PRATIE PLACE

Monday, July 31, 2006

Buying a painting and then trying to get it home...

One Saturday we went to Marché de la création Bastille, an outdoor artists' market. The very first booth I saw was this one, manned by painter Eric Laprade.



I bought this painting, my biggest souvenir...



Then I spent happy hours preparing to pack it. Paris is full of devoted trash collectors - they came to our street twice a day - and everybody just puts corrugated cardboard out on the sidewalk for them. So I snarfed up a few big big boxes, bought an X-acto knife and some packing tape, and went to work.

It was hard to get it to the airport - it was so big I had to hold it up off the ground with one hand while I rolled my suitcase with the other. I was a little hunched over because my fiddle was sticking out of my backpack and I didn't want it to fall out in the subway.

It's a good thing I packed the painting so carefully, because US Airways lost it; I just got it back this evening, two days later. The guy who delivered it looked very harried. "You pretty busy?" I asked. "I've got twelve guys working and we just can't keep up." "What's the problem?" "The Philadelphia Airport."

I also bought this print:



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Paris Storefronts, part one



I guess it took a little time to get used to the Bastille being, not a terrifying dungeon as it was in my mind, but a place where you can buy postcards and sit in a cafe.



Sushi and bagels seemed an odd combination at first but then I realized, "oh yeah - lox!"





This was the most colorful corner I saw in Paris.







This store is advertising Cajun food.





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Sunday, July 30, 2006

Melinama watches the French lose the World Cup, and goes to the Tour de France

I'm home! When my teeth unclench I will tell you the saga of the Philadelphia Airport yesterday... until then, here are some pictures.

I was in Paris the night of the World Cup finals, and nothing else was mattering to anybody. These little boys were having a pre-game warmup with their stuffed dogs.



I listened to the World Cup from my apartment. That is, everybody's window was open so I heard all the fans. I could tell something good happened for France early on from a general enthusiastic outcry and simultaneous honking of horns. But after that, there was a lot of silence. We went out for the final and watched at a little restaurant (all the open-air places were crammed with fans). What amused me was the way everybody filed out quietly after the defeat, with wry "what did you expect?" looks on their faces.

On to the Tour de France! On the day the bicyclists were due to finish their race in the center of Paris, we took the subway to the Champs-Elysées very early and watched people getting situated for the race. It was a very long wait.






After hours, there was a succession of advertisers' floats.









Finally the racers arrived, a blur of color. We got only glimpses of them through a forest of people taking pictures with their cellphones.











I loved watching so many people coming together, regardless of the reason.

More when I'm not so tired...

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Friday, July 28, 2006

another week ends

Pretty quiet here on the New York front. Friends came in from out of town. Work was so slow this week. Nic and I started out today having conversations half on INstant Messenger and half out loud (very disconcerting for coworkers as we only sit about 10 feet apart) and by the end of the day we were throwing highlighters at each other from across the room. Very mature, I know.

Serendipity Strikes...

Tonight my posse and I headed out to Brooklyn. THe plan was to catch a movie in Prospect Park. This event was the following. First, the Balkan Brass band "Slavic Soul Party" would play. Then, they would screen a movie on a giant screen with a projector as thousands sat in the grass in the park and watched. The movie was Dracula - the real, old version with Bela Lugosi. Instead of the film's origianl soundtrack, the Kronos Quartet would play, live, the original score for the movie.

This was a fabulous event for about 15 minutes. Boy was this some fabulous acting. It's all in the eyes. Dracula, man, what drama. What heavy-handed foreshadowing. The crowd of thousands broke into cheers basically any time Dracula's face showed on screne. However --- after 15 minutes it started to pour rain and thunder and lightning very close by. The poor musicians, of course, had to stop. For safety reasons they stopped the movie and forced everyone to leave the park.

I always end up in brooklyn in times of extreme weather - snow, rain, floods, fires - it's always something, and I always end up having to walk for miles in uncomfortable circumstances. Luckily this night was different - we stumbled into a local bar, not two blocks away, to get out of the rain. And it just so happened that in this bar a super sexy Brazilian band was playing beautiful samba tunes all night long. The locals were handing out slices of watermelon and dancing dancing dancing. We were soaking wet but we loved the samba and it could not have been a better evening.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Two excellent things

Two excellent things happened today.

I met Tom Daschle, and I got free french fries.

-Melina

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Monday, July 24, 2006

In which Melinama visits her second sporting event in two weeks!

Yesterday we went to Place de la Concorde (did I spell that right? I am still boycotting the French language, as my head is completely stuffed with the Yiddish that's being packed into it every day) and walked, stood, and sat around for many, many hours waiting for the Tour de France. It was worth it. The racers were preceded by an hour of what you might call floats if they weren't whizzing by so fast - cars built like ice cream cones and cellphones carrying busty girls jiggling in tight t-shirts as they do little dances while the drivers careen back and forth madly. Then there was a silent 45 minutes or so, then motorcycles, and then, finally, the pack of cyclists. Until yesterday I thought those skin-tight, brightly colored cycling jerseys looked idiotic but watching them whiz by in a rainbow pack (actually, most of the colors seem to be outside the traditional rainbow assortment) was dazzling.

After the race I was reluctant to get into the subway, sure to be packed, so walked the 1-1/4 hour home. A beautiful evening.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

And the winner is...

Miss Puerto Rico. We are disappointed. We thought Miss Japan was robbed.

The final round is determined by the answering of bland questions. We were trying to think of much better ways to determine the winner of Miss Universe:

-Make them answer geography questions.
-Make them play Risk.
-Make them fight each other with the traditional weapons of their country.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

More Pageantry

Ma and I do enjoy our beauty pageants. Back when I lived at home and still got teary because I never fit into the gauzy party clothes then in fashion for teenagers, we used to watch them together, snuggling on the couch, hooting at the augmented facial features and preposterous costumes. I am perpetuating this tradition by throwing a party Sunday night to honor Miss Universe. In a time of global instability, what better way to spend an evening than by affirming that big breasts are beautiful no matter what country they hail from?


If Miss America is a wholesome broadcast journalism student from Ohio, who speaks out bravely against pre-marital sex or at least against diabetes, Miss Universe is her trashy cousin from Miami (or Ukraine.
Or Venezuela). She's more lipo-sculpted, more outrageous, and certainly more bedazzling. Plus, instead of a sh*tty suit, she's going to be wearing a "national costume."

Now this is a righteous beauty pageant.

Celebrate globalization with Melina and Donald Trump this Sunday night.
Beverages will be provided. Bring your own tiara.

Sunday, July 23rd, 9:00 PM

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Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Return to Camp

Visiting more teenaged people at camp tonight and tomorrow.

Other than toddlers, teenaged people are my favorite age of kid. Like toddlers, they're so passionate, yet inarticulate and confused. Toddlers I love because they let all their feelings out, no matter what - by contrast, teenaged people don't even know what they feel, though they know they feel it in a big way. Like toddlers, they think so hard about everything, but the prospect of expressing it is just too overwhelming - they are by-and-large incomprehensible to those outside of their stage of development. They're like visitors from another planet.

I'm going to go talk to some teenagers tomorrow. See if I can find out what lies behind the haze. I understand, you guys, I really do.

Monday, July 17, 2006

end of hiatus

Boy am I glad to be back from Pennsylvania. Too many high schoolers, too many meals consisting of pre-fried frozen items, and too little access to a shower. (Mom's rolling her eyes. Hush, mom! The city hasn't made me soft! You would have complained too!)

Then again, it was 97 degrees in New York today and humid. Which is kind of like being in hell.

My weekends seem to have manic, fantasia/Odyssey qualities to them these days. They feel like they're about a week long, each. This last one is pretty representative.

Friday night:

Took shower. Washed Pennsylvania out of hair.

Washed hair again.

Did not hear from Fabio.

Went to a club inside a big boat at Chelsea Piers. (This is a lawsuit waiting to happen - the boat, which is permanently parked on the pier, is still covered with marine paraphernalia such as long hazardous ladders, metal equipment, and rusty nails, and drunk people are climbing all over it every night). There are DJs on multiple levels of the boat, though, which is pretty neat. My friend served as my wingwoman, and we picked up dudes by asking them what they would do when the ship started to sink. Gave out fake names. Went home at 5 AM. Wingwoman friend and other friend get into Springer-style brawl, thereby apparently resolving some relationship issues.

Saturday: Woke up, recovered. Tried to remove mascara crust from eyeballs. Ate mu shu. Painted a painting. Took another shower. Went to posh club downtown with bouncer, velvet ropes, the works, at friend's invitation. Got a dubious look from bouncer for my non-designer style, but it was late at night and they were letting anyone in at that point. Crashed birthday party of friend of a friend. Danced for five hours with the friend of a friend, El Bailador de Baltimore, who I didn't even meet on the internet. Now this is a guy with some serious mojo.

Sunday: Had brunch date with gentleman I met on the internet, El Contable. He is a Ukrainian immigrant who is studying to be an accountant, which sounds very straight-laced. However he is also a super-hip DJ and it turns out he has often DJ'ed at that very club in the boat. I ask him to identify the next club music trend post-reggaeton. He predicts "something new out of Brazil." We walk down 9th avenue. I buy fake purple eyelashes and a dance music CD that El Contable recommends.

Copied dance music CD onto computer and sent it to high school boyfriend, with whom diplomatic relationships have recently been established.

Had pleasing, hippie-dippy Rise Up Singing jam session with musician acquaintance in New York.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

More designer pocketbooks than you can shake a stick at.

Hi,

This morning, a trip to a flea market north of town. When we all emerged from the subway, we had to push our way through scores of Algerians (I think) all holding Calvin Klein pocketbooks (do you think they were genuine?) and belts that had golden "DK" on them - they were thrusting them in our faces with great enthusiasm. How many DK belts can be sold in one location?

My favorite stall was selling scary old masks, gilded and befeathered, armor and vaguely sado-masochistic prints, and costumes in dark, rich colors, all lit from beneath. I wanted to take a picture for you but the owner said, "No photographs - copyright! Copyright!"

I bought five ancient pieces of sheet music, including one called "Je Suis Swing." I can't wait to try these out on Mappamundi.

This post brought to you courtesy of the JOHNSON unsecured wi-fi network. Thank you, JOHNSON.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Brief report from Paris

Hello friends,

Melina is off in the wilds of Pennsylvania and out of touch, while I am sitting by the window in my fourth-floor walkup (they call it the third floor here so it won't seem like so many stairs) blogging courtesy of the JOHNSON unsecured wi-fi connection. Whe JOHNSON is not home, we don't have internet. Thank you, JOHNSON. If I meet you, I will give you chocolate.

The Medem library, where I just finished the first week of my three-week program, is located off a tiny alleyway and has no windows. The classrooms are absolutely packed with students - there are twenty in my class, in a room which would fit twelve comfortably. The students are from so many countries - France, Italy, Romania, Byelorussia, Germany, Poland, New Zealand and the US at least - that, in fact, Yiddish is the lingua franca. Our teachers are wonderful, though they are in such a hurry to cram our heads with as much as possible that they are writing on the white board with one hand as they erase with the other. When we pop out of our overcrowded classrooms at 12:45 our brains are bursting.

Right across the street is a hotel with no curtains on the windows - all bathing, smoking, etc takes place Rear-Window style.

When I get home I'll post my pictures and the stories that go with them. Today I bought a painting!

Zayt gezunt -

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Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Til Hamingju Island



Since 4th of July weekend, this young lady's voice has been haunting me. Her song was the Icelandic entry to the Eurovision song contest (I know...it ended several months ago... but this was a new find for me). The song's insanely catchy, like vintage Britney Spears.

Watch the video here.

The singer is an invented character, as Wikipedia explains:

Ágústa Eva Erlendsdóttir, singer for the band Ske and a young and unknown actress, and Gaukur Úlfarsson decided to invent a character to adopt as an alter ego (cf. Ali G) that brought out all the worst elements of human behaviour in modern society. Silvía's personality is highly affected by narcissism and she sees herself as the most famous and talented person walking on the planet Earth. Her full Icelandic name is Silvía Nótt Sæmundsdóttir (see Icelandic naming conventions) and she is 22 years old. Silvía means goddess of silver and Nótt simply means night.

Silvía's favorite foods are sushi and feta cheese and she aims for a career as a model, singer and a movie star.



Tragically...

he song didn't make it to the finals. Silvia, being true to her role, had some performances to indicate her 'regret'. She pretended to slap her boyfriend, and then 'threatened' to jump from a bridge. In addition she started yelling foul language and spitting at the journalists and called Lordi 'ugly people from Finland without a real make-up artist', Treble the group from the Netherlands (who she had previously upstaged on Icelandic TV) 's*****', and Swedish singer Carola Häggkvist an 'ugly f****** old b*****'. She also threatened to sue the journalist (calling her 's****'), TV station and the competition for 'spreading lies' about her that she hated Greeks. Some fans consider that after those events Silvia embarassed her country.

The silver lining is that, as you may recall, Silvia's tragic defeat did clear the way for these fellows to go on and win the Eurovision song contest:

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

A brief hiatus

Hi all,

Tomorrow Melina must travel out to the wilds of Pennsylvania, where, for work, she will visit a young leadership camp.

Melina never attended camp as a youth, preferring to sit on the porch and read. So she is a little bit nervous. Perhaps they will forget she is a grown-up and will make her do horrid "trust building" exercises such as falling backward off a high place. Would it be wrong for her to go to camp in a suit to try to discourage anyone from making her do these activities?

Melina will be back Friday night, at which point she will go samba dancing with a Brazilian named Fabio.

She is not making any of this up.

--Melina


PS --- NEW YORK FASHION WATCH: THE LADIES ARE STARTING TO WEAR VERY LONG SHIRTS, CLINGY AND PULLED DOWN OVER THEIR JEANS, AND CLOTH HEADBANDS WITH COLORS OR FLOWERS ON THEM.

PPS --- MELINA WAS WEARING CLOTH HEADBANDS BEFORE ***ANYBODY***.

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Monday, July 10, 2006

Who says there's no common culture in New York?

Today, my roommate and I discuss the pros and cons of a new technology called Dodgeball, which helps lazy urban people find their friends on a Saturday night by pinging them with text messages on their cell phones whenever they are within 10 blocks of each other. It's actually sort of brilliant. It depresses me, though, because it's another nail in the coffin of people making actual plans.

The way they address "crushes" is even more brilliant, and allows a person to be even more shy and apathetic than previously thought possible, and still maybe get a date. I think this will spell the end of civilized society/dating as we know it, but I think it's brilliant nonetheless (and it's not like my dating's been going so well lately.) Remember my serendipity theory? Well try this on for size, as a way to bring serendipity back to an over-technologized world:

Dodgeball is all about bringing people together... we'll tell your friends where you are, we'll let you know if friends-of-friends are nearby, but what about that cute girl or guy that you have nothing in common with? How are we going to hook you up?

Simple... crush lists. Whenever you check-in, we'll check to see if any of your crushes are nearby. If so, we'll send a message to your phone letting you know that someone on your crush list (we won't tell you who!) is somewhere within 10 blocks (we won't tell you where!).

At the same time we'll ping them with a message letting your crush know where you are...and if they have a camera phone, we'll send your picture along too. Who knows - if they think you're cute, maybe your crush will stop by.

Oh yeah, 5 crushes per person please. This isn't a brothel.



In this post, I am trying to persuade my roommate to be an early adopter, and he's having none of it. I'm figuring: at least since nobody will make plans with me 'ahead of time,' at least we could make it easier to find each other once 'time' itself has arrived. He's figuring, they will probably send him a lot of spam.

I have decent early adopter credibility, but it would irk me to use my real-life connections to promote somebody's product, and then maybe it would turn out to not work very well or they would in fact send him lots of spam on his cell phone, at 5 cents per. But I can't very well figure out if it will work unless all my friends sign up.

The following thoughtful dialogue began when I sent him an invitation to join this site.

On 7/10/06, roommate wrote:
Is this from you? I don't recognize this email address. It's mad
eery if it's not from you, because basically this "Melina" person
wants to be able to track me at all times via GPS. It's either you,
or some NSA agent trying to lure me into some sort of email flirtation
with a girl who goes by "Melina" in order to know my whereabouts.
Whoever runs it seems to know I was at Luna Park on Friday, or targets
a demographic that might resonably be found there, and wants to
concentrate them all in one place...


On 7/10/06, Melina wrote:
haha. yeah. this is my junk mail email address be/c i was worried
they'd send me a lot of spam.

On 7/10/06, roommate wrote:
i guess it isn't that safe to go on the online dates with an email
address that identifies you to potential online stalkers. i realized
it had your bday in it just now, so you weren't a government spy.

On 7/10/06, roommate wrote:
pretty soon they'll use that to blast you with the lasers from the
missile defense satellite.

On 7/10/06, Melina wrote:
yeah. could be.

On 7/10/06, roommate wrote:
can i put things like fetish clubs, the urologist, etc. it won't be
long until some criminal who is hiding out gets busted this way.

On 7/10/06, Melina wrote:
sure why not. just text your list: "@urologist. please join!"

On 7/10/06, roommate wrote:
that's just the name of a strip club i sometimes attend, not my actual
urologist's name. for that i'd have to do"! @ Dr. Norman
Schmookleberg, MD: please join! - getting cialis scrip & wart freeze
drying!"

On 7/10/06, Melina wrote:
yeah, that really puts the "dodge" in dodgeball. You could try to
think of the worst possible events to make sure your friends stay as
far away as possible. A relevant example from today would be:

"@62nd street! Blowing up my gas line!"


On 7/10/06, roommate wrote:
good one! i guess it's basically like a police scanner that is
contacted by 911 dispatchers. police do work that way to get people
to the scene of an emergency asap. you could also use this technology
to create an chip to implant in your significant other to make sure
he/she isn't making a cuckold of you. this is where we're headed.
i'm watching my girlfriend and Michael Chertoff is watching me, and no one is
watching our nations ports and chemical plants.

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Sunday, July 09, 2006

Melina's Evening in the City

Hi everybody, Melina here. Ma is traveling and studying in a foreign land, so this blog's going to be more me for the next couple weeks. I hope that's okay. Anyway, you'll learn more about how the New York office of Pratie Place conducts its daily life.

First event last night was that I had an e-date. Well, a real-life date with an e-person. No, that's not quite right either. Anyway, this person, El Vocabulario, impressed me with both his humorous responses to several questions on the online questionnaire, and his casual use of good vocabulary.

The date was good, as usual, but, also as usual, lacking in serendipity. I don't know if I am just too picky or if I am incapable of meeting anyone this way and taking it seriously. Or maybe he wasn't nutty enough. I have a soft spot for crazy dudes. Anyway, he was a nice, funny, mellow guy, with an excellent vocabulary, and if he wants to go out again, I'd be fine with it, but if he doesn't, I don't care in the slightest.

During this date, I felt my cell phone vibrating a number of times, as all the rest of my friends worked to make plans at the very last minute, which drives me crazy. The only way to make this work is if you either pick up the phone during a date, which is an awful thing, or if you just allow everything to happen by chance. I hate both of these methods.

Luckily, everybody I knew happened to be within ten blocks of each other. I met up with my high school friend Frankie V. and her beloved and dragged them over to a bar where my other high school friend Cat and her posse from work/college were celebrating somebody's birthday with great enthusiasm. The birthday girl had selected a bar that reminded me a fair bit of hell, or at least East Germany. It was in a basement room. Super hot and crowded, no air conditioning. Smell was bad. What would amaze my mother the most about this bar was that half of it was empty - but they were keeping it empty ON PURPOSE so that the other half would be more crowded. This was seen as a good thing. People who needed a break from the moshing, or a smoke, had to stand corraled together at the bottom of the basement steps, behind a concrete wall, because the bouncer did not allow anyone to loiter on the sidewalk. Frankie V and I wondered if we could jump over this wall and make a run for it, but her beloved thought that we maybe would get shot and we shouldn't risk it.

And people do this for fun.

Anyway, I was about to leave, when who did I run into but my professional colleague Machiavelli and four of his own friends, who were loping down the street at great speed, and ingesting various substances also at great speed. Before this moment, I had never even seen Machiavelli without a suit and tie, so I was very pleased to meet up with him and his entourage

We went back to this same stupid East Berlin bar for a while, then moved on to the original Coyote Ugly bar, notable for its wall decorations of hundreds and hundreds of bras. Also, the bartenders sometimes do country line dances on the bar, which isn't quite as sexy as it sounds, and it's certainly not serendipitous, but okay, it's still pretty sexy. Here we remained until last call (4:00 AM).

Then we went across the street, where there was a big party bus parked (imagine a standard communter bus with disco lights and an open bar) that had been rented for a bachelorette party. There were games inside like "pin the manhood on the man" and other various manhood-shaped objects. We invited ourselves onto this bus and partied briefly until the bachelorette and her entourage returned and the driver kicked us off.

Then we stood on the sidewalk until 5 AM with a bunch of random strangers who had also gotten kicked off the bachelorette bus by the peevish bachelorette.

THen it was dawn, and I went home.

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Friday, July 07, 2006

An unsatisfying shopping trip.

An upcoming voyage often sends me on a treasure hunt for hard-to-find items. Since I'm leaving for Paris (tomorrow!) I've recently fumed through a few of these inefficient jaunts. For instance, on a recent trip to the mall I was looking for three things.

1. Real walking sandals.

In the 1970s I had cloth walking sandals from Woolworths; they were sandals I could walk in for miles and miles and miles, month after month. I can't show you a picture because they fell to pieces years ago. I should have had the tattered remains bronzed.

Walking sandals are hard to come by these days. Is it because people don't walk any more? What I found instead was rack after rack of decorative-only footwear as pictured here.

On the day in question, I hit about eight stores without finding a satisfactory model.

Later , though, I found a good Isotoner walking sandal. I bought three pairs. I had to go to two different towns to do it, though, and you're out of luck if you want some, because they're discontinued.


2. Bras which do not stand up all by themselves and bulge in your face.

The current standard bra is more of a breastplate. It contains about half an inch of stiff insulation formed into what is considered to be a correct shape, engineered to jack your own original equipment up to jut perkily out of your shirt. Modern-day bras thrust themselves upon the eye so aggressively it's unpleasant to be around a rack of them.

In my formative years (so to speak) we weren't wearing bras at all and I've never gotten used to them. But lately there seems to be a complete disconnect between the actual body and the bra silhouette.

On the day in question: no luck. I subsequently found a reasonable model on amazon.com.


3. Shirts free of pictures, decorations, and slogans.

Have you noticed all the racks of shirts on clearance? Most of them sport strange sayings, logos, advertisements for various products, portraits of unicorns, sprays of rhinestones ... you know what? If they didn't have all that writing on them, they probably would have sold at full price.

Yes, I know some people must be buying them. Why, just the other day when I spent a fruitless hour at the Verizon wireless store, a zaftig girl behind the counter was wearing a skin-tight shirt that said: "Tell your boyfriend to stop staring."


Many of us, though, prefer to go slogan-free; we do not need to adorn ourselves with lame cartoons dreamed up by marketing managers. I don't need my clothing to speak for me.

Nor do I need any material objects to speak for themselves. For instance, it isn't necessary that a coffee mug be printed with the word "coffee." What if one wanted to put milk in that mug? Are the marketing managers trying to force you go go out shopping for a mug that says "milk"?


On the day in question: no luck. I later went to Goodwill and found blessedly mute shirts there.

At the end of all that futile tramping around I was in a foul mood. However, on a sudden last minute impulse I ducked into Spencer's and came out with something that's been cheering me up ever since: a lava lamp. Good as ever.


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Interesting passage on decision making

From "Blink" by Malcolm Gladwell, p. 59-60:

The neurologist Antonio Damasio ... studied patients with damage to a small but critical part of the brain called the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, which lies behind the nose.

The ventromedial area plays a critical role in decision making. It works out contingencies and relationships and sorts through the mountain of information we get from the outside world, prioritizing it and putting flags on things that demand our immediate attention.

People with damage to their ventromedial area are perfectly rational. They can be highly intelligent and functional, but they lack judgment. More preceisely, they don't have that mental valet in their unconscious that frees them up to concentrate on what really matters.

In his book 'Descartes' Error' Damazion describes trying to set up an appointment with a patient with this kind of brain damage:

"I suggested two alternative dates, both in the coming month and just a few days apart from each other. The patient pulled out his appointment book and began consulting the calendar.

"The behavior that ensued, which was witnessed by several investigators, was remarkable. For the better part of a half hour, the patient enumerated reasons for and against each of teh two dates: previous engagements, proximity to other engagements, possible meteorological conditions, virtually anything that one could think about concerning a simple date.

"[He was] walking us through a tiresome cost-benefit analysis, an endless outlining and fruitless comparison of options and possible consequences. It took enormous discipline to listen to all of this without pounding on the table and telling him to stop."

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Thursday, July 06, 2006

The best fruit tart I ever made (or ever ate)

Zed and I went to dinner and got fed grilled rack of lamb and many other fine delicacies. I took this tart, and whipped some cream, and watched it get sucked up at lightning speed. Very satisfying. I'm going to try to type it up for you before the thunderstorm we're having takes the electricity away.

Strawberry and Peach Tart

I made this in a tart pan but you don't have to.

Crust:
1-1/2 c. flour
1/4 cup sugar
pinch of salt
10 tablespoons of butter, cut in chunks
one extra-large egg-yolk (reserve the white)
1 tablespoon (or a little more) of sour cream

I threw all the ingredients in the food processor and whirred till they held together a bit, then dumped them in the tart pan and pushed the dough around with my fingers and up the shallow sides of the pan. I then pricked the dough with a fork, used the reserved egg white to glaze it (so the fruit wouldn't soak into it), refrigerated it for 20 minutes and then cooked it at 400 degrees for about 15 minutes - till it was nicely browned, it doesn't get any more cooking.

Filling
4 cups of sliced strawberries and peaches
1 cup of water
3/4 cup of sugar
2 tablespoons of cornstarch
dash of salt
juice of a lemon

Mix the cornstarch with the salt and sugar in a saucepan, and then dissolve that powdery mixture in a little bit of water. Gradually add more water and heat it till it boils (I don't hold with this fussy double-boiler nonsense). Stir, stir, stir or it will get lumpy. Add the lemon's juice. It's done when it's no longer milky looking, but is clear. Stir in all the fruit gently, I cooked it for maybe 30 seconds and then turned the whole mass out into the cooked tart shell.

Chill for about an hour. Serve with whipped cream.


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Wednesday, July 05, 2006

El Egocéntrico

I've been busy getting ready for my trip to Paris (the zumerkurz at the "Maison de la Culture Yiddish-Bibliothèque Medem" starts Monday). I'm desperately trying, for instance, to learn Yiddish alphabetical order: if you don't know alphabetical order, you have to open a dictionary, hunt around, and hope...

I thought I'd take a break and share a story in response to my daughter Melina's Intensive Dating Experiment.

For a year or two now I've found Craig's List a good resource - I've sold things, bought things, I even got a pingpong table for free.

So at the onset of Passover, on a sudden whim, I put an ad out, offering to make charoset for a lucky fellow.

I got a surprising number of responses and met with those who fulfilled minimal requirements: (1) around my age; (2) able to spell all the words in response correctly; (3) knows what charoset is. One such was:

El Egocéntrico

He first wrote me under an assumed name - that of a minor literary figure known only to cognoscenti, and therefore not known to me, as I am not a member of the cognoscenti.

We corresponded briefly, he shared his real name, and then we met outside Carr Mill Mall.

I recognized my date, as he approached, from his picture on the internet (we all google our dates, don't we?) and he actually looked better than his pictures. He was tall, had cute grizzled hair, and looked good in jeans. I wondered, though, at his extremely pointy, scaly, black cowboy boots.

It was pouring rain, so our plan to take a walk before dinner did not fly. "Is there a bar near here?" was El Egocéntrico's first question; I could tell by my answer ("I dunno, I don't drink") that our date had already fallen into the "no" category.

We sat on a bench and watched the rain as he lengthily unpacked his credentials - he is a published author and poet, a graduate of a distinguished writing program, a professor at a university, a seasoned traveler much at home on the Continent. I knew all that already, of course, since I had googled him, but he was entitled to tell me himself.

Next he unspooled a protracted tale of woe. He had married a younger wife, later in life, and they have children of single-digit ages. His wife, a painter, was "intimidated by my friends." "Why? What's intimidating about your friends?" "You know, they're - writers." He patiently helped me understand: he is part of the underappreciated American intelligencia, and the IQ points shimmering in the room when he and his friends converge make for an atmosphere dense with creativity and therefore daunting to others.

He continued. He had been having - well, what I'd call a midlife crisis, but he called it something else which has slipped my mind. He went to Europe, having gotten a gig writing a tourbook, and had an affair, and fell madly in love with the Other Woman. The Other Woman, though, after many months or maybe a year or two, went back to her Other Man, having never told him about El Egocéntrico. Meanwhile El Egocéntrico, perhaps in preparation for leaving with the Other Woman, had come clean and told his wife.

The wife threw him out fairly immediately and he is now one of the newly nestless souls. I was his first internet date: "My friend made me do it." He asked me for some tips about how he should approach internet dating in future.

By then the rain had slacked off. We took our walk and had dinner at the Lime & Basil. I agree with the reviewers - the food is fantastic, but the place is not at all romantic (being noisy and painted a bilious green which makes everybody look sick). With this casual restaurant selection, I had struck out again with El Egocéntrico, because the place doesn't have a liquor license - how was I supposed to know? He was a good sport about it, and the story continued.

On the way back to our cars, he mentioned his leather jacket - which he was not wearing because it was a hot day - for the second or third time. So naturally I asked: "Why do you keep talking about your leather jacket?" He corrected me: "I actually have two leather jackets." He said the jackets, coupled with his expensive sunglasses, "are part of my mystique." I was admiring, as I don't have a mystique myself, and in fact don't think I even have any friends who have mystiques.

I wonder how he's doing.

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Sunday, July 02, 2006

See where kindheartedness gets you...

Found at Cynical-C Blog:

Man Found with 1,300 Rats in his One Bedroom Apartment


PETALUMA, Calif. (AP) - It all started four years ago when Roger Dier bought a baby rat to feed his pet Indian python. But when he saw the furry little critter squeaking for its life, the lifelong animal lover said he didn't have the heart to let it become just another snake snack.

"I couldn't stand it," he told The Press Democrat of Santa Rosa. "I took the rat out of the cage and got to know it."

After that, Dier was hooked on the rodents, which he described as gentle, lovable and an endless source of entertainment. He later bought four more at the pet store _ but didn't think to spay or neuter them.

Last week, animal control officers discovered more than 1,300 rats in Dier's small one-bedroom Petaluma home, after a neighbor complained about the foul smell. He was cited for misdemeanor animal cruelty.

Dier, 67, said depression, loneliness, denial and a recent bout of flu and bronchitis kept him from maintaining control of the fast-breeding population.


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Saturday, July 01, 2006

Melina visits the Roller Disco

Clearly, you are all wondering where I went with my tiara the other night.

The answer is that I went to the Roller Disco. Every Wednesday night, the Roxy, which is a famous nightclub in New York City with a famous gay history, hosts a rollerskating party, "Roller Disco Attire Appreciated."

Now it just so happens that I own a pair of roller blades. So after work, I came home, took off my Business Casual Garb (full of stress hormones from a day of work), and put on:

1.) Short shorts.
2.) Knee socks.
3.) Roller blades (well, I put them in my backpack)
4.) tank top
5.) tiara

Let me just give credit where credit is due here. The tiara came from my dear friend Breeze and her boyfriend John, who tolerate my obsession with all things Miss America/Miss World/Miss Universe, and brought me the tiara as a present for my most recent Miss America party (when I nearly burnt down my apartment trying to make toasted bruschetta). It is one of my most cherished possessions.

Then I went down to the roller disco.

The Roxy is way out past Tenth Avenue, on the far west side of Manhattan. As you walk west across Manhattan, first you see office buildings and chain stores (5th, 6th avenues), then ghastly commercial zones (7th avenues) and Broadway (Broadway), then townhouses and embassies and nicer restaurants (8th and 9th avenues), then empty lots, housing projects, parking lots, and highways (10th, 11th, avenues, West Side Highway). So in the midst of the empty lots and highways, there stands the Roxy.



There is a long pathway set up outside, with several bouncers and velvet cordons like at the airport. You make your way through there, and show your ID to the bouncers, and since it is NOrth Carolina, they stare at it suspiciously and twiddle it back and forth looking for the hologram. Then they mumble "Okay" and you say, "What?" and they say "GO!!!!" and you say "OKAY!" and then you go inside and up a long carpeted series of stairs and a couple switchbacks.

Then you go to the ticket window for the roller derby, pay them a lot of money, and go inside.

And then you are in a fantastic place. It is a big room with a bar on one side, a DJ on the other, and in between, a small-ish roller rink, crammed with ALL different kinds of people. (It also has big signs that say "SKATE CAREFULLY - WE HAVE NO LIABILITY INSURANCE.") I saw:

--scared 18 year old girls wobbling around on roller blades in short shorts
--Blond babes in their 50s with the full-on Farrah Fawcett hairdo demonstrating that they knew how to disco dance the *first* time it was cool
--20s-ish couples trying to do the whimsical date thing (the men looking extremely uncomfortable)
--30s-ish hipsters wearing sparkly sequined pants and body suits
--screaming bachelorettes and birthday girls (Several in tiaras)
--Serious pair dancers who looked like they had ice-skating backgrounds
--Middle-aged gay couples, and gay singles sporting colored handkerchiefs in various symbolic places on their bodies
--Extraordinarily muscular hip-hop dancers, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, male and female
--Women in the throes of disco-ecstasy (the more common variant of this is hippie-dancing ecstasy) where they go up onto a high place where everyone can see them and totally groove out
--One six-foot Rastafarian in full regalia, skating backwards slowly with a beatific smile on his face (all the regulars were high-fiving him)

Lots of these people - unusually for New York - were just grinning from ear to ear. There was a lot of ostentation but little competition. If someone whizzed past you and you started to fall, another person coming up from behind you would catch you around your waist and make sure you didn't fall before skating on. (There was a fair amount of "accidentally-on-purpose" catching from behind going on, if you get my drift, but not enough to be creepy).

The only analagous environment I have experienced was when I used to go to triathlons with my dad. The triathlon crowd is mainly middle-aged, successful professionals (since nobody else can afford the gear) who you'd expect to see in business casual. At triathlons, you will find them almost entirely nude, casually writing numbers on each others bodies with sharpie, admiring each others' quadriceps and leg-shaving jobs, lubing their way into tight wetsuits, and casually wandering around and mingling in tiny Speedo swimsuits. And it's all entirely innocent.

I was in heaven at the Roller Disco. I can barely skate, let alone skate and disco dance, but I skated around and around for hours and hours in the flashing lights, completely blissed out.

I highly, highly recommend.

Melina

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