Friday, September 28, 2007

Ruhe Sanft, Kenji Nagai

Like a dwindling number of other Americans, I awoke this morning and ate my breakfast while reading an actual newspaper. Of course those of us who still engage in this archaic practice are often confronted with an array of horrifying images and anger-inducing news items. But for the last couple of days I've been more pissed off than normal. Why, you ask?

Well, it's the fact that the Burmese military has been up to its old tricks. I'm old enough to remember the last time this happened, and I'm also old enough to be acquainted with real people who lived through the 1988 massacre. So, as rumblings began several weeks ago, I felt a little glimmer of hope. It got bigger within the last week as thousands and thousand of monks and Burmese citizens took to the streets, demanding reform and democracy in their long-suffering country. And what's happened? Well, no one really knows, since the military government has essentially cut off all information flow in and out of the country. But we've got a good idea, right? First there was this:

Followed by this:

And then what appears to be the murder of this man:

a Japanese photo and video journalist whose image was captured as he lay dying on the street. His "crime"? Trying to expose the horror of what is happening in Burma to the rest of the world. (I can't bring myself to post that image here--not being a fan of snuff --but I'm sure you can find it online if you try hard enough.)

Since then news and images have been increasingly hard to come by, even for groups with the closest of connections inside Burma.

It's hard to know what to do in these situations, isn't it? Like a lot of people, I've grown increasingly cynical through the years and often feel like nothing I do makes any difference. But I do know one thing for sure: doing nothing isn't going to help.

So, if you want to do something--even if it's just keeping yourself informed--take a look here:

Ko-Htike's blog

US Campaign for Burma

Avaaz.Org--Stand With the Protestors petition

And those of you who are in New York: people are gathering in front of the Burmese Mission, particularly on Monday:

When: Monday, October 1st, from 12:30 to 1:00 (sharp)

Where: The Burmese Mission 10 East 77th Street between Fifth and Madison

What to Bring: A cushion for sitting, placards, and flowers to memorialize those murdered on Wednesday.

See you there.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Friday night=roller derby!

Last night I finally succumbed to the inevitable and journeyed out to New Jersey to witness the now-years-old roller derby revival. After an ill-fated trip the wrong way down the New Jersey Turnpike, our group righted itself and ended up at a surprisingly suburban looking park in Newark. The roller derby looked something like this:

Would it be wrong to say that I was a little disappointed? While I admired the pluck of the ladies and gents who largely fund their own roller derby enterprises, I found the event itself surprisingly slow-paced and somewhat lackluster. I guess I was expecting outsized personalities, more slamming and elbows, and an actual velodrome. Instead it seemed more like this:

but with less inspired outfits. What happened to roller derby?

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Of Cereal and Snoots: a Return to the USA

After a week of resettling into my normal life--restocking my kitchen, washing heaps of laundry, and, most importantly, buying satisfying cereal:

I got out and about and into the serious work of reclaiming health and fitness after six weeks of living on a diet of beer, cheese and too little sleep. Luckily for me, a friend with a car decided she wanted to get out of the city and into nature...namely hiking to the top of something called "Overlook Mountain," which lies in the vicinity of Woodstock, New York. Woodstock is not unknown to me, of course--besides the obvious reason, I often take the bus through Woodstock while en route to the 607, otherwise known as the place I was born. Woodstock is a very noticeable stop on the bus route, mainly because all the people who look super rich and vaguely hippie-like get off there, leaving the rest of us hillbillies to venture to parts further inland and certainly much less glamorous.

Anyhow, Overlook Mountain was amazing. Despite my fears that I would collapse from overexertion and cheese poisoning, I made it to the top without much problem, and was rewarded with:

Ruins! Apparently this unfinished hotel, aptly named the Overlook, was never finished due to the untimely death of its originator. It has hence laid in a state of rapid deterioration, which is obviously sad, but also scenic and entertaining for legions of hikers, who at least get a visual reward after 40 minutes of sweat-inducing uphill climbing.

Just a few minutes beyond the Overlook, we found the ranger station where we were greeted by a jolly fellow (aren't they all? I don't know how forest rangers are so uniformly good-natured) who warned us of snakes before inviting us to climb hundreds of feet into the air to enjoy the nearby fire tower.

I forgot to take pictures of the tower itself--probably because I was so excited by the prospect of climbing it--but look at the amazing view it offered once one climbed all the way to the top:

Whoa! Unfortunately those are rain clouds, and we had to scramble for our lives when they were unexpectedly accompanied by very dramatic bolts of lightening.

Worried that we would be fried and electrified we packed up and headed back down the mountain, and into nearby Woodstock, expecting to find diners filled with colorful locals and multiple pies. Instead we found a reggae fest--complete with legions of sagging and shirtless former hippies pathetically shuffling around on the "village green," which was really a block of concrete with a tree stuck in the middle. Even worse, the only pie we could find cost $6.50 and was served a trio of laconic and vaguely rude waitresses who were too busy fighting with each other to really notice that a big seed of undisclosed origin was lodged in my pie, and almost cracked my tooth.

This experience--along with the stores stocked with $250 shirts from Gwen Stefani's LAMB line--convinced us that we were in the wrong place. At my suggestion (upstate pride and all!) we high-tailed it to nearby Kingston, where we found much more of what we were hoping for. Instead of snoots and sagging hippies, we found:

Historic buildings!

Dead Dutchmen!

And lots of local color. Shop owners greeted us enthusiastically, and laughed upon hearing of the six dollar and fifty cent pie. "Fuck Woodstock!" one said, before recommending a trip to the nearby taco shop, where I chowed down on something called the "Beanie Greenie," and mused about how just a week or so prior I had eaten Berlin burritos at the awesome Dolores . Then I got a little sad.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Bis bald....

Sadly, my time in Berlin is drawing short--I leave tomorrow, and thus am busily planning a day (and night) of last activities. There are tons of things I will miss here, like:

Graffiti (yes, we have it in New York...but either I don't notice it as much, or it has become so regulated and policed as to be uninspiring).

Non-chain bookstores. They are everywhere in Berlin--almost literally on every corner. This one was one of my favorites though, both because of the name and because a historical placard placed outside explained that the store had been a prominent meeting place in the former East Berlin, due to the fact that "the German people greatly enjoy reading" (oh, how I wish that were true of we Americans!).

Movies in German. Yes, I know, we get them in the States too, and I am lucky to live in a city where movie theaters actually show them. But being here has made me realize that we only get to see a tiny fraction of movies made in other countries--and the ones we do get tend to be ones that distribution companies think will match American sensibilities.

Art spaces. Yes, we have them in the States too. But they are usually crammed full of annoying people wearing oversized eyeglasses. Here I was the only patron in the whole place, thus leaving me free to roam the back rooms and hallways totally unhampered by the need to attempt fabulousity.

Hmmn. Okay, so we have this last one in the States too--but not all out in the open like that, and definitely not on a large enough scale that we would need to number them. (Even funnier--to me at least--the name loosely translates as "Without Coercion 3.")

Of course, not all has been unrestrained admiration on my part. I will be glad to go home for a number of reasons, some of which include:

  • German cereal. 10,000 varieties of muesli, none of which actually taste good.
  • German toilets. I hate them. Maybe they are all water-saving and green or whatnot...but when I flush I like to know that my stuff is really gone, you know?
  • Spanish tourists. Perhaps the Spanish people as a whole are lovely--but the ones who vacation in Berlin win the award for the Loudest People on Earth. They also can't seem to stop making out with one another on the train. Why?
  • German bedding. I like sheets. Why are the Germans so against them?
  • Lack of 24 hour subway service. So lame as to not even require commentary.

Anyway, Berlin: it has been lovely. See you next year, zwanglos.