Monday, February 25, 2008

the scrabbath

i submit that there is no better way to spend the lazy monday morning of a three-day weekend than playing speed scrabble. and, even better if that speed scrabble is played in a charming cabin in the woods. does anyone disagree?

speed scrabble, for the uninitiated, goes like this. every player takes eight tiles. you have to make words out of those eight tiles and the first person to use up all their tiles says, "go," whereupon every player takes two more tiles. the next person to use all their tiles says "go," everyone takes two more tiles and so on, until all the tiles are gone. the winner is the lucky devil who uses up all his or her tiles first; the losers tally the value of the tiles they have left (that is, if you keep score, which, frankly, i never do).

the game is actually sort of stressful for me. i like to take time to form my words, either out loud or on a board, and the constant "go" yelling gives me a lot of anxiety. (my dad says that's nothing compared to playing scrabble with my grandparents who, he alleges, treat it like a contact sport. i have never witnessed this, but can see how it might be the case.) at any rate, i've had some bad speed scrabble experiences. but this most recent attempt was mighty successful. i even won a round thanks to the word "slutty." what does that mean, you ask? i'll let you decide.

and here are some of my other genius plays. (i will admit that some of these words are suspect: cg, nah and che chief among them. but beveled? gaunt? lieu? you have to admit those are pretty inspired.)

i also submit that there is no better way to unwind from heated speed scrabble matches than to watch "hairspray" (the new one) and then learn the dances from the special features on the dvd. i, sadly, don't have photographic proof that this took place, so you'll just have to take my word for it. morgan, sallee and i rocked it like it was our job. and a fine job indeed.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

just now, at the office

my editor: who's prince von a-hole?

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

the daily documentary project

i would like to tell you a story about my friend dallas. he wasn't always my friend. for a long time, i referred to him as my tall black african. not because he is black or african (he is tall, though), but because dallas and i experienced a series of coincidences not unlike those shared by jason schwartzman and (you guessed it!) the tall black african in "i heart huckabees." allow me to explain.

i first saw dallas performing as part of the utah chamber artists group (he was hard to miss because he is a) tall and handsome and b) younger than the mean age of other utah chamber artists singers by about 30 years). a few days later, i saw him having dinner with some friends at trio. i thought it was strange because i had never seen him ever before and suddenly, there he was, twice in one week, but i didn't say anything. less than a week after that, i ran into him at a kung fu movie (if you know me, you know that i don't frequent kung fu movies, making the level of this coincidence rather extraordinary). i still thought it was strange (there he was! again!) but i still didn't say anything. and then, a few days after that, as i was enjoying a nice toasted tofu sandwich at carlucci's bakery with my friend rosemary, dallas came walking by. this time i accosted him. the conversation went something like this:

me: you don't know me, but we need to be friends.
confused and possibly terrified silence.
me: this is the fourth time i've seen you in two weeks.
dallas: really?
me: yeah. you sing with the utah chamber artists, right?
dallas (skeptically): yes.
me: and did you enjoy your meal at trio?
dallas (contemplating calling for help): yes.
me: and what did you think of the jet li movie?
dallas (ready to run): pretty good i guess.
me: like i said, we need to be friends.

so, we agreed to be friends but didn't exchange numbers or anything (given my approach, that was probably really smart on dallas' part) and then he was gone! first he was everywhere. and then he was gone. but, when i started telling the story, i realized everyone i know knows dallas, too. inevitably, we reconnected a few months ago. and it was time for the friend-ship to set sail. hurrah!

for our first friend date, i went over to the dallas palace to take part in the daily documentary project. dallas is photographing and interviewing people all year long, and putting pictures and podcasts up on his blog. (this will, by the way, surely make all of us famous.) it was oh-so-much fun to pose it up in his home studio, and then sit down for a chat about friend crushes, celebrity obsessions, professional paths and what makes us who we are. you can find all the photos and the podcast at (warning: chris very diplomatically referred to my interview as "lengthy at times") and i've posted some favorite shots of me and others below. the daily documentary project is open to one and all. so if you're in the area, hop on board! you won't be sorry.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

"thank you for giving us a day for love"

i have basically neutral feelings about valentine's day. i've only had one truly traumatic valentines experience (it involved me, a boy i liked, and a dead rose. he said it was a statement about consumerism, but i couldn't help feeling it was a statement about me), and lots of really happy valentines experiences, often involving local productions of "the vagina monologues" or the colin firth version of "pride and prejudice."

this year, in the madness of post-india readjustment, i almost completely forgot valentine's day was coming until my cousin keri invited me to join in a decades-old family tradition of valentine's day dinner. this year it was heart-shaped belgian waffles and other yummy breakfast food on a stunningly-prepared table (kathryn went all out with heart-shaped dishes, an adorable centerpiece and gifts at each plate). emma gave an adorable prayer over the food with gratitude for lots of things, including: "thank you for giving us a day for love." at that moment, i couldn't have agreed more. i think i'd like to try harder to make every day a day for love.

the night was rounded out by the usual antics of children on sugar highs, and the revelation that peggy used to think the "flashdance" lyrics, "take your passion, make it happen" were actually "take your pants off, make it happen." really the same concept expressed slightly differently, if you ask me.

the valentine's day table, complete with placecards and gifts at every plate. there was also a door prize for the person who could say "i love you" in the most languages. suzanne was the winner. (where did she learn hebrew?)

me with peggy, keri and baby joshua from across the street (karen was watching him because his parents were out to a romantic dinner. ours was better but, whatever.)

keri, whipping up our delicious and adorable heart-shaped belgian waffles. (the kids dowsed theirs in chocolate *and* maple syrup.)

karen and suzanne (they got into the spirit by dressing in pink.)

the hostess with the most-ess. kathryn in her valentine's day sweater, with the treasure-chest of candy dreams.

i also got the annual valentine's day package from my mom. this year's gems included a pink tablecloth (being used as we speak. or as we write and read respectively, i guess), and a card in which my mom wrote, "i heart frances." her response when i told her everyone was impressed with her hipness: "well, it's really no trouble at all." amen to that.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

first our girls marry, then they love

with arranged marriage the norm in india, and the whole thing usually going down when girls are between the ages of 22 and 25, a 26-year-old unmarried woman was something of a mystery to most of the people i met (though several of them assured me it's not completely hopeless until you turn 30). consider the following conversation.

rotarian: you're unmarried? so you're a bachelor.
me: actually, bachelors are just men.
rotarian: oh, of course. you're a spinster!
me (mortified and amused): actually, i'm just single.

even the most westernized, strong-headed girl would not even think of crossing or defying her parents when it comes to marriage. and most people (actually, most men i should say) didn't understand what the (rather, my) problem was. didn't my parents know any nice boys?

i sat at dinner one night in a long conversation with one of our hosts, trying to explain to him that it took more than just knowing nice people. i had to like them and they had to like me back and we had to like eachother in the same way and we had to want at least some of the same things... it's really not so simple, you see. the host nodded his head and said, "i think now i understand."

a few minutes later he got the attention of the whole table (not a small group) and said, "i finally understand why it is so difficult to get married in america. frances has explained it to me. she likes lots of people, but none of them like her back."

as the indigo girls say, "you have to laugh at yourself. because you'd cry your eyes out if you didn't."

Sunday, February 10, 2008

almost famous

i had two brushes with celebrity in india, one at the beginning of my trip and one at the end, that have not been appropriately featured on this blog. but i am about to remedy that right now. ready?

the first ocurred within our first week in india, in a hotel lobby in madurai, when a man claiming to be a bollywood producer very abruptly joined our conversation and told us he could make us famous. the rest of the conversation went something like this.

producer to melissa: you are a great beauty.
producer to colleen: and you, a big beauty.
producer to ruby: and you are such a beauty.
producer to me: and you. small. but good.

i am still not totally sure what it means, but i do think that if we were being rated in terms of physical attractiveness, i should have at least tied for third.

the second brush with celebrity (and a more positive one, i might add) came at the very end of our trip, in the parking lot of the trivandrum airport, to be exact. while our host, suresh, was unloading mine and ruby's bags, he noticed a massively popular movie star from kerala, mamotty, standing attractively outside a car a few rows down. we may or may not have watched a movie with this mamotty in it, but suresh was determined that we meet him either way. and it turned out not to be that hard. we just walked over and introduced ourselves, and mamotty lit up when suresh said we were big fans (which may or may not be the case). like i said, a much more positive experience. and i think it totally looks like mamotty is leaning in for a kiss in this picture. don't you?

Thursday, February 7, 2008

does this elephant make me look fat?

scott: one nice thing about riding an elephant. it sure does make your butt look small.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

home, sweet home

when i arrived at the office monday for my first day of work in a month, there was a "welcome home" banner over the doorway, and my boss was wearing an eye patch.

it's good to be back.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

everyday india

here are some shots of the chaos and splendor that is india. enjoy!

the usual crowd, on a main street in tirunelveli. you would think all these people would make it difficult to drive. but no.

a woman washing her good silver in a river with sand (you can see a few pieces bobbing in the water behind her). we were constantly amazed at how clean and pressed people looked, even though they were washing everything they owned in rivers and lakes.

a local bathing spot, also in tirunelveli.

some stray cows, shot from the window of our van. someone told us that most cows wandering the street actually have owners, legal or de facto, because selling the milk can bring in a fair amount of money. but, most people also have nowhere to keep the cows, so they set them loose and hope they'll find their way home.

i was constantly amazed at the things people managed to balance and carry on their heads. often they take a piece of their sari or scarf, or another piece of fabric, and arrange it on top of their heads sort of like a bowl, then place the bottom of whatever item they are carrying inside.

there are so many religious processions they don't even bother closing the street...

and they usually involve elephants. we probably saw at least three elephants a week, just chilling, but it never got old.

i don't think anyone in india really needs encouragement to honk their horns, but a lot of trucks have this painted on the back, i think to encourage other drivers to alert the truck to their presence before they go shooting through a gap surely too small for them.

just hanging out, peddling a bicycle with two enormous tires and a dude relaxing. you know, the usual.

whole families on motorcycles are nothing out of the ordinary. that bundle in mom's arms is an infant. yikes.

Monday, February 4, 2008

hands down, best mahal i've ever seen

hello again friends! i hope you haven't given up on me. my last few days in india were internet-free, but there is still a lot to put up here, so stick around. (you may or may not have noticed that i am posting this at 4 in the morning. jet lag is dumb).

for starters, here is the taj mahal! definitely the best mahal i've ever seen. it is, in a word, enormous and took 20,000 people 22 years to build. see for yourself...

the front gate of the taj mahal. the border has quotes from the koran inlaid in marble (each character is made from one single piece). the size of the characters looks uniform, but the bottom is really smaller than the top. tricky.

there it is! i shed a little tear when it came into view. partly because it really is stunning. and partly because i just couldn't believe i was there. at the taj mahal. that's something you just never think is going to happen, you know?

my team: melissa, ruby and colleen. those teeny-tiny specs you see next to the taj are people. like i said, the thing is enormous.

in another tricky architectural optical illusion, the four towers around the taj mahal are actually not straight. they lean to the outside. if i understood the guide correctly (always a maybe), they were built that way so if there was ever an earthquake, the poles would fall out, not in, so the taj mahal itself wouldn't be crushed.

just a little guest house, off to the side of the taj. there is a mosque on the other side. again, the people specs should give you an idea of scale. (and, just f your information, you have to wear those little booties.)

while we were in town, we also went to agra fort, where the man who had the taj mahal built (his name escapes me) was imprisoned by his son. the father wanted to build a mirror image of the taj, but in black marble, for himself, but his son thought that was a really bad idea, so house arrest it was. some of agra fort was also built as a tribute to the father's second wife.

the front of the fort. you can't see them, but there were monkeys running around on the tops of the walls. pretty rad.

as the second wife was hindu, architecture in agra fort makes use of lotus flower-like shapes, as well as other elements of the hindu tradition.

the whole gang: ruby, me, team leader scott, melissa and colleen.

in a truly cruel irony, papa could see the taj mahal from the room where he spent the remainder of his life. the wife for whom it was built died six months before it was completed.

one of many open spaces, used for dancing and other cultural entertainment.

as i am sure you can imagine, our jaunt to agra was definitely a highlight of the trip. the only bummer was that northern india was really polluted, and cold (we had to wear long sleeves!). though now it seems like a tropical heat wave compared to the weather that greeted me at home.

stay tuned for me riding an elephant, some of my favorite images of indian life, and final reflections...