Category Archives: Travel

Planes, trains and automobiles

Lame that tune

I’m back from the beach, where my husband and I enjoyed a few days with some long-time friends. We came home with sand in our shoes, color on our cheeks, some soft ice cream stains and a terrific new game.

Our friends made up this game, which was great fun. I encourage you to play it, but one of the creators is a prominent intellectual property lawyer, so you’d best not steal the idea.

The homespun dinner table game offers the best in musical entertainment, laughter and profound humiliation.

Each person staying in the house was asked to bring his or her MP3 player to the table and hand it over to the leader. We had 10 players. One by one, each person’s song list was set on Shuffle and three songs were played—at random; for the benefit of the Podless, that’s what “shuffle” means.

I believe, anthropologically speaking, that our iPods are telling relics, revealing much about our true selves. And admit it, don’t we all have one or two songs in our libraries that we’d rather not have anyone discover?

Well, that’s the point of the game, and somehow the Shuffle function can bore right through to that one song that reveals to your loved ones—and the fellow dinner guests you’ve just met—your inner pathetic dweeb.

So here’s how it works. The first player, who happened to be I the other night, surrenders her iPod to the leader, who pops it into the speaker system. When a song comes on, the rest of the group gives it a thumbs up, thumbs down or some sort of gesture that in essence means, make it stop—now. It’s a little like Pandora Radio. We all decided that the make-it-stop option should be limited to three per voter, as some people are natural-born critics.

My first song was a little lame. It was Chris Isaak’s version of Neil Diamond’s “Solitary Man.” As uncoolness goes, I’d hoped Chris Isaak and Neil Diamond would cancel each other out. Turns out, in a group where half the members were over 50 and the other half under 27, I wasn’t so lucky. Thumbs down. Shuffle stopped at my second song, Heart’s “Crazy on You,” which nearly everyone agreed is one of the best songs ever. Saved. Number three killed me. It was Ray Stevens’ “The Streak.”*  ‘Nuf said. (Don’t look, Ethel!)

A few other players were almost as exposed and embarrassed. The hostess blushed as her device found “I Was Dancing in the Lesbian Bar.” Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

The group agreed that my husband took the prize with Claudine Longet’s “Lazy Summer Night.” Who remembers Claudine Longet? The elder half of our group remembered Ms. Longet–her having been married to Andy Williams and having been convicted of fatally shooting her Olympic skier boyfriend and having been with the family at Robert Kennedy’s assassination and funeral.

The younger half of the table was busy banging out a drum chorus of “Make it stop.”

Try the game at your next dinner party and let me know how it goes.

*In the meantime, who’s old enough remember “The Streak?” Who’d like to hear a real life story about 1973’s fleeting pastime?

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Filed under Family and Friends, Foibles and Faux Pas, Movies, Television and Radio, Music, Sports and Recreation, Travel

Loving Lucy

I love Lucy.

If you do too, then you know that tomorrow, August 6, 2011, would have been Lucille Ball’s 100th birthday.

I knew quite a few people who would have turned 100 this year, but this weekend we celebrate Lucy.

If I had thought about it earlier, I would have planned to revisit the Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz Center in Lucy’s hometown of Jamestown, N.Y. I made a pilgrimage there several years ago, when it was just a museum—and a monument of sorts. I decided then that one of my dream jobs would be the cashier in the gift shop. The Center has been vastly expanded since then and now offers a Tropicana room, which you can rent out for parties. Maybe I’ll celebrate my 100th there.

I’ve been an I Love Lucy fan since I saw my first rerun as a young child. It would be hard for me to choose a favorite episode, but I can say with certainty that the most famous ones are not my favorites. “Job Switching” (the candy factory), “Lucy Does a TV Commercial”  (Vitameatavegamin), “Lucy’s Italian Movie”  (stomping grapes), those are for amateurs. “Bull Fight Dance” and “Ethel’s Birthday” might be in my Top 10, along with “Mr. and Mrs. TV Show,” in which Lucy and Ricky sing a jingle I still remember. Do you?

I like any episode in which actor Frank Nelson appeared. He played several different roles throughout the show’s run, most of which included his signature “EEE-Yeeeeeeeeesssss?”

Lucy’s writers played with words, lampooning Ricky’s Cuban accent and occasionally poking fun at English. Remember this one?

I could go on and on. Many documentaries have been produced and volumes written about this American icon and her imprint on American culture. There are hours—even days—to be spent going through the Jamestown museum. Go and see it for yourself.

Do you love Lucy? What’s your favorite episode? How will you celebrate her 100th birthday?

I’ll be away tomorrow but when I get back, I plan to take a day off with my two cats—Ricky and Lucy—and invite my friend Sara to bring over her complete collection of DVDs. I’ll put on my hostess pants and serve up a bottle of Aunt Martha’s Old Fashioned Salad Dressing.

Like Lucy in Episode #98 (“Lucy Cries Wolf”), I may be tied up for a while. See you sometime next week.

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Filed under In Memoriam, Movies, Television and Radio, Travel

El plato ostentoso

I gather the Spanish gastronomic community is deeply mourning the closing of El Bulli restaurant. For 50 years in Catalonia, El Bulli created culinary inventions that inspired chefs worldwide.

If you like food or if you like Spain, read The New York Times story about El Bulli; you’ll be captivated. During the short time I attended university in Spain, I lived on dorm food and bread and cheese. Oh, to have had the chance to go back with a little jingle in my pocket to indulge in some real cocina española.

If you like food and the words that describe it, check out Slate’s recent piece on the names of El Bulli’s menu offerings. This one caught my eye; then kept me entertained for way too long.

We’ve talked in previous posts about the wording of restaurant menus, about which you shared some of your favorites, some with tongue in cheek, hold the beef.

In the Slate piece, Jeremy Singer-Vine muses that dishes bearing such names as “Irish coffee of green asparagus and black truffle jus” cry out for satire.

Singer-Vine took the names of some 1,200 El Bulli dishes and created a technological algorithm that generates satirical sound-alikes. Though it’s not quite ready for the Wii, you can go online and play a guess-the-real-name game.

Because we have talked recently about simple versus pretentious language, I thought you might enjoy this timely diversion.

It also got me thinking about the name of my signature dish. 

In my social circles, I’m known for my pesto torte. It wasn’t mine originally, but because I have no one to whom to attribute it, and because I’ve made more than 50, and because I don’t know anyone else who makes it, it’s mine.

The problem is, when I say “pesto torte,” no one ever knows what it is. It’s fair to say some people know neither pesto nor torte.

My son’s girlfriend calls it “cheese loaf.” And you know what? That’s exactly what it is—cheese stuffed inside cheese, prepared in a loaf pan (layered with enough other ingredients to almost justify the fancy name).

I took one to my aunt and uncle’s last weekend. As I was setting it on a platter, someone said, “It’s beautiful; what is it?”

I said, “Pesto Torte,” which didn’t tell anyone a thing.

“What does that mean?”

I threw the question to my son’s girlfriend who said, “cheese loaf.”

Aha. Everyone knew immediately. Kind of like in My Big Fat Greek Wedding: “It’s a bundt.” (After several rounds about, the realization, “Oh, it’s cake!”)

In El Bulli’s defense, who’s going to pay 50 euros for a glass of asparagus juice?

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Filed under All Things Wordish, Food, News, Travel

No secrets

Having just opened today’s mail, I eyeballed a credit card statement for accuracy before I put it in the queue for payment.

There was a charge I didn’t recognize, from a hotel in which I stayed on a recent business trip. All expenses for the trip had been put on my business card and charged to my client. This one, for $39.77, was a mysterious personal charge.

I called Marriott and was put through to the corporate billing office. When I reached a human being about the charge, which had been tagged “F&B” for food and beverage, the billing clerk and I together determined that the charge was made at the hotel gift shop. This still did not jog my memory.

The clerk delved deeper in to the system.

“Our system shows that you purchased 13 paper items.”

“Paper items,” I questioned myself silently, while staring at the stack of greeting cards that has towered on my desk, neglected and unaddressed, for the last three weeks.

“Oh, those must have been greeting cards,” I remembered aloud.

“Yes,” said the clerk, adding, “and one candy bar.”

Embarrassed, I replied, “Did you have to remind me of that?”

She was  not amused. “Would you like me to e-mail you an image of the itemized receipt?”

“No, that won’t be necessary,” I huffed back. Now she and whoever monitors the call for security purposes are privy to my greeting card and sugar addictions.

With a little nudge, I remembered the gift shop, I remembered the candy and I remembered the cards. If you have a June or July birthday or anniversary, I have this great card for you. I just need to remember to send it.

The moral of this story had something to do with memory but I can’t for the life of me recall what it was.

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Filed under Family and Friends, Foibles and Faux Pas, Food, Holidays, Travel

Party crashers

In May, when I was conferred the Versatile Blogger award from Susan at Coming East, as a condition of receiving the award, I was asked to share seven things about myself. The list generated some requests for stories about these odd factoids. I recently came across the list and realized I hadn’t delivered on my intention to do so.

The item that received the most requests (a total of two) was the statement that my husband and I accidentally crashed a private Hollywood party.

Recounting the story publicly could get me busted and banned if I ever return to Hollywood. I’ll take the chance.

To tell the story right would involve some seemingly trivial details so I’ll get those out of the way briefly. 1. I had bought a very cheap but funky looking handbag to take on the trip. 2. With a lengthy connection at the Salt Lake City airport, I followed a whim and bought a slinky black dress, for no particular occasion.

On our one free evening, I wore my hot new dress to dinner at Wolfgang Puck’s Spago restaurant in Beverly Hills. When Mr. Puck stopped at our table, I tried diplomatically to secure an invitation to the upcoming opening of his newest restaurant in Washington. He asked for my card and said he’d get us added to the invite list.

After dinner, my husband suggested we drive down Sunset Boulevard, as neither of us had ever seen it. We tooled down the Boulevard until we saw major doings. Paparazzi, spotlights, a large crowd gathered for what looked to be a press conference of some sort. We wedged our rented Ford Focus between a Maserati and Ferrari and stepped out to take a peek. Desperate Housewives star Felicity Huffman was making remarks to reporters in front of a night club. The line to get in extended to the end of the block, but somehow that didn’t quite register. My husband suggested we go in and I headed up the stairs to the entrance. Two doormen opened the doors and welcomed us in.

The bartender looked at us as if we were crazy when we tried to pay for our drinks, while shrimp was offered. When I turned around and saw Teri Hatcher, I realized we were at a private party. We put clues together and surmised that the soiree was being thrown by designer Badgley Mischka to celebrate the renewal of Hatcher’s spokesmodel contract.

Little Miss Pathologically Compliant here wanted to leave immediately because I knew we weren’t supposed to be there. As I wondered aloud how we had the doors opened to us in the first place, my husband credited my little black dress and naïve self confidence. I asked him to set down his drink and head for the door before we were discovered.

Too late. People wanted to talk. A woman approached me.

“I love your bag. Is it Prada or Isabella?”

Because I didn’t know Isabella (Fiore) from Isabelli Rossalini. I slipped my DSW special behind me and lied, “Prada.”

“Are you a designer or retailer?,” asked the boutique owner from Newport Beach. “Where are you from?”

I replied, “I’m a lobbyist from Washington, D.C.” Stupid answer, I know, but I had to make up for the lie I had just told. From here on, no more lying.

She asked, “Do you have a card?”

I replied, “Sorry, I just gave my last one to Wolfgang Puck.”

I excused myself, grabbed my husband and sprinted toward the exit.

A woman stopped us. Uh-oh. She said, “Don’t leave without your gifts,” and handed us each a gigantic bag filled with hundreds of dollars worth of Beverly Hills salon certificates, electronics, perfumes and costume jewelry.

We ran to our rental car and sped off, as I phoned our friend Nell, a Beverly Hills native whom we had seen the night before.

“You’ll never believe what we just did,” I squealed, and told her the whole story. We promised her she’d be getting the gift certificates, as we were leaving the next day.

A week later, Nell called me. A friend of hers had told her about being at the Badgley Mischka party.

Nell said, “A friend of mine was there. She said they had great gift bags.”

Her friend replied, “I wouldn’t know. They ran out before I could get one.”

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Filed under Beauty and Fashion, Foibles and Faux Pas, Movies, Television and Radio, Travel

Global cooling

It’s July in Washington. The weather is forecast to be sunny and 90 degrees, with 40 percent humidity, for the next 10 days. Ah, sweater weather!

This time of year, I don’t go anywhere, except maybe the beach, without a sweater.

Now that we finally have central air in our home, I sometimes put my bathrobe on over my clothes.

Don’t get me wrong; I welcomed A/C with open, goosebumped arms. It’s great. I sleep like a baby.

But overall, I feel that air conditioning is overdone. Do humans really need to spend their days and nights in 65-degree temperatures? I don’t know about you, but too much A/C makes my nose run, gives me a headache and makes my muscles ache. Can we just tone it down a little and maybe save the planet in the meantime?

The last office in which I worked was like a walk-in refrigerator. While my burly Norwegian colleague controlled the thermostat on our hallway, our boss came in every morning and did a Mister Rogers ritual, exchanging suit jacket for cardigan sweater. Everywhere I go—the mall, the grocery store, the movie theater, church, any hospital, every office building, every airplane, airport and restaurant—the air is cranked so high (or is it low?) that I can barely function without cover. When I travel, I carry a big shawl that doubles as a blanket. I can’t recall a flight in the last few years on which I haven’t buried myself under it. I’d wear gloves and a nosebag if I thought to pack them.

Are there any environmental scientists or engineers out there who can tell me how much energy could be saved by bumping up thermostats up a few degrees? Wouldn’t businesses also save huge amounts of money? Could we put a dent in our nation’s economic and environmental troubles with a simple flip of a switch?

If you agree, let’s huddle together and make it happen.

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Filed under Health, Rants and Raves, Travel

Folks is folks

My folks—excuse me, my parents—have a few pet word peeves they’ve passed on to me. I’ve written of several already. Another class of them: the way we address each other collectively.

My father hates it when people in service roles, such as waiters or store clerks, call customers “you guys.” For example, “I’m Jason and I’ll be your server. How are you guys doing tonight?”

Similarly, my mother hates it when people refer to other people as “folks.”

Naturally, I’ve become attuned to this and, when I address groups at work, prefer “ladies and gentlemen.” My ears perk up and bristle when I hear “you guys” or “folks.”

Last Friday night, I was on a plane experiencing a delayed departure. After taking an snooze and finding the plane was still on the ground, I began my favorite game of sizing up my fellow passengers and imagining their stories. Seated across the aisle from me were two young gentlemen wearing shorts and flip-flops (an air travel pet peeve of mine), and speaking a language I couldn’t discern. I surmised it was a European language of some sort.

Just then the pilot came on the loudspeaker for his second delay announcement. And for the second time, he began his announcement with “Folks, …”

The gentlemen beside me responded to this in an amused and animated fashion. In their indeterminate language, the only word I could understand was “folks,” which they uttered several times as they seemingly pondered the meaning—or, more probably, the context—of this word.

It sounded to me something like:

 Wat het proefgemiddelde door doet; mensen? Ik heb dit woord “folks” gehoord alvorens maar niet kan begrijpen waarom hij het gebruikt om de passagiers op dit vliegtuig te richten. Ik dacht ” folks” was een word dat wordt gebruikt om ouders te beschrijven. Wij zijn niet de kinderen van deze loods. Ik ben benieuwd waarom hij hij die ons richt deze manier is. “Folks?”

At that moment I decided to not look down on these young men for wearing beach togs on an airplane and instead admired them for questioning the flight captain’s language in addressing his paying passengers with such familiar informality.

 To my mind, a flight captain’s calling us “folks” is the same as our saying to the pilot upon deplaning, “Later, dude.”

Ladies and gentlemen, are you with me?

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Filed under All Things Wordish, Rants and Raves, Travel