend drove to the hospital. We kissed her, and held her paws while she was given her injection. When she was still, she was the smallest, most precious lump of fur I have ever seen. She was warm and supple as her life was no longer there. They took her away, and I got on the plane to Russia the next day, leaving LK to receive the cremains. We still haven’t decided where to scatter her. It’s as if while she is still here, in a pretty red box, she is with us. The Russians have a point. You need physical reminders of the dead, because once you stop thinking about the dead, they stop existing.


On April 22, 1997 my Baba Zina, a grandmother who raised me as a nanny and mother and housekeeper and whatever else rolled into one, because she lived with us, and my parents were inept, died of ovarian cancer. She was the only person who knew all the names of my friends, all the things I was interested in, she taught me how to be independent and how to cook and sew and do whatever else a woman needs in life. She was also my roommate for 16 years. I last spoke with her on March 15th or so. I knew she was dying, and wrote a poem asking her forgiveness after I got off the phone. I was so overcome, I took a leave of absence and bought a plane ticket to Russia. My parents freaked out. They thought I’d be throwing away my entire academic career, my entire future, by coming back to Russia. Russia was still very unstable, both politically and economically. I’d only planned to be there until August, and finish the incompletes I was given. They thought I might not be able to come back to the States. I argued with my parents on the phone for two days. At the end, I gave up, changed the ticket date, and went back to school. That was a very stupid thing to do. I never got to say goodbye to my baba. My parents never told me she died. I flew to Russia on June 2nd or so. I thought I was coming home to say goodbye. It turned out she’d died six weeks earlier. I went into a depression that lasted a few years after that. I know that eventually I have to forgive my parents. They did a very Russian thing, where you never tell anyone the worst. In Russia, people with fatal diseases are kept from knowing their own diagnoses. This was very similar. I was too weak to stand my ground, and I guess at the end that it made me stronger. It also made me feel less.

A couple of days after arriving in Tomsk, I went to go see my maternal grandparents. My grandfather Yura, who’s been a diabetic for many years, generally in poor health, and bedridden for the last two or so years, was very excited about my visit. He got dressed up, came out to the dining room, and had a meal with us, having a bit to drink, very animated and interested in my news, my work in theatre, the way of life in the US. I never knew him very well, mostly due to his being very reserved from his sometime military career, and the Russian habits wherein men prefer male company. It was very touching to have him be so excited and loquacious. Two days later, in the early morning of June 7, 1997, my mom called me to tell me he has died. He did not live to be 70 by 13 days.

The thing I learned at his funeral is that I absolutely, resolutely, cannot drink vodka in large quantities. Russian funerals are a lot more involved then the Western ones are. After the wake (which is either religious or civil or both) and the actual internment of the body, there is a huge party, wherein all who attended the funeral proceed to get shitfaced. Toasts are said about the decedent, nothing bad (as you do not speak ill of the dead) and a shot of vodka is taken with each toast. My grandfather had touched a lot of people in his life. I tried to pace my shots, but I was at the head table with my family, and it was impossible to not drink. I stopped counting after 7 or so. By 5 pm my dad and I stumbled home, wherein I passed out and did not wake up until 5 pm the following day. I no longer drink vodka. Well, sometimes, but it has to be really good. Like Pravda.

I came back to the States sometime in August. The nightmares of that summer were not over though. August 31, 1997 - Princess Diana. I had this tiny teevee in my dorm room, painted like a fish bowl, and everything that came through it seemed surreal. You might remember, Mother Teresa quietly passed away the next week, and nobody really paid attention, as the world was still not right.

The next 3-4 years felt like a real breather. No significant deaths, famous or familial. I was still depressed, but functional. Then 9/11 happened. Now, I did not actually know anyone who perished, and not to sound trite, but that was a huge relief. I woke up that morning to a panic’d DJ on my alarm radiostation yelling for everyone to turn on their teevees. Just as I did, the second plane hit. I thought it was WWIII, maybe. (I always think it’s WWIII. All day today fighter planes have been flying overhead for something 4th of July related, and it freaks me out endlessly. You can take the girl out of the Cold War, but you can’t take the Cold War out of her brain.) My hysterical mother called me, finally got through, she was watching CNN in Siberia, and just as we were trying to make sense of any of it, the Pentagon plane hit. I went to Russia that winter, and talked about 9/11 non-stop. Everyone was still very upset. I seemed to be a conduit for so many people, somebody who was actually THERE, the only person they knew who’d been to NYC, nevermind WTC. We weren’t at war yet, I don’t think, so everyone was very sympathetic to the US. It felt a little funny to represent the state of mind of an entire country where I am a non-resident alien.

Before I came to Russia, November 29, 2001 gave us my mom’s 49th birthday, and the death of George Harrison. Of course, I was a bit more matter-of-fact about his death then 15 years earlier with John Lennon, but I still have the clipping from the NYTimes. This meant that there will never be even a remote possibility of a Beatles reunion.

I am fuzzy on this next date, but it was sometime in late December 2001, when I was already in Russia. Elizabeth Woodward was my American Grammy. She was a matriarch of a wonderful family that basically adopted me when I first came to the US. She was the same age as my Baba Zina, so I was not surprised it was her time to go. Her funeral taught me another quirk – (umm, no pun intended, you know who you are) – in Northern climes of the States, they don’t inter the bodies in the winter. They wait until the ground thaws out, and have a ceremony in the summer. In Siberia, we just use construction equipment to dig graves in the permafrost. Given the bloody history of Siberia, it makes more sense.


Sometime in 1986 - Baba Dunya – my maternal Great-grandmother. She’s been bedridden for many years, had strokes and was paralyzed on one side. I disliked visiting her, disliked the smell of medication, the constant gloom in her room, inability to carry on a civil conversation. I think everyone was a bit relived when she passed, it made my grandmother’s apartment less cramped. There was always a wedding photograph of Baba Dunya and Ded Mitya above her bed, where they were twenty and painfully beautiful. I want to remember them that way. When they took her outside for the drive to the cemetery, my grandmother was beside herself with grief, screaming and throwing herself at the coffin. I got to watch her do that twice more later in life. I don’t know if watching her did something to me, but I’ve never cried at a funeral. We all grieve in different ways, and mine does not involve public tears.

Two other things I learned from this death – the traditional Russian dish of kutya (sticky rice or wheat pudding with raisins and honey) you taste at funerals to pay respect for the dead tastes like shit; and kissing goodbye to a dead body that is not embalmed and has been displayed around the apartment for two days is gross. I can’t eat rice pudding in any incarnation anymore.

Winter 1987 – my cat Phil’ka – this is rather silly. Probs in winter of 1985 my dad brought home a tiny squealing ball of Siamese goodness. We previously had this magnificent Siamese cat Nestor, who was a rescue from the ruins of a demolished apartment building nearby, but somebody stole Nestor after about 2 years, and I was distressed. So when a colleague of dad’s had kittens, he brought a little guy home. He fit in the palm of my dad’s hand. My dad is crazy about cats, btw. So we named this one Philimon, for some other emperor, as the Siamese are so freaking majestic. Unlike Nestor, who was a smart angel, Philimon turned out to be a dumb brat who scratched everyone, and marked. Because he was so little when we got him, he was handfed, and he insisted on being handfed when he got older. My grandmother would cut up fish into tiny bite-sized pieces, and Phil’ka would sit on her lap and eat one piece at a time from her hand. He refused to eat anything else, or in any other way. And since nobody fixed kitties at that time, Phil’ka got in the habit of going outside to court some ladies. Until he never came home. Until some time after his disappearance I went outside to play in the snowbanks in the yard, and found his little body. Frozen, in the snow, cut clean in half on midsection by a snowshovel. I’d like to believe he was already dead by the time he got dismembered, but I will never know for sure. I got hysterical and made my dad go out, collect the cat into a garbage bag, and dispose of him.

August 7, 1987 – Anatoly Papanov and August 16, 1987 - Andrei Mironov – two very famous Russian actors, who were in multiple iconic comedies together. We tend to idolize the dead, so it’s even harder when people who are already idolized pass away suddenly with a heart attack on stage at age 41. It was a very cold summer, and Papanov’s last film “Cold Summer of 1953” had just come out, so ever since I associate cold summer weather with loss. It was also the last quiet summer before my hormones turned me into a short-tempered raging bitch until 1992 or so.

August 15, 1990 - Viktor Tsoy – this was a hard one. I was really into rock by then, and Kino was king. I would buy records when I could, they have become plentiful and affordable. Kino was music for young people sang by young people in Russian – together with Nautilus Pompilius they were very much Gen X (before there WAS Gen X). Sure, there were other Russian rock bands then, but they were all closer to my parents in age. Kino was OUR generation. Plus Tsoy was exotic and hot. They criticized the politics, but also sang of young love and angst. And that August Viktor Tsoy went on a fishing trip in Latvia, possibly fell asleep in his car, and collided head-on with a bus. I wasn’t a hard-core fan who would travel to his grave or anything, but for me this was the equivalent of John Lennon dying.

May 1991 – Yanka Dyagileva – what is it with musicians taking their own lives? She was a local rock chick from Novosibirsk, a rarity in Russia – most famous musicians then were from Leningrad. She recorded ten or so albums of acoustic angst-y rock, similar to early Ani DiFranco, very unusual and cool – women were absent on that scene until Zemfira came along, really. Then fell/jumped into a river after a long bout with depression. It’s extremely disheartening to learn to love a musician only to have them die right away.

Sometime in 1992 - Car Accident in high school. A guy from my grade whom I knew since we were 5 and his younger sister (who used to bully me relentlessly) were riding with three others from a wedding. I did not know the driver. Russian car from the 80s, seatbelts not mandatory. Wrapped around a telephone pole. Guy’s sister went through the windshield from the middle of the back seat. Driver and shotgun-riding passenger joined her. Instant death, broken necks. My classmate and his friend got lucky, the seats saved them. Later in the summer, my classmate crashed his motorcycle. Imagine being their single mother – two children dead in once summer.

1994 - Kurt Cobain – not even going to blog about this. Everyone should remember where they were.

In the fall of 1996 I entered the semester of my college career of which I have very little recollection. This was because JW (my roommate at the time) and I would get stoned on Wednesday night, stay stoned for the next four days, add some alcohol to the mix on Fri and Sat, sleep most of Sunday, and repeat the cycle the following week. Part of it was because we could. Part was self-medication. We had this joke between us, that if the phone rings at 8 am on the weekend, it’s because somebody is dead. I think the first person to die was her high-school friends’ mom, who she was very close with. Or maybe it was the friends’ gay dad. Or maybe both. Things were a bit fuzzy. Then it was my friend K’s mom. Then it was JWs grandmother. Then it was my American sister M’s dad. Then it was JWs girlfriend’s grandma, I think. Sometime around this lk’s grandmother died too. Big mess, in other words. Granted, most of these people were older. But we weren’t even 21 yet. That’s a lot of fucking funerals. We HAD to joke about it, because we thought we’d go crazy otherwise. However, the one funeral in my life that I would give anything to have gone to wasn’t meant to be that way.


Sometime in 1977 - Baba Panna – quite possibly the first person to die in my young life. This is only significant because I was a toddler of maybe 18 months. My great-grandmother on my mother’s father’s side was quite old (I think she was born in 1888) and blind, but I was introduced to her shortly before her death. I told my mother about this when we visited the cemetery together last summer, and she thought I was lying, because I couldn’t have remembered this woman at such a tender age. But I described the circumstanced of meeting her so clearly, I could not have made it up, and my mom was astonished. I thought I was pushing 4 years old with this memory. Then we walked to the grave and looked at the date. Like I said, I wasn’t even 2. Weird.

Sometime in 1978 - Ded Mitya – again, I am too young and fuzzy on the details. My great-grandfather on my mom’s mom’s side. They definitely did not take me to the funeral. He had had a stroke and was bedridden for the last year or so of his life. My parents used to leave me with my great-grandparents a lot, and Ded Mitya would tell me stories of fighting WWII in Berlin, and I would play with his war medals on a red velvet pillow.

July 25, 1980 - Vladimir Vysotsky – No, I could not have possibly been affected by the death of a Russian legend at the age of 4. I did not know who he was until at least 1986. But it was a huge phenomenon in Russia, people were depressed for months, and his music was everywhere that summer, from every open window. I also totes associate him with the Summer Olympics of 1980, because his death coincided with the ceremonies, and the authorities hushed it up as much as they could. Since I am doing this is chronological order, he was the first out of my heroes to die when I was growing up.

December 8, 1980
- John Lennon
– Ditto. I did not get into the Beatles until 1987. I was very much into Soviet Pop up until then. My parents had a reel-to-reel machine with Abbey Road, Yellow Submarine and Magical Mystery Tour. Very subversive. I used to listen to Abbey Road non-stop at full volume. I translated the lyrics. There was no Internet or even liner notes, so if you wanted to know what a song was about, you listened 15,000 times and transcribed the lyrics, then tried to figure out what they say. So to learn that the band I was so enraptured with has broken up before I was born, and one of its best musicians was shot dead when I was 4.5 was absolutely devastating.

I cried for days. 1987 was not really a good year. I had this poster of John Lennon from the Let It Be cover next to the poster of Viktor Tsoy (see below), and I would look at them, forever young, and think that I will stay young forever as well.

November 10, 1982 – Leonid Brezhnev - February 9, 1984 – Yuri Andropov - March 10, 1985 – Konstantin Chernenko – these 3 blend together in my mind. Our school experience was highly politisized, with Young Pioneers, ideological discussions, history revisionism, teambuilding, whatevs. So when 3 leaders of the Soviet Union pass away roughly at the rate of 1 per year, and yet nothing changes, you start losing any kind of faith in the system, even if you are 9 years old. There were 5 more high ranking officials who passed away in-between these three, adding to what was slangily called "The Epoch of Lavish Funerals." November, February and March are very cruel months in Russia. It was cold and bright, hard-packed snow in Siberia, the funerals always taking place in the morning for Moscow, which made it early afternoon for us. We would have memorial services at school, then there would be 3 days or so of national mourning, entire cities would be draped is black, and while they showed the funerals live on TV, all the factories would toot their horns for the minute of silence. It was creepy and majestic all at once. The whole country would then get drunk for the mourning, not because they missed the leaders, but because they had an unexpected holiday.

Side note – in Orthodox Christianity, you display the body of the deceased in an open coffin for 3 days, waiting for the soul to leave the premises. In a state funeral, you also display the body so the mourners could say goodbye. So every time a head of state died during those years, we had endless live images of the dead old white guy in his coffin being genuflected to by important Party officials and genuine mourners alike. We only had a B&W TV then, so the picture was even more depressing. It totes desensitized me to death, right then and there. During the days of mourning, only cultural programming was allowed in teevee – ballets mostly, old movies etc. No news.