Monday, October 13, 2008

Low-Maintenance Or Dirty?

The Amazing Race didn't give me the same warm-fuzzies last night that I usually get while watching the show. Several moments made me particularly uncomfortable, particularly the marching band and the wrestling scenes. Normally, the show does a decent job of finding something unique to the location and presenting it in the most positive light possible. Last night I thought they made the locals look like asses. Really? The coolest thing you can come up with in La Paz is to perform staged wrestling moves? How sad.

But I was already irritated from a scene that occurred early in the show. The contestants reached Bolivia before dawn, and without proper accommodations, they were asked to camp in a plaza next to a statue of Simon Bolivar. As soon as the sun rose, the campers began their morning rituals.

I was shocked. Here they were in a public square treating it as if they were in their own bedrooms. Men were shaving with electric razors, while women were applying full-on war paint. Foundation, mascara, several colors of eyeshadow, the works. I know they're going to be on television so perhaps they want to add a little color, but I found this ridiculous. "You're traveling around the globe as fast as you can. You're sweating bullets, sleeping very little, and arguing with your partner for all the world to see. Will makeup really help?"

But then I started to get a bit more realistic. In humid weather, my crazy curly hair harkens back to Halloween costumes unless I employ the help of a little hair gel. I love the smell of vanilla, and even when I'm camping I like to have that dab of lotion to make me feel a bit softer, a bit girlier. I don't travel with a lot of jewelry, but I do wear earrings and a watch daily and sometimes a small bracelet.

I could do without the jewelry--except for my rings and a watch--and the vanilla lotion. The hair gel? I'm not sure I can give that up, for fear of scaring children. My question to you is this: when you're on a long trip and you're trying to pack light, what are those non-essential things that you still pack just so you can feel like you?

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Like A Chump

Marc and I are going to Paris over the winter holidays. We both speak limited Spanish and I know a trace of German and Italian (thanks music training!). Unfortunately, neither of us can speak a lick of French.

With a little more than two months still to prepare, I decided to make the most of my hour commute each morning. I bought "Learn French In Your Car!" The title is hokey, but I was attracted to the idea that the program was geared to the aural learner. I was also attracted to the reasonable price tag, considerably cheaper than that of, say, Rosetta Stone.

I was so excited yesterday when I decided it was going to be My First Day Of French. The course I purchased contains fifteen lessons. The first few are very basic and practical: Modes of transportation; Simple phrases and greetings, "Important" words (toilettes is very important).

Usually I keep a strict code for myself when I get a new CD and force myself not to skip around and instead to listen straight through. I couldn't resist, though...I wanted to learn how to order a meal. I decided to skip through the tracks for a quick sneak preview.

And that's when my purchase began to feel like something you'd expect to see advertised in a Saturday Night Live skit.

(chime) "Lesson Six: Numbers" (skip ahead)
(chime) "Lesson Seven: More Numbers" (skip ahead)
(chime) "Lesson Eight: Big Numbers" (skip ahead...seriously? why didn't they just put all the numbers together in one lesson...)
(chime) "Lesson Nine: Very Big Numbers" (What?!! are you kidding me?! @#$%$&*(#@)

Four out of fifteen of these lessons are just numbers. My husband, the king of moral support, reassured me by mentioning that you never know when you'll need to order 30,000 baguettes.

But the Very Big Numbers? They only go up to 99.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Haste Makes Waste

I have many happy memories of the summer of 1996. It was the summer before my junior year of college, and my family spent several days at the Atlanta Olympics. We saw some inspiring athletics, had lots of laughs, and enjoyed the opportunity to spend time together without school or jobs to get in the way.

Unfortunately, there is one memory of that adventure which my brother and sister will not let me forget. Ever. We were all standing in the MARTA station waiting to get on the subway. The place was packed with people, many of them from other countries, and it was hot, dark, and deafening in that station. After a long sweaty day at Track and Field and Baseball, we just wanted to get back to our parked station wagon and head home.

My dad was no exception. Like the rest of us, he was eager to get out of the city and into a cold drink. Impatience got the best of him and when the next train rolled into the terminal, my father charged through the throngs of people in order to climb aboard. What he failed to do was read the sign and realize the train was headed in the direction we didn’t want to go. Worried that my family would be separated (this was before cell-phones) I raced after Dad, grabbed his arm, and yelled at him to stop. He was determined to make that train, and after I grabbed and yelled a few more times and my family didn’t follow him, we had a knock-down drag-out fight in the middle of the MARTA station. Dad was pissed thinking we had missed the train, and I was pissed that he wasn’t listening to me. Mixed with thirst and fatigue, it was a terrible combination and we both showed our worst sides as a result.

I remembered our family blow-out as I watched this week’s episode of The Amazing Race. So many times these teams run into trouble simply because they don’t stop for a second and collect themselves. One brief moment to re-read a clue, listen to a partner, or ask for help would solve so many problems. Twice the divorced girls made huge blunders just because they were being careless. The southern blondes, the fratties, and the brother and sister team all drew blanks as they stared at the wall of phrases. People lost their tempers and their logic, but in the end what they lost the most was time. All that rushing around and scheming to get the first cab ultimately didn’t help them a bit.

When you travel, you’re undoubtedly going to encounter something stressful and maybe totally unfamiliar. Just take a minute, breathe, and think before you find yourself hopping on the wrong train.

Favorite Quotes:
"They didn’t even say HI to us!"
The cute African-American girl: "Our faces don't get red."
"I don’t mind playing dirty as long as I'm the one that benefits from it."
"Girls from South Carolina are not stupid. We might be a little slow but we’re not stupid."
"I have a lot of things in my life to be thankful for. I have my health, I have my parents, I have my looks, and I have Stephanie."