Wednesday, December 22, 2010

You Know What I'm Going To Do This Week?

I'm going to do what people have been doing for centuries this time of year. I'll be doing something that humans have done since they first began to notice the cyclical nature of of the universe and the patterns inherent in nature.

I'm going to celebrate a day known in today's culture as the national holiday of Christmas.

On the modern western calendar it's called Christmas, but humans have celebrated this day for centuries before that. We all know winter is rough. But even though we have hit the darkest days, we know light is returning. So let's get out the party trappings, eat lots of food, celebrate with family, and give each other gifts for no real reason. Just celebrate because we're alive and on this earth and everything on this earth tends to go according to patterns. Sometimes the universe is chaotic and unfair and nature is unpredictable, but there are some things that are reliable. As of today, the days grow longer. It always does every year. Yay!

Why must people try to spoil my fun? Yes, I know it's called Christmas currently and is meant to mark a religious event (although historically inaccurate). I know I'm not going to church on Saturday and I know I'm a skeptic on religious matters. Why does that bar me from celebrating?

Maybe I'm not celebrating the exact same thing you're celebrating, or celebrating in the same way, but that doesn't make it wrong. I don't tell you that you're wrong for celebrating the way you do. I don't say that it's bad or hypocritical to co-opt Solstice/Yule/Saturnalia, etc. I think you should enjoy your holiday in whatever way pleases you the most. I will do the same for myself and my family. My expression of a holiday isn't meant to denigrate your religion, or stop you from having a religious observance. It's just me, doing what I do on a day that's been designated for it.

If you don't like the way I celebrate Christmas, then don't celebrate it with me! It's that simple. Of course I would be very happy if you did. You might find out my celebration isn't so bad. I think I'm a fun person. I have a nice family. The food is always good in my house. Try it my way. You might like it.

Just don't tell me I have no right to do what I do because it doesn't follow the confines of your religion. You don't have to celebrate it my way. I don't have to celebrate it your way. In the end, if we do it right, we all still enjoy the day and that's what counts.

Go in peace, my friends.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Libera Canto

I just finished my second semester of singing class this week.

It has been an interesting journey in this class. The idea of Libera Canto shouldn’t even have to be a technique. It almost seems like something a singer unlearns in a lifetime of singing. I still had a hard time with it.

My first session of the class had me thinking of who I am as a singer. I understood that my teacher wanted me to understand what it meant to just sing a song, and not perform it. There really is a difference. We were doing all kinds of strange techniques to make this happen.

I still wasn’t sure if it was working. Was I really getting anything out of the class? My singing rarely received any individual attention. During the 6 weeks of the course, most of us only were able to sing our chosen songs solo once or twice. Was it helping me?

After the October disaster with the Harrison Players, I knew I hadn’t learned nearly enough.

I liked the teacher. I liked the other students. After meeting for a few sporadic, informal classes over the summer, I decided to try another semester as LMCCE was offering it again.

We kept working on the same techniques of course. There was lots of bodily and facial relaxation involved, and the usual exercises of taking the words of a song and making them into unintelligible nonsense.

Somehow it started to click. Brenda, my teacher often talked about singing as if you were a “drunk puppy” telling a story to other drunk puppies. Open your mouth. Wiggle your jaw. Stick your tongue out. Let the lyrics be sloppy but enthusiastic. I might be singing at home or in my car and a note would trouble me. I’d back off and go to the drunk puppy mode. I sang so sloppily I could hear the late Prof Stites (former Elizabethtown College choir director and King of Consonants) spinning in his grave. Suddenly things did feel freer. Notes were less difficult. I would gradually bring diction back into the song, gently closing my mouth around the words.

I began to learn that I could really open my mouth up and let the song flow, and still sing with diction. If I sang notes instead of words, the words would eventually follow the notes. I didn’t have to close my mouth and clamp my jaw and stiffen my tongue tightly around every word. I also found it easier to find a note when I made thinking of the note my priority rather than performing the song. The notes won’t always be right, but I can sing the song as if I didn’t care and it wouldn’t be so terrible.

I wondered if I had come far enough that I no longer needed the class, but I think I still have a little way to go. For one thing, I am just not at the stage where I can really make a song resonate with me, both physically and emotionally. If I don’t feel the emotion of the song, how will anyone else (hence why no one laughed when I sang my song in October)?

During a recent class one of my classmates sang a beautiful version of The Christmas Song (the song most people think is titled “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire”). She varied it – played with it. After she sang it, Brenda complimented the “musicality” of her voice. I remembered my own attempts to put a few spins on the same song and had another flop. I couldn’t handle it. The whole thing was forced. I want musicality. I want that playfulness to be natural and beautiful.

I guess that’s why I know now that I’ll be joining the spring semester of this class. Now that I can understand a bit more how to let my voice flow more freely, I can stop being in my head so much when I sing and just find what I’m really meant to sound like. Where is my own “musicality”?

Friday, December 10, 2010

You Can't Say I Didn't Try to Do Good

This morning when I left my car and headed into the office, I left the bag containing my day's snack foods in it. I had an apple and some nuts.

At lunch I realized I still had a teensy bit of Christmas shopping left to do (I know I said I was finished, but one of my gifts isn't going to make it, so I had to find something else for this person). I went out to the Borders two exits up the highway from my office to find something.

When I exited the highway I saw a homeless man standing at the traffic light. I used to come through this area quite often and that man has been there many times before. I realized that I still had my bag of snacks with me. I thought it was some kind of cosmic coincidence. I had food in my car so I could give it to someone who needed it more than I did.

The light was red, so it was the perfect opportunity to offer my food to this man. I rolled down the window. He looked at me expectantly. I shoved the bag out the window and asked, "Would you like an apple?" He shook his head and gesticulated a lack of interest.

I'm a pretty sympathetic person. I know that I really have no idea how many paychecks separate me from the breadlines. I'm not heartless. I know hard times can happen to any of us. I want to help. I want to give someone who appears to be in need the benefit of the doubt.

My position is this: If you're truly hungry, you will accept food. I'm not saying I never give money. I just prefer not to give money because I have no idea how that money will be spent. I'm not buying some homeless person's cigarettes/booze/drugs. I'm happy to help fill an empty belly. I just want to make sure that's what the person really wants. I'd rather offer food. If you need it, you'll take it.

Am I wrong to feel a bit miffed in this case? I've been told that homeless people don't often like to be given hard fruits like apples because they often don't have the teeth to properly eat them. Despite this, I have seen homeless aid organizations give away free lunches that contain apples. I once gave an apple to a homeless person in the past and he took it gratefully.

On my way home I bought some soup for my lunch. Maybe I should have bought an extra one for that guy. How could he not want hot soup when he was standing outside on this freezing cold day? If had done that and he had refused it, I know I'd never take him seriously again.

If I'm on that road again and I have something soft to eat in my car in the future, maybe I'll give it a test. I don't want to lose my faith in humanity, especially in my own, but even I have my limits.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Decoration Equity

Hey look! I'm not doing the typical Christmas rant this year and am handling another topic entirely.

When I was a young twentysomething, making my way in the working world, I found myself working part time in a real estate office one December.

One afternoon the brokers began putting up the holiday decorations in the office. There were standard decorations with garlands and trees and pictures of Santa. The brokers wanted to be as ecumenical as possible and put up some decorations more evocative of Hanukkah as well. This also led to more discussion about how Christmas-y the Christmas decorations should be. Should they put up a crèche? They decided that both a crèche and a menorah were considered religious symbols. If you had one, you had to have the other and they weren’t sure how religious they should be. In the end, the decorations stayed with trees, santas, and pictures of dreidls (because a dreidl is a game and doesn’t have any real religious meaning behind it). Most of the brokers were Jewish, so I thought their reasoning was fair.

A year or two later I was working for a different company. December came and the decorations came out of storage. Most of the decorations were the kind one associates with Christmas. We had a cheap fake tree and pictures of Santa and probably some cheap garlands. We didn’t have many decorations for the tree, so we covered it with the merchandise the company sold. (We sold advertising tschotskes like pens and key chains – not the most festive or attractive stuff in the world.) Decorations couldn’t be more generic, but it was still “Christmas” in the traditional sense. A small contingent of employees lobbied for Hanukkah decorations. They made do for a while with some pictures of dreidls.

One day a coworker who was a devout Catholic put up a small, nicely decorated tree next to her desk. Beneath the tree was a crèche. She had it up for a day or two before she was ordered to take it down. She wasn’t sitting in the main part of the office. Customers would never see it. She was still told it was “offending” people. A day or two later a menorah appeared in the conference room. I felt a bit bad for my coworker. Why was she not allowed to display something religious when other religions were?

Right now in the lobby of my apartment building there is a Christmas tree. It’s a tall, tastefully decorated tree with no religious ornaments at all. There is no crèche to be seen. There is not even an angel. Next to the tree, on a table covered by a blue cloth printed with Stars of David, is an electric menorah, with a bulb lit for each of those 8 Crazy Nights. It is flanked by two teddy bears dressed in yarmulkes and tallises. One holds a Torah scroll and the other holds a dreidl.

There are two things I’ve learned from these various displays.

The first is that I may have to concede that the War on Christmas people may have a teeny-tiny-minuscule point. Christmas, a holiday celebrated in a religious way by what is likely a majority of the members of the majority religion in this country, is being a tad constricted publicly.

The second is that it’s really hard to decorate for Hanukkah. Can we decorate for any Jewish holiday using anything that’s the color of the Israeli flag? Come on! Teddy bears in yarmulkes? We have exactly two symbols that most shlubs will associate with the holiday. Inclusion is cool, but how does that inclusion happen when you’re talking about a minor holiday that isn’t exactly rich with seasonal symbolism?

What does a good holiday display need and how do we make it for everyone? How many holidays do Americans celebrate this time of year? Are we supposed to include Ramadan and Diwali? Do Muslims and Hindus have special decorations for these holidays? If they do, they must keep them in the house and aren’t compelled to show the whole neighborhood their holiday displays.

Now that I think of it, I rarely ever seen homes decked out in millions of pale blue lights and giant electric menorahs and inflatable dreidls in the neighborhood. I know plenty of Christians who like displaying electric menorahs in the window just to show how open-minded they are. My Catholic grandmother had one. I don't see much else in the way of Hanukkah decorations.

As I go along this line of thought, I have to ask why are we so pushed to decorate everything in sight anyway. It's not enough to put up a tree or some symbols of the season in our homes. We need reminders of the season everywhere we go. It's as if we're afraid we'll forget the holiday if we don't decorate everything everywhere. Not only do we need constant reassurance that it's Christmas, but we also have to make sure everyone is reminded too.

I suppose there is a point to this. Christmas and all of its trappings can generate some serious warm fuzzy feelings. Those decorations can engender a sense of joy and festiveness. We want to be surrounded by that joy. We want everyone else to feel that joy too. If everyone is feeling those feelings then we'll all get together and try to love one another.

The problem is that it doesn't always work. Not everyone will automatically feel festive if they see these decorations. They may not celebrate Christmas and don't enjoy being pressured to share the joy. Sure they can try to ignore it, but it's not always easy when it's in your face. If you don't celebrate Christmas, you may not want to feel compelled to enjoy the season. Also, those who are very sad or depressed or suffering may find the relentless effort at cheer and good will to be even more depressing.

The only thing decorator-happy people can do it try to represent everyone. That's not easy when there are a fair number of holidays to go around (hence the term "The Holidays") and more than one religion to deal with. Certain holiday symbols are often said to be offensive, even though their intention is never to offend, but only to represent a certain set of beliefs.

Is it really an offense, for example, to simply display a nativity scene? I don't really celebrate Christmas in any sort of Christian way anymore, but I don't think a creche is "offensive". I find them sort of fascinating really. Some are lovely works of art. Some are hilariously tacky. I find how the scene is depicted to be interesting. Who are the characters and how many of them are there? How many shepherds? Is the Little Drummer Boy included? How diverse are the players? Is one of the Wise Men black? Do Jesus, Mary, and Joseph look properly swarthy and semitic, or do they look as if the came off the assembly line at Mattel properly outfitted with golden hair and blue eyes? (Now that I think of it, while Mary and Jesus tend to be depicted with light brown hair and blue eyes, Joseph is always dark haired.) If a nativity scene is meant to convert me, it's doing a lousy job.

No one takes similar offense when Hanukah decorations are on public display. In every single situation I mentioned in this post, I seem to be the only one who noticed that Hanukah was the only holiday allowed to display its religious symbolism publicly. While I'm sure there are Christians who are fuming over this perceived inequality, would they ever go so far as saying they are "offended"? I would think not. After all, Christianity couldn't exist without Judaism and even if they're not lighting Hanukah candles, they know Jesus probably did.

Then there is Santa. Why Santa? Santa is supposed to be a secular figure, but he really isn't. Sure there are some right-wing Christian wackos who claim Santa is just an anagram of Satan, but it would be incorrect. Santa means Saint or holy . Santa Claus is just a bastardization of St. Nicholas (Niklaus or "Klaus" in the Northern European traditions from which modern Santa legends were born). St. Nicholas's feast day is in early December. It just made sense to integrate him him into Christmas just as it made sense to integrate yule logs and Christmas trees and a major holiday on the Solstice. When you think about it, Santa is probably the most Christian decoration you put into a holiday display with the exception of a nativity scene. Most other decorations have Pagan origins.

In other words, when you come right down to it, the Pagans are the only ones truly and consistenly represented by your average holiday display. Now who is going to be angry over that?

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Things I Don't Get #7 (Or, A Rational Defense of Why I Hate Glee Think Glee is Overrated)

Want to know how to make yourself Public Enemy #1 these days? Be someone who doesn't like Glee. If you don't like Glee, you're out of touch, mean, and just plain weird. Clearly there is something wrong with you.

I'm sure in my case it's also the perception that I'm just a pretentious, TV-hating, twit. That's true to some point. I am a member of the Kill Your Television crowd as well as a BBC geek who generally doesn't like much mainstream TV, but it's not as if I reject all of it out of hand. Remember I was a huge Lost geek and The Office is perpetually in my Netflix queue.

I was more than willing to give Glee a chance. Everyone* kept telling me how great it was and how much I would love it. As a singer and performer myself (okay, a very medicore singer and performer but I do love performing) it seemed like my kind of show. I put the first season in my Netflix queue with great anticipation.

‎In the beginning it I thought it had a lot going for it. There were some bizarro plot lines and kooky characters. It's the exact sort of entertainment I like. However, after a few episodes it became apparent that the writing is weak. The show wants to be funny, but it just isn't. It never seems to be able to release itself from the same formulas. The same stuff happens every week. The teacher begs for money. The cheerleading coach tries to sabotage him. Musical numbers are performed perfectly with no rehearsing. Popular kids square off with the nerds. It's unchanging and uninteresting. It's a pity because it could work quite well as a madcap comedy, but they don't try hard enough to make it funnier.

Another aspect of the bad writing is that it resorts to two-dimensional characters and tired old high school cliches. The show's concept may be fresh, but it's execution is not. While it's true that the jocks vs. nerds stereotype will always be alive in high school, it misses many of the nuances and subtleties that create this conflict. In Glee, singing in the choir makes you an automatic geek. Social standing is drawn along very rigid lines this way. As someone who was the lowest of the low in her high school social standing, I can assure you it didn't spring from my membership in the choir. Dropping that class would not have done anything for my lack of status in school. There were cheerleaders and football players in the choir (and they weren't spies). Heck, even the marching band, that traditional bastion of geekdom, had cheerleaders (basketball season of course). My junior year the *gasp* drum major was school president. Glee is a show that runs on cliches.

I also think the stereotypes are highly offensive. I don't understand why my gay friends love this show because the gay character is such an overblown gay stereotype. I'd be offended if I were gay. I would also be offended by the fact that Rachel gets her insane drive, diva attitude, and obsession with performing from her two gay dads . Speaking of diva attitudes, let's not forget the blatant sterotype of the black female diva.

Musical numbers are too slick, to lip-synched, too autotuned. The kids are handed a piece of music and immediately can sing it and dance to it on the first try. Apparently it's a choir full of prodigies! Despite the fact that they're aiming for screwball comedy, they take these slick performances seriously. The juxtaposition of the two aspects of the show is very poorly done.

This show could be so good if it were even slightly self-aware. Imagine if Glee actually focused on the process. Have these kids, many of whom were not experienced performers, go through the process of learning music and choreography. Anyone who has ever sung in a choir or danced on stage would be on the floor laughing if it were done well. We all can relate. Show the kids going off key sometimes. Have them sing for real minus the lip synching. When you have a group of mostly inexperienced singers able to create sophisticated mashups within a week, you lose credibility. If the show even recognized this, it might be funny. What we end up with is High School Musical with its skirt hiked up.

This is the thing I don't get about Glee. I just don't get why, with its weak writing and bad cliches, that mature adults are into it. I have friends who write professionally and yet still can't get enough of this show's horrid writing. I don't get the appeal unless you're a young man who likes to watch scantily-clad teenagers going through cheerleading moves. The show isn't terribly funny and outside of the musical concept, isn't terribly original. What's the appeal?

As an aside, this show got a big black mark in my book in the episode where the teacher tried to uncover his wife's fake pregnancy. The way he yelled and grabbed her and put her hands on her was NOT COOL. It was awful and abusive and should never have been shown that would in any way make the husband sympathetic. I don't care how deceitful his wife had been. Touching his wife in that way was DEAD WRONG. It almost made me long for the god-awful misogyny-as-nostalgia in Mad Men.

Okay. I've made my point. I'm sure right now every Gleek on the planet is saying, "That's all well and good, but you're wrong and you're still a pretentious twit. So be it. Everyone is entitled to my opinion. I'll close with this. You think Glee is so wonderful? Right now I'm seeing that it's only the second season and they're already resorting to outrageous guest stars and theme episodes. To me that's a sure sign Glee is strapping on its waterskis and watching for fins in the water.

*Actually, one person thought I wouldn't like it. Unfortunately, I didn't know this till after the fact when I mentioned my dislike of Glee on Facebook and my BFF replied, "I didn't think you would like it." I wish she had told me earlier! If one of the people in the world who knows me best, probably better than I know myself at times, had the wisdom to warm me off earlier, I might have saved myself a few nights and started in earlier with Battlestar Galactica.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Classic Doggerel - Repost

So I heard that you are in London
I wish I could go there too
But I heard that it's raining in London
And I hope that it's raining on you!

It drips on Westminster Abbey
And runs down the sides of Big Ben
Then it pours and pours on your noggins
And keeps pouring and pouring again

The banks of the Thames are flooded
The Palace Gardens are a muddle
I laugh while I sit and imagine
All of you falling in a puddle

I've always known you to be
Extremely well prepared fellas
But I've often noticed in the past
You tend to forget your umbrellas

Take refuge in Tussards or Harrods
Or sip some afternoon tea
But soon you'll be out and you'll know it
You won't be as dry as me

It's sunny right here in our hometown
I can walk through the streets and stay dry
It's a week of really good hair days
And it's also good weather to fly

It was sunny when I last was in London
While back home it rained all week long
So consider that next time you're going
That it's better to take me along

No, I'm not bitter.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Fear For Sale

We have nothing to fear but fear itself – Franklin Roosevelt

I love my country and I fear for it – Glenn Beck

Once upon a time Americans were inspired to face their fears and go boldly into a new world. Fear was a bad thing that could be overcome.

Now fear seems to be the dominant emotion in today’s social and political arenas. Fear is exploited and encouraged. Why is that?

There is one reason: Fear sells. Americans pay big money to be afraid and have their fears confirmed and have the next Great Guru of Fright promise a way out, a way to not be afraid anymore.

I recently read Will Bunch’s book The Backlash. Throughout the book, Bunch traverses the country interviewing various Tea Party members. His goal was to truly understand them and their motives. After reading the book it seemed that fear was the common thread among all of the various movements across the country.

Where does this fear come from? It mostly comes from the media. Political pundits have become fear mongers, selling Americans on the idea that the country is in deep trouble. Terrorists will attack. Religion will be abolished. Guns will be grabbed. Taxes will send us all into poverty. Illegal aliens will spend all of our tax dollars. These things won't happen if the right politicians are in office of course.

This is only going to happen if we continue to allow Barack Obama to be our president, and if we continue to allow Democrats to be in Congress. Only one-party rule can save us - and that party is not only Republican, but it must also be Republicans of the Tea Party variety.

(Oddly enough, none of these folks find the idea of the rule of one party and one ideology frightening, but that's neither here nor there.)

Why is this fear perpetuated? Why are there so many public figures trying so hard to make us afraid? Why do we buy into it?

The reason is that fear sells. There is a huge profit to be made off of fear in both small ways and large. Fear is also a useful tool for controlling people. The government and the corporations pulling government strings can wield a lot of power by creating fear.

What are Americans afraid of, and who profits from it, and how?

I believe the Tea Party fears, the ones they try to push onto all of us, can be divided into a few types.

1. Fear of Totalitarianism - I was initially going to say that it's a fear of communism, but it's not really about communism. It's about communism as interpreted by the Soviet Union. As the Cold War began, we saw the brutal reign of Josef Stalin and the pain he caused his people. Like most empires, the only way to hold together such fast amounts of territory and many diverse peoples is through an absolute dictatorship. While no one can deny communism is an inefficient and awkward system to employ over large amounts of territory, Americans took it a step further. It became synonymous with dictatorships, repressiveness, and just plain evil.

Americans love a good slippery slope argument. If we let the government do A, it will automatically feel free to do Y and Z. The next thing you know, we're living in the new Soviet Union. Religion will be outlawed. Our guns will be taken away. Speaking out against the government will land us in prison.

This fear was exploited to the max during the Reagan era. Reagan wielded fear like a weapon over the American people. The Soviet Union was living in an almost medieval setup prior to 1917. It became a superpower through military might alone with little attention to its own economic growth (and hence its ultimate failure). Their weapons capabilities were often highly exaggerated by both our intelligence and theirs.

Ah, but that threat was useful to Reagan. As long he told us that they were ready to attack us at any moment, that we were in danger, then we would be too afraid to defy him. No one would question his extravagant spending and massive deficit as long as we were being told it was being done for our protection. The protection was being invested in military contracts, enriching some of the biggest corporations in the world. Using fear the president was able to take enormous power and rape the treasury, making a select few very wealthy.

2. Fear of Poverty - I was going to call this "fear of taxes", but it goes deeper than that. Taxes are just a convenient proxy for all of our fears about having no control over our finances.

For years the right has used the scare tactic that liberals will raise taxes. Liberals will make the government seize your hard-earned money and hand it out to people who don't deserve it - the "Handout People". The government is draining money from your pockets and there is nothing you can do about it unless you vote Republican.

It's a bogus argument really. How many people reading this can honestly say that their taxes improved dramatically during any particular administration. One of the most honest things I ever heard a politician say was during the 1988 presidential debate when Michael Dukakis said, "No matter who wins, your taxes will go up." Taxes will rise with inflation. They will rise according to the needs of the country. Like it or not, if you want your government to do anything for you, whether it's fund your military, repair your roads, provide your kids with education, or provide your meds in your old age, you are going to have to pay for it. No government is going to let you off the hook for this, no matter what the political party.

Do you know whose taxes are significantly cut during particular administrations? It's the top 1% of the wealth holders in this country. These are the owners of at least 90% of the wealth. We're not talking about those liberal Hollywood elite whom right wing pundits enjoying picking on. We're not talking about these millionaire right-wing pundits themselves. We're not even talking popular billionaires like Bill Gates. Those folks are small potatoes. We're talking about the true top, the tiny minority, the heads of the biggest multinationals in industries like defense, agribusiness, finance and energy. The very word "taxes" sends middle class and upper middle class screaming about how hard they work for their money and how taxing hard-working people is unfair. So many of them have no idea what tax inequality really is.

The theory has always been that as long as those at the top make money unencumbered, they would reinvest it into the economy, creating jobs, and providing cheaper services overall. This "trickle down" theory hasn't proven to be true. Untaxed and unregulated our top 1% has simply used the opportunity to take a bigger piece of the pie. They have downsized the workforce or else outsourced jobs to countries where they are not obligated to pay living wages or provide safe work environments. The agribusinesses also hire illegal aliens as another way of getting around compensation and safety regulations (and you think the immigration problem stems from the folks who hire a couple of Mexicans to mow their lawns or babysit their kids).

The right has been known to talk a good talk about our greedy financial institutions, but they refuse to see how their unregulated operations and unmitigated greed has caused economic collapse. To say that we need regulation would be to unlock the fear of totalitarianism. Bank regulations are a step toward communism for sure!

So the right wing pundits and politicians throw up the smoke screen of taxes and make scapegoats out of the less fortunate who have had the nerve to ask the government for help. What is ironic about this is that many Teabaggers are older retirees and veterans who are likely receiving government benefits such as Social Security, disability, veteran's benefits, and Medicare. So many of these people have had a very rough decade. They have been downsized out of jobs, forced into early retirement, been screwed out of their pensions, and been ignored by a seemingly uncaring bureaucracy. There is plenty of blame to go around for this, but the blame is so often misplaced.

Unfortunately, thanks to the fear of communism/totalitarianism they vote against their own interests, believing that the problem lies not with lack of regulation, but with the folks (the other folks - not them) who are receiving governments assistance (a pittance compared to the benefits multinational corporations receive). It is undeserving lazy people who are stealing money from our pockets.

The truth is most of us don't know how many paychecks we are away from losing our homes or heading to the breadlines. We don't know if a devastating health problem would ruin us. We don't know what lies ahead in our old age. Every single one of us pays taxes of some kind or another. That means every single one of us is entitled to the same "handouts" that those lazy, good-for-nothing poor people have. We all pay into it and we can all potentially benefit from it. If you're too proud to ask for it, then it's your own fault. Don't blame those who aren't too proud for taking your money.

3. Fear of Being a Minority - This video is very telling about how threatened white Christians feel about "The Other". Although the focus here is on Muslims, the statistics for the US count Latino immigration separately when considering US birth rates. To some Americans, culture must be fixed and unchanging.

Sadly, it's hard to keep the culture the same when European-descended whites are destined to become a minority in the US in 40 years. When one considers just how badly European Americans have been to non-whites, I would say that it has not been a pretty picture. We killed off millions of Native Americans, put Asians in concentration camps, enslaved blacks and then spent decades segregating them. Now Latino immigrants are harassed and potentially being denied citizenship rights. Once Euro-Americans are a minority, can they hold their power? If they can't, how will they be treated by these scary brown people?

The election of a half-African president is one of the scariest things yet to these people. Yes, they shall overcome. What is next? The popular TV show The West Wing had a Latino actor playing the president. We are also coming to realize that just because the majority of Americans idenitfy as Christian, we are granting legitimacy and tolerance of other beliefs. People who may not look exactly like us are gaining power every day. They're becoming successful, making money, making new rules, and changing the face of America. Some people find that terrifying.

It's not a coincidence how these Christian fertility cults have been given so much attention lately. Sure other religions have been known to breed copiously such as Catholics (unfortunately there is a heavy Latino element) and Hasidic Jews (white, but not Christian and not exactly in the mainstream culture). Now the happy, plastic automaton Duggars seem to make the morning news or People magazine almost on a weekly basis and seem to have a big fan cult around them. It's not just about following some Biblical mandate. These folks want to breed more Christians - more white Christians. They are desperately trying to make themselves into the dominant culture.

As long as we struggle to make certain groups second class citizens, the current frightened majority won't stand up for them if they are exploited.

4. Fear of Social Change - This is a big one. So many Teabaggers and other assorted right wingers are products of the social changes often associated with the 60s. They are overwhelmingly white (as mentioned above) and tend to be older, often retirees or semi-retirees. They grew up watching the world change rapidly and felt left behind by the movements that have defined our culture for the past 50 years. They see the world before the revolution as idyllic, because they are looking through the imperfect eye of childhood (didn't we all think the world was better when we were kids) and memory.

They see a world now that is more secular. Americans are questioning their God. They see more families seeming to fall apart (even if the divorce rate has remained steady, and even declined slightly over the years.) They see gays demanding - and sometimes receiving - equal treatment and acceptance. Despite 22 years of Republicans dominating the White House and 12 years of Republicans dominating Congress, no one has managed to overturn Roe V. Wade, or even introduce the legislation to do so, and the majority of the American people are happy with that. In his book, Bunch asserts that many on the right had believed that the election of Reagan would bring in a new era of morality. The Reagan years were merely a small blip, a last hurrah. Most of us have progressed beyond the nebulous "family values" that were supposed to define the new world order since Reagan was elected. Teabaggers are terrified.

The young people involved with the movement see the past through the imperfect eye of television. They want to live in a 50s sitcom world. They never knew how hard life was under segregation and institutionalized sexism and homophobia. They only know the seemingly more messed up world we live in now. Sure many issues came to a head in the 60s, but the changes were brewing for decades and decades before that. Children of divorced parents sometimes long for a world where feminism never would have given women other choices than to stay married. They're looking for a perfect world that never existed.

There is enormous profit to be made in this desire to bring back a different social order. This piece is an excellent explanation of how religious extremists are using this fear for profit. There is a war going on people. The nasty liberals are committing crimes against us. They're waging war against Christians and against the most sacred of American holidays. You must arm yourselves people. Arm yourselves with everything you can. Then arm yourselves some more.

No one has explained to me exactly what will happen if all Americans don't follow the same moral codes (within what is allowed by law). If we start trying to enforce one standard of morality across all citizens, then I would think we'd be heading in Taliban direction - but then again, by saying that, I'm just another fear monger.

5. Fear of Loss of Rights - This ties into the social change fear as well as the totalitarianism fear.

Thanks to the near-instantaneous delivery of messages today via Internet and 24-hour news, means it's very easy for someone to create a buzz when he says the wrong thing. If a talk radio host makes a racist remark, he is sure to be criticized all over the Internet. The next thing you know, the angry host is declaring that those nasty liberals are taking away his right to free speech. Never mind that the liberals who are complaining aren't censoring him. They're just exercising their own right to free speech. It's not censorship. Free speech goes both ways.

The fear of religious rights being taken away are also exploited for all they are worth. I remember during the 2004 elections a crazed right-wing group began sending out pamphlets to voters claiming liberals would "ban the Bible". It was a very silly assumption. Which liberals would be banning it (certainly not People for the American Way). What would they be banning it from? Schools? Libraries? All schools, libraries and bookstores? Despite this absolutely ridiculous and unrealistic warning, I still saw a promo for Sean Hannity's show where he said, "Coming up tonight: Will liberals ban the Bible?" Can you imagine how a mere 10-second promo spot could have members of the religious right shaking in their boots?

Has the government ever tried to force a church to close? Is Christianity illegal? One of the biggest religious right bugaboos is prayer in school, claiming that it's illegal for a child to pray in school. Of course it's not illegal at all. It's only illegal for the school to sponsor it. Children are welcome to pray of their own accord if it's not disrupting the class. Your average citizen does not welcome public proselytizing, but that's only a government issue if the proselytizer is a public nuisance or is trying to do so at a government sponsored event (as the government is not supposed to endorse any one particular religion as a way of promoting religious freedom).

Then there is the gun issue. Teabaggers are convinced the Obama wants to take away their guns. They beliece this administration is made up of gun grabbers who want to overturn the Second amendment. Not once during his campaign did Obama advocate for gun control (not that I ever heard and you can correct me if I'm wrong). Since he has taken office he has enacted no gun control legislation and has even allowed existing pieces of gun control legislation to expire. In other words, right wingers are actually looking for and making up things to fear. That just blows my mind.

Profits, profits, profits. There are profits to be made everywhere. At Tea Party rallies you can buy all sorts of stuff from hats and t-shirts made in China to high-end teabag jewelry. If you're a speaker at these rallies, you can command thousands for every performance. I suspect the likes of Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck make more money in a single appearance than most members of the rallies make in a year.

They claim it's a grass roots movement, but it's nothing of the sort. The Tea Party is being funded by some of the wealthiest, most powerful people in the country. David Koch, one of the wealthiest oil barons around has funded millions into convincing a disenfranchised group to vote against their own interests and promote his own. Make them fear a tyrannical government who will take away your hard-earned money in taxes, take away your guns, take away your right to speak out, take away your right to be Christian, and give the profits to illegal immigrants, and they will gladly hand their money over to you. The wealthiest in America know that the peasants can revolt with a vote, so it's best to use whatever tactics possible to make sure they vote in your favor, and see you as the savior and not the enemy.

America, let's stop the fear and let's vote to move this country forward and take it back not from the godless socialists, but from those who are taking all of our power and money away from us.

Addendum: I know that this blog has a very anti-regressive slant, but in the interest of fairness (and knowing someone will likely call me out on it) I will point out that fear profiteering is not only in the domain of regressives. I believe in global warming, but I won't deny that Al Gore isn't making big bucks keeping us in fear of the consequences. Christian wingnuts may be scaring other Christian wingnuts with their "The Liberals Are Coming to Get Us" books, but there are also plenty of reasonable progressives who also want to scare other reasonable progressives with books about how wingnut Christians are trying to take over the country, complete with conspiracy theories.

No one is exempt. Fear sells.

Sunday, October 24, 2010


The more I think about it, the more I am disappointed with myself for my performance last night.

I sang in public for the first time in two years. I was very excited to be on stage again. I really wanted to do this. Although I had some songs in mind I had wanted to try out, I accepted one that the director requested. Beggars can't be choosers. I know the Harrison Players haven't been 100% happy with my behind-the-scenes participation in events and meetings recently. I should be lucky they still want me in productions at all.

The song was called, The Boy From... (more specifically from Tacarembo La Tumbe Del Fuego Santa Malipa Zecatate La Junta Del Sol Y Cruz). It's a send-up of The Girl From Ipanema. The song's narrator is enamored with the boy in question and just doesn't get that he's obviously gay. ("Why are his trousers vermillion...Why do his friends call him 'Lillian'?") It was funny, really funny. It should have raised a few chuckles from the audience.

The song ended and I received blank stares and polite applause (except for the applause coming from the table containing my family of course). Did anyone get it? Did they know what the song was about? I asked Kevin. He said no. I asked him if my diction was okay (as a former student of the late Prof. Stites, diction is my specialty!) and he said yes. He just didn't get the song. My mother said she got what the song was about, but she didn't find it especially funny. I asked my father if he understood what the song was about and he just said, "Was it supposed to be The Girl From Ipanema?"

Clearly something was lost in translation. Maybe the lack of reaction to the song had to do with some of my flubbed notes. The melody could be complex at times (and the lyrics were a tongue twister to boot) with some very strange key changes (!@#% Sondheim!) I know I needed more than 3 sessions with the music director to learn it properly. I'm not that much of a musical genius to pick it up that quickly. There were some points in the song where I sounded downright awful and off-key.

What's worse though is that I didn't really sell it. The audience wasn't seeing the humor because I just wasn't projecting it properly. I couldn't convince the audience that it was funny. I was angry with the audience intially for not understanding the song. Now I realized I should be angrier with myself for not properly conveying the meaning of the song. I tried going my usual dramatic route in the first rehearsals. The director said it was much funnier if I did it totally deadpan. I'm not good at deapan. I admit that. I like to do things larger than life. I tried to restrain myself, but I don't think I did a good job. I wasn't singing from the point of view of a woman truly perplexed about why the object of her affection doesn't feel the same way and is missing the obvious signs. I didn't do it. I couldn't do it. It didn't work. I failed.

Maybe I should have insisted that I stay with a song I know I can sell. I can sing the crap out of songs like Cabaret or I Got Rhythm. I had suggested singing Look What Happened to Mabel, a song I haven't performed before, but I have been dying to perform partially because it's so perfect for my voice. I was on fire dancing to that one in my recital 3 years ago, so I know how the song feels to me (too bad I looked like a dancing sausage in costume). The director clearly wanted this song performed. I volunteered when they asked me if I would. He thought it was funny. He took a chance on my ability to perform it. In a way I feel I let him down.

The whole show was a bit disheartening to me. There were so many beautiful voices performing last night. These young women with the voices of angels - the sweetest, most melodious sorpranos imaginable, who drew thunderous applause after every song - made me sound more like an angry cat every time I opened my mouth. I wished I could have a voice so easy on the ears. I'm actually a soprano myself, but my top notes are shrill and screechy. No one wants to hear them unless they need support for the choir. Otherwise Rachel needs to keep the caterwauling to herself.

What's the solution? Should I be more demanding with what I sing in the future? Should I pick songs that I know I can sell?

Maybe playing it safe is the wrong way to go.

Perhaps I've gone so extreme with the loud, brassy character songs that it has all become too unpleasant and over the top. I may never sound very sweet, but maybe I should at least attempt to be sweeter. Maybe I should work on the ballads. A few years ago I was on a cruise and sang Dido's White Flag on a karaoke night. Kevin said the audience was transfixed. I bought the karaoke CD for myself and took it to singing class last spring. I mentioned to the teacher that the emotions expressed in that song bring me back to another time in my life - they express how I felt the first time something male ever broke my heart. The teacher felt I should explore this type of singing more. She felt I should make a bigger attempt to connect with those feelings and stop trying to put on a show.

I think that's the problem right there. I don't sing to connect to feelings. I do sing to put on a show. I love to perform because I want to be the center of attention. I want to scream, "LOOK AT ME," and if they're not looking I feel like a failure.

Sining class starts again for me this week. I think it's back to the drawing board for me.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Paris - Day 5 & 6


I wish the French would go a little easier on Americans when it comes to learning and saying their words. I understand that it's easy to bash Americans and their perpetual ignorance of other language and cultures. Learning a foreign language fluently does require a degree of immersion that Americans can't always afford, living separated from Europe by a vast ocean.

One thing I learned while in France is that French is hard. I'm not talking about the funny spelling rules. Sure those can be complex, but they are fixed and once you learn them, you know them (unlike English where the spelling rules can differ wildly). What I find hard about French is pronunciation.

I began to really pay attention to how French is spoken. I tried to imitate the words. So much of French is spoken so differently from not only English, but other romance languages. The placement of the words in your mouth are just alien to me. Vowels are placed very differently. Consonants are touched on with more or less emphasis than you are used to.

I have studied Italian and Spanish and both of those have very straightforward consonants and very clean vowels (make fun of Giada DeLaurentis all you want, but she knows how to pronounce Italian words properly). There is no fudging in in Spanish and especially not in Italian. Those languages don't really differ that much from English either. English is "lazier" with consonants and contains far more diphthongs, but it still places its words in a similar fashion.

Studying other languages doesn't always help you with French. Yes certain words are cognantes, so you can read or understand them, but saying them is a whole different ballgame. I had a very difficult time making my Rs guttural instead of flipping them. Kevin told me I had to work on my merci`.

Maybe the French won't ease up on me, but I don't think I will ever make fun of a French accent. It works in reverse after all. The French must have an equally difficult time properly placing English words.

Day 5 - We began to hear reports that the weather would be improving, so we decided our first order of business would be to see the Eiffel Tower that morning. Fewer clouds would mean a better view.

We decided to walk the whole way there up the Seine. It was a nice walk that took us less than an hour. The sun was definitely starting to peek through the clouds when we arrived.

Lines were long, and strangely enough the line to walk up was longer than the one to take to elevator the entire way. We had had enough walking anyway, so we were happy enough to wait in the shorter line.
So we reached the top. We looked down. We took photos. We posed for pictures. I normally don't have problems with high places. I was fine in Notre Dame and the Arc De Triomphe, but for some reason I was very nervous in the Eiffel Tower. I think a building made of steel girders somehow seems more threatening then solid stone.

I wanted to explore a bit around the Eiffel Tower area, but Kevin reminded us that we still had other important sights to see. Our next stop was the Louvre.

Thank goodness for the museum pass. We were able to get in almost instantly. Once we were down in the pyramid, it was all so confusing. We wanted an audiotour, but it was unclear how to obtain one. The wings shot off in every direction. It was all so intimidating. Where should we go first?

We started with viewing the famous Winged Victory.

Then we went to the Italian and Spanish painters gallery. Here we looked at Renaissance painters, some of which were quite recognizable.

Then we decided to try the antiquities area. We started with the Venus De Milo of course, but then hung around the Greek antiquities for a while. Then I said we should check out the Egyptian rooms.

The Egyptian rooms probably took the most of our time. They went on forever. I don't think we came close to seeing all of them. There came a point where we knew we had truly had enough. We were probably in the museum for 3 1/2 hours.

When we left I suggested we try to find Angelina's for a snack. I had forgotten my map. I tried to remember where it was. I failed miserably. We were going in the opposite direction of where we should have been going. Oh well.

When we returned to our room I had a big bug up my butt. We did not visit Tuilieres when we were at the Lourvre. It had rained on Versailles. The day had grown progressively sunnier and I wanted to walk through a park! I decided to find the Jardin De Luxembourg.

It took about 15 minutes to walk there and I was rewarded with seeing some beautiful scenery at sunset. I wished Kevin had joined me as it would have been quite romantic and he would have had some stunning photos.

Dinner that night was local again. We ate at a Guy Savoy restaurant. We hoped for another beautiful day.

Day 6 - Kevin wanted to go to Pere Lachaise cemetary and see Jim Morrison's grave. I knew we needed a good chunk of time to do this as it's a pretty long metro ride to get there. We lucked out with our choice of days to visit as it was the most beautiful day of the week.

It may sound a bit morbid to say it was a beautiful day to walk through a cemetary, but it was really beautiful and peaceful there. Some of the tombs were amazing in terms of the art work. We saw Jim Morrison, Edith Piaf, Chopin, Balzac, Proust, Rossini, Sarah Bernhardt and Oscar Wilde.

For the second half of the day we continued north to Sacre Couer. The neighborhood is interesting in a seedy sort of way. The beautiful day brought out all sorts of people. There were entertainers all around the church.

The church itself was beautiful both inside and out (unfortunately we were not allowed to take photo inside). Climbing all of those stairs to get there helped burn off lunch.

Then of course we had to climb more stairs to go to the top of the dome. We looked down at more views and took pictures.

We left Sacre Couer and took the metro back towards our hotel, but instead of going straight home, we stopped on the right bank and walked along the Rue De Rivoli. We walked from the Chatelet station to Place Des Vosges. This area had the best shopping I had experienced so far. There were all kinds of fun stores. Kevin bought himself two new shirts and a new pair of shoes. I found a shoe store with several pairs that called to me as well, but I was too tired at the end of a long day to choose one and then try to find my size.

We ended it at Place De Vosges, which is an enclosed square with a park in the middle and various stores and galleries around the perimeter. It also home to Maison Victor Hugo. We considered going in, but we didn't have the energy for another musuem. Many of the restaurants looked good, but it was a bit early for dinner and we considered coming back to them later.

On our walk back we were so absorbed in shopping that we weren't really looking for landmarks and walked right by Notre Dame (the turnoff for our hotel). We almost walked all the way back to the Louvre. We turned around and headed east again and made it back to our hotel a bit later than we thought we would.

Once we were back in the room we had to stop putting off the inevitable and began packing for the trip home. It was particularly sad because we had had such a good day. It would be hard to say which day in Paris was the best day, but if I had to pick one, Friday would certainly be in the running.

We stayed in our neighborhood for dinner again. We were too tired to walk anywhere or bother with the Metro.

Day 7 - All good things must come to an end. We met our shuttle early in the morning and made good time to the airport. There were no real issues there except that they ended up searching one of my carry-on bags. It was filled with candy and cookies and I hoped they wouldn't be seized. Fortunatley they weren't. We had a decent flight and made it home by mid-afternoon.

Was Paris everything I expected it to be? I suppose it was, although no place is ever going to be in reality the way it is in your head. We saw some amazing sites, ate delicious food, and had some very educational experiences. I saw many things I have dreamed of seeing my whole life. This was supposed to be "my" trip, but Kevin enjoyed himself immensely, calling Paris the most beautiful city he had ever seen (emphasize CITY, not place).

So many friends and families had suggestions for us as to what to do, what to see, and what to experience. We saw much of it. There were also things we missed. We never spent a leisurely afternoon drinking in a cafe watching the world go by. I never ate a single macaron. I didn't hit any of the cool bars. In the end I'm cool with that. Kevin and I set our own pace for the trip and saw the things that meant the most to us. This was our trip and not anyone else's.

Maybe we didn't see everything everyone recommended or do everything we had hoped to do, but that's our best motivation to go back!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Paris - Day 3 & 4

The question everyone asks me now is, "Is it true that French people are rude?" Well, France is a big country, and I'm sure it has plenty of rude people, and I'm sure it has plenty of very pleasant people too. All I saw was a small sampling of people in a large city in a small country. How can I make such a generalization?

My daily interactions were quite pleasant for the most part. Few people seemed to look down on me for not being able to speak French or for being American or for wearing the wrong shoes. Most of the folks I met were servers and receptionists and ticket takers and shopkeepers. Being rude to me would certainly not benefit them monetarily. I had many pleasant interactions with Parisians.

Then there was on incident that made me wonder. Kevin and I were walking around our neighborhood shopping for some necessities. I came upon a Sephora.

There has been something I have been meaning to get from Sephora for the past few weeks, so I decided to go in and see if the Paris branch carried it. I found it and went to the register to make a purchase.

There were two registers open. One had 3 or 4 people in line. One had only two men who appeared to be together. Obviously I chose the shorter line. It turned out to be the wrong line. The two men in front of me were having some sort of issue and were filling out a form. The cashier looked at me sympathetically and assured me she would help me as soon as she was finished with them. I told her it was fine. I considered jumping into the other line, but it had grown longer.

Finally, a third sales person walked up to the registers and conferred with the other two. She saw me waiting there, clearly looked at me, and opened up the register. She then said, "Next," (she may have even said it in English) and looked right at me.

Before I could take another step and get in her line, the next person in the other line jumped right in front of me. The cashier gave me a sympathetic and puzzled look, but I was not about to start a fight with the line jumper. I let her go ahead, went in line behind her, and made my purchase.

Was the line jumper French? I don't know. Kevin thinks she was American. I don't think it matters. Rude and selfish behavior is not confined to one culture.

Every day I dealt with nearly being run down by Parisians on their way to this place or that. We squished together in the Metro. Parisian residents who aren't in the service industry have no need to be nice to tourists when it's not going to benefit them. I'm not saying that they were being deliberately rude. I'm just saying that they were just living their lives. These are people who just want to go to work, go home, have dinner, shop, and just be where they need to be. They're in their own individual worlds, out for themselves.

Paris is a big city, and people who live in big cities tend to be @ssholes. It's the nature of city living. When you live in a city you're constantly surrounded by people. You are likely to be paying ridiculous amounts of money for housing - and rather tiny housing at that. It's a very stressful way of life. You're not out there enjoying the endless pleasures the tourists are taking in. You're working and living in a real world. You just want to focus on making your way and it helps to ignore the throngs of humanity around you. Being surrounded by thousands of people also instills a certain level of paranoia and mistrust. That's not just Paris. It's New York. It's London. It's LA. It's Tokyo. It's Chicago. It's Mumbai.

So no, French people are not rude. They're just people. Human like you and me.

Day 3 - This was our busiest day of all. Too bad it was another gloomy day with intermittent rain.

We began our day with a trip to the Musee` D'Orsay. We thought it would be fun to use the Batobus for transportation. It's a hop-on/hop-off boat that goes up and down the Seine, stopping at the major tourist points. It's a pay-one-price ticket for the full day, which seemed like a good deal. It's also a scenic ride.

We picked up the boat at Notre Dame, which meant that we had to wait for it to go all the way up the Right Bank and then back down the Left to reach the museum. It was a longer ride than we anticipated. It was close to 11 when we arrived. Then we had to wait on a very long line. Even with the museum pass it took at least a half hour due to the security checkpoint at the entrance.

We were unable to take photos inside, so all I have are the statues on the outside.

We spent about two hours inside the museum. Knowing we couldn't see it all in one day, we concentrated on the impressionists and post-impressionists. We saw Van Gogh's famous self portrait along with paintings by Cezanne and Degas and Gaugin and Renoir and Manet.

After the museum we fortified ourselves with crepes and soldiered on. Ha ha. That was a great pun since our next stop was Le Invalides and the Musee` D'Armee. We thought it would be cool to see Napoleon's tomb.

The tomb is in an open crypt with a balcony looking down into from the floor above. There is a high dome above the crypt and over the entrance is a big altar.

My thought was, "All of this elaborate burial regalia for a leader who ended up exiled!" I suppose it's less extravagant than the Taj Mahal.

After that we were over the beautiful Pont Alexandre and on to Place De La Concorde. We were actually doubling back by doing this, but I thought Kevin would have some good opportunities for photos with the obelisk and the fountains.

Then we made the long walk up the Champs Elysee`s to the Arc De Triomphe. It's a pity that it began raining harder around that time, making the scenery a bit dull and less colorful. The leaves on the trees would have looked so beautiful on a sunny day.

We made it to the Arch. Exhausted as we were, we were still crazy enough to climb to the top. What the heck. Our museum passes got us in, so why not?

We could have had to have walked back to the Champs Elysee`s to catch the Batobus again, but we were far too tired for such a long walk. We just took the Metro back to our hotel.

For everyone who has ever told me how wonderful the Metro is, I would like to know what you are smoking. Whatever it is, I wished I had smoked it too before using the Metro. Yes, the Metro is a bit easier to navigate than the NYC subways, but it's just as dirty and congested. Connections take forever because they are so spread out in the terminals. Let's not forget the inconvenience of having to open your own doors when the train stops. (It's a good thing we discovered you have to do that before we had to get off at our own stops.) The seating is horrible. It's rows of facing seats instead of the bench seats you see on the subway in NYC. That means fewer places for riders to actually sit. I was rarely ever able to plant my tired butt in a seat on the Metro. The Metro does not even compare to the London Underground.

After walking down the chi-chi Avenue with its many chain shops, I was grateful to finally be back in my cozy, unique, little Latin Quarter!

I actually took another walk around the neighborhood before dinner. I hadn't really explored the Latin Quarter and its shops and sights yet. We had dinner in a local cafe and went to bed as early as possible. We had an early day ahead of us.

Day 4 - Today we took a tour of Versailles. We opted to go with a small group van tour. The RER could have taken us there right from our hotel, but we liked the idea of having someone guide us and having everything prepaid. Our tour picked us up a little after 8AM and we were on our way. We were joined by a mother and her teenaged daughter who were from Boston along with a middle aged man and his mother who were from London.

We started out with the palace, going through the major rooms including the Hall of Mirrors and Louis XIV's bed chamber.

Then we had about 45 minutes to walk the grounds before lunch. Our lunch at a very nice restaurant was included.

Then we went on to Marie Antoinette's hamlet. I loved this place. It is an educational working farm now and there were gardens and animals and even a vineyard. It was the perfect place for a traditional Fall day in the country, particularly with the backdrop of the changing leaves. It was too bad that the rain continued that day.

Next was the Grand Trianon, the palace of the kings' official mistresses. Here was saw Napoleon's bed. The gardens here were very blue.

Then there was the Petite Trianon. This was another,smaller estate belonging to Marie Antoinette. There were some interesting artifacts here like some of the actual china in the kitchen and a royal baby carriage. The gardens were also quite beautiful here.

We arrived back at our hotel in the late afternoon. We had a few hours until dinner so we opted to take a walk around the Ile St. Louis and explore some of the shops. We were particularly interested in some of the sweet shops we had spotted on our way to dinner on Sunday night. There were several interesting boutiques there as well and we managed to get a head start on Christmas shopping.

The day was also our 9th anniversary. Our dinner reservations that night were at the famous La Coupole. It meant another Metro ride *grumble* to get there, but we had a very tasty dinner to make up for it.

Another day down. Our week was now half over.