Friday, September 29, 2006

Langon, St Macaire, Bordeaux and points South n West

The reason for my trip to France was two fold. One was to be the President of a Jury which was awarding a €15000-20000 bourse to a young photographer who is pursuing an idea of work which requires an element of time/money to accomplish. In this day and age, which is to say, one in which traditional magazines no longer provide the means which they used to, photographers need to find alternative sources of funding to follow stories which they feel strongly about. In this case, about 30 photographers were cut down to six, and those six were interviewed by our panel of 6 to decide who should get this year’s prize. It is always fun to figure out a way to get to Paris, but this year, following on the heels of my China trip, it was very a compacted time frame: I had a day in the city of light, and much of it sleeping to recover from the China Trip. We met with our group of editors, and for the first time ever, I was involved in a process where the photogs themselves had to come in and speak, in a manner not unlike college “oral exams”, with the judges, face to face. It was quite wonderful, and even though my French is pretty good, it was a challenge to keep up with some of the ideas. Now and then I had to ask what a particular word meant, but in the end, we all agreed on who the winner should be, and happily, gave an additional prize to a young woman whose inventiveness really struck a chord with us. This was all a run-up to the next portion of the trip which was to pick up Iris and her college pal Sue Macnelly at Roissy (charlesdegaulle Airport) and head to Bordeaux where I was attending a photo show (of mine) and speaking to an audience about my show there. I left the hotel early and walked to the airport bus, a very easy way to get to CDG, and waiting an hour or so for the girls to arrive. They were on a flight which was slowed down by tech difficulties, but which arrived in time to get us all downtown to the train, and take the train (yes! Senior discount tickets!) to Bordeaux.

We were staying for a couple of nights at a cute little hotel in St Macaire ( Saint My-Cairo?) just outside of Langon, about 40 km from Bordeaux proper.

Pictures at the Mill

We spent a day visiting the ingeniously designed photo exhibits: they are being shown in old chateaux, olds mills, and other medieval ruined buildings, which really gives a wonderful sense of time to whatever is in the pictures. My show was in a centuries old Mill in the country, beautifully shown ,and a place I would be happy to exhibit in anytime.

Me, as the subject of adoration...

I did a live “internet-TV” interview, dazzling them with my precise (and, frankly, badly accented French) descriptions of just how I arrived at taking this or that picture. Then it was back to Bordeaux for a day with Jean-Pierre and Barbara, our friends who decamped 6 years ago from Paris. They showed us the city which is, quite amazingly, gorgeously cleaned old stone, and which has, we’re told, the largest percentage of stone buildings in all of Europe for a city this size. We walked along the quai market – wonderful fresh produce and other foods, including a first rate chicken truck, one which Iris would have been happy to hop aboard and drive off in. Then, a great lunch at a very typical bistro, where the waiter fell into the “cute enough to take home to Jordan” category; then a nap, and a dinner out at a jazz club; we seem to have started eating again with abandon. And speaking of abandon, the woman at the table next to us at dinner was.. well.. I think surprised at the very least, by our presence.

Mid-fork: ok, it's tacky, but it's what we do!
I know its kind of tacky to grab someone mid-fork, but after all those “you know, that really isn’t DONE in France” looks, you sometimes just grab the camera, snap it once or twice, and move on to the next socially iffy situation.

The following morning, Monday, we began the schlepping part of the trip by dragging our roller bags about ten blocks in search of a taxi, a tram, anything which would get us to the train station where Avis was waiting with a red Citroen van – a Picasso model. No cabs were evident, and as we walked towards the tram, tempers failing under the heat of the day, a lone single taxi arrived just in time to save us from our own annoyances. We got the car, soon named him Pablo, after his namesake, and hit the road for Provence. Land of Eggplant, Garlic and Aioli.

Thus, we decided to make a run for Provence, with a mid day stop for lunch at Carcassone, a 12th century town with its enormous walls still in perfect state, as is the moat, and which caters, sadly for us, to thousands of day tourists each day. And we mean Day. They pretty much know they ‘ll never see you again, so when the Gallic rules are enforced, they are done so with a sense of permanence as they will surely be there again tomorrow to smack them up agin the next wave of day touros. In Australia they used to refer to Touros as Seagulls. Why Seagulls? Well, they fly in, shit on your head, and fly out again. Yeah, I can see the similarities. Well, ok, I can see how Day Touros might affect your view of mankind, but we had a couple of unpleasant moments in our brief stay. Each place we tried for lunch was packed with Brits, Germans, Danes, Japanese, and a host of other touros, most of the Senior variety (you think they got discounts to do their drop by??) Finally we went upstairs at a place serving overdone chicken quarters over soggy fries, waited 20 minutes to get even a hello, decided the Force was NOT with us, and got up to leave. The huffy waitress looked at me like I had scarred the Mona Lisa with a Sharpie, asking me, in huffy French.. “so.. you wanna eat right away??” And before I could respond she gave me one of those Gallic (sorry French friends, but she wasn’t Belgian or Swedish… what Is, IS) stares full of vitriol (see, it’s a better word in French than in English).. and asked me “What is your country of origin??” Before I could respond “Russian with a little Irish and Polish thrown in..” she starts throwing at me “ German? Italian? Spanish?”

So, what IS your Country of origin?
Only later when I realized how annoyed I was did I think of the retort “… if I’d known you were cooking for the Gestapo I wouldn’t have come inside in the first place!” But, we only think of these things after the fact. I guess that’s what separates Ali G from the rest of us. Onwards to Provence… We’re just sayin. David

Because Its France - redux

Jean Pierre (JP) rescued us from having any further professional obligations and drove us the 40 miles to Bordeaux. How to describe Bordeaux.

Soozie, Bobbsie ^ Iris on the couch // Bordeaux
Well, it’s France. It is a physically beautiful city without any soul. It is the place where everything Wine is supposed to connect, but even that doesn’t seem to be the case. People buying and selling wine find more amusement staying in chateaus so there seem to be very few hotels. At least in the center of the city. And the hotels that do exist are pretty dumpy. At least this was the case with ours. It wasn’t so much awful as it was needlessly seedy. Kind of “here’s this beautiful city but let’s not follow on that theme with a decent place for visitors to stay.” Like so many places we have been in France (because it’s France) the elevators hold one person and maybe some luggage. Soozie and suitcase just fit and the door closed so quickly we were unable to push the button on our floor which meant she had to crawl over her luggage to locate the button which would carry her four flights up. We were unable to effect a rescue, but yelled directions and tried to follow close behind—which was impossible because we had to wait for the elevator to return. Thereafter we decided to walk the six flights to the fourth floor. Yes, we now have buns of steel.

We have excellent friends who moved from Paris ( a city with no shortage of soul) to Bordeaux about six years ago. They are wonderful hosts and it was Sunday so there was an outdoor market which we perused but just for the beauty not for the shopping. Because it’s France, the food is remarkable. Because it’s Bordeaux the wine is a match for the food.

Bobbs,JP and the girls surrounded by Bordeaux blanc
We toured the city and walked and walked until it was time to eat. I think this trip could accurately be described as traveling from meal to meal rather than country to country.

A chicken truck by any other name...
Bobbsie and Jean Pierre led us to a charming cafĂ© in a historic plaza outside the grand Cathedral. I should add that in the category of “because it’s France” we tried to have lunch at an oyster bar near the market but we were admonished for assuming we could just walk in without a reservation. We assumed that because there were only empty tables and it was after two that they would be happy for the business, but there are all those protocol rules to which we were not adhering. We left to find another place but JP, one of my all time heroes, stayed and explained to the waiter that as a resident of Bordeaux, he was “trying to show his friends what a wonderful city it was and how nice the people could be. But he forgot about assholes like the waiter.” Don’t you love a guy who reminds people that there is never an excuse to be rude – regardless of the rules?

It is miraculous mushroom season in France and Italy so we had ‘cepes’ (a mushroom much like a porcini) omelets, at least two bottles of wine, and an adorable waiter whose parents own the joint.

the famous waiter who was almost kidnapped and taken back to Boston
I have found, over the last few years, that there is simply nothing better than a day with good friends (especially old—in time not years-- friends) and good wine and food. I say old or forever friends because while you share so many memories it is always better to catch up without having to play “This is Your Life” in other words, explain anything about who you are. They have known who you are since you were becoming that person. And while they may not know be aware of any recent baggage (often a good thing), they see you with youthful eyes and a warmth that cannot be duplicated. We walked some more, took enough time to have a nap and get ready for the next round of eating.

Emerson College Class of 68 reunion

On Monday we tried to leave for the train station to pick up our car and be on our way to Provence. This was not easy. First we had to use the elevator again, then we were told, after being assured that there was never a problem getting a cab because there were a plethora of cabs in the city, that there were no taxis available, then we started to schlep all our crap to the tram but we couldn’t buy tram tickets on the tram, so after an hour and in total frustration we called JP to see if he would mind driving us the distance. We think the mere threat of JP having to drive anywhere caused some spirit in the city to send a cab to our location. We piled in, and I mean piled, and off we went to le Gare, where we got our rental car, found out that we couldn’t possibly negotiate our way to the rental car parking area, had the car delivered, and left for Provence—and another set of meals.
We’re just sayin…Iris

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Off We Go

Off We Go…

“The Admiral is a very good friend of our.” We told the woman behind the desk at the American Airlines Club. “And he wants us to have extra special treatment”.

“Of course.” she replied, trying not to laugh. “Here are complimentary beverage tickets he wanted you to have.”

the bell tower in St. Macaire

Thus was the beginning of our trip to France and Italy – which started a few days ago. Actually, the trip began when we left the apartment and headed to JFK embarrassing early, but so what. We were on vacation and determined to relax. No leaving just enough time, shlepping our bags and racing to the airport in rush hour traffic.

Soozie MacNelly and I have been friends for about 40 years and when I suggested she come to Europe with us, because David would be working some and I would be bored, she agreed to make the trip. We always have a great time together. In 40 years we have never even had a quarrel, so we were truly excited about what was to come. We had been at the airport club for about two hours when we heard the announcement that the gate had been changed and we were leaving from terminal 9 instead of eight. We were assured that it was not far and we would be only slightly inconvenienced—after all we were extremely special friends of the Admiral’s. We wandered over to terminal 9 and found out that there was another Admirals Club after we passed through security, so off we went to reestablish the connection. About ½ hour before the flight we made our way to the new gate only to find out there were equipment problems and we would be delayed or, as the gate agent confessed, “Worst case scenario is we will cancel that flight and rebook you.” We were traveling on free business class tickets so you can only imagine when we would have been rebooked – maybe sometime in the spring. “What’s the problem?” I asked never expecting an answer. “The toilets in the back aren’t working. If one or two of them were working we would fly but none of them are and besides, they’re trying to flush them out or they will have to replace a pump… and on and on. TMI, Jordan would say. Too Much Information!

We retraced our steps back to the Club and saw our flight on the board. Our spirits were dampened but not rained out. The gate agent had also admitted that this delay was a rolling delay. That means they keep rolling back the departure time. We decided to watch the news and were just in time to hear George Allen’s response to finding out he was Jewish. He accused the opposition of “casting aspersions” about his background. What kind of moron says, during a campaign and in public, that being Jewish is casting aspersions. Maybe it’s me but if I were running in a close Senate race I might embrace the idea of such ethnicity. But as I said, he is a moron and clearly either he’s running his own campaign or he’s only hiring people of like mind—or in this case, no mind. My only hope is that the Democrats don’t pile on and people start feeling sorry for him. Anyway, we had a tremendous laugh, got back in a good mood, and broke open the sandwich we had purchased that morning at Whole Foods.

Iris sleeps that "train sleep"

When we were one and a half hours late the flight was called and we returned to the gate in what appeared to be, just enough time to board. It was a great flight which we mostly slept through and arrived in Paris in enough time to meet David and catch a cab to the train station for our trek to Bordeaux.

Soozie on the TGV ("train a Grande Vitesse")

Did you ever notice that when you ask people, who are not French, why the French do things in a certain way, they always say, ‘because it’s France’. Having been in transit for quite some time Soozie and I decided to hit the lieu before we boarded the train. We found the ‘toilette’ sign and started to walk. Much to our surprise, when we arrived at the destination, there were three toilets that cost about 50 cents to use. But of course, we had no Euro coins so relief was not in our immediate future. We found David at the ticket machine unable to purchase tickets because you can’t purchase certain tickets in the machines in France.

At Bordeaux station: "No Furniture Gets Past This Barrier!"
I don’t mean to pick on the French, because they do some things very well, but there are so many rules having to do with etiquette and time, sometimes the just plain silliness seems overwhelming. Nevertheless, he went to a window and got the tickets, ran to Paul’s fast food for some sandwiches, and we boarded the train. We paid for first class tickets because, as senior citizens, we went half price, and the train is sensational. (One of the things the French do well). As old people, it is not easy to board a train with loads of luggage but we managed and decided to forgo any sightseeing and catch another nap.

the girls at a really old place with really old columns

In the category of “because it’s France,” we gathered our luggage and tried to get up the escalator but it was not easy to negotiate past them because there are barricades that prevent you from manipulating easily. “What do you think those are those for?” Soozie asked me. Not having any idea why there would be barricades in a train station where millions of people might be dragging large suitcases, I said, “Probably to prevent people from stealing the furniture.”

We had a coffee, located the designated photo helper, and started our journey to St. Macaire.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

There Was a Wedding

I thought I’d take a minute to write an addendum to “Four Funerals and No Wedding”.
There was a wedding, and in trying to be clever and entertaining, I inadvertently overlooked it.

During the Gore campaign when a few of us were trying to find a way to explain to the crack Gore strategists that they were taking the wrong road, moving in the wrong direction, and quite simply, making really stupid decisions with regard to women, I met my friend Kat and her then beau Bill. You may remember that was the campaign when Gore’s daughter suggested they hire a consultant to change his look and make him more of an Alpha male. You may remember that decision because it turned the campaign from actually moving on the right track to coming to a dead stop. (What’s with me and the transportation analogies?) Up until that point, Gore was using self-deprecating humor, spending road time with Tipper, and actually being a pretty accessible guy. Once he became an Alpha Male and changed the color of his clothes (some consultants have nothing to say but they want to get paid big bucks and have access to the power so they make things up), he became a well dressed, still stiff but without humor, smartest kid in the class and no room could stand him, nor would they vote for him.

I should say right up front, I love the Gores. They are very very nice people. He is the smartest kid in the class but he doesn’t usually shove it down anyone’s throat. He is funny and charming and cares about people, the environment, and the future. Tipper is a joy. She took a great deal of heat for a insisting on labeling lyrics on albums. But as a concerned parent, she was right. Her campaign never impinged on freedom of speech—just the freedom to let kids avoid letting their parents know they were listening to violent obscenities in the music they had firmly attached to their heads.

Anyway, a few well known female activists got together to discuss how we could help set things right in terms of organization, issues, and rhetoric. We all believed that women needn’t be marginalized but targeting them with just social issues and those concerning health and education. We insisted that women were also interested in boy things like war and the economy and business. It was hard to get that message to anyone in the campaign who would listen. It was harder to find anyone in the campaign who agreed and knew how to get it to anyone in the Gore campaign who could make anything happen. So we had our own meetings and offered our help but nothing ever came of it except we were right and they lost the election. And I don’t want to hear that we won the election. George Bush was sitting in the White house on January 21st and the democrats were cleaning out their desks. Nothing made me sadder, no angrier, then when we went to the Gore’s final family and close friends Christmas party and people were still insisting that he won. “GET OVER IT!” I said over and over. “In case you hadn’t noticed, we are not setting up transition offices.”

Bill and Kat at a recent moment

Kat was in that group of women. She had been married to a Congressman, then moved to LA as a writer, had really good political gut and somehow found her way to us ... the most knowledgeable well kept secret in the 2000 campaign. Kat and Bill both had children from a previous marriage and were waiting until the right moment to reattach. That happened two years ago. They have been through some pretty rough times, both having had cancer and surgeries, and family problems, but they remain connected and alive. I like that part the best. So as an addendum to my blob of about August 13 – I think our 100th blob, I just wanted to say, the wedding was beautiful, loving and joyful, as are Kat and Bill and I’m sure glad they are part of the addendum not a part of the original blob. We’re Just sayin...

Monday, September 18, 2006

Let the God Rays Begin

the crack of dawn, a dusty street cleaner, Pingyao

I flew half way around the world the other day to reach an old Chinese city where for every one of the last half dozen years, a big photographic festival has been held. Pingyao (sounds Chinese, right?) is about an hour’s flight plus a 50 minute drive from Beijing, an older city which dates to the Ming Dynasty. The 30 foot high walls which snake around the town presumably protected its well known financiers and merchants from plundering hordes, until such time, that is, that the plundering hordes brought with them a 31 foot section of ladder. It is said that Marco Polo passed through the city, presumably on his successful quest to have an annoying swimming pool game named after him. And at dinner tonight, the “Pingyao” noodles, bathed in tomato sauce, reminded me of Pici, the hand thrown pasta found in central Tuscany, and which version I think probably still surpasses the original. But you have to give them credit, when they decide to throw a get-together, you really DO get together.

CONTACT, my photo agency, in the midst of its 30th year, was invited to take over a space on the edge of the old city which was once the Diesel Engine repair shops. Suffice to say that it’s probably riddled with dirt and dust which OSHA would find wanting. Yet, within those giant spaces (the ceilings are 40+ feet high), when cleaned up, a venue was laid out for an amazing show. Instead of transporting the 500 prints which are on display, we did it the new, efficient (kind of), digital way. Scans were made in New York, and dvd disc s flown to Beijing, where they were printed locally on the latest Epson printers.

Contact/Contacts at 30
The cornerstone of the show is Contact/Contacts/30: 30 enormous contact sheets (approximately 9x12 feet) shot by two dozen photographers over the past three decades, and next to them a smaller print of the one “select” picture from that contact sheet. For those who never got your fingers wet in the darkroom – a contact sheet is the elemental building block in silver photography: you cut your strip of film into 3s or 5s, and lay them out on a sheet of 8x11” paper, and shine light through it. It makes a positive on the paper, when developed, and shows you in perfect time-line exactly what your pictures are going to look like.

Sometimes there are good surprises, and sometimes bad ones. In the olden days, you know, a couple of years ago, and stretching back more than 140 years, you would process your film, make the contact sheet, and study what you had; later, prints of the “selects” or favorites would be made. You had a limited number of shots (36 if it were 35mm film) and you had to plan ahead during your shooting, always TRYING to leave a little bit of the end of the film, ready for that surprize, unplanned moment. (The day I met Iris in 1979 – our REAL Anniversary -- I broke all my rules: Sadat, Begin and Carter were signing the Camp David accords at the White House, and I was the “pool” agency representative. In the excitement of seeing them sign the document, I shot like a madman, taking dozens of shots in the four cameras strewn across my shoulders and neck. When they finished signing, they stood up and grasped hands together, rather like Little League ball players holding a bat to see who would be Up first. That was THE moment of the day. And it was also the moment that I realized I was out of film, totally, in four cameras. I tried rewinding so I could reload quickly, but I was too late. It was a dark day, and Iris found my humor later that night, dinner at Germaines, to be wanting. Hey, I was bummed out from my “out of film” experience. Our romance nearly didn’t get off the ground.)

Now, with nearly untold possibilities in shooting on digital cameras (you can get 300+ shots on a memory card), you not only lose track of the tightness and discipline of the 36 exposures, you get lazy and risk shooting so much that you’re busy wasting precious memory card space when you could easily opt to shoot shorter, tighter sequences. So that is my story, film wise, and I’m sticking to it. In Pingyao, the contact sheets (normally 8x11”) in the show are nearly 12’x 9’. (Yes, it’s bigger than a lot of family sized camping tents.) So, as we lunge into the digital future with all its temptations and rewards, it’s nice to see what those contact sheets look like, and to have the sequential readout, seeing how the photographer was able to build his/her story. In addition to the show itself, there are 15 Contact photographers here and 4 of the New York office staff. It is the first time ever that we have had so many photographers in one place. Usually we’re scattered to hell and gone all over the globe. Rooms in the Pingyao Guest House are very spacious but rudimentary.

morning in the guest house 'dorm' room
For example: the hot water isn’t really Hot, more like warm; the back of the tub, where it meets the wall, isn’t attached to and sealed to the wall, its just pushed against it, so that when, inevitably, water runs down the wall, it goes under the tub, and two minutes later is seen creeping out from underneath, towards the drain in the floor.

Finally: I found a place messier than my own office space!

When I first arrived, late Saturday, there was no one at the desk to give me keys to another room, so I bunked with three other photographers. It was a hoot. The closest thing to Scout camp or Dorm life in decades. Happily there were no snorers, but it reminded me of what awaits army recruits – that sense of intimately shared space. The food is generally OK, but nothing like Mark’s Duck House in Arlington. The air is sooty in the morning as dawn fires stoke the atmosphere with coal dust. Other than obvious chatzchkes, the little shops don’t offer much in the way of bring-homeable souvenirs. Yet, it’s a charming little place, and each morning so far I rise at 530am and, usually in packs of two or three photographers, we prowl the city, looking for pictures, looking for good light, looking for a timeless moment. The first day, in the old diesel shop turned gallery, the sun poured through the holes in the roof in the early afternoon, creating shafts of light like something Hollywood would give you in a Spielberg romance.

In the business of chasing light, those are known as GodRays, since only he has the power to offer them up to us, and, presumably, only when he is pleased with what we’ve done so far. The GodRays for those few minutes were classic. We must be doing something right. We’re just sayin. David

Saturday, September 16, 2006

The Boonton Projects

My mother has lived in Boonton N.J. for almost 60 years. When my family first moved there we shared a house with my aunt and uncle and two cousin, Stevie and Sheila. It was not a two family house. We all lived in this big old house together. Stevie and I were born two weeks apart. We thought we were twins until we were six years old when we came home from school and found out we were no longer living together-- ripped apart so to speak. But hat's another blob and a lot of therapy. The point is we lived in this nice little town, where people are friendly and live goes on without incident. I was visiting mom this weekend and she is pretty much the same but her companian has returned so I'm much better. Anyway, Today we went to the Boonton farmers market, which is at the top of main street, on plane street. This will only mean something to you if you watch the Soprano's. As we were walking through the four produce booths I started to sing the school song which goes:
“There is a banner in the sky of streaming red and black and under it all Boonton’s foes are gallantly turned back.”” All but David Chase, the creator HBO’s The Sopranos.

So I thought, David Chase what did you have against Boonton, N.J? Why do you pick on us?

When the Soprano’s premiered and Meadow had one of her two credit cards taken away she blamed her problems on “those bad kids from Boonton.” We all thought that was cute-- we were the bad kids from Boonton, all grown up and fine upstanding citizens. But for those of us who remain Boonton residents the finale took the wrong turn down memory lane. Jackie Jr. gets shot in the head in the Boonton Housing Projects. Hello!? Boonton … Housing Projects... these would be located right next to the farmers market but I don’t think so. There is one small public housing apartment building that is located next to a sweet old Baptist church, parallel to and one block removed from Main Street. It is hardly a dangerous teaming hotbed of crime.

Let me speak frankly Mr. Chase, as a former Boonton High School Bomber. Boonton is a really nice town. There is a long and curving one lane commercial thoroughfare (about one mile) with three traffic lights. This main street is lined with small antique stores, assorted restaurants, hardware stores a colorful old library, some funky and fine clothing shops, a number of crafts stores, a few pharmacies, and an historic movie theatre—one of three in the world where you walk in under the screen and have to turn around to see the picture. At one end of Main Street is the town hall, and the volunteer fire department,. At the other is a small park, where Santa greets the children every year, and a large park, called the Tourne, where people hike and climb. We have two small shopping malls, one with an upscale King’s supermarket, a terrific deli, and a great newspaper store. The other has a gourmet A&P, a great big video store and is, of course, very close to McDonalds.
There are a few elementary schools and one regional high school all small and situated so that no one in town has to take a bus to get there. There is the Reservoir Tavern, one of the great eating places in the metropolitan area and there are the people, blue collar, white collar, pink collar and no collar, Protestants, Catholics, Jews, and Moslems, Irish, Polish, Italian, Spanish, Russian, Indian, Pakistani, and Chinese. A wonderful mix of cultures, colors and religions.
If you are looking for a Soprano kind of danger you are looking in the wrong place. The most danger you’ll find here is an occasional traffic delay caused by the elderly gentlemen from the fabulously beautiful incredibly manicured retired fireman’s home who, acting as elementary school crossing guard, may have a problem with a reluctant child.

My husband and I have worked and traveled all over the world—hundreds of cities, many countries we have both encountered places in which we did not feel secure but when we moved back to the NY area for a year we didn’t buy machine guns, dawn our bullet proof vests, purchase military gear or take our lives in our hands to move back to Boonton. We simply knew it would be a safe and happy place for our 10 year old daughter to reside. Which she did for a year and there were no violent episodes--except when some kid called her pig snot and she cried for hours.

So Mr. David Chase. I don't know what happened when you visited Boonton, all the way from your home in the upscale community of West Caldwell but maybe you ran into a Boonton Bomber (that would be a football player not a terrorist) and they pushed you around. Here's what I think, If someone didn’t do it when you were 16, we should have taken you past the projects that don't exist and driven you uptown, to the top of Main Street, and beat the tar out of you at the Boonton Diner or on a Saturday at the farmers market. The Boonton Projects indeed! We're just sayin...

Arrive, Arrive, Signal Arrive

It doesn't take that long to get to Chinatown. Just hop on the 6 train, ride it to Canal, jump off, dodge the sidewalk hawkers,and in minutes you're at Great New York Noodle Town for a great meal. Well, there is that OTHER way of getting to Chinatown. I did that one last night. Or, yesterday. Or, was it two days ago. Kind of like, the day never ended. I skipped the 6 train, and went straight to Newark, hoped on Continental #89, and 13 1/2 hours later (that is NOT a misprint) my swollen ass arrived in Beijing. It wasn't uneventful. I had an aisle seat next to a 60ish Chinese couple who lacked even the most elemental travel skills (I wondered how they had gotten to NY in the first place? One of those beached pirate ships in Baja?) I had to show them how to buckle the seat belt. You know, you can't imagine there are folks who dont know how to buckle a seat belt, but it does happen.

what it Forbids: No Eggs, No Used Clothes, No Live Animals, No Raw Hides (geez how do you have fun in this place?)
They were nice, country folk - the kind of people that if you were hit by a flood, even if they didn't know you, they would come over and help you bail out the basement, because that is what people do.

Quick, over here, lane 37!!
On the way down, she had trouble clearing her ears, and I had the damnedest time trying to explain how to yawn in pictograms and live action demos. About 4 hours into the flight, over Greenland (the non stop is a polar route, you pretend you are an ICBM, and take that route) some kid literally flipped out, and a Marshal (?) and two other beefy guys, a la light 93, took the guy down, restrained him with plastic cuffs - and did the whole deal, to keep him quiet in the back of the plane.

...and make that a Decaf Tripeo Mochaccino, extra whipped, double soy...
It put a little edge on the flight, but I felt great about it, knowing that if the shit hit the fan, there would be people who would act and not just cringe. I asked the beefy guy when I figured out something was up (I had my earfones on and missed the first few seconds of the wresting match), he signaled "OK" with his eye brows - a language I speak fluently - and we kept flying on. The idea of setting down in Godblom Greenland wasn't appealing to anyone, so on to Beijing we went, with Divinci Code on the miniature TV 4 times. Enough already with the Opus Dei!

a corner of the airport known as 'Baggage Hell'
Then it gets fun. Off the plane, racing along head to head with other passengers, past the warning signs, into a line, which keep changing as they add and subtract agents, then baggage, and in my case, good luck to actually see "Kathy" the young woman sent to find me in the crowd. The first thing you see as the exit doors open from customs is a Starbucks sign. For a minute I thought I was back in Arlington, fighting the low-lifes for an outside table, but when you see the hundreds of folks waiting, many with signs, you KNOW you're not in Waverly Hills anymore, Toto.

finally, after hundreds of signs for Mr Takimoto, I see one for Me!

I made it to the Internet cafe: real coffee & tea.. cheap internet, and caught up with my mail, waiting for the Night Flight to TaiYuan (sounds like a St Exupery title, no?) Onwards to Pingyao: at this point its 6pm china time, 6am Boonton time, and I have been up 23 hours, each and everyone one of which has been noteworthy. Now, to find my backs and head to the domestic terminal. More later from the Sino Epic which is now unfolding.. (editors note: an Indian guy sitting next to me asked me twice if the porcini in his soup could really be a mushroom and not pork.

for a couple of bucks, tea, wireless and porcinis
I told him twice, it was a mushroom.. .not to worry. Even though porcinis look a little like B grade pork roast, he finally settled into his soup.) A good meal, indeed. We're just sayin.. David

My Middle Name is "Discount"

Well, as usual, I’m way behind. I well understand why most blogs don’t last more than two weeks. The first time you blog.. “WOW!! I DID it… I’m on the INTERNET”. The second entry is a little less invigorating, and the third downright rationally calm. By the second week, a case of severe procrastination sets in (“ I’ll do it after dinner”, “It can wait till I finish watching HOUSE”, or “Jeez it’s late and I should write, but I have that early call tomorrow morning”) and thus, by week three, its simply a modestly reverberating glow, a pulse that Almost feels good; until you look on your Site, see how paltry your contributions have been, and realize that prime-time tv, a good novel, or even Sudoku might be for You, but that a Blog just requires too much energy. I know that most newspeople who write blogs are, at the very least, used to writing on a regular basis: even TV reporters write down what they say ahead of time (you thought it was the 24 year old techie in the control room, the one with the four different pizza stains on his t- shirt, who wrote that stuff?) so , newsies are, generally speaking, a good breed to blog. Some even have Blobbing skills for it (you know, make stuff up, never check sources, unleash on anyone you want because, hey, it’s the Internet) which make the work go quickly.

But for the rest of us, those who aspire to annoy people with our thoughts and perceptions, still have to just sit down at the keys, and start plunking. My original idea for a Burnett Blob (which isn’t to say OUR originally Joint idea.. that’s another story) was inspired by the prescient and observant Briton who chronicled life in the US for the last half of the last century probably as well as anyone did: Alistar Cooke. We gave them Murrow before and during the war, and they reciprocated with Cooke in 1946. Whether or not it was the final vestige of Lend-Lease, I don’t know. But surely no country ever received a better gift than the man who wrote and broadcast “Letter from America” every Wednesday for nearly 60 years. Each week he would ponder what had gone on in politics, culture, and that weird thing we called the American Way of Life, and put together some of the most wonderful audio poems that any listener ever had the joy to hear. It wasn’t your usual “I’m here, I’m Live, I’m clueless” broadcast: he would typically start with something that might of happened that week, and over the course of 15 minutes, hopscotch to 3 or 4 other events, tying them in so brilliantly, so smartly, that in the end, you just expected it to all make sense. He was a gift, and one to be studied – and happily is found on the BBC site in their online archives ( He certainly inspired me to always think not only of the obvious, but those things just below the surface which shed more light on the subject than all of the up-front, can’t wait to tell ya, pieces which pass for news today.

So, with that in mind, I hope Alistair, if he’s reading the blob, will forgive my errant behaviour in the last couple of weeks. I never find the excuse “I’m so busy” to be a valid one, so I won’t even TRY that one. I’ll just try “writer’s cramp” and see if that works. It’s not that I didn’t have an eventful week; indeed, many things cool happened this week. Not the least of which was my exercising of one of the new rituals of our generation. Last week, as careful readers will recall, I achieved my 60th birthday. A number which takes some getting used to, when you are the one getting used to it. Because I am planning to meet Iris next week in Paris, and then head south to Bordeaux, I needed to buy train tickets. Bobbsie, our Bordeaux resident (and Emersonian – Iris’ class) has already told us where to buy the best sandwiches at the Gare Montparnasse before taking the TGV south. But I did want those tickets. It’s doubly annoying when traveling abroad to NOT get your tickets when you need them, so I carefully booked ahead on the SNCF website, thankful for the little icons which occasionally filled in bits of information which I couldn’t understand from text alone. When it came time to pay it asked which class of ticket (well, why not First? For a change). Then whether or not there were any Special fares applicable. And that was The Moment. Student fares, “Normal Fares” and… Seniors. In France, at least on the railroads, once you pass 59, you are in Special Fare Hog Heaven (or Prix Exceptionelle de Cochons en Ciel). Together the two tickets in 1st class were about what a normal ticket would be in 2eme. But it made me realize that now I must practice that annoying habit that all AARP active members so take to heart. Playing on their age as an advantage in life. Hey, maybe I can move to the front of an Oval Office Pool for a pic of the President and the visiting Premier. Or, at the ice Rink, when I go for pickup hockey, demand that little twirp to check his Senior Pickup Hockey Rate Card for a special deal. Who knows where it could lead? An entire new chapter of things to do. For years I ordered of the right side of the menu, usually, I’ll admit, near the top half. Now I have a million other things to factor into my daily adventures, knowing that lurking just below the surface are 10% off deals, all you can eat if you CAN eat Senior Specials, and, no doubt, special rates on the vibrating beds in small motels in Missouri. Like our late & wonderful dog Earnest, who looked at leashed walks as opportunities to meet and be petted by some of the millions of people he hadn’t met yet, I now look forward to a reinvigorated assault on the discounts of the world, knowing that they are rightfully mine. Thanks Alistair. We’re just sayin’ David

Friday, September 15, 2006

You were Always Worth Listening To

We awoke to the sad news that Former Governor Ann Richards had died. And although they may not know it, it is indeed a serious loss for women around the nation. She was our voice in so many ways and on so many occasions. She was a perfect illustration of the need for humor on the political stage. It’s funny that she was hardly ever identified a left wing liberal radical feminist, which she was not. She was a hard core democrat, A defender of civil rights, gay rights, and women’s rights, and she was serious about her commitment to those issues. But she came to the national political stage because she was incredibly well versed, smart, flamboyant, and had a fabulous sense of humor about the most serious subjects. Her life always seemed full. I had the opportunity to meet and work with her on several occasions and not only did I always learn something but I was always amazed at the depth of her insight and impact on other people. She wrote books, served on National Corporate Boards, and best of all at age 60 she bought and rode a motorcycle. She was quite simply, irreplaceable. There is no one who can take her place in politics, as an activist, or as a role model.

A day or two ago I was watching the morning shows and listened to Jane Fonda talk about the new Women’s Radio Network, for which there is certainly a need. Jane said the network is not political, it is going to be entertainment, like Lifetime TV. Well, there certainly is a need for women’s radio programming that is not political. The Conservative papers describe this new effort a being an answer to Rush Limbaugh. How dreary is that. Based on all my research and experience, (I’ll share this info later), the last thing women want to hear is more caustic rhetoric about how their lives are lousy and some elected official or Party can make it better. We don’t care. We have so many issues to deal with in our real lives that what we want to listen to is something that will make us laugh, or a the very least smile. Something that, regardless of our ages, is interesting and to which we can all relate.

I have been involved in women’s issues forever. I’ve marched, pleaded, lobbied, and planned new ways to make sure women have a voice. In 1992 Sarah Kovner and I went to the powers that be at the Clinton White House and suggested that they create a White House Women’s Office. (In those days we were known as double trouble). It seemed to make some sense to the decision makers and they instituted that office. In addition, Sarah worked for Donna Shalala and we were deeply involved with the Women’s Conference in Beijing. The intergovernmental meetings we attended led to the creation of an interagency council for women. It was a place where the senior women in every agency and department could interact. For example, the senior women at the CIA, could work with the senior women at HHS to discuss the technologies available for discovering a lump in the breast. After I left government I co-founded a women’s small business loan fund. My new project involves my mother and your mother and anyone who has ever been or had a mother. There is no better preparation for \being an expert than having a mother or being a mother.

Neither of these two important Government entities exist under this Administration, and that’s a shame but that’s not my point. So do I have a point? Sure, otherwise you wouldn’t keep reading what I write. I am pretty much an overall expert on any issue having to do with women. It’s a big job but someone has to know everything. And here’s one of the things about which I am quite certain. Women would listen to talk radio if Ann Richards was the host. She was always worth listening to. There might be expectations of some banter about women and the political consequences we suffer at the hands of some legislators, but they would also expect fun and humor and an interesting discussion of timely issues. They would not even turn to the station if they thought Jane Fonda were going to do anything but give them fitness tips. And much as we all love them (Jane and Gloria and Rosie) I think women have too many depressing issues to deal with in their everyday lives, that if they thought there was any chance they were going to be harangued by Rosie O’Donnell or Gloria Steinem about political issues, (at a time when they want to relax or be entertained,) they would go running from the rooms hands over ears and screaming for mercy. We’re just sayin

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

A Perfect, yes Perfect, Egg

There are many things at which I am OK. There are a few things I do well. And there is one thing at which I excel. Making the perfect egg. And I mean fried, scrambled, or hard boiled for egg salad. There is no explanation for my having developed this expertise except I love eggs, even loaded with horrible things like cholesterol and the possible abuse of the chicken.

Let me begin with fried eggs. There is nothing worse than wanting a fried egg over easy and when you try to turn the egg it sticks to the pan and the mildly runny yolks you craved become over cooked. Well, maybe a famine is worse or cholera but in my house it’s a toss up. What can you do to avoid this disaster? Without actually trying to be helpful David discovered the secret. You baste the egg. When we would go to a diner for breakfast David would order basted eggs. I guess everyone in Utah knows what that means, but 90% of the diners we frequent are not in Utah nor do they know what that means.. So you ask, is it like basting a turkey or a brisket? Not really. First of all eggs are a wee bit smaller and don’t take hours and hours to cook. It’s a different kind of basting. Supposedly you spooned water over the top until they were firm, but that’s simply too much trouble What you do is get a good non-stick pan. Not one from a discount store where the non-stick peels off the pan in about three days, but one that will take a beating (get it) from the egg. Like Silverstone or something French.

thus.... a perfect Pair of Eggs

To cook the perfect egg you put a little butter, margarine or Smart Balance in the pan and let it heat till it is obviously melted, but not burnt. Put the eggs in the pan – I use a small pan so the eggs just fit snuggly. Then cover the pan and let it cook until the white is solid but the yolks are still runny – or however you like it. When I’m making fried or scramble eggs I like to put some cheese in it. I do this before I cover the eggs so everything melts together.

one egg, after you have eaten the first one

My Aunt Helene taught me how to make scrambled eggs, plain or with cheese ( aka “cheesey eggs”). It’s an art. Millions of people think they can scramble an egg but not like us. Ask anyone who has eaten at my Aunt Helene’s or any of Jordan’s friends. To make perfect scramblies you break the eggs into a bowl add a little cream or milk depending on if you are on the Weight Watchers or Atkins diet, salt and pepper to taste. Heat whatever lubricant (sounds a little kinky doesn’t it?) you choose but don’t use olive or canola oil to be healthy. It just doesn’t taste the way it should. If you want to be healthy, eat oatmeal or Grape Nuts. When the grease is hot gently put the beaten eggs (and if you want cheesey eggs) cheese in the pan. Let it sit for a minute until it starts get firm. Then with a wooden spoon gently move the egg away from the sides of the pan so they start to scramble. Do this until they are the firmness you like. If you use cheese they will seem looser but beware of overcooking.

A dish of long-ride-in-the-car-to-keep-us-going Egg Salad

The secret to great eggs salad is to boil the eggs. You may think this is easy but for years I would call my friend Sidney in tears and wail about the fact that my eggs would never get hard. Sidney makes a terrific hard boiled egg. Once the eggs boil you let them cook for 6 minutes and plunge them into cold water. If you are making egg salad I like them to go 8 minutes. But the real secret is to mix the eggs and mayonnaise while the eggs are warm. For whatever reason, it does make a flavor difference. We use only Hellmans Mayo either the lite or regular; the fat free is just a way to kill the salad.

If you would like additional information or other recipes you can e-mail us or go to “” But I’d start easy and develop your own personal perfect egg. We’re just sayin...Iris

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Fill Your Gas Tank Now

We made our way from Boston to Virginia last week in the gold caddy (the sophie mobile). We paid on an average of $2.80 a gallon for gas. It’s been cheaper in NJ than anywhere else so we only partially filled the tank on the Mass Pike. That got us to a pump after we got off the Jersey Turnpike and were on our way back from Cow Town. (See blob “If I Could Live Anywhere” for Cow Town briefing).

Today, as we made our way back from breakfast in DC we passed several of our local gas stations and gas was at $2.56. David says that he heard it would be near $2.00 very shortly. OK, so maybe I’m stupid but what has happened to cause gas prices to fall? Did people stop buying gas? Did truckers stop trucking? Did the Gulf recover? No, none of these things. But I do know why prices are dropping and I will share it with all our loyal blobbees. If we are the blobbers then you most be the blobbees. I’m being a blurting blobber again and I’m sorry.

But before I tell you why prices will drop, I will admit that I was a victim of the “get used to the seriously inflated prices and you will be grateful when they are only semi-seriously high. Here’s what I mean. When gas was at $2.10, I was unhappy but not a raving maniac. When it went to $2.50 it promoted a kind of social interaction at the pumps which I enjoyed and in which we would never have participated if it stayed at $2.10. While we were filling our tanks we actually talked to the person at the next pump. Sometimes it was just to bitch or to console, but on a few occasions it led to political discussion. I haven’t had political discussion in a gas station with strangers since I was the Field Coordinator of the Udall campaign in Massachusetts, so until the point at which I saw what it cost me to fill a tank—even my Mini—I was having a pretty good time. Then the gas went to $2.70 and finally to over $3 and it wasn’t as amusing. But I said to David, “The gas will drop because the oil company profits are obscene and they will start to consider the PR factor of looking like who they really are—gauging pigs. And besides now people are having to sacrifice not only vacations and new golf clubs, but food and medication. And you watch, when the prices drop from $3 to 2.70 or even $2.56, people will say; look how cheap gas is.” And I did say just that this morning. In fact, I was almost grateful for the new prices. Yet another victory for the oil barons.

I’m not one of those Democrats who think the rich are the enemy. I, like every person I have ever met, aspires to be rich. Everyone aspires to be successful and possibly very rich. The only difference between me and the oil companies is that (OK I’m not a white male) but I want people who aspire but are struggling to survive. To have the opportunity to do so without having to think about how they will pay for food to feed their children. Do you think that these people are grateful for gas at $2.56 instead of $3. I doubt it. Just FYI, I always thought it was political suicide for Democrats to assume voters wanted to be a part of that rhetoric which describes them ordinary or middle class. No one wants to be typical or average—I believe everyone wants to be special and successful.

And now what you have all been waiting for. The reason gas prices are falling. There are Primary elections next week and while they are only primaries, they will be an indication of what people think. Maybe even how they feel. The Republicans (most oil barons share that persuasion) are not going to allow the Democrats to pile on with issues; the war, the economy, and yes, gas prices. So gas prices are falling and will continue to fall until after the election in November. Once some of the friends of EXXON have declared victory, and that will only happen if gas prices drop, there will be a crisis or an emergency somewhere and prices will skyrocket again. Do you think I’m too cynical? Maybe, but I’m going to fill my gas tank now. We’re just sayin...

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Stress in Transition

When David and I started dating some 26 years ago, we found that when we were together it was fine and when we were apart it was fine. It was the time just before he left or came back, that bred difficult days. We had to constantly readjust to one another. I guess it happens with all families, both adults and children. When the kids go to camp you miss them terribly for a few days, but then the quiet is a welcome change. Then when they return, having established their independence, the process of reestablishing parental authority is no easy task. And without a doubt there is bound to be tension. When you are living your lives together (in the same space) and you share the events of the day, things are less likely to fall between the cracks—like calls that were supposed to be made or errands that were supposed to be run. But when everyone is heading off in a different direction and you are giving one another assignments, there’s bound to be miscommunication and misunderstanding. It creates problems which lead to stress in transition.

Since Jordan was born we have all lived our lives together with a three week rule. No one is allowed to be gone for more then three weeks. I guess it started when we decided to get married and we did it within three weeks because we knew if we waited longer we would talk each other out of it. So when Jordan went to camp it was a three week session and when David got an assignment or I had to travel we did our best to stay within the parameters of the rule. And mostly it worked. You see, after three weeks you not only suffer stress in transition, you have to play catch-up. For the person who is traveling, they may have unique experiences, but life stays the same. For the people left behind, life changes. Things happen daily that impact on the way life is lived. Whether it’s that the air conditioning needs to be fixed or a friend is having a personal crisis, things change. So after three weeks, as I said, you not only do you have to deal with stress in transition but you have to play catch-up as well. Neither is particularly healthy for interpersonal relationships.

Over the last six months the majority of my time has been spent in New York. I have been in Virginia to pack or unpack (see July blob “Open Close Vacuum”). Or to pay bills, pick up mail, weed the garden, clean the house, or wait for repairmen to make an appearance because something was broken. David has mostly not been around so Jordan and I found comfort in our little NY pad. In fact, we were both sleeping in my room to conserve air conditioning, so the first time David said he was coming back Jordan said, “But where’s he going to sleep?’ Anyway, in NY, there is a doorman, garbage is just down the hall, the cleaning lady comes infrequently but does clean, the space is small and has to be without piles of crap—because then no one could fit, and you can order take-out for every kind of food which will be delivered within minutes. But nothing is perfect.

I am still suffering stress in transition along with occasional not serious catch-up. But the stress is not because of our personal relationship it is because of geography. I start to put dishes away and I don’t know where they go. I search for clothing that I have left in one place or the other. I hardly know where I am. I get up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom and I don’t know in which direction to walk. My friends never know where I am. My mail goes to the wrong place and I don’t know how to pick up phone messages in NY. Or, I call friends for entertainment -- who do love live in the city in which I happen to be. “Hi, it’s Rees, want to grab dinner? Oh my God, I’m not in NY!” This is often embarrassing, and at the very least, disconcerting. And the double life is causing me to seriously stress.

David and I used to think that, having what he calls “our beach house”, in NY and our residence in Virginia was having the best of both worlds. And it probably is. I love both DC and NY. Our house is 4 miles from the White House so we are close enough to the city and two major airports not to consider ourselves in the burbs. I am a city girl. When I lived in Boston I was in heaven. Even 8 miles out was OK. But when we moved to the middle of nowhere Massachusetts I was miserable. Too much grass made me itch and too much garden made me hyperventilate.

So what do I do? I don’t want to give up either life and I don’t think my stress is a case of too much city. I think it is a case of too much information about too many spaces in each of the places I live. So maybe downsizing things is the answer. Perhaps I’ll rent out some rooms, a few glasses and the TV in Va. Maybe I’ll give away the clothes I can’t find and if I leave a compass by the bed I might find my way to the bathroom with less difficulty. Oh my. Oh my. Just when you think life is getting easier the stress in transition pops up to smack you in the tuchas. I guess the simple always has its complications. We’re Just sayin...

Friday, September 08, 2006

Swah Saunt Anz? Yeah, Maybe

Soixante Ans, Merci Beaucoup

Well, it DOES sound better in French than in our native Anglais, don't you think? In the age of Freedom Fries and other similarly dimwitted concepts, Soixante is a firm, lively, and sternly stated case for turning into an official Old Fart. Sixty, contrary to what many say is NOT the "New" 59 1/2, its just the same old 60. True, most of us seem not to resemble the grey hair laden, granny glasses wearing, suspenders twanging "parents" of Mickey Rooney in his 1930's movie extravaganzas, but there is nonetheless something daunting about hitting a new decade.

and as it is written..."Darn Cute for My Age..."

Instead of doing a big deal party, spending way too much moneyon a fancy dancy soiree, we gathered with ten friends at Mark's, our fave Chinese restaurant, and caused the lazy susan tray to continually rotate for a couple of hours. The duck is crispy, the noodles silky smooth and full of pure Hong Kong essence, and the curry just enough to get your attention. The highlight of the night was at the moment candles were lit on the celebrated Costco Chocolate Cake (isnt it great that everyone in America knows exactly what a Costco Chocolate Cake, and Costco Hotdog are? We all know!! It's so ... so... Universal!) Written on the cake: Were Just Sayin, of course. And as we served the cake, the juvenile delinquents at the table (well.. there was ONE, though he doesn't turn 60 for another week) made a great move. Not that I want to label Leonard Sherp a delinquent, but let's just say you could imagine him being asked to join you at the back of the 3rd grade classroom for some Recess related transgression. But Len's lovely wife Luann (am I allowed to announce this?) actually turned 60 a week ago, and started the fall birthday rush. Len gave her five dozen roses.. talk about Romantic... but .. children of the earth that they are (you should see their amazing gardens), they took the whole 60 roses, peeled the petals off them, put them in a giant shopping bag, and at the Moment Of Chocolate Cake, emptied the bag of petals over my head. It was something which caused no small stir at Marks, and while they have come to know us for wacky behavior, the hundreds of rose petals, airborne, must have been a first.

petal attack!

The staff loved it actually, implying we needn't bother to collect the fallen ones, as they looked pretty cool. So, it was quite a lovely time, and I woke up today, feeling that I hadn't aged a helluva lot since I was 59. Is it only a number? When I see people in their seventies who still feel, as I do, that there are just a lot of places in the World I haven't had a chance to get to you, but still have the desire to visit, I know that there are many things left to accomplish and see. Watching Jordan in her show last week in New York, and realizing that she has, like I did, made a choice in her teens about what she really wants to do with her life. For her, its singing and acting on stage. And she is wonderful. I wanted to take pictures when I was a Junior in High School. Next year will be my 40th year of working in New York, Washington (and for TIME Magazine!) So, this is just another little step on the road ahead. Still a lot of places to visit. Still a lot of wonderful moments with family and friends. Still a few more stabs at a Chocolate cake from Costco. But, as my gift hat last night says:
"I'm Darn Cute for My Age." Let's face it: that's a concept that works at any age. Anytime you can make a deal for 'Darn Cute', take it, I say! We re Just Sayin. David

Katie, We Hardly Know You

Don’t people have anything better to do than castigate poor—well rich Katie Couric. She’s the anchor of a network news program which makes her visible but not really important in the greater scheme of things. The greater scheme being finding a cure for cancer or an antidote for aging, an adequate way to education children who live in poor areas or are abused or a great martini… I’m blurting meaninglessly and I didn’t mean to lose focus.

Anyway, I have watched her a four times this week and she’s watchable. Maybe her new voice overwrought with vocal variety combined with a little bit of too much animation and just a touch of frenzy, is different from her normal voice but it is television and there are expectations. CBS, like all the other networks, is trying desperately to attract young viewers. Young consumers simply buy more and varied product than older people. And the young will become older one day, so the advertisers are doing their best to establish some kind of product loyalty, which if the product stays on the market, will be the first thing the purchaser is going to use or buy for many years. For example, when we were but young pups Visa and Mastercard sent us all credit cards. We didn’t have to ask or apply or beg or anything. American Express put us through a terrible qualification ordeal, so millions of people didn’t bother with Amex and to this day use their Visa or Mastercard. That’s called product loyalty.

It’s a two-fold loyalty in television. Advertisers pay for time based on the number and age of the people who watch the show. Advertising dollars pay the network talent. If the viewer is loyal to the talent they will watch and the advertisers will be satisfied. The bottom line is that networks want to attract young people to attract advertising dollars. But they seem to being going about crafting this effort in foolish ways. They need to be thinking out of the box rather than just changing the wrapping. 18-25 year olds watch entertainment shows on television. They get their news from Comedy Central, SNL or the net. For the most part, they have no interest in the 6:00 news or in sitting in front of the TV gathering information they consider bleak or slow. But they all have computers and are much more likely to tune into the web than turn on to the tube. But not if it’s the same news their parents watch at 6:00. Ah ha – there in lies the problem.

The people who still watch the news are older and were brought up thinking the nightly news was where you got valid information. Tom Brokaw, Brian Williams, Charlie Gibson and Bob Schieffer have that “this is the important news” approach to what they say on the air. Maybe part of it is a make or ‘daddy’ thing. I hope not but Bob Scheiffer proved that he could capture viewer by being who he was. And who he was had great clarity. And it wasn’t new viewers he attracted, it was old viewers simple changing their minds and their channels. What is the important news we need to hear? Probably items that have an effect our lives, like the economy or education or the war.

So what does Katie bring to the podium? CBS news will be different under her direction and she does have editorial control. From what I’ve seen so far she brings the idea that the guy who produced “Super Size Me” should do cutting edge commentary. She has decided that a little “Today Show” type entertainment stories can be passed off as news. The talking heads are younger and even with gray hair the doctors that do medical reports seem hipper. But she scowls in her interviews, as though that means she is serious. And her banter seems neither witty or honest. The CBS news, while all news is segmented, seems stilted. It could be that Katie, senior management and the crew are suffering first week nerves, but, and I could be wrong, they had one shot to keep all the curious news spectators tuned in to the station. Because once people turn back to the network with whom they have had a relationship, they probably won’t give CBS another chance. The problem is not necessarily Katie, but she is probably not the solution. I am the 6:00 news enthusiast and not Jordan. The problem is that the people who watch the news do not want to watch a morning show at night.

I like Katie Couric. I respect what she has made of her life, the love she clearly has for her family, the strength she has developed out of tragedy, and the impact she has had on fighting Colon cancer. God knows, even with all her money she has really been through it. But she doesn’t work for me on the nightly news because – and it may not be her fault
but I want to hear about what’s gone on in the world without frills or distractions from clothes, shoes, style of glasses, or type of hair cut . I can’t seem to get past what seems an over choreographed maybe even too chic and trendy, approach to significant but simple information. I like my newscast straightforward and the anchor to be someone I feel I know and Katie, we no longer know you. Were just sayin...

Thursday, September 07, 2006

If I Could Live Anywhere...

We arrived back in Virginia yesterday after having dropped Jordan back at school at her new apartment. It’s a great space and the fact that it is a fifth floor walk-up only makes a difference if you’re living there and happen to be over 50. That is probably not going to happen. She’s pretty excited about the possibility of buns of steel without paying a fee at a health club.

the roomates in bean town

We stopped four times during the trip. It’s about a 7 1/2 hour ride and we usually stop once or twice, but we increased that to four because: a). we found a barbeque pit at a rest stop on the Jersey Turnpike. b). there was a torrential downpour and that increases the likelihood of needing a restroom c). gas is cheap in New Jersey d). it was a Tuesday and Cow Town was open. For those of you who have never actually been to Cow Town, and there’s no reason why you would have been, unless like us, you happened to be driving south on the Turnpike and wandered off to find Jersey tomatoes (I’m a Jersey girl) and a young woman at a bad diner suggested you might go 10 miles out of your way to find them at this giant flea market called Cow Town. It turns out that it is more than a flea market. It is a wonderland of chachka’s (crap) and like other imaginary places this one appears or is open only on Tuesday and Saturday. Contained within the walls of the first inside flea-arama building, (there are outside booths as well) is the best cheese steak you can get outside of Philly, and I’d go one on one with Pat’s for Cheese Steak Champ. In the same building but only on Saturday (on Tues you have to go to the second inside building) is a guy who sells fresh roasted peanuts—to die for. In the first building there is also a Pennsylvania Dutch family that sells barbeque chicken and chicken wings, but get there early because by noon the line goes around the block for the wings. Directions will be given upon request. Whew! We did more eating yesterday than I have done in the last five months.

I was very excited about the visit to Cow Town. Almost as excited as I am about our trip to Italy and France in three weeks. Although France is not my favorite place, because unlike Italy you can get a bad meal, we are going to Bordeaux where David will open a show and we will visit a wonderful college friend and her fabulous mate. They are wine mavens. Her last communication was something about a sale on wine in Bordeaux and that we should figure out how much we could transport back to the US. See, that’s the difference between a wine maven and a wine slut – I just want to figure out how much I can drink at one sitting.

But I am an Italian wine cheerleader. My favorite vineyard, if you can have just one, is Lungarotti. And is it because the wine is so fabulous? Well, the wine is terrific but I love the Lungarotti’s—personally. It’s a business run by Chiara, the daughter. The son is a lawyer somewhere and had no interest in the family business, so the father passed the business on to his daughters. How great is that? The first time we went to the vineyards, which is attached to a fabulous restaurant, Le Tre Vesselle, where we were hosted by the Lungarotti’s. Chiara took us on a tour and then Mrs. Ortolani, the PR person with whom we have become great friends, made arrangements for our complimentary meal. It was a 5 or 6 course lunch with a different wine for each divine course. By the time we were finished I couldn’t distinguish between the wine and the vehicle we were supposed to drive back to our villa in San Casciano de Bagni.

And speaking of San Casciano de Bagni, our favorite place in the world, we will visit there during out trip. We will stay with our friends Cristina and Andrea who have a B&B called La Crochetta. ( You cannot have a better meal or more wonderful company than at this small marvelous inn.

The rooms are cute but not luxurious and the food is delicious yet not pretentious. The first time we were in San Casc, Jordan had pici (the local pasta) with truffles for dinner and then she had it again for dessert. Did we raise a kid with good taste or what? This is a little hill town famous for it’s mineral baths, 4 three star restaurants within 2 miles, and being Joe Allen’s getaway. When we are there we swim in the warm and comforting 20X40 foot pool of mineral water that our friends call a vacation home. They have a castle in the middle of town. We visit local vineyards and buy cases of wine for 3 bucks a bottle, then find a market where we can buy chicken from the ambulant roasting truck, a porchetta (pork) truck and cheeses and vegetables and bread, and if we need to shop, some living room curtains. I adore the markets. I adore the Venice and Verona, and Tuscany and Umbria and Florence and Rome and, and, and, -- there is hardly anything about anywhere in Italy I don’t adore.

We will be away for about ten days. And we are looking forward to being together in a place we love with people we love, and a great deal of wine to drink, just in case we start to think about real life. We’re just sayin…Iris

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Please Don't Go To Florida

Please don’t go to Florida

Believe it or not I do pay rapt attention to David’s blobs. And for the most part, I like what I read. It does piss me off that he always has pictures on his blob while I have to beg him when I want pictures on mine, but that’s another blob and an old story. Or is something about begging a Jewish joke? Whatever. The closer we get to the Jewish holidays the more reflective we seem to get, at least in the Burnett household. It may be because we are getting on in years, but I have always been reflective close to the Jewish High Holy days. I enjoy taking a little time to think about what has happened in the past year and either laugh about events, or shed a few tears. I love going to a service where on Yom Kippur, the day of atonement, there is something in the service that not only tugs at my heart strings, but rips my heart out. In fact, I select the service I will attend dependent on the ripping out capability of the service and the leader — The Congregants rather than a Rabbi conduct the service where we usually attend, and they always find someone who will make you wail rather than just weep.

David’s latest blob took me right to the same place about loss that it took him. But I feel loss more during the Jewish New Year because it is on Yom Kippur that we say Kaddish, which is a prayer for the dead. I say the prayer for my dad. And I say it for friends who I know will not be included in anyone else’s Kaddish. Some of those friends are Jewish but were not religious, and some were Christians. And although I think about them all the time, it makes me feel closer to them for that moment we share in the Kaddish.

My parents operated on the same theory as David’s. Children were to be protected from real life. So my first funeral was my grandfather's and here’s what I remember. My aunts (there were seven of them) were all screaming and crying and screaming and crying, and then as if that weren't awful enough, my Aunt Sara decided to jump into the grave. She was pulling forward with my Aunt Sophie pulling her back, with Aunt Fritzie hanging on to Aunt Sophie, with Aunt Helene hanging on to Aunt Fritzie, with Aunt Peppy hanging on to Aunt Helene, with Aunt Betty yelling "If she wants to go, let her go," with Uncle Jack (the only male sibling) shouting "calm down, calm down." And my mother shrieking "Papa don't leave me”, and pushing Aunt Sara aside to get to the front. By the time the Rabbi began the service it was dusk, and by the time it was over it was dark, so we (the grandchildren) were sent back to New Jersey to go to sleep. How’s that for being sensitive to the concerns of your children? I’m not complaining. I didn’t mind not being exposed to hysteria with every family death but I, like David, had no real introduction to loss. And it doesn’t end in my family. We refuse to deal with any absence. When we talk about family members who have died we talk about them like they’re still around but they happen to be living in Florida. When we were young that’s where they went for the winter so why not keep them there year round. It’s so much easier than thinking about them like they have disappeared forever.

David and I always hated it when someone said, “the late Mr. So-and-So. Or the late Ms. Whoever.” We would always yell, “He’s not late, he’s not coming.” And so when I go through my Palm looking for a number and I come across old friends like Bella Abzug or Betty Friedan, or close friends like Penn Kemble or Jeff MacNelly or Mark Krasno, I always think — they’re not late. They’re not coming. And that makes me very angry and incredibly sad. But I, like David can’t take them out of my Palm. They remain in my rolodex and will remain in my heart until I cannot make entries or have no more tears. Besides, there is not reason to think they are not coming. I find it much more comforting to think of them in a place that they loved, where I am not. Usually it’s somewhere in Florida where I do not go. And now, when we find out that our friends are ill we always think, please don’t let them go to Florida. We’re just sayin… Iris

Please don't hit the Delete Key

Everyone who has ever used a personal computer, and that includes a lot of us by now, has learned the hard way that the Save command can be your friend. When you inadvertently forget to Save your work, and there is a crash or a power outage, everything you've done to that point is at risk of being lost. Who knows how many great novels have been lost to history because someone kicked a powerstrip at a critical juncture? So as we have become used to this kind of 'save as you go' behaviour, another element of data collection has of late caused both Iris and I to think about our rolodexes. You know what a rolodex is... a "rolling index" of cards which list those people you need to keep track of for business, home, and Life in general. We all have our own versions of a Rolodex: Iris uses the PalmDesktop software, which is pretty good. I use a program (no longer sold) called iData, and which let's you blather on in a freefrom style, adding all kinds of little extra information that might be hard to put into a field by field "data base."

I like to add all kinds of minutia to the entries I make about the people and companies that I keep track of. Kind of like my brain. Full of the unordered crapola which add color and texture and, most importantly, the best HELP lines to get things fixed when my printer dies. But buried in that electrolodex is something very personal.

My file has over four thousand names in it. Now I don't think I really KNOW four thousand people, but between friends, family, and annoying telephone companies, the list has grown over the twenty years I have kept it. What doesn't happen exactly is that, well, it doesn't shrink much. It just keeps growing. One of the reasons for that it that I never delete anyone. In a way, I suppose, my rolodex is kind of a scrapbook of my life. The people I've met. The places I've been, the travel agents I've dealt with. The help desks which haven't been much help. But I have found that even when there are changes in life, it's sometimes hard to match those changes to my rolodex.

I have perhaps a couple of dozen friends whose phone numbers are in the 'dex, but who I won't be able to call. It's not because the phone lines are out, or the numbers are out of date. It's because they have died. I have never really dealt very well with the death of friends. I think my folks, like almost everyone's parents in the 50s, tended to spare us the details of death and dying. I remember a cold December day in 1956, riding around in one of our big Desotos, just a few days after my grandmother had died. I was ten. Driving across town, my mother and uncle Barney were talking about a lot of names who I knew to be their friends, but didn't know very well personally. After a while, I asked ".. are you planning a party?" "No," mom said, "we're trying to figure out who is coming to grandma's funeral.
Whom ever else was in that list, it didn't include my brother ( then 13), my younger sister, nor myself. We were kept at home, away from death, away from saying goodbye, away from the ritual of loss which funerals represent. I often think of the irony in the fact that in my 40 years of taking pictures, I have attended far more funerals of people I don't know, in dozens of countries abroad, than in my own family as a child in Salt Lake. Funerals remained that distant unmentioned thing that happened when people stopped coming for dinner, or stopped calling, or, no longer were there, like my Uncle Max was, with a roll of cherry Lifesavers always at the ready to sweeten a moment. His funeral, when I was a Junior in college, was the first in my family I attended.

So I guess it shouldn't come as any surprize that when friends and acquaintances pass on, I find it rather difficult to just remove them from my life. Somewhere, I think, is a little place where the memories of those friends will stay, and as I get older, I want to disturb that place less and less. And since I'm not quite sure where that place actually is, I suppose that keeping a name, phonenumber, address, and maybe some quirky comment on my laptop rolodex will help keep it going. There is a kind of finality to the [DELETE] button which I don't feel like confronting. In my heart I know nothing about my laptop will keep those friends closer than what is already in my head and heart. But I'd rather take my chances, and have one of those little buzzy memory filled moments as I flip through the [ENTER] key searching for a name, and on the way find Katherine, or Penn, or Mark, or Carl, or Jeff, or Catherine, or Sophie, or Helene, or David. We're just sayin. David

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Subtle Differences

Yesterday morning both “Today” and “Good Morning” did pieces about women and wine. They aired at exactly the same time and if it wasn’t for the miracle of the TV zapper, and my uncontrollable desire to use it non stop, we never would have known. We figured that there must have been some study about women buying wine a becoming big consumers because if we’re not a marketing target, our likes and dislikes hardly ever matter. Gender as a profit center – my favorite thing. Anyway, what was interesting was that the NBC version was four black women talking about not being intimidated by whatever the color and name of a wine, while on ABC they had five white women trying to be intimidating about the drink. NBC presented the story along with food suggestions. ABC presented their story along with what appeared to be suggestions about how to become a wine snob. I like the ABC morning show much better than the NBC show so this presentation of the same subject was unsettling for me. Anyway…

I’m a terrible wine slut—not snob—so I’ll drink any wine that is put in front of me. I might not like it but I’ll drink it! OK maybe I’m exaggerating but not much. There is nothing I like better then going to a party at Andy Besch’s (“The Wine Guy”—it’s a great book so buy it or visit his store at 82 and Columbus). Or a party at Larry Irving’s (who collects wines and rids himself of much a few times a year – or just dinner when he brings the wine to the restaurant. But I didn’t want to blob about wine I wanted to dwell a bit on subtle differences.

Last week was the Pakstani Independence Day parade. Two weeks ago was the Indian Independence Day Parade. This is a little disconcerting since they are both actually the same day but they don't want to celebrate a most painful historical event together. Two weeks ago the weather was gorgeous. Last the weather was horrible which caused the parade to be pretty much of a bust. I love a parade, especially one where there are lots of costumes and music. My favorite thing is to march along to the beat of someone else’s drum, while waving a flag at all the people on the floats. It was raining so hard that there were a minimal number of float participants and those who toughed it out were absolutely drenched. It was hard to enjoy the elaborate saris when they we laden with rainwater. At the end of the parade there were supposed to be booths where you could taste some real Pakistani food and enjoy a protest about freeing Kashmir, but even that was a washout. I felt so bad for the organizers. These acts of nature can breed terrible disappointment.

I was looking forward to both these parades because I love those cultures. In 1980 I spent considerable time in India creating the world premiere of the film “Gandhi”. And I had the good fortune to meet many Indians and Pakistani’s who had been through the devastating Partisan of their countries. And while I loved the food, and the dance and the colors and the smells of those places, I especially loved looking at the women in their attractive saris and Punjabis. Gandhi believed it was possible to live in peace – if he could only see us now.

I have taken to looking at the subtle differences of the women on the street in N.Y. Not in a weird way, and not street people. Quite the contrary. As I was walking across the city, I began to think of the Stephen Sondheim song “Pretty Women”. The first verse begins; Pretty women Fascinating... Sipping coffee, Dancing... Pretty women Pretty women Are a wonder. Pretty women!

And the pretty women aren’t just rich women. They were all shapes and colors and types. But they all had a certain flair. Something that made them different from women anywhere else in the country, as well as each other. I remember when I told a Washington friend that I didn’t know what to wear for Halloween and she said “have you looked in your closet?” I have always dressed like I live in NY. When I was at the State Dept. a senior official suggested I had a little too much style and it wasn’t what THEY did. I was a senior official (who knew the President) so I suggested they start dressing like me. But that’s another blob.

Women in NY no matter what their socioeconomic status or their profession dress in a way that makes them pretty. Maybe not pretty in the traditional sense but in a way that makes you look at them. They are not ordinary or dull. They are colorful and expressive, and free and sometimes feathered. But they are wonderful to watch because of who they think they are and the subtle differences. We’re just sayin