Friday, August 08, 2008

We were born at night, when the she-wolf whelped.

It feels a bit weird to be writing this, after a recent post. But Russia's invaded Georgia.

I don't claim to know much about the situation, but I do know a bit more than the average American. Before I moved to New York, I worked on a production of a show called The Man Who Tried to Save the World -- about the American, Fred C. Cuny, an American relief worker -- and maybe spy --who disappeared in the last Chechan War. I learned a bit of Chechen language (enough to translate a few lines their national anthem, sort of -- see title quote), and enough to learn their country was more than bomb craters and ravaged cities.

Even the briefest of study of the area reveals a long, nasty history of military brutality. It'd be nice if you could reduce that brutality to just one side, but you can't. The Russian/Soviet/Russian occupation of the area has been anything but pleasant (they pretty much removed the entire Chechan ethnicity away from the Chechan homeland, so there are no natural-born Chechans), but so has the Chechan reaction to that occupation. They've done horrible things to innocent people, too -- murder of aide workers, innocent children of different ethnic backgrounds...

And the situation is happening all over again in Georgia, for the same reasons, it seems. The old super-structure of the old USSR feels like it needs to prove itself against the machinations of some tiny republic with a history of a free past. Whatever he says, Putin is aligning himself exactly with the old-school Soviet rulers, and only someone as deeply stupid as Bush would ever believe otherwise.

And most of America will be looking at Beijing.


Thursday, August 07, 2008

"I Read About You on the Internet!"

Or, Sixty Million Tween Girls Can't Be Wrong.

I spent last Friday night at an out-of-town book release party for Breaking Dawn. I was intrigued by the concept, mostly because the proprietress of the store, Miss Laura, had sent me an email specifically barring me from several of the activities.

She mentioned something about the innocence of the teens there, her good name in the small town, and (with a delicate sniff honed, no doubt, through generations of Southern Good Breeding) "my reputation".

*My* reputation, mind, when one of the survey answers to her question, "Name a mode of transportation mentioned in the series?" was a seventeen year old boy. Well, who wouldn't snigger at that? Especially considering some of the seventeen year old boys she's had in the bookstore...*

I was also informed of the negative consequences of introducing alcohol to the festivities. Actually, I wasn't. Those were sort of left up in the air to increase the general air of malignancy associated with them, but they were No Good Things. It was sort of a shame I nevertheless got a thin covering of Crown Royal that night.

I got there early so I could help set things up. She -- in defiance of years of knowing me -- asked me to set up a PlayStation 3. Which I pretty much did. I got all the wires and things plugged in where they were supposed to be. Then I got to blow up balloons. Lots of balloons. /Lots/ of balloons. With little fortunes in.

After that, I went to go get ice. At this point, I should mention that I had grabbed dinner at a local Long John Silver's. ("Oh," I thought, "that'll make a nice change," forgetting that "sea-food" and "quick-service"** go together a bit like "feminine charm" and "Amy Winehouse".) When I came back to my car, I saw the refuse from dinner. Without thinking, I grabbed it an tossed it into a nearby bin. Along with the car key.

I got to dig through the bin liner to get it back. Conveniently, someone left a bottle of Crown Royal somewhere in the middle of the bag, and I drenched myself up to the elbows before I figured out what it was.

There were several other fascinating things in the bag besides the whiskey, like an empty bag of Hershey's Miniatures, a box of sleeping pills and a used container of Depends (though, uhh, fortunately, no actual Depends). I can only assumed I missed a rockin' Seniors field trip downtown...

So I showed up almost 30 minutes later with the ice. The festivities soon began.

It was actually a lot of fun. There were a lot of people -- about 300 teen girls, it seemed, and one guy. Yeah. One of /those/. He was first in line to a get a copy of the book, too, apparently. We all talked about him after the shop closed. It was rather a pity he was so intensely creepy, since he was sort of cute. In a beady-eyed, "don't turn your back on him unless you want a bread knife stuck there" sort of way. Which really wouldn't be a problem as long as he was a bottom.

There were bingo games, and fortune-telling, and arm-wrestling, and make-overs, and raffles and quizzes and Pictionary ("It looks like a homeless man's last will and testament," Ben said, when we looked at it after), and everyone left ecstatic. And clutching their copy of the book.

Which was pretty good, considering that at the climax of the night, a 6-foot ex-marine girl climbed the counter and shouted at people. The guests, except for someone who threatened to rip Laura's face off, were charming, and I met some really lovely people, including Laura's sister, who gave the title quote. Yes. It's nice to be in the same category as!

Clean-up took a long time, and I didn't get on the road till 3.30 -- which is about my standard for leaving from a trip to see Laura. One day, I should really take a camcorder and record myself singing aloud to Sharleen Spiteri or New Order or the 1989 London cast of Anything Goes about 5.15 to keep myself up.*** That would keep her in stitches for weeks.

You can see pictures of the event here. Though, curiously, I'm not in any.

*Well, not that kind of had, though she probably could have with the Boy G. Not that I would wish that on anyone. Well, twice. (I'd remind you of what Dan Savage says about paying sex workers...)

**That's the industry term for "fast-food". Like all industry terms, it's stupid.

***Granted, the infamous Interstate combined exit/on-ramp, complete with on-coming traffic, I once found on the way back from Laura's worked a lot better at waking me up.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

"There's a one-eyed Yellow Idol to the North of Kathmandu..."

You know, I don't think I've ever mentioned something to /anyone/.

As much as I like to travel, I've never been interested in going to Japan. Or India. Or (most) of China. But I'd love to go to Central Asia. As in the northern branch of the Old Silk Road -- places in Xinjiang, the Chinese far West like Turfan or Urumqi or Gaochang or Khotan, the Tarim Basin where Tocharian mummies were found, The Flaming Mountains and the Tian Shan Mountains.

Places like Bukhara and Samarkhand (in Uzbekistan), Bamyan in Afghanistan, Hazrat-e and Tamburlaine's summer palace at Shahrisabz in Turkmenistan.

(And a little further away, but just as remote and seldom heard-of, the Amur River or the Sakhalin island)

The closest I've ever gotten to any personal contact with the area was my friend Phil who decided to travel the world. After I watched a years old (now) episode of Globe Trekker where Ian Wright goes to that part of the world, I convinced him through a series of lies and promises to get me a Kyrgyz hat. Yes, my virtue was used, but it was long gone before I knew Phil, so it wasn't that much to promise. Unfortunately, SARS broke out while Phil was in China, and he got the boot back home. He never got across the border into Kyrgyzstan, and I never got my hat.

Anyway, you almost never hear of most of these places anymore. Most of them are poor, or have unstable governments, and travel is pretty difficult there. But a few days ago, an attack in Kashgar made it into the news. It made me sad that something like that was the only reason the area got name-checked.

[Blogger, as far as I can tell, give you no options short of editing HTML (a bit beyond my ken) to select where the pictures go. They are -- from top down -- the Amur River; Registan, a citadel at Samarkhand; Shahrisabz; Khan Tegri, one of the tallest of the Tian Shan mountains; and the Flaming Mountains in Turfan.]

[The title quote, which has nothing to do with anything, really, is the opening to "The Green Eye of the Little Yellow God", an interesting poem set in Nepal during the Raj.]