Sunday, May 31, 2009

Lost in Translation

Language is a funny thing. I'm a little afraid of the alarming rate at which countries seem to be adopting English as a primary or at least significant secondary language. I fear the expectation that so many Americans have that anywhere you go, you should be able to speak English to anybody. What is that doing to the culture of foreign countries? And are we really that arrogant? Part of the beauty of traveling to someplace new is to experience the culture of the place, including the language they speak.

That being said, if you've ever had the opportunity to travel in a non-English speaking country, you know the unique challenge that this can present. Such was the case for me late last summer during my trip to St. Petersburg, Russia. Picture three hungry Americans trying to figure out which jumble of Cyrillic letters actually meant restaurant as we wandered down the street. When we did find a restaurant and the waitress kindly provided us with a menu in English, the translations were so awkward that I still had difficulty deciphering the choices. In those moments, while I appreciated the existence of a culture that still sticks to their antique alphabet and English is not anywhere near the top three list for the country, I felt a little alienated. The kid outside the clubhouse door, staring forlornly at the "do not enter, unless you know the secret code" sign.

Not having the first clue about the Cyrillic alphabet, I wasn't going to be cracking that code anytime soon. But honestly, the more I think about it, the more I'm okay with that. I'm starting to think that language isn't always about keeping people out of the club, though sometimes it is. It's also about connecting the people that are in. With regards to countries and nationalities, it becomes an identifier. Something to help distinguish a group of people and set them apart from those around them. To illustrate their uniqueness and to give them a common ground.

On a smaller scale, with our own English-speaking population, we create languages for different types of groups. A case in point is Scientology. I'm not espousing anything for or against the religion or movement or however you want to refer to it here. But an absolute fact is that they do have a language all their own. I have a few Scientologist friends and one of them once told me that she was getting "hatted." I had to ask for an explanation to find out that did not mean that she was going shopping for a new hat. But rather that she was being trained for her job. Or when she said she was "out affinity" with her boyfriend, which meant that they were having problems. The point is, having a unique way of saying things is certainly not about being exclusionary, especially in this case, where they clearly aim to increase their membership. It's about creating a connection in communication between the members of the organization that is not shared by the outside world.

I haven't spent much time around teenagers lately, but I can assume they still have language constructs all their own. Remember the days of Arp and Pig Latin? Bizarre derivatives of English designed to be difficult for parents to understand. A way to keep communications between us and our friends unintelligible to enemy ears.

The bottom line to me is that language is about bonding with other people, on both a large and small scale. It's about creating a unique connection between yourself and one or five or five thousand people. It bubbles down into even our smallest and closest relationships. I challenge anyone to tell me you don't have a special way of talking with the people you are closest to, a way that defines that relationship as being unique to the two of you in a way that no one else shares. I sometimes talk to my father in rhymes, something I don't do with anyone else, much to the frustration of my mother. Or we speak in gobbledegook, which somehow makes sense to us, even though no one else has any idea what we are saying.

And when my boyfriend asks me to burgle him, he doesn't actually mean for me to break into his house when he's not at home and steal his valuables. It's a word that has become a part of our own language. And the beauty of finding someone to create a language with is that you're automatically in the club, because you're the one who made up the secret code.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Dancing in the Streets

I love to travel. Being a history buff and a lover of culture, new cities and countries provide me with opportunities to explore relics of the past, great moments in time and the differences between a traditional meal or a night out in London and one in Tel Aviv. Though I relish the chance to go to these far away destinations, the same can be said of travels closer to home. The experience of a night on the town in an unfamiliar city is a window into that city's soul. And someplace that's only a few hours plane ride away from home can feel like a new and different universe when the sun goes down.

Last weekend, an old friend's wedding gave me the opportunity to head down to Austin, a place that's a mere three hour drive from the city I grew up and, and just a three hour plane ride from the city I live in now. But a trip down 6th Street on a Friday night was something altogether new to me in the world of nightlife. An experience to marvel at, to laugh at and to relish, down to every last bite.

After a pleasant, if somewhat predictable rehearsal dinner, that involved the most unusual dinner choices - vegan or duck, and the best cobbler I've had in a while, my boyfriend and I made our way back to the hotel. The historic Driskill Hotel, located conveniently at the corner of Brazos and 6th Street. My parents, also in town with us for the nuptials, headed off to bed and we changed out of our rehearsal dinner attire into something a little more Friday night friendly and headed back out.

For anyone who hasn't been to Austin, 6th Street is what you would call the main drag for bars and nightclubs. Just steps outside of our hotel they started. And as we walked down the block, we began to realize that just about every storefront was a bar, or club or music venue. There were a few restaurants thrown in for good measure, and maybe a tattoo shop here or there. And it just kept going. We were so overwhelmed by the options that we made a complete two-block circle without stepping inside a single door. But not for lack of trying on the part of the guys or girls on the doorstep of each venue, doling out promises of no cover and two dollar drink specials to us as we passed by. A far cry from the lines, guest lists and hefty cover charges that are the earmarks of a trip to just about any hotspot on Sunset or Hollywood Blvd. in the City of Angels.

With a veritable buffet of options, all with the same low cost, low commitment allure, how to choose? The live blues music coming, somewhat disconcertingly, from an Irish pub, was the draw for location one. The bar was about half-full, and we found some real estate at a small table near the front, where we nursed a couple ciders and let the sound wash over us, relishing the fact that we could just "drop in" somewhere and hear some pretty great music, complete with some incredibly impressive harmonica riffs, the likes of which I doubt any Hollywood venue has seen in some time.

When our feet started itching for a venue where we could take them out for a spin, we dropped a tip in the band's bucket and headed out. By that time, the streets were closed and there were as many, if not more people, milling around outside than there were in the clubs. An amalgam of college students, tourists, middle-aged locals and a few crazies thrown in for good measure, including the man in a sheer red tutu and a thong. A few doors down from the pub we were drawn in to a nearly empty club by the promise of a good dance beat and the now familiar lure of some good drinks at recession-friendly prices.

We started to realize that this was a late night town, much to our delight, since to us, an empty dance floor in the presence of good music is something akin to oh, say, heaven. It was our playground, and the perfect place to make complete fools of ourselves with something that I would call "dance dramatic interpretation." What the hell right? We were from out of town. As the people finally started to tumble in and fill up the floor, we took ourselves marginally more seriously. The need to entertain ourselves with our own ridiculous dancing was usurped by the entertainment that was now swirling around us. The trio who were out for a girl's night on the town, and well, on each other. They were quite enthusiastically humping each other and shunning all men who tried to break up their estrogen party. I had the misfortune to witness one of them pulling a Britney Spears, as she executed something that I guess was a dance move in far too short a skirt. I suppose she meant it to be seductive, but it really just looked like she was copping a squat. And then there was the group of four or five girls who were probably all of about 21 years and one day old. Their still-teenage bodies poured into tight shorts and heels as they danced on the speakers and gyrated their butts in the air as if their post-collegiate goals included lucite shoes and a pole.

When we were satiated from dancing, drinking and laughing, at ourselves and the colorful crowd, we stumbled, sweaty and a bit drunk, from the club into the balmy outside air. The streets were full. Laughter, music, talking and yelling filled the early summer night. The vegan rehearsal dinner (we both hate duck) had long since deserted our systems, so we followed the smell of garlic and cheese to a late night pizza shop and devoured a seriously tasty slice of doughy, melty goodness. As we left the shop and turned up the street, we realized that for the better part of the evening, we had been less than a block from our hotel.

6th Street was Austin for us in that moment, a mini-city, where you could have it all, for less than the valet parking at one Hollywood nightclub. Not that I don't enjoy a trip to the La La Land nightlife every now and again. Not to mention the novelty of a karaoke club in Tel Aviv, or the thrill of a secret underground bar in London. The real beauty was not in the cheap prices and the proximity to our hotel room, but in the uniqueness of the experience and how I will always remember my trip to Austin, partly because of one great night on one little street.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

A Mother's Day Protest

Today is Mother's Day. And yes, arguably, it's a holiday that was invented by a greeting card company in an effort to create yet another event that requires a trip to your local Hallmark store. Though, according to Wikipedia, the holiday was originally thought up by a woman named Anna Jarvis, who had noble intentions to simply honor mothers and motherhood, and was notably arrested in 1948 for disturbing the peace in an attempt to protest the gross commercialization of said holiday. She later said that the greeting card was for individuals who were too lazy to write an actual letter and that she wished she had never come up with the darn holiday in the first place.

I did not send my mother a card today. Instead, in an effort to honor the true origin of Mother's Day and the wishes of Ms. Jarvis, I offer this.

Dear Mom,

When I was little, I don't remember exactly how old, there was a day when we lost power. It was in the afternoon, a stormy day. You spread a blanket on the living room floor of our house on Brookcove. Out of the kitchen cupboard you produced a couple of cans of sterno, some marshmallows, chocolate and graham crackers. You fashioned sticks out of coat hangers and sat with Wendy and me around a makeshift campfire, make s'mores and pretending we were camping in the forest. It was an afternoon I still remember to this day. You were my storyteller.

At around seven or so, you gave me my first cookbook, the one you recently dug out of hiding so it now rests proudly in my collection. We stood together in the kitchen and you helped me make my first recipe, grilled peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. You showed me how to dip the sandwich in the egg mixture and watched carefully as I stood over the hot stove and grilled it to perfection. And then we sat together at the end of the island in the kitchen and enjoyed every gooey, melty bite of our creation. You were my teacher.

Later, in school, I got sick. You patiently took me to the doctors to find out what was wrong and then you helped me to understand that my own fears were making me sick. And you were there, every time I needed to call and check-in, helping me make it through each day, until it got better. You were my lifeline.

In high school, you were at every swim meet, feeding me pre-race pasta and cheering me on. You were at every play, clapping louder than the rest. You were there to pick up the pieces when I didn't win the race or get the part. You were my biggest fan.

College brought new challenges - living away from home, managing my own time, making new friends. You were always just a phone call or a plane ride away. And during my hardest round of finals, at the end of freshman year, you were there, quizzing me in the hotel room on music history and talking me down from an overdose of caffeine. You were my rock.

And in the face of the deepest loss imaginable, you listened to me when I no longer had someone else to tell things to. You let me confide in you and talk to you about my life and you treated me as an equal instead of a child. You became my friend.

You are my mom. But that is such a little word for the many things you are to me. And I cannot thank you enough for being the one that brought me into this life and being there for each and every minute of it. I don't think many can claim to have a mom who has never once turned away from her child, not even for a moment. I am one of the lucky few. You are my inspiration and I hope someday to be the kind of mom to my children that you have been to me. Thank you for loving me, raising me, teaching me, fighting with me, making up with me, growing with me and rooting for me. I am blessed to be here because of someone like you.

Love, PC

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Sole Searching

It's really all Cinderella's fault. I mean it's really no surprise that most of us have such an obsession with shoes. Barbie might have something to do with it too - I think my first plastic glitter high heels had her name scribbled across the soles. But it was that sparkling glass slipper that turned Cinderella from a scullery maid into a beautiful lady-in-waiting, and even more importantly, that same mystical shoe helped Prince Charming track down his mystery women and turn her into a princess. That's a hell of a job for one little shoe. I'm not sure any pair in my closet at any point in my life has lived up to such lofty aspirations. That's not to say they that most of them haven't done their fair share to make my life a better place, at least in some small measure.

There is a story that my mother tells from when I was a little girl. I don't actually remember the shopping trip in question, I was only around four at the time. We were on a mission to find new dress shoes, my mother and my grandmother both thinking a nice pair of black leather mary janes would be the practical choice. I, apparently, had other designs. Even at a young age, I already knew the thrill of a shoe that was just a little bit special. To that end, nothing, and I mean nothing that I tried on at the store fit. Except for the shiny, RED patent leather mary janes I had my tender young heart set on. Every other pair was too tight, or too big, or they pinched, or squeezed, or something. Most mysteriously, the EXACT same shoe, in the EXACT same size, in sensible, goes with everything black leather, just did not seem to fit my feet quite right. Needless to say I was a conniving little four year, and I got those red shoes. And wore them with everything, fashion statements be damned. It was the beginning of a shoe romance.

Now I am not an over-zealous, walking fashion statement kind of girl. I feel pretty strongly that if you are going for a run, you should actually wear running shoes, that it is perfectly acceptable to wear flip-flops for most summer activities and some fall and winter ones (this is Los Angeles) and that high heels are not at all necessary for a trip to the mall or a casual lunch with friends. That being said, I still wholeheartedly believe that the right shoe can make all the difference to an outfit and the wrong one can do an entire ensemble in. I should note that I'm a bit of a traditionalist when it comes to footwear fashion. I believe in the infinite power of a good strappy high-heeled sandal or a classic peep-toe pump. And for casual days, you can't beat the perfect black flip-flop, or a good old pair of Chucks. I honestly don't get some of the trends. Like the gladiator sandal, which doesn't work on anyone who doesn't have legs up to their armpits, and even then, I really think you still kind of need a toga. Or the "shootie," I think it's called. Something that's a cross between a high-heeled pump and an ankle boot. And sometimes they even have a cut-out toe or a lower part that looks like a sandal and an upper part that looks like a boot. Footwear with multiple personality disorder. I don't get it.

The real beauty about shoes is the way they can make you feel. Shoes are quite possibly one of the best methods of retail therapy available. A trip to DSW is cheaper than a visit to your shrink, well, depending on how many pairs you buy. And the only sole you have to bare is the one that will be sliding into that perfect Charles David wedge, with just the right angle of the heel to make your calf look fantastic and your troubles melt away. Not to mention how the right pair of heels makes you walk. Sexier. Better. Don't believe me? You're not wearing the right shoes. Go shopping. Now.

And if you think guys don't pay any attention to those bits of leather and fabric and whatever-else strapped to your feet, then you (a) need to find a man who doesn't think commenting on your footwear makes him sound gay, or (b) need to tell your man that commenting on your footwear does not make him sound gay, or (c) find a gay man who will happily comment on your footwear because he doesn't care if he sounds gay or not. Though option C guy will actually be the least likely one to tell you if he's turned on by the sight of you in those shoes. He can only tell you if you are breaking a fashion law in seventeen states. And the point of guys noticing your shoes is not whether they go with your dress, something you should hopefully be able to figure out, it's that your selection of footwear tells them something about you, and, quite frankly, can turn them off or on. My boyfriend likes to go to the country bars, where the dancing is the centerpiece of the evening's action. He says he can tell from one look at a girl's footwear whether she is there to dance and have a good time, or there to sit on the sidelines and hope a guy will be awed by her strappy sandals and polished toes and buy her a beer. The moral of the story being that if you want to catch a dance with the hot guy commandeering the dance floor at the country bar, leave the strappy sandals at home. A pair of boots will get the job done just fine. That doesn't mean those high heels should be relegated to the back of the closet, just choose the right shoes for the occasion. And listen to your man. If he's brave enough to tell you that he likes your shoes, make sure to wear that pair when you can. There's nothing better than knowing that those oh-so-high heels with the black straps across the front and the brass buckles will put a smile on his face when he walks through the door.

Over the years I've learned a few things about shoes.
1. If they hurt like hell when you try them on in the store, they're always gonna hurt like hell. And nobody worth their salt likes a date who can't do anything but sit there and look pretty.
2. Close-toes shoes are made for days when you forgot to get a pedicure.
3. Nothing is better than a pair of shoes that look great AND you can dance in them.
4. Men think the red soles on a pair of Christian Louboutins are incredibly sexy. I don't normally advocate spending $600 on a pair of shoes on a regular basis, but it might be worth it to save up for that one special pair.
5. Tennis shoes do not go with skirts. Unless you are playing tennis. Enough said.
6. Gladiator sandals should only be worn by gladiators.
7. Black is always a solid choice and goes with everything, but every girl needs a little red patent leather in her collection too, just to shake things up. Even if you are only four.
8. You can't have too many pairs of shoes. Unless you run out of room for them. In which case you should consider moving to someplace with more closet space.
9. Sometimes, you should leave them on.
10. As great as the pair you are wearing may be, there's is nothing as freeing as kicking them off and just baring your soles.