I started this blog because I left Boston to live and work in London for a while, and I wanted to stay in touch with family and friends. I'm back now, but still have plenty of opinions on world news, politics, the media and the absolute craziness that comes from dealing with people. Bring it.

23 March 2006

Maastricht Review

I love the city of Masstricht in the Netherlands. It's beautiful and very very cool from a history perspective. The river area is gorgeous and has very cool Roman historical sites, which I love.

The downtown market area is also great. Beautiful architecture as well as very cool, hip shops with some very cool design. I strongly recommend it, and I plan to go back in the Summer when the weather is good and you can really enjoy the river and walking around.

From a restaurant perspective, I had one of the best meals I have had in a long time at Les Trois Seaux, a fantastic fish restaurant with amazing food, great wine and a terrific atmosphere. Make a note -- their address is Markt 41 in Masstricht and I highly recommend it.

What I don't recommend is proceeding to a bar after a long dinner during which each attendee probably drank a whole bottle of wine each. Although the beer was good, the people friendly and the company superb, its a bad idea the night before a meeting. Sales guys -- they always being me down.

22 March 2006

Parental Advisory

Sorry about the posting delay! On Friday, my parents arrived for nine fun-filled days in my small one bedroom apartment. Which is mostly a lot of fun, but does not afford me much privacy to write (or anything, really!)

Last night, I returned exhausted from two days in Germany and the Netherlands – long meeting schedule, train trips, flights delayed, all sorts of travel mishaps, just wanting to take a bath, order room service and go to bed. And when I walked in the door, my parents were literally waiting by the door in their coats – “Let’s go to a pub for dinner! We’ve been waiting for you! We want to take you out! You probably need a beer! etc.” Was so sweet but so the opposite of what I wanted at that moment in time. (Look for a subsequent post, probably later today, in which you will learn that I was totally hungover and wanted to die, actually, not go to a pub and have another beer!)

I love having them here, and they're great. It's just that whenever they are not out and about touring, they want to spend every moment with me. If I open up my laptop, my dad will literally come sit next to me to see what I am typing. If I go to the bathroom, I will hear them calling out to ask "where are you?" It's a one-bedroom apartment! Where do they think I am? So my writing will be a bit sporadic... but I have no doubt, worth it.

Some parental visit highlights for your amusement --

My dad's constant asking in every pub whether they have "any beer at all that is served cold?" And he knows the answer -- that British cold beer
isn't American cold beer. But yet, he enjoys the exchange for some insane reason!

My Mom's obsession with taking photos of the kids with mohawks at Camden Market. Hilarious, but oh-so-kooky parental!

Their shared love of the supermarket. They go to Tesco every day to
buy hilarious stuff. Chocolate-covered ginger biscuits, taramasalata and
croissants one day. Dove soap, orange juice, cheddar cheese and plums the next. Evcery day -- some other weird amalgamation of purchases!

And of course, their well-meaning but slightly amusing obsession with my having a good breakfast. Usually, my breakfast consists of coffee and
cigarettes. Occasionally, a yogurt. My father wakes up every morning
to make me a full on breakfast complete with omelette before they leave for their sightseeing. It's so funny. On Monday, when I had to leave for
the airport early, they got up early to make breakfast and eat with me before I left on my trip. Was so sweet (and hilarious!)

Next up: Why traveling with sales people is bad news for your liver. Plus, how cool are the Dutch?

16 March 2006

Craziness at Starbucks

I was having some internet issues earlier today, so went to Starbucks to use the hotspot and get some work done.

So I'm minding my own business, working on my laptop when this guy comes in and sits at the table next to mine. He is wearing a suit and a pinky ring. And he is trying to chat with me despite the fact that I am clearly working on something.

Now, maybe, if I wasn't stressed about not having internet in my place and trying to meet some deadlines, I might have started to chat with him, but I didn't really have the time. So I just smiled politely and kept on working.

Suddenly he picks up his cellphone and "makes a call." (I use parentheses because I am not totally convinced he actually called anyone) He then proceeds to LOUDLY exclaim the following:

"Listen, Man. I am NOT going back to Baghdad. I don't care how
much they want me back. I don't care if they give me personal 24 hour a
day bodyguards. I need a life and that place will f**k you up! Are
you at the American Embassy? Oh, the British one? OK. Yeah,
well tell them I'm not coming back, OK? Yeah, thanks."

Apparently, this was designed to get everyone's attention because he then leans over to me and says, "Hi, I just got back from Baghdad. Don't ever go there. That place will f**k you up."

He is clearly waiting for me to ask, so I say, "Oh, what were you doing in Baghdad?" He responds that he was "consulting." And then asks what I do. I respond that I work in marketing for a company in the wireless space. He says, "Oh wow. I do marketing for wireless, too. Ringtones, stuff like that" So of course, I can only respond, "IN BAGHDAD?!" Because clearly that makes no sense.

But little did I know that he was saving his BIG GUNS in an attempt to really impress me. He leans in close, and then YELLS OUT (why someone leans in to yell in your face, I have no idea...) "Actually, I was working for Halliburton!" and sits back and waits for me to be blown away. As if that would impress, rather than horrify me.

I mention that this is not impressive and he says, "Oh, are you familiar with Halliburton?" (I stifle the desire to tell him that unlike him, I am not an idiot.) Then follows it up by asking if I am American. (As if my accent doesn't make it obvious.) When I respond in the affirmative he tells me that he carries American, British, Canadian, Belgian and Dutch passports. I find this claim dubious but respond, "that's nice."

He then asks my name. When I answer him, he says, "Oh, are you Israeli?" When I say that my parents are he confides, "I have an Israeli passport, too." Which seem farfetched, especially given his recent time in Baghdad and the fact that no one has 6 passports unless they bought most of them. He may have realized because he next screams out, "You know the Israelis are all over Baghdad. The eye in the sky." Whatever the hell that means!

At the risk of being non-PC, may I just add here that there was a very devout Muslim family in the Starbucks when he yelled out this "Eye in the Sky" stuff -- so devout that even the wife's EYES were covered. (like she would have totally passed muster under the Taliban) and they, along with everyone else were STARING and talking about him. (Everyone in the place was pointing and talking quietly, and I can only pray they felt sorry for me, rather than thinking that I am also crazy or somehow was encouraging him to spout this nonsense) I'm sure this family were thrilled to hear this guy screaming about Halliburton, Iraq and Israel's "eye in the sky"! No wonder there's a culture clash -- Canadian/American/Europeans appear to be brash idiots with multiple passports who lie and scream and make no sense.

He then asks how old I am. When I say 36, he responds, "Really? Wow. I'm 36 too!" Like this is an amazing coincidence and we're fated to meet. He follows up with "are you dating anyone?" I of course use my years of experience deflecting crazies and lie and say yes... But that does not deter him.

He starts looking for more things we have in common. (Meanwhile, I am pointedly IMing, emailing and generally trying to seem busy on my laptop, but he doesn't care...)

He asks what countries I have traveled to. My last trip was to Budapest, so I offhandedly, while typing, say "I was recently in Budapest." Of course, he "also has family from Budapest." In fact, "he was just thinking that I look very Hungarian" -- which I am not and do not, by the way. If I had said Alaska, or Zimbabwe, I'm sure he would have had a connection there too.

He then asks where I went to school. I say Brandeis and although he does not claim to have gone there, he does know tons of people who did. He asks if I have attended any synagogues in London. I say that I am not very observant and he says "Oh, neither am I, I was just wondering if you were. I can't believe how much we have in common. Is the guy you're dating in the UK or the US?" Hello, non-sequitir.

This craziness of manufacturing things we have in common goes on and on... and he is SCREAMING about Iraq and Halliburton and Israel and his 9000 passports. And all I want to do is run away. Especially since he has asked for my phone number a number of times now and I know that there is no way I can continue to get out of giving it to him.

I IM a colleague and ask him to call me immediately. He calls me and says "What's going on?" thinking I want to talk about a work issue. I say "You want me back in the office? They moved the deadline up?" (this colleague is nowhere near the office, BTW) He is of course confused so I say, "Ok, I'm just chatting with this guy at Starbucks, but I'll wrap it up and come right in. I'll be there in 20 minutes." Thankfully, my colleague is quick and he understood from my clue what was going on. In fact, he called back a few minutes later to make sure I escaped. I owe him a huge debt of gratitude!

But now I need to find a new Starbucks... I have a feeling Mr. Halliburton United Nations 36 year old Crazy will be back. And he's gonna want my phone number.

12 March 2006

Music Bias

I always feel like the US is somehwat unique in the way people just sort of pick a genre of music -- like hip hop, alternative, classic rock, whatever -- and simply identify themselves as fans of that particular type of music. Like as if the huge Pearl Jam fan you know doesn't secretly have a BellBivDevoe tape or cassingle of Young MC's "Bust a Move" left over from college that they listen to when no one is around.

Now I know that this is a huge generalization, so don't go writing comments saying I'm a "snob" or "generalizing" or whatever, or accusing me of having said BellBivDevoe tape. I freely admit to liking a bizarre mix of genres. I'm just setting the stage for what I have seen in many other countries I have travelled to, and which I witnessed during last week's trip to Athens and Budapest.

People in other countries just don't seem as constricted by music genre labels. A radio station abroad (let's say in Germany) could feasibly play Rage Against the Machine, followed by a song from Grease folowed by Air Supply followed by Ricky Martin followed by some song from Romania. And no one would think this was odd.

In the US, on the other hand, these songs would not cross over outside of their traditional "format" based on the station -- and some of them would never be heard at all.

Some examples from this past trip:

1) In a meeting, a Hungarian guy told me that his three favorite bands are Deep Purple, Pink Floyd and Black Eyed Peas. Seriously.

2) During a 15 minute taxi ride in Athens I heard the following on the radio: A Greek pop song (which was very cool by the way), INXS, "You're the One that I Want" from Grease, "Son of a Preacher Man", and Madonna.

3) I was told that the most downloaded music in Hungary comes from two genres: Hungarian Folk Music and Dance/Electronica -- and the demographics for these are virtually the same.

Are we just too self-concious in the US? Do we just feel like everything we do -- clothes, food, musical taste, etc. -- must make a statement and place us in our perceived "social sphere" at all times? Why do we make instant judgements about people based on the music they listen to? And why do we abandon so much music after a few months? I'm not saying everyone does these things, but it does seem uniquely American to say "I'm a 90s music person," or "That song is so Adult Contemporary." (OK, so I admit I've actually uttered the last one...)

I just can't imagine meeting an American who claims Deep Purple, Pink Floyd and Black Eyed Peas as their favorite bands. And sometimes, its nice to hear some random unexpected tune come on after the latest and greatest. It helps you to remember songs you really liked a long time ago, or the time back in 1981 you and your cousin developed dance routines to every song on a particular Abba album.

11 March 2006

Hungarian Politics

So I also went to Hungary on this last trip, and I'll write all about the cool stuff I saw and how much I liked it in a subsequent post, but first, I just HAVE to write about this fantastic article I read in the Budapest Times -- an English language paper I found in my hotel room when I checked in.

I have located it online, so you can read the whole thing here, if you like. It has got what I believe is one of the best headlines I have ever read in a non-satirical news outlet: Fidesz accuses Gyurcsány of saying “Hungary can blow me” -- have you ever seen a better headline?!?!

Here's an excerpt, copied word for word from the article:

The main opposition party last Thursday continued its negative election campaign against the ruling Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP) with a claim that Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány told the nation to “blow him.”

Fidesz political communications director, Tamás Deutsch-Für, referred to a picture in which Gyurcsány appeared to be pointing his thumb in the general direction of his crotch.

“Hungary can blow me [Magyarország bekaphatja],” said Deutsch-Für. “This is what Gyurcsány was saying with this gesture.”

Deutsch-Für called for a press conference to interpret the photograph, taken in Karcag, central Hungary, saying that Gyurcsány made the “foulest possible” gesture in response to criticism from locals.

This is fantastic. I wish American newspapers spent more time at press conferences analyzing the gestures (and idiotic facial expressions) of American politicians. The tone and seriousness of this article just made me realize that I would have a good time in Hungary even before I actually unpacked my suitcase and headed out into the city.

Oh, and I also appreciate that I now know (as a result of the helpful translation in the article) how to say "Hungary can blow me" if I ever get into an altercation with a Hungarian.

My Big Fat Greek Trip

Ok, so not an original post headline, but I've got a lot of ground to make up and couldn't be bothered to be original. I was traveling all last week and didn't post at all (which some of you have kindly pointed out -- a few times -- via email.) So I'll start with my trip to Athens.

I was in Athens for business. Arrived Tuesday night for a Wednesday morning meeting. After a few drinks with my colleagues, we met some people from one of our partners for dinner. Apparently, it IS possible to get a bad Greek meal in Athens. Was so so disappointing. But Greece itself is amazing. The people are wildly friendly -- in fact, they refer to everyone as "my friend" -- as in "My friend, where are you from?" or "My friend, where would you like to go?" or "My friend, to the right is the Acropolis."

On Wednesday morning we got in a taxi for the drive to our meeting. We get in and the driver is like, "What time is your meeting?" We say 10 and he responds, "Oh, don't worry, in Athens there is a lot of traffic, so they really mean 'about 10.' You actually have until 10:30 to get there." And he wasn't kidding. it took almost an hour to go 6 km.

On the way, I had one stupid American experience. I'm sitting in the back of the taxi, kinda zoning out and tired, when we pass this gorgeous building with Greek letters on it. My first thought is, "Wow. That's a nice fraternity house," before I realize that actually I am an idiot and its a government building, not a freaking US college fraternity house. Damn those freaking homophobic fake college clubs that ruin the GREEK LANGUAGE, and make me look like an ass. Thankfully, I didn't say anything out loud, but I don't even like looking like an ass to myself.

The other cool thing about taxi drivers in Athens is that they like to serve as tour guides, and you can't drive around Athens without seeing something cool, like the Acropolis, the Temple of Zeus or the stadium where they held the first modern Olympic games.

Had a much better dinner at the harbor the second night and even got a taxi driver to take me to the Acropolis and wait for me to climb up and see it before taking me to the airport on Thursday. I am definitely going back!

05 March 2006

Not The Onion

Amazingly, this story, about Geraldo Rivera wanting to emigrate to Israel and run for Knesset is not from The Onion, but a real news story.

Can I just point out that I mentioned Geraldo on this blog a week or so ago? Apparently, I am psychic. Hey Geraldo, did you get some sort of tip that Al Capone's valuts were actually in Israel? I think Israel can do without anyone affiliated with Fox News, but that's just me...

04 March 2006

More Insane TV

As Alex so wisely pointed out to me, the posts regarding TV on my blog tend to get the most comments and action (and have helped make me numero uno on Google for the search term "Insane TV"). So with that in mind, I'm going to talk TV yet again.

This time, though, I'm gonna start with an Insane TV commercial. Specifically, one for "
Fairy"- a dishwashing detergent. You can view the ad for the Active Burst Tabs here. What makes a dishwahser tablet ad so insane, you ask? Perhaps it is the presence of three male celebrity chefs, eating dinner, arguing about who will do the "washing up" and then allowing "the fairy" to do it. Is it me? I didn't realize these guys were actual celebrity chefs until I studied up on it, so I was a bit taken aback. Now, I'm just amused. I'm also wondering whether or not this was intentional. In any case I am pretty sure this ad would not have happened in the US.

Next instance of "Insane TV" -- the importation of another American Freakshow -- Amish in the City. Apparently this show aired on UPN in like 2004? Although I was lucky enough to miss it then, I caught the first episode today. And it's what you think it is -- an MTV Real World-type house that brings together 6 "regular" (if you can call these charicatures of people "regular") twenty-somethings and 5 Amish young adults on their "
rumspringa" (or time off from being Amish before they become full-fledged adult members of their community) to live in LA.

The most horrific part of this show (among many) is the embarassing behavior of the so-called "regular" people, including the busboy with the painful South Boston accent, the "cool guy" who shaves the chest of one of the Amish guys on the first night, and the girl who immediately calls the Amish girls "competition" the minute they shed their bonnets. And sadly, I fear you're supposed to root for the Amish people to forsake their traditions and instead embrace the lives of these fools at the end. My only real comment on this show is, "WHY?!"

Food Hall Fun

I spent a fabulous afternoon in the Harrod's Food Hall today. I love that place. (The Krispy Kreme stall -- complete with HUGE line -- notwithstanding. Can someone please explain that to me? How Krispy Kreme made it into the Harrod's Food Hall? What's next? Dunkin' Donuts? Arby's?) Anyway, other than that, there's something about that space that causes all sense of reason to go out the window. But its just so fabulous, you can't help youself.

I went absolutely nuts. Teas, pastries, cheeses and a bunch of prepared foods. I got to one stand and they had the most amazing-looking prepared middle-eastern dishes and I went wild. Bought everything I wanted.

My dad called me this evening and I was telling him all about it. Going on and on... How I bought falafel, and stuffed grape leaves and tabouleh and moussaka'a, etc. And as I'm teling him the story, I'm like, "yeah, it was only a pound twenty per grape leaf and a pound per falafel, and I got a ton. I'm gonna have to make sure I don't eat it all at once." And my dad is laughing, saying, "You paid $2 per falafel ball? Are you nuts? I hope you love them!"

So apparently, I got sucked into the mania that is the Harrod's Food Hall... and that's OK. Next time, I might skip the falafel, though...