Monday, October 31, 2005

A&G Off to France--Day One

(Author's note: This entry begins two weeks of daily entries about our trip to Provence. You won't enjoy as much as we did, and that's not just a comment about my writing.)

16 October 2005

So we are in France, but it was one of those killer plane-train-bus kind of transport days--one of the few times living in CA seems a mistake as it makes you five hours further from Europe. The flights were fine, if long, if mitigated by getting cushy bulkhead seats with plenty of legroom. Charles DeGaulle Airport is a wonder of modern sprawl planning, down to the central escalator tubes that seem built for human hamsters (but prep you for the tube of the plane, I guess).

Somehow we figured out all the TGV stuff correctly, plus had two hours so no need to rush and plenty of time to wonder why the U.S. can't get some highspeed trains. The TGV itself is not only fast but surprisingly quiet and smooth, with a gentle rocking that sent us both to sleep at various stretches of the trip. Still, awake we saw many charming willages (you have to know your David Sedaris to get that one), EuroDisney (there's no escaping California, after all), Lyon and many white cows.

We took the shuttle bus from the TGV station to the old town section of Avginon and then dragged our wheeled suitcases up Rue de la Republique. The cobblestones on the sidestreets to our B&B La Banasterie announced we were coming. The inn is deceptively plain from the outside, cosy and charming inside (if only I could use this description for myself), with hosts who know enough English to make up for our meager French. Stone walls, a water closet that's really a closet (but I wouldn't hit my head until the'll see)--it seems terribly European.

Trying to insist we weren't travel-adled and nine hours time-changed lagged, we washed up a bit (after all, we'd been in the same clothes since 5 am Saturday CA time and it was Sunday around 2 pm), and hit the Palais des Papes, quite literally Avignon's biggest attraction. As one guidebook says, it's more a fortress than a palace, which makes sense given Avignon's popes were generally under assault. Alas, the site is mostly stripped bare of the wealth and fancy frillery; it's like imagining what people will see when they tour the Vatican in 2392 and just get to see walls (if the RC Church's ban on gay priests doesn't kill the doddering institution off before then). The entrance fee includes an audio guide that looks like a cross between a phone and a remote (clearly designed to bring up a host of pleasant non-historical, that is fun, related associations) and offered way too many possible entries on every detail of the building, the Avignon papacy, and arts in the 14th century. It's as if the tapes hoped to make full the unadorned, if cavernously spectacular, rooms. And the narrator in English sounded like Eric Blore, but he never belittled Edward Everett Horton and he needed a joke or two.

The studiousness of the narration, coupled with the intense imagination needed to grasp the true grandness of what we saw, got us both tired, so we powered un-audio-guided through the last third, only to end up at La Boutellerie du Palais des Papes, where I got to do my first French degustation. Thank you, Jesus, for the fruit of the vine, and your servants the popes for being very much men of the earth. We tasted Caves des Vignerons de l'Enclave des Papes "Les Coudriers" 2004, a very full rose (Grenache based? just guessing); a Ls Vignerons Reunis de St. Cecille Les Vignes "Les Colombes" 2003 Cotes du Rhone that would be a terrific house wine, especially if your house were in Provence; a Cave de Rasteau "Prestige" (their quotes) 2001 Cotes du Rhone Villages, a bit less rustic than the Les Colombes; and a Chateau de la Gardine "Cuvee Tradition" 1998 Chateauneuf-du-Pape that had all the usual lovely mix of rose and cherry and dust and violet plus some hickory smoked bacon to boot (or maybe that's leather).

From there we wandered the incredibly lovely Rocher-des-Domes, which features lots of family action--French kids just seem cuter to me, maybe because I can't understand them--a nifty grotto, wide-angled views of the Rhone and Avignon, and ponds with swans. We clambered down from the heights of the park to Pont Saint-Benezet, the famous Avignon bridge that's now more a pier as 2/3 of it washed out in the 1600s. Now that's staying power, when you can discuss parts of yourself you've missed for four centuries. It's a prime view spot for the Rhone and picturesque at a distance but a bit of a let down to walk on and we don't understand why you would build a chapel on a bridge, let alone two.

We then had to fight to stay awake for dinner, as our time-tripping travels began to catch up to us. Restaurants don't start serving until 7 and more likely 7:30, which is generally early for us to eat in the States, but generally we aren't operating on 4 hours of sleep two night in a row, including a night we jetted into eagerly. We walked all over town, windowshopped, saw waterwheels.

Finally we could go to La Vache a Careaux, just around the corner from our B&B. It's a charming low-key place with a sign of a multi-colored cow and features wines and cheeses without any of the affect of such a place in the States. Here we order an impressive double-decker cheese and charcuterie plate that was full of deliciousness (ah olives, succulent salami, choice cheeses) and side salads of the freshest greens in a perfectly balanced balsamic vinaigrette (nothing like ace ingredients to make the simple sing). And we drank a tannic and tasty (fruit forced its way round them tannins, we insist) Les Grandes Vignes Cotes du Rhone 2004.

During dinner a French couple next to us, who didn't seem unusually flirty otherwise, surprised me a bit. Both their and our table were in a small alcove from which patrons could get to the restrooms. When the woman of the couple went to go, she got behind the beads separating the bathroom entrance from where we sat and hiked her skirt up for her boyfriend, flashing both her panties and a saucy smile (not in the same anatomical location, ok?). Somehow I looked up to catch something not meant for me, and quickly looked away. It wasn't a thong she was wearing. I didn't see England this trip, but I saw France and I saw a French girl's underpants.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Release the Hounds

For Dog Blog Friday, several days and six centuries late. Amy and I are back in the States, and boy are my jokes tired. Thanks Chryss, Cassidy and Dave for filling in.

And if I'm a pro, when does that first check arrive? We've got some credit card bills to pay.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Leave it to the pro

Butter was the only food ever defined by an Act of the U.S. Congress prior to the enactment of the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act of 1938. Which makes you wonder what they used for cosmetics before then...

Er...let's try that again.

Rosa Parks died today at the age of 92. You might say her ship has sailed...

Darn, let's try again.

Janet Jackson has a daughter. She's apparently younger than Janet, but only because Janet is her mom...

Jeez, writing a clever little blurb (with factually accurate info and proper punctuation, no less) for the Happy Hour e-mail really is harder than it looks. Happy Hour Friday is officially still cancelled until George comes back.

Hurry back, George. We need discount appetizers. Oh, and bring Amy with you.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Lemony Fresh!

Two unlikely messages arrived in my inbox:
1) News that Liz Phair will be singing "God Bless America" during a World Series Game. Still processing...
2) THE WORST BOOK EVER! has been released...

So, tonight—as Liz Phair fans try to decide if they're really comfortable calling themselves "fans" when the new album is really kinda all over the place and my god once she gets reviewed on Slate and singing in the World Series you get that weird "I was a fan way back..." thing going and we all, I mean THEY all hate that feeling—we begin The Penultimate Peril.

For those of you who haven't read the heartbreaking tales of the three Baudelaire siblings, there's still time. The books are short, and with all the Halloween decorations right now, the Series of Unfortunate Events fits as well as It's a Wonderful Life fits at Christmas. Except that had Jimmy Stewart and a ray of hope.

After all, we started reading the Series long before Jim Carey tried to Olaf his way in, and we were fans way back when..

We may be too dejected to blog again...

Thursday, October 20, 2005

C is for Crony

Also in CAC news, Katrina threatens arts funding! Is anyone surprised that some Republicans are using Katrina to advance their tireless anti-Big Bird "Kill the Lefty in the Nestie" campaign? Seriously. As if all the muppet fur from Sesame Street through Avenue Q could begin to mop up the mess . . .

Hey, kids! Pretend you're the President, and build your own cabinet!!

Arnold to Art Patrons: "RUN!"

As feared, because I get all my news from INOTBB, I've found absolutely nothing to be blogworthy since George and Amy and their two-dimensional dogs/xylophones left town.

But thanks to the California Arts Council, it's time to provide an important legislative update from Sacramento. As a poet, I am horrified to learn that my audience will be allowed to leave. Well, I mean, I let them leave, but I prefer not to. Now, a new law says that, not only do I have to give them the option of leaving, I have to tell them how to do it?

On October 5, Governor Schwarzenegger signed AB1194, authored by Assemblymember Jenny Oropeza* (D-Long Beach). This bill requires that any person or public or private firm, organization, or corporation, that owns, rents, leases or manages a facility that hosts a ticketed event for live entertainment shall make an announcement of the availability of emergency exits prior to the beginning of the live entertainment...This new law will take effect January 1, 2006. Failure to comply is a misdemeanor.

If I lose those people who stay in their seats because their too embarrassed to fumble around the room to find the door, who will be left? (To be fair, the Assembly is helping the creative community by reducing what should be a false imprisonment to a mere misdemeanor.) Clearly, it's back to the old strategy: give the audience lots of wine.

*Note that Jenny Oropeza is clearly a nom de plume for Jenny PROENZA, famed among UC High students for her doctor's-note forgeries and class cutting. I often had to ditch class just so I could pretend to be her aunt, driving her to the podiatrist for emergency surgery. Where were the blogs then?

Friday, October 14, 2005

It's Prine Time and the Yosts for the Mostess

Amy and I are off to Provence tomorrow morning. We are not bringing the laptop. We will scurry across any street if we see an internets cafe. We will soak up as much of 2000 years of culture as we can, given we will also do lots of eating and drinking (Chateauneuf du Pape, here we come!).

But I would never abandon you poor readers, wherever you may be non-cyber-stuck that most decidedly is NOT Provence. So I will turn over the keys to the blogdom to an extremely talented, brilliant, witty, funny and dare I say it musically skilled trio. Meet Dave, Chryss and Cassidy.

[electronic handshakes all around]

I'll be back on October 31, because I'd hate to be a Halloweenie.

Ah-river! (I've got a lot of listening to French language tapes to do on the flight there.)

Oklahoma's Got Nothing on Us

And more for Dog Blog Friday, as the camera sang "Oh, what a beautiful morning." (We're working up to a couple of weeks of musical theater, but I'll get to that in a post this afternoon.)

Joy Jumps

For Dog Blog Friday: I guess feeding Nigel that kibble made with Helium wasn't the best idea.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Deep, Dark Truthful Merlot

USA Today reports that the government is finally going to crackdown on pollution and clear the skies:

That glass of garnet-colored California merlot may caress the palate and delight the nose, but state officials say wineries also create a less agreeable byproduct: smog.

Now air-quality managers in California's San Joaquin Valley, where nearly two-thirds of domestic wine is produced, are cracking down. By year's end, local officials will propose the nation's first restrictions targeting pollution from winemaking.

"We have regulated virtually all other significant (non-vehicle) sources, some a lot smaller than wineries," says San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District planning director Scott Nester. Winemaking pollution "is significant, and it is completely uncontrolled."

After all, we have to make the air cleaner somehow, given this news from the AP:

The Bush administration proposed new regulations Thursday that could allow the nation's dirtiest power plants to release more air pollutants each year — and possibly undercut lawsuits aimed at forcing companies to comply with the Clean Air Act.

The proposal follows a June federal court ruling that said power plants can throw more pollutants into the air each year when they modernize to operate for longer hours.

It's the latest in a series of attempts by the Environmental Protection Agency to make the nearly 30-year-old Clean Air Act rules for coal-fired power plants more industry-friendly. Some changes were held up by lawsuits from environmentalists and state officials.

You know, I might not mind drinking my wine in the dark. But then a light bulb went off and it hit me that in general power producers are bigger companies than winemakers. Not that that kind of thing ever matters.

See? All Religions Are the Same

(R-L) Hussein al-Shahristani, Deputy Speaker of Iraq's National Assembly, President Jalal Talabani and Speaker of the Iraqi National Assembly Hajim al-Hassani hold hands in celebration as they welcome a gift of altar boys and altar girls sent to them from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles by Cardinal Mahony.

"I Swear the Eyes of that Painting of Your Aunt Are Following Me"

Now that I've slimed two of our greatest Americans, let's return to some of our countryfolk who aren't of such noble bearing. The IMDB (no, that doesn't stand for "It's Mostly Dumb Bullshit") reports:

Katie Holmes conceived her baby with fiance Tom Cruise without the aid of in-vitro fertilization (IVF) treatment, according to the Hollywood beauty's aunt. Carol Zydorczyk has spoken out to deny reports pregnant Holmes received IVF treatment. She says, "I can assure you they did it the old fashioned way."

To which INOTBB replies: What does it mean when your aunt can "assure" people about the nature of your sex life? Not to mention a turkey baster is an old fashioned way, too.

Amazing Coinkydinks in History

On this day in 1792, President George Washington laid the cornerstone of the White House.

On this day in 1792, not-yet-President Thomas Jefferson laid his slave Sally Hemmings.

Great men, putting the father in forefather.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Faith, Grope and Parody

According to Reuters, in an effort to bolster support for his Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers President Bush today said the following:

She's going to make a great Supreme Court judge. People are interested to know why I picked Harriet Miers. They want to know Harriet Miers' background, they want to know as much as they possibly can before they form opinions. And part of Harriet Miers' life is her religion.

Admitting that he wants more of his nominees to have religion be at least 53% of their lives (a figure that climbs to 98% when nominees are speaking in public to the right wing base), he also offered further sweeping changes to his cabinet to bring it into a more faith-based alignment.

  • For Secretary of Education Bush has nominated Cardinal Bernard Law, the former archbishop of Boston. "He just seems like a man who knows how people should deal with children," the President said.
  • For Secretary of the Treasury Bush has nominated Rev. Brian Lisowski. The President said, "Here's a man who knows his way around the money of others."
  • For Secretary of Commerce and Labor Bush has nominated Reverend Jimmy Swaggart. "Swaggart really seems to value the labor of women--he's even willling to pay for their work," the President claimed.

Upon making the announcements in the recently planted flag garden outside the West Wing of the White House, a reporter asked the President if he would also appoint Reverend Pat Robertson as Secretary of State. Mr. Bush repsonded, "No way--Pat's a nutcase. Heh heh heh."

Tuesday, October 11, 2005


The San Francisco Chronicle reports:

The United States won't trade democratic reforms for security and stability in strategically important former Soviet states, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Monday as she embarked on a trip to Central Asia and Afghanistan. She also said she might inspect earthquake damage in Pakistan.

The story goes on to quote Secretary Rice as saying, "I heard there was some great looting going on at the downtown Islamabad Prada, and I'd hate to miss out on that." Rice will also be taking in a production of Tikkalot! by the Pakistani Players.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Justices with Candy

Now the Miers nomination finally makes sense to me. It's really just an elaborate comedy ruse, one that would make Andy Kaufman proud. Who knew Bush possessed such biting jocularity? Cleary he just wants to help the country let off a bit of steam given the disasters of Iraq and Katrina.

I submit for your analysis:


Friday, October 07, 2005

Mighty Mooks and His Sidekick Turbo Pup

For Dog Blog Friday: It has to be a trick of the camera--even as a puppy Nigel wasn't this small. Of course, this is before he opted for the Small Electronics Diet. Eating a PDA, camera, remote control and optical mouse makes greyhounds go big and strong.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Mirror Man

Since speechifying hasn't gone the best for Bush of late, maybe he decided (and he's left deciding on his own since Karl is off trying to save his own butt) it was time to get back to basics. So he dug out his old high school civics textbook and it said one way to practice a speech is to deliver it in front of a mirror. That might explain some of the striking moments from his major policy speech today, if conflating the war on terror with the Cold War is policy. Of course Bush went way beyond that comparison when he got to the line about how "the militants believe that controlling one country will rally the Muslim masses, enabling them to overthrow all moderate governments in the region, and establish a radical Islamic empire that spans from Spain to Indonesia." Somewhere in hell Pope Urban II was smiling, which isn't easy to do in a lake of fire (Bush will see, someday).

But Bush the Mirror Man actually said things like: "Islamic radicalism is elitist, led by a self-appointed vanguard that presumes to speak for the Muslim masses. Bin Laden says his own role is to tell Muslims, quote, 'what is good for them and what is not.' And what this man who grew up in wealth and privilege considers good for poor Muslims is that they become killers and suicide bombers."

Good thing Bush and the Republicans never tell us what is good for us (tax cuts for the rich, suffering to build character for the poor) and bad for us (assisted suicide, abortion, questioning the president). Even better that Bush comes from a family of subsistence farmers and all the members of the U.S. armed forces are rich.

Well, there's so many of these similarities between Bush's enemy and Bush's self that Walt Kelly is thinking about suing for copyright infringement of his most famous line. If I picked the speech apart comment by comment, I'd be here until the Bush twins came home, and it's just 11:50 and the bars don't close till 2.

It is good that Bush somewhere knows he's a tyrant, though, for here's part of his rising rhetorical flourish to cap the speech:

Throughout history, tyrants and would-be tyrants have always claimed that murder is justified to serve their grand vision -- and they end up alienating decent people across the globe. Tyrants and would-be tyrants have always claimed that regimented societies are strong and pure -- until those societies collapse in corruption and decay. Tyrants and would-be tyrants have always claimed that free men and women are weak and decadent -- until the day that free men and women defeat them.

War is murder. Oh, sorry, W., I forgot this is a justified war--that's part of yours and Rummy's and Dick's grand vision. Good thing the only people you alienated around the globe is most of the Islamic world and Europe, and now 69% of Americans, too. Here's to a more regimented U.S., with the poor in the Astrodome, the sick quarantined by the military. And it's not like the Republicans have ever slurred the Dems as decadent (despite their own predilections for being moral truth-tellers who gamble, family men who deliver divorce papers to first wives in hospital beds, patriots who out their own country's intelligence agents, physical ed role models who took steroids, etc.).

Of course early in the speech he offered us the brilliantly turned phrase "a set of beliefs and goals that are evil, but not insane," which clearly doesn't apply to Bush. So even the neatest comaprisons breakdown someplace.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

When the Barrel's a Thimble and the Fish is Tomkatie

So how jealous must Dawson be?
Heck, even Michael Jackson has "had" children. (Oh, I don't mean in that way.)
Or perhaps David Crosby is the real father? He has to do something to pay for the guns.
Do you think Tom used the line, "I'm just going to put this on Cruise control"?
You had to figure Katie was easy--she showed her boobs in a Sam Raimi movie. (Just 'cause it starred Cate Blanchett doesn't gussy it up enough, especially when it also featured the former host of Talk Soup.)
I guess this proves there is a Scientology equivalent of the rhythm method.
Perhaps Tom insists on calling her Joey when they make love.

I'll Take the Empty Combo Plate

Nothing like when all the news stories add up to form one big scream. Oddly enough Katrina originally washed this story from the news, for according to the BBC:

The number of people classed as poor in the US has increased - despite strong economic growth, say official figures.

An extra 1.1 million Americans dropped below the poverty line last year, according to the US Census Bureau.

There were 37 million people living in poverty in 2004, up 12.7% from the previous year.


The last time poverty fell in the US was in 2000 when there were 31.1 million people officially classed as poor. [Blogger's note: Hmm, what happened in the U.S. in 2000 that suddenly made it worse for the poor?]

Of course, then Katrina gave us images to go with the statistics that we probably would have ignored anyway, becuase a number is just a number, while a poor person is someone better off living in the Astrodome (right, Babs?).

Today we learn that Congress has decided the best way to help the poor is not to feed them (this is a parallel to the Bill Bennett stop crime abortion plan). The AP reports:

Under orders to cut agriculture spending by $3 billion, Republicans in Congress propose reducing food programs for the poor by $574 million and conservation programs by $1 billion.


The $574 million cut in food stamps would come from restricting access to this benefit for certain families that receive other government assistance. The restriction would shut an estimated 300,000 people out of the program.

So I guess the poor get to decide--do you want a housing subsidy or do you want to eat? This is America, where we get ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and only give you a roof or a meal. Unless your family is rich, and then you get a couple of shots at business, a major league baseball team, and 40 years to quit drinking and doing coke. Get with the program.

It's also good to know that Congress and the Bush White House won't touch the $20 billion in subsidies to the big agricultural firms. Rumor has it that they're not making anywhere near the profits oil companies are raking in, and it truly hurts their egos.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Our Heroes Dumby and Pokey

According to the Washington Post, at his Rose Garden press conference today President Bush defended his selection of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court by saying:

"I know her well enough to be able to say she's not going to change. . . . Twenty years from now. . . . her philosophy won't change."

That, he said, "is important to me."

And there you have George Bush in a pretty much non-metaphorical nutshell. He actually values people who don't change. Maybe it's my years in education, but I always thought humans valued change. They call it learning.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Faux-nemes Gallore

I first heard about Bush's new Supreme Court nomination from NPR while driving in the car. And when I heard the name, I couldn't help but think this...

But then I found it was Harriet M-I-E-R-S. And when I saw her picture...

...things got really scary. Out of the frame she has a hatchet, for the jobs W. has her lined up to do. And that flag lapel pin turns into a lighter, so she can torch the Constitution. And for you horror fans, wrapped in the flag is a longbow to shoot some teens who just had wild sex. (Heck, even the right likes to pander, right Rupert?)

It's Confusing When a Stupid Person Plays Dumb

Writing on TPM Cafe ("and don't forget to tip your blogaristas!") Matthew Yglesias quotes David "I Came Up with 'Axis of Evil' and Still Got Canned" Frum with this tasty tidbit about the woman who will most likely be the next Supreme Court Justice (since the opposition party can't be found):

In the White House that hero worshipped the president, Miers was distinguished by the intensity of her zeal: She once told me that the president was the most brilliant man she had ever met.

It's easy to laugh, until you remember she's from Texas. (All apologies to Jim Hightower and Kinky Friedman, neither of whom she's probably met, since Jim is a populist and Kinky has that name and hangs with the Texas Jewboys. Don't be fooled by her name Miers--she went to SMU. Which probably also helps to explain why Bush seems so smart to her.)

A Quick Quote to Live By

Archbishop Desmond Tutu:

Well, people always will want to use religion, whatever, I mean, people use religion in the Holocaust in Germany. The Ku Klux Klan here uses the cross as its symbol, and it is racist. When somebody says to you, you're religious, they're not praising you.

I won't bother to link, as I'm sure many of you don't have LexisNexis, but this comes from a CNN American Morning show on October 4, 2004. Also part of the program after the Nobel Peace Prize winner was finished--Amy Fisher.

That's newsertainment!
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