Friday, March 30, 2007

Barcelona eye

There were two aftershocks to the Barcelona trip, the second of which still has me reeling (the first being the exploded bottle of cava in my suitcase). This second aftershock is the medical condition known in my apartment as Barcelona Eye.

Remember when L went to Honduras for a summer, and came back with Honduran Eye? That angry thing in her eye, looking like Hurricane Katrina on Doppler radar? Our biggest fears were either that her eyeball would melt or that something would come crawling out of it. This is our tradition of eye situations.

Thankfully that whole situation was resolved, but ever since I came back from Barcelona, my left eyelid has been occasionally twitching like mad. I try to talk to my friends or L or my supervisors at work, and I realize my eye has been fluttering coquettishly the entire time. I fear that this will somehow impair my depth perception, which has always been a real strong suit of mine (as my background in athletics will attest). I think maybe I need to replace my contact lens, or else sleep a little more, because it's getting ridiculous. I'm trying to make my way through the world and it's like I've got a strobe light attached to half my forehead. If the eye twitched when it was about to rain, or when there was impending danger, that would be one thing, but it seems pretty useless so far.

Barcelona! You feed me, thrill me, drench my clothes in champagne and give me facial tics! If that's not bittersweet, I don't know what is. Have a great weekend.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

New Jersey wedding

I want to write something tonight, but I don't know what. We went to a wedding on Friday night in New Jersey. It was L's friend from her old job, and we only knew one other person besides the bride and groom. Consequently we were seated at the bride's riff raff table. The cocktail reception was so opulent that they had a caviar station with a series of flavored vodkas. I didn't even know how to approach this. When I tried the caviar I could feel each egg burst in my mouth in a little briny explosion. I looked at the vodkas longingly but didn't know how to drink them.

When we started dancing the photographer was all over L and I. I would dip her or spin her or dance behind her and the flashbulbs of the photographer would catch all of our motions like a strobe light. While I feel there is some potential for a completely awesome photo of the two of us, I think the bride and groom will look at that photoset and wonder who the hell we were. I was flattered that we were dancing well enough, or awkwardly enough, or memorably enough, to merit a lot of the photographer's time. God knows the real party was at the caviar table.

Since we didn't know anyone and had booked a hotel room for the night, we drank copious amounts. I made friends with the bartender who kept refilling L's champagne, and I joked with her about the music selections and how often I was coming back to the bar. I drank glass after glass of white wine. The bartender would ask if I wanted chardonnay or pinot grigio, and I would tell her to surprise me, or that at this point it didn't even matter. Our tablemates were friendly, although the nice guy who introduced himself to us turned out to be engaged to the brittle girl who was at first unfriendly and later unpleasant. Good luck with that one.

We danced to everything: to Beyonce and Frank Sinatra and everything in between. When there were eight people dancing to "YMCA," L and I and our other friend were three of them. Even though they didn't play the Electric Slide, we did it anyway. Twice. When they played "Sexyback," at times I was Justin and at other times I was Timbaland. I worried that my subtle shoulder dips, nimble footwork, and carefully calibrated dance face were lost on the other guests. After dinner and dancing, this opulent wedding presented an open bar of dessert wines and liquers. L gagged down a few sips of port, and I tossed back Sambuca, complete with coffee beans. Except for the next morning, when my head thought it was still at the wedding and my body thought it was at the bottom of a cement mixer, I had a great time. I felt suave, confident, and good-looking. It was the most fun I've had in a suit since law school took the concept of professionalism and beat me over the head with it.

So, it was a more enjoyable wedding than I ever could have expected. And it just goes to prove the validity of my number one matrimonial rule: if you don't have fun at a wedding, honestly it's your own fault. Because all of the elements are there.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Last night I had a Stephen Sondheim moment

Because she said so, Tuesday is officially "Date Night" for L and me. This is fine, because as far as I am concerned Tuesdays have become a wasteland in the middle of the week. There's nothing good on tv, and there's nothing fun at the gym so I can go bounce around for a couple hours. Instead it's just a long evening of thinking about what I want to eat for dinner, and then settling for sub-par Bravo reality shows. Often I'll end up at the gym on the treadmill watching American Idol, which I guess is not as bad as it could be. But Tuesday night is definitely not worth writing home about, usually.

Cut to last night! For my birthday L got us tickets to see "Company" on Broadway. This is a Stephen Sondheim musical, originally from 1970, about a single man swirling among his married friends' good and bad and ambiguous relationships. It was very funny, and the sensibility of the whole thing was very modern and kind of chic. There wasn't really a traditional narrative; it was more like a suite of songs exploring married life and why you would or would not want to get involved. I thought they brought out some interesting observations about emotions from within the marital bond: gratitude, devotion, and affection; curiosity, nostalgia, and even regret. They depicted several marriages that were thankfully very different from my own.

Maybe the lack of a structured narrative freed me to really enjoy the show. Usually I resent musicals, where the repetition of a single line of a song can really retard the forward progress of the story, and thus delay the moment when I get to go to the bathroom and buy M&Ms. On the other hand, I found these songs completely absorbing and smart. Unexpected notes, sophisticated melodies, and brilliant patter in the lyrcis - plenty of internal rhymes, bawdy humor, and some heartfelt sincerity.

I couldn't believe how I was so into this show: was it the perfect storm of musical theatre for me? Take an otherwise lackluster Tuesday, look sharp, go see a musical about an institution you've been thinking about on a near-constant basis for lo these many months, hear some clever songs, laugh occasionally and nod knowingly at the vagaries of this crazy thing we call matrimony. Maybe that is how I got to the point where I was contemplating buying the cd of the cast recording. "Do I really want this?" I asked my wife. "Well, it's all in your range, so you know you'll sing it," she said, thus affirming why I wanted to marry her in the first place.

That's how I got here at this moment, sitting in the library before tackling my income tax assignment, listening to Stephen Sondheim on my ipod and wondering if I used "vagaries" properly. On this Wednesday afternoon I am looking back on yesterday as one of the best Tuesdays I've had in a long while.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Barcelona notebook

As attentive readers will note, I managed to survive my trip to Barcelona, and not die, as I predicted last week. The trip was wonderful. I appreciated the chance to explore a new urban area, and I enjoyed getting an introduction to the way James lives. He has a pretty fantastic situation over there - if anyone is going to Spain, definitely look James up and stay with him. (Totally worth your time! Don't mention my name!) Anyways, a few observations:

...Since when did air travel become a giant sleepover? I have never seen more people (namely women) in sweat pants and pajama bottoms and horrible track suits. I know people dress comfortably in order to avoid the chance of a full-cavity search by our helpful and competent TSA employees, but most of the passengers lounging around the gate area, reading US Weekly and eating Toblerones, looked downright dumpy. It's like our response to the threat created by Al Qaeda is to really heighten those American attributes that the terrorists can't seem to get enough of. We all think: if this plane is hijacked, these a-holes are going to have to take down 250 Americans who are fatter and more slovenly than ever. And I guess there's no small amount of satisfaction in that...

...Do Catalunyan parents hate their Catalunyan teenagers as much as I did? Because there's no reason they shouldn't. The teenagers over there run around the city like packs of wild dogs, hooting and hollering in Catalunyan, which is not a language but a series of clicks, grunts, and throat-clearings. In the Parc Guell James and I watched a horde of teenagers kick a soccer ball into a crowded cafe area as they tried to nail each other with ball. People were scattering about and trying to avoid the assault, and the kids just played on obliviously. Nobody said anything, no kid thought, hey, let's tone it down. As we would walk through the city, I would get extremely nervous when a pack of them would walk by. I was aware of my status as a bizarrely-dressed foreigner and completely expected to get shaken down or threatened with a switchblade by these surly, mulleted youths. But James played it cool (his education expertise coming in handy) and we never had trouble. Still, the entire country needs to go on "Supernanny," and that woman needs to come over and straighten things out. On one of my last days I was reading a book and bunch of teens came over near my bench to shoot craps or whatever they do, and I just got up and left. Nothing good would be found there...

...I have no skill in identifying Americans among the European throngs. I thought it would be easy to tell who else was from America: they would be dressed like normal people, and they would be sort of fat. Yet every time I saw a woman in a standard sweater set, or a guy in jeans and a polo, or a teenager without a mullet, I would realize that they were all speaking German and smoking cigarettes. I had no skill in identifying Americans at all. I think the Europeans have finally learned to dress like we do, without the bizarre brand names or English phrases across their clothes, and their dietary habits are finally catching up. Fortunately, it seems like many Asian tourists to Spain are really picking up the slack, in terms of dressing weirdly. And that's not racist, it's an empirical observation...

...Three times, I found myself confronted by an errant soccer ball from some kids playing a game nearby. So I had to kick it back to them. Readers of this blog will know that this situation presents about 35 of my deepest fears in one neat package. Due to a traumatic experience with a soccer coach in first grade, it has never been my forte (as a matter of fact, baseball is) (right). So when the ball would come my way, and the kid nearby would yell, "Pasa! Pasa!," time seemed to slow to a crawl as I ... trapped the ball beneath my foot, and slowly, carefully, already hearing the taunts of the schoolchildren in the guttural, undisciplined Catalunyan tongues...kicked the ball back to them with the inside part of my foot, like my favorite soccer player, Brandy Chastain. And then the kids would forget about me and I would keep walking, ready to rip my shirt off and expose my sports bra for all the city to see...

...And, that's what I have to say about Barcelona, for the time being. The flight back was an utter nightmare, and the fact that I still haven't received my luggage a day later is some verification of that. (In the terminal, I tried to relax by composing a haiku about the pretty Indian flight attendants, with their bone structure and eye shadow, and british accents, but it was too much for 17 syllables.) Barcelona remains an amazing city, and the fact that James will be there for a while offers great promise of future visits. It's nice to get some distance to reflect on your own life while you experience an entirely different version. So I am home now, using L's toothbrush and lamenting the temporary loss of half my polo shirts, while at the same time saying "perdon" to people at the Strand and adding a slice of lemon in my Coke. This is why we travel.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Travel anxiety

One of my stupider characteristics is my tendency to freak out before embarking on any kind of trip. Whether I am going home for the weekend on the bus or flying to another continent, I am always gripped by the same set of stupid neurotic questions:

Why are you going again?
Isn't your life at home good enough?
What if something bad happens to you?
What if something bad happens to someone else?
You must think you're something, tempting fate like this, huh?
Just can't leave well enough alone, can you?
Did you remember your wallet?
The pickpockets target Americans, you know that, right?
So you didn't get any Travelers Checks?
Is it too late to just stay home?
Did you bring enough socks?

Et cetera. These questions basically rotate through my brain, CNN-crawl-style, for several days leading up to the trip. Really I don't feel good until I've successfully beat back the airport bureaucracy long enough to claim a seat on the plane. At that point it's unlikely someone will make you take your belt off or squeeze your toothpaste into a baggie or whatever the hell they do at airports these days. Of course, once you're on the plane, you have to make sure you survive the takeoffs and landings, since that's when the crashes occur.

All I know is, I better not die on this trip. But if I do die, I want L to know that I love her dearly and want her to be happy, so if she wants to get remarried someday that's fine, and she has my blessing, provided that she understand that I will HAUNT THE SHIT out of her husband for the rest of his life. Because I do love her so.

Well, as you can tell, my flight to Barcelona is only eighteen hours away. Somebody get me some horse tranquilizer and shove me onto the AirTrain - this could be a bumpy night.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

It's hard to take a good picture of a coffee table

Two Sundays ago we went over to Nicky's apartment, where he kindly donated a coffee table to us. We didn't know how badly we needed a table until we had one, and then we nearly began weeping with delight every time we were able to put a plate or a newspaper on top of it. "It's not on the floor," we would choke out, as the tears kept coming. And since so far the table hasn't been revealed as a Trojan horse full of bedbugs or termites or al Qaeda operatives, it's just good news all around. Some people think it brings the room together; other people just like not eating food from your lap, like we're at some kind of perpetual family barbecue.

Anyway, here are a couple photos of the newest addition to our meager little city-mouse home. It's hard to take a good picture of a coffee table, especially when it is in constant use, like ours. But a few features to note: the lower shelf, perfect for laptops and magazines; the beveled glass top, perfect for making your heart skip when you think something is about to spill due to the unexpected angle, only it doesn't because the bevelling is just shallow enough to catch it; and the fine layer of dust that clings to the entire surface area of the table like the fur on a tarantula. (Not good at similes.) We wondered where all this dust had been hiding before we got the table to act as a magnet to catch it. Was the rug absorbing it? Or what?

But I'm not a whiner! Even if our place is now hay fever central, it's great to have a table. Thank you Nicky.


And with that, I am going to Barcelona in two days to see James. More news to come.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Things I've recently dropped in the toilet

A bandaid
An entire book of matches
Numerous q-tips
My laptop
My birth certificate
My running shoes
"Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest"
A Faberge egg
My wife
A second toilet
A gingerbread house

...anything else?

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Instinto de Inez

Recently John and Anna gave me a Mexican edition of Carlos Fuentes' novel, "Instinto de Inez," in Spanish. Being in the middle of a slight book drought (waiting endlessly for a package from Amazon, which I guess is delivering my book via carrier pigeon) I picked it up and just thought I'd see how I'd do, reading Spanish. My Spanish skills are extremely rusty, subsisting on the occasional Shakira song or New York-area immigrant-focused publication. I try to think about Spanish a lot, and mentally conjugate things for fun, and consider when I would use the subjunctive, but you and I both know that this is no way to maintain language skills.

So I started to read this book, and lo and behold I'm now 50 pages in, and I have a rough grasp of what actually might be going on! See, there's this guy, right, and this girl, and somehow they meet, and it might have been because of the London Blitz or maybe it was just a rainstorm, but the point is they got in a car together, and now they're like at the guy's house, and he has a friend in a's really good. Seriously, though, I am enjoying this experience much more than I expected. I told myself not to worry about not understanding words I didn't know (immediately eliminating most adjectives then and there) so I do feel like I am merely skimming across the surface of the language. But there is something beautiful about pausing to consider a sentence, figuring out its structure, thinking of the object and the subject and the verbs and all that. Or even considering weird conjugation issues, and trying to directly translate a sentence into English. Soon I just find myself pleasantly gliding through the text, not even thinking or translating in English but just accepting a Spanish understanding of what's going on, and somehow getting it. The romance and beauty of that language strikes me time and time again, so I'll be sitting on the subway whispering words to myself: susurro, parpado...

I would love to learn more languages, I think, or deepen my knowledge of Spanish. Every time I see a possibly latino person on the train I perk up my book to better show off the extremely-Spanish title and copy, just to celebrate the common lingual bond I might share with that other possible Spanish-speaker. Just another way of making our mundo a little more pequeno, you know what I'm saying?