2

Christmas Casual

It’s been a busy month, but now that I have a moment to breathe, I would like to take this opportunity to record an observation. Not really a rant, if you will, but more of a “why?”

So, today, I flew from Baltimore (where I spent 6 days visiting my parents) to Dallas, TX and then on to Austin, TX for APO Nationals, which start in 2 days so I have no idea why I am here other than a cheap flight. Well, that is a pretty good reason. It’s also Christmas, as most of the world knows (and if you don’t believe me, just go to http://www.isitchristmas.com) and I feel like every year, it gets a little crazier.

I’ve flown on Christmas Day before, but let me tell you. Once I cleared security (wearing my brown coat, gray quarter-zip sweatshirt, and jeans) all of a sudden, everywhere, it was…

RED. GREEN. RED. GREEN. SHINY. SHINY. PLAID. FLANNEL. CANDY CANES. RED. GREEN. SHINY. GREEN. RED.

It was like stepping into a bizarre world where everyone wears one color and looks like idiots. I saw flight attendants with floppy Santa hats, parents and children in matching onesies, and other items of clothing that would look more appropriate in an L.L. Bean catalog than an airport. I mean, there’s festive, but then there’s ridiculous. Do you really need that shiny hat? When you are wearing red plaid pajamas in public, what are you really telling the world? Are you an adult, a child, or just trying to fit in? Children get a pass on this one; under a certain age, they don’t get to choose what they wear for the most part, but seeing entire families marching around the airport in matching flannel hoodies with reindeer antlers makes me wonder if any of these people looked in a mirror before entering the house.

When I got off the plane in Dallas, it was the same deal, but once I left the airport in partly cloudy and 71-degree Austin, it was back to summer winter and Christmas who. At least I got to meet up with Sarah for dinner at a vegan place, and took a walk down 6th Street in attempt to find an open store (which I did!) to purchase a Coke, a pastry, and a comb.

But for all of you out there who wear matching flannel plaid Christmas pajamas outside of your house…please, reconsider. Freedom of religion good, freedom of fashion choices even better.

And that’s why we should all go back to dressing up in formal attire for air travel.

4

My Door, Nice Neighbors, and More

So, today was rather uneventful. Well, not so much for the Supreme Court and all those involved in the appeal, but for me, anyway.

I did get woken up this morning with the lovely sound of my door being replaced with a new one. It was highly unpleasant to listen to, but it got me up, out of bed, dressed, and actually doing the readings for today while cleaning the kitchen. But now I have a new door. There is no number on it yet, so I guess I live in a numberless apartment for now.

I also decided to laundry between classes. Stupidly, I started it a little too late to follow through completely, and by the time I was putting it in the dryer, this girl Molly from down the hall was putting her wash in. I needed to go to class, so I left my hamper there, and told here that if/when she needed the dryer, she could leave my stuff in this blue hamper. And when I got back from class, my clothes were actually sitting in the hamper rather than on the floor! What a nice surprise.

Normally my life is pretty rosy (or at least I portray it to be), but at the moment I’m in a rough patch. I’m not sure why, but I’m just not feeling too inspired. I think I will edit an older post, say hello to my newest country to visit (Georgia!) and then call it quits for the night.

So here is the completed post about jerks on airplanes, now with a second story added. Yay!

5

Turbulence: You May Experience Jerks

The title pretty much says it all.

But to give you some context, it started this morning, when I was supposed to be getting ready for class but reading Facebook on my phone as usual, and I came across an article from a newspaper in New Zealand about this. By the time I had thought of a response, I had long lost the link, so I found an almost identical article here, in the Washington Post.

The article I linked above adds some scenarios that I didn’t encounter in the New Zealand article, so I’m just going to focus on the first one. It happened on an El Al airplane leaving New York (Kennedy, presumably) for Tel Aviv. Several dozen Orthodox Jewish men, some of them rabbis, refused to take seats near women, as Jewish law forbids close contact with non-related women, see one of my negia posts for more on that. After getting all the men seated, the plane finally took off, only for the men to stand back up during the flight and congregate in the aisles, rather than sitting next to women. This made life difficult for everyone else on that eleven hour trans-Atlantic flight, especially when the men offered passengers money to switch seats before takeoff.

I have to say, well done rabbis. You sure showed that plane full of people your true colors. Well, your true monochrome, that is. Now, you’ve not only gotten yourselves a reputation for being jerks, but this stunt will absolutely do wonders for the image of Jews, specifically the Orthodox, around the world. The world is not tailor-made for Jewish people; I’ve learned that the hard way, going to school on Jewish holidays and not being able to eat much from menus in places like Applebee’s, Wendy’s or the entire state of Louisiana. You’re right in the fact that it’s just not fair sometimes. But you have to pick your battles, and when you’re faced with being stuck in a giant metal tube for eleven hours with one hundred or so other people who are trying to live their lives, just sit your ass down and make your your seat belt is securely fastened. This whole not-sitting-next-to-women crap has gone way too far. The Talmud says that men and women may touch in unavoidable situations or during goal-oriented tasks, such as passing plates around a table, doing the laundry, or moving furniture. Why can’t travel fall under the same category? After all, nobody goes on a plane just to sit there and do stuff for the rest of their lives; it’s a temporary situation, so open your book, crank some Miami Boys Choir up to full volume and suck it up. The fact that it’s almost Rosh Hashanah makes it even worse. It’s like, you want to get written in the Book of Life? Try acknowledging other human beings.

I actually have two personal stories about this. The first happened in Israel. I was flying back from Cyprus, and my then-girlfriend surprised me at the airport to accompany me back to Jerusalem in a sherut (shared taxi). The principle of the sherut, especially at Ben Gurion Airport, is that you hand the driver your suitcase and pile in, sitting wherever there is a seat. Not a hard concept. It was late at night, and in our sherut there happened to be, other than us and the driver, five others: an elderly couple, a secular Jewish guy, another guy, and a younger Haredi woman traveling alone, which is a rarity. There were plenty of seats in the van, so we clambered into the back row. The couple sat in two of the front seats, and the Haredi lady sat alone next to a window. The secular Jewish guy enters the van and sits right next to Haredi lady, who asks him to give her some space, because she’d rather not sit next to him. He moves, but as soon as we’re all packed in and the motor starts, he lets Haredi lady have it, laying into her for being a Haredi, always wanting her own way, not living in this century, having so many extra privileges for being religious, and so on. Keep in mind that it’s creeping close to midnight, and we’re all tired. Haredi lady says something back to him, and he keeps going. I can barely see her face in the moonlight, but she looks like she’s on the verge of tears, so the other guy and the elderly couple come to her rescue, while we watch bemusedly from the backseat. It basically lasts the whole ride back to J’lem, not letting up until he gets out. Thankfully, he’s the first stop. After he is off, she breathes a sigh of relief.

The second story happened at Kennedy Airport on New Year’s Eve. I was on my way to Vienna, Austria, to meet DAT for the Slovakia Winter Retreat and I was boarding the plane for the first leg of the trip: New York to Zurich, Switzerland on Swiss Air. Not a lot of people fly on NYE, which is fantastic, because there is plenty of leg room. It seemed like I was among the only American on the flight. Everyone else was either going back to Switzerland, a religious Jew connecting to Israel, or a brightly-clothed African who, as I later learned, were all connecting to Douala, Cameroon. I get to my seat, and there is a super-religious Israeli girl about my age sitting in the window seat of the row. In my pajama pants, Edward Gorey t-shirt, and bright green DAT headband, I look anything but Jewish. She very visibly rolls her eyes and starts chattering in Hebrew to her friend who is standing right there. I did not catch all of what she was saying, but she was mostly bitching about having to sit next to a boy the whole time and how much this flight was going to suck. All while I’m sitting right there, pretending to stare off into space but actually listening and understanding most of their conversation.

People are starting to settle into their seats, and a lovely flight attendant comes over to me and asks me for my meal preference. She then asks if the religious girl is also sitting in this row; by this point, she has gotten out of the seat and is standing in the aisle pouting. She then addresses her directly, that she needs to sit down so she can get her meal preference, and the girl either ignores her or does not understand her English. I whisper to the flight attendant that I can speak Hebrew, and I proceed to get Miss Orthodox Jewish Bitchface’s attention by locking eyes with her and saying in rapid and pretty-well-accented (if I say so myself) Hebrew something along the lines of:

“Listen, honey. This nice lady wants to know if you’re sitting here, so you can get the food you want.”

The religious girl doesn’t look so much surprised as she does disgusted that I’m even talking to her (in her own language!) and says something like:

“Maybe I’ll sit here, maybe I’ll sit over there with my friend, I don’t know, whatever.”

I translate this to the flight attendant, who tells me she needs the girl to sit down in a seat because we are preparing for takeoff and she needs to know what the hell this girl wants to eat. Just doing her job. I translate this into Hebrew and convey it to the religious girl, who walks off in a huff with her nose in the air. Turns out I will not be seeing her for the remainder of the flight.

I turn to the flight attendant:

“Yeah, so from the bitchy display we just saw, I take it she’s not going to be eating on this flight. And if she gets hungry, well, tough luck.”

I earn some brownie points with the flight attendant, whose life is made easier by drawing a line through the religious girl’s name on her list. I feel powerful, and a little bad that she won’t get any food, but frankly, with the way she talked about me in front of my face and how she brushed off both me and the flight attendant, she didn’t deserve the delicious hot rolls and free champagne. If you don’t want to cooperate with me, someone who is trying to help you potentially get the food that you want/need, fine. But don’t take it out on a lady who’s just doing her job.

People. Entitled people.

Anyway, gentlemen…you can always swim across.

***

Works Cited

Sullivan, Gail. “Ultra-Orthodox Jews delay El Al flight, refusing to sit near women.” Morning Mix. The Washington Post. 26 September 2014. <http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2014/09/26/ultra-orthodox-jews-delay-el-al-flight-refusing-to-sit-near-women/&gt;

0

Mi Primera Post en Puerto Rico

Greetings from Puerto Rico, where it’s day 3 (I think?) of my trip to Puerto Rico for the week. I think that this is so far the most surreal leg of the trip, but I’ll quickly give a rundown on the funzies in Arizona first.

Getting to Arizona, I was immediately greeted by ATHE, in a way; my friend and fellow dramaturg Walter ended up having a ticket on the same shuttle as I did (his flight from Newark came in slightly after mine). Also in the van was a woman who was going to ATHE who hadn’t been in years, but was glad that grad students were there.

At the Fairmont Princess, I check in to the conference first and the room second (priorities!) and see the first of my three roommates, Kathleen, on the way, walking with Carrie and Sarah. At our room, C1122, which is actually in a pretty good central location, I see Bryan, the second of the three roommates, and find out that the fourth in our group, LaRonika, hasn’t arrived yet due to storms delaying her plane in Baltimore. The first night of the conference is usually blah, waiting for something exciting to happen, but the most excitement I had was spending $40 on a margarita and a tiny bowl of grilled vegetables, and going to the Transit Performance, which wasn’t spectacular but did lead me to meet Eleanor, Matt, and Dorine, the latter two of whom I kept running into throughout the weekend. LaRonika finally arrived at some late hour and we prepared for an early wakeup call for Pre-Con.

Thursday: Pre-Con! The first dramaturgy Pre-Con ever! Hooray! Bryan rented a van and packed twelve of us ‘turgs inside (Walter, Carrie, Sarah, Kathleen, LaRonika, Shannon, Kristin, Ben, Jean, Maria, Lindsey, and myself) for a day at Taliesin West, Frank Lloyd Wright’s southwestern home. It normally costs $32 to get in, but with grants and a deal, it ended up costing us only $5 each! Char, our tour guide, was fascinating and the home itself was brilliant, with light and beauty around every corner. We all had a great time. Afterwards, I bought a tiny journal in the bookstore, and asked everyone to offer some thoughts or reflections in it over lunch. Being dramaturgs, everyone wrote something meaningful, and I spent most of my lunchtime catching up with Maria, who was sitting next to me.

Opening night! The keynote and official opener were great as always, and Luis Alfaro was pretty funny. The reception at the exhibit hall was great; I wasn’t as boozed up as last year so I think I probably made less of a fool of myself. I met Cissie, a wonderful new friend all the way from the Netherlands, spent awhile talking with Jane, and then found Iris for our traditional wine-glass-selfie, this time in front of the ATHE banner. We spent awhile hugging and catching up with each other and it’s just so great that she’s lucky enough to come in from Taiwan every year. I picked up the usual stack of catalogs, and then hit the pool for awhile with Bryan and Kathleen.

Friday: Panel time! In the morning, I saw Bryan/Kathleen/Aoise/Sarah’s panel, and then went to a panel on playing games where I saw Annalisa. My panel was, unfortunately, poorly attended (3 panelists and 2 audience members) but it was in the death spot, where everyone is doing stuff at the SAME TIME, including ANOTHER dramaturgy panel with Walter, Talya, and Joan. The plenary was that day, I think, and I sat with Karen Jean the Dramaturgy Queen.

Friday night was one of my favorite conference times, DNO or Dramaturg’s Night Out. It was more of a Dramaturg’s Night In as we congregated at the Plaza Bar. I met newbie and recent grad Jacob, and immediately liked him for his name. At least he is Jacob D. and not H. I got to say hi to Joan, and had a nice catch-up chat with Cindy. By the end of the evening, I’d talked to so many people that I can’t remember them all, probably I’ve already mentioned everyone but D.J., Julie R., and Shelley, who made a surprise appearance, driving in all the way from San Diego. And then it was pool time, where I met Rosa and her friends who drove in from Los Angeles for their Saturday night performance.

Saturday: Panels, panels, panels. Also attended a workshop. Also, it was Dramaturgy Focus Group membership day, where I gladly handed over my title as Grad Student Rep. Honestly, I think Walter and LaRonika probably did way more than I this past year, but all three of us got some very nice praise. I had a quick chat with Talya, which turned into a several hour chat over Starbucks. (I think that happened Saturday but I might be wrong). Dinner was at La Hacienda with Bryan, Kathleen, LaRonika, Sarah, Carrie, Walter, and Jacob D., and even though it was, again, expensive, it didn’t really matter because we were all together, our little family, and we had so much fun and booze. After, we went to see the Banned Plays performance. We missed the first piece, but came in midway through the second, which was Rosa and her group – who were amazing – and stayed for the third, which was also awesome. I ducked out for the final performance though.

I get back to the room, and a lightning storm hits, and of course, LaRonika was planning for this night to be her pool night, so she was feeling blah. But we cheered up when she did a dramatic reading of the spa menu; I don’t think I’ve laughed that hard in a long time. That spa menu though. It dried up outside, and while Bryan took a phone call, LaRonika, Kathleen, and I shared a swing – we fit perfectly, just like roomies! – and when Bryan came out, we moved to a ledge, where we sat, drank, and laughed for awhile, mostly about equipment and Kwame Kwei-Armah/Quvenzhane Wallis. So many other ATHE people walked by but we were too drunk to care.

Sunday: The worst day of the conference, every year; time to say goodbye. Bryan and Kathleen left rather early, and LaRonika got some pool time in before leaving as well. My flight was not until 1:15 AM, so I caught up with Claire, found a geocache, and took a swim before heading to the airport.

Fast-forward to Monday.

8:00 AM EDT: I arrive in Charlotte, dazed and confused because I got on a plane four hours prior in Phoenix where it was 1 AM. My breakfast was something from Starbucks, and I jumped on my San Juan flight, totally in disbelief that this was actually happening. I watched Saving Mr. Banks on the way, which was delightful, even though I was super tired. We touched down early in beautiful San Juan and I managed to get to Thrifty pretty quickly and use my Spanish to pick up the car, and then…I was on my way! Driving in San Juan! Crazy!

My directions took me not to Isabel’s place but a lovely nearby church where she came and found me. We hung out, caught up, and then Axel came back and we went out for dinner. Four meals (us three + an extra for me should I get hungry at night) was $50, only slightly more than 1 meal at the Fairmont Princess. I wasn’t tired, but by the time we got home around 8 PM, I was getting there, and officially turned in at 11:30 after being half asleep for two hours.

Yesterday: Early wake-up to go exercise with Isabel and Axel, something I haven’t done for ages (more like two weeks). It was fun and we went to a panaderia (bakery) afterwards for food. Eventually, after resting at home, I went to find Riley, which was really tough because iPhone Maps and Puerto Rico are not friends. It took me way too long, over an hour, but we went back to Isabel’s place, walked to Condado Beach, and had four glorious hours of swimming and laying on the beach. We had Pizzeria Uno for dinner – surprisingly cheap! – and then I took him home.

Today (finally): Was supposed to go with Isabel/Riley to Ponce, but it didn’t happen for various reasons 😦 maybe tomorrow. Instead, we went for a lovely breakfast, and I just rested until about 3, when I went out to Old San Juan for 4 or so hours of exploring. I found 6/7 geocaches I looked for in pretty good time, and just about sweated my face off. My phone died, but I’m clever enough to get back here on my own, and that’s where I’ve been for the past two hours.

Going to get some dinner now, probably on my own, and then see what tomorrow’s plan will look like.

Vamonos!

8

In-Flight Entertainment

One video I’ve been seeing a lot of on my Facebook feed lately is that of the funny Southwest Airlines flight attendant whose safety lecture is basically like spending three minutes with Kristen Wiig as all of her characters put together. Naturally, I watched the video myself, found it utterly hilarious, and for some reason made me desire crackers, but maybe because it was still Passover when I watched the video. In case you haven’t yet seen what I’m talking about, here it is for your enjoyment.

Yes, this is a real video, shot on an actual Southwest Airlines flight by someone with a very thin cellphone camera. Didn’t anyone on that plane manage to record it on HD? Anyway, this fantastically funny flight attendant was on Ellen today, where the world learned that she is 49-year-old Marty Cobb of Dallas, Texas (color me unsurprised; even the humor is bigger in Texas). Despite looking very young, she has three kids, two of whom were on the show with her today. Ellen DeGeneres, in typical Ellen DeGeneres fashion, was extremely generous, giving her an Ellen luggage set stocked with Ellen souvenirs and $20,000 dollars in gift cards from Target, RadioShack, Shutterfly, and others. She seemed like a terrific lady; not like she didn’t deserve those prizes (she totally did) but there are tons of funny flight attendants out there. Most of them work for Southwest Airlines. Personally, I love flight attendants because not only do they help keep the plane safe, but if you’re on their good side they will be the kindest of kind to you.

This reminds me: one of my two favorite flight attendant stories happened on Southwest Airlines.

When I went to UMass Amherst, the closest airport was Bradley International Airport in Hartford, Connecticut. Because there are so many colleges and universities in Connecticut and western Massachusetts, during weekends like Thanksgiving and Spring Break, the airport is full of students. A good number come from the DMV, and since Southwest offers cheap and quick flights from Hartford to BWI, students tend to use them frequently. At that time, Southwest didn’t offer flights to Dulles or Reagan (this may have changed) so for anyone from within a few hours from Baltimore, it was worth it to fly there and then take public or private transportation to elsewhere in Maryland, Virginia, or Washington DC. Since I went to one of the biggest schools in the area, chances were that I saw at least one familiar face in the terminal or on the plane, and usually we were actual friends, not just acquaintances. This is also how I ended up sitting next to the most insufferable girl in my major for four lovely hours in the air, but I digress.

I believe it was the end of Spring Break, and I was on my way back to school. The entire Trinity College men’s basketball team ended up being on my flight, coming back from a game with some school in Baltimore/DC. Just about everyone was settled on the plane, when the intercom system crackled, and a flight attendant’s voice rang out.

FLIGHT ATTENDANT: Kevin? Kevin Miller? Is there a Kevin Miller on this plane?

Behind me, I heard a shuffle of sweatsuits, and various voices saying, “Kevin, wake up, they’re calling your name.”

FLIGHT ATTENDANT: Passenger Kevin Miller…if you are on this plane please press your call button immediately.

BING! A call button comes on a few rows behind me, as I hear Kevin saying, “I’m here.”

FLIGHT ATTENDANT: Passenger Kevin Miller, we have a message for you from Baltimore. Your mother just called, she said you left your Spider-Man lunchbox on the kitchen counter. She did talk to the pilot, and unfortunately, he has decided that we cannot delay the flight to wait for the lunchbox to arrive, but she is checking it through on the next flight out, and you should be reunited with it at baggage claim in Hartford. She also wanted me to tell you that she cut the crusts off of your peanut butter sandwich, and remembered the Double Stuf oreos, and she loves you very much.

His friends sitting behind me started cracking up, as did most of the rest of us on the plane. Somehow, they had managed to pull this flight attendant aside and convince her to play along with their prank. The best part was that she was a big, sassy black lady who didn’t miss a beat. That is how it’s done.

And that’s how to properly prank your friend on a domestic flight. International might be a little tougher.

1

What I Saw (And Heard) on St. Patrick’s Day

Traveling on a holiday is always interesting, but traveling on St. Patrick’s Day was a new one for me.

Here’s my list of St. Patrick’s Day-like things I experienced today.

1. 10 AM, Espresso Royale, Madison, WI. There is Irish bagpipe music playing in the background. “What is this,” says my brain, “Irish Day?” … three seconds later … “Ohhhh, right, St. Patrick’s Day.”

2. 3:35 PM, General Mitchell International Airport, Milwaukee, WI. I board my flight to Tampa, and several people are dressed in green, no more than usual though. I’m in the first group of people on the plane, so I pick an aisle seat in an empty row. Some guy asks me if the two seats next to me are taken. I say go right in, and then his wife and son go into those seats. Sensing that someone’s a little bashful today, I offer up my seat, which accepts gratefully and with some surprise, as if he thinks that either a) he was actually expecting to put his wife and kid in a row with someone else already in it and just sit elsewhere, and then when that stranger offered up his seat, was taken aback, or b) he was hoping to put his wife and kid in a row with someone else and sit elsewhere in the plane with his mistress and/or girlfriend, or at least at a place where he wouldn’t get caught slipping his number to a flight attendant (and if this was the case…whoops, sorry for ruining your plans!)

3. Same time, same place. I sit in the row across from them, next to two girls from some community college in Minnesota decked out in lots of green and beads. One even has a light-up shamrock necklace. I kid you not.

4. Time unknown (maybe about 5 PM), in the air. I’m listening to music and reading, when Shamrock Necklace girl taps me on the shoulder and points to the drink menu. I’m all, “huh?” until she points out that since today is St. Patrick’s Day, Southwest Airlines offers free alcoholic beverages. And since we’ve been talking and have shared ages, she knows that unlike her, I am of age, so I celebrate accordingly. When the flight attendant comes around, I order a chardonnay and then opt to change it to a rum-and-coke, upon the guy behind me ordering the same.

5. Some time later, in the air. The drinks arrive, waters for the girls and my rum-and-coke, with a little wedge of lime. I wait until the stewardess passes, and then offer a sip to Shamrock Necklace girl (whose name is Natalie…unlikely that she’s going to read this). She looks at me incredulously, saying, “really?” I respond: “Go ahead, it’s St. Patrick’s Day and it’s not like you’re flying the plane.” She and her friend break out laughing and she sneaks a sip. Her friend politely declines.

6. Later, same place. I’ve gone back to reading/listening, and I get another tap from Natalie, who is giggling and holding a piece of plastic in her hand, the little piece that holds the tray table in the upright position. Apparently, her friend was playing with it and broke it off. And she wasn’t even the one who had anything to drink.

7. Same as above. Another tap from Natalie, and she gestures me to look to my right, where the guy who ordered the rum-and-coke is asleep with the little red Southwest Airlines toothpick hanging down out of his open, snoring mouth. We have a good laugh, and then we all hope that we don’t hit turbulence because it could result in us hearing “Is anyone on this plane a periodontist?” over the plane’s intercom.

8. 7:10 PM (EST now), Tampa, FL. We arrive, deplane, and take a tram to the main terminal, where we are greeted by a crowd watching a quartet of Irish dancers and an accompanying band of bagpipers. Apparently, we’re now in some Irish version of Florida.

9. 8 PM, Sarasota, FL. After my parents pick me up at the airport, our first stop is dinner at this pretty expensive seafood place. I order a sangria, because I can, and I surprisingly coerce my mother into sharing it with me.

10. 10:30 PM, Sarasota. We arrive at the hotel where my parents have been staying for the past few days. It’s a Hilton Garden Inn that’s practically in the middle of nowhere but “close to the ballpark” which is the reason for the trip, but a) the room only features two beds, which means that when my sister gets here in two days I’ll have to spend the next two nights sharing a bed with my father, b) we are in Florida and not walking distance from any beach, c) the hotel has a pool, but it’s a square about as big as two bathtubs put together, and d) when we walked in, the floor was wet in the room, so we will hopefully change rooms in the morning, but that still won’t solve the four-people-two-beds problem.

But I’m here, with my mom and dad, so I guess that’s what matters.

Happy St. Patrick’s day to all, and welcome to my two newest countries: Egypt (ترحيب!) and Montenegro (dobrodosao!)

2

Just Plane Silly

Today, I went to a play. No, really, this theater major for the past eight years actually went to a play today. So I rounded up four friends to go to Fells Point Corner Theatre to see Boeing Boeing by Marc Camoletti, trans. Beverly Cross & Francis Evans. It was directed by Josh Shoemaker and featured Adam Bloedorn, Cassandra Dutt, Wesley Niemann, Rachel Roth, David Shoemaker, and Kate Shoemaker in the cast.

The play takes place in a Paris apartment in the swinging 1960s. The plot centers around Bernard, an American expat who juggles three fiances – all of them air hostesses. Using the timetables of their respective flight schedules and airline routes, he makes sure that no fiance is in Paris at the same time. His copilot, for lack of a better term, is his maid Berthe, who alters everything from the layout of the furniture to the dinner menu according to which countrywoman is dining with Bernard. When Bernard’s friend Robert comes to town from Wisconsin, Bernard insists he stay. Also staying the night are Gabriela (Bernard’s Italian fiance, whose Alitalia flight schedule causes her to spend the night); Gretchen (Bernard’s German fiance who works for Lufthansa, who ends up with three nights in Paris); and Gloria (Bernard’s American fiance, a TWA air hostess whose trans-Atlantic flight turns back to Paris due to bad weather). General havoc ensues, but it all ends neatly with two engagements and one girl taking flight to make her own destiny.

A zany show like this spawns over-the-top characters; some of the actors met the challenge, some didn’t, and some went a little overboard. Though balding and not conventionally attractive, Adam Bloedorn held his own as Bernard. This was my second time seeing him onstage after last year’s The Mousetrap at Vagabonds. Similarly, Kate Shoemaker (Berthe) was spot on with the one-liners and brought a lot of laughs. As Robert, David Shoemaker impressed everyone in my group, but I thought that he could’ve been funnier and for a guy from Wisconsin, he sure talked like a Marylander. Of the three air hostesses (who we all agreed were gorgeous), my friends preferred Italian Gabriela (Rachel Roth) and Gloria, the American (Wesley Niemann) over the German stewardess Gretchen (Cassandra Dutt). For me, Rachel Roth captured the essence of the role the best, with remarkable control over her face, body, and voice to keep it all together. As Gloria, Wesley Niemann was cute as a button but didn’t carry as much attitude to match the other two. Granted, her character was a bit more easy-going, but she was a bit too nonchalant at times. Despite the character professing to being from New York, Niemann’s voice was, again, undeniably Baltimore. Cassandra Dutt as Gretchen impressed me (and my friends) the least. Someone in the group said that she was trying too hard to be funny, and I agreed. She was also incredibly loud, but maybe sitting in the second row lent itself to that; we were aware of the fact that Gretchen is way more intense, domineering, and passionate than the other two, but loud does not always equal funny. I also noticed Gretchen slipping out of her accent at times; she should’ve taken lessons from Berthe. One of the girls said that the fact that she was the tallest girl with the shortest skirt made her stand out, and that she was funnier when she wasn’t talking; again, cementing further the fact that “loud” and “funny” are two totally differing concepts. The other girl had a strong opinion about the ending; she thought that it was “too perfect,” but it’s a pretty classic well-made structure, so it’s inevitably going to end well.

My favorite technical aspect of the show were the costumes. We all loved the classic airline stewardess uniforms. Costumer Helenmary Ball is a regular in the Baltimore theater scene and she always does a good job. My two female friends pointed out how psychedelic and 60s everything was, and compared it to Catch Me if You Can. The set, on the other hand, for me, was a major fail. The walls of the apartment were painted a la Piet Mondrian with the color palette of an Austin Powers movie. One of the girls pointed out how the couch and chairs matched the walls and that she really felt like she was in a “groovy bachelor pad” from the 60s. It was cute, but it lost points with me for using shiny duct tape on the walls rather than just plain black lines separating the squares; when the lights hit the tape, it was really distracting and looked shoddy.

Overall, it was a sexy, light, and fun comedy with something for each one of us to enjoy. I give it 7 out of 10 airplane tickets.

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Flying Solo

Tonight, I watched two hours about survivors. No, it did not involve immunity challenges, tribal councils, or Jeff Probst’s “the tribe has spoken.” It was the premiere of a documentary I found out about last week. Entitled Sole Survivor, it documents plane crash sole survivor George Lamson Jr.’s quest to find and connect with other sole survivors of plane crashes – according to the documentary, there are fourteen people currently living who share this unusual experience.

Here’s a rundown of who he found:

  • Jim Polehinke of Kentucky, a pilot who survived a plane crash in his home state
  • Bahia Bakari of Paris, France, a teenager who survived a plane crash in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Comoros
  • Cecelia Cichan of New York City, a woman who survived a plane crash in Michigan as a young girl

Each of them recounted different experiences. George Lamson, Jr., who is reaching out to seek contact and help others. His daughter Hannah plays a large role in the film, and gets more screen time than the other survivors. Jim Polehinke lost both of his legs in the crash, in addition to passengers. As a pilot, he feels guilty for causing their deaths even though there were not enough traffic controllers on duty to help guide the plane. Seeing the trial which basically gave him all the blame and only a minor amount of compensation was shocking. There’s obviously no system in place on how to address reparations in court, simply because there have been so few cases. Bahia Bakari, whose accident was in the recent past (five years ago), lost her mother, but also spoke publicly and published a book about herself. This self-promotion was unique to her. In the beginning of the movie, she appears with a French diplomat who flew her back to France after the crash, and things are very awkward. I don’t know if it’s race, age, or gender, but she looks completely uninterested when on the screen with him, unlike with George, for whom she comes out of her shell despite the obvious language barrier. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Cecelia Cichan has been completely silent about her experience. This film was the first time she spoke publicly, now a twenty-something who lives in New York. For someone talking about this moment that has defined her life, she’s remarkably unassuming about it, even opening with comments that she feels inferior to people like Bakari, who floated on airplane wreckage for hours without a life vest, or Juliane Koepke, another sole survivor who kept herself alive in the jungle for several days before finding civilization, whereas she – as a four-year-old – did nothing and was just found and sent to a hospital. That made me cringe a little; part of me wants to say, “give yourself some credit,” but the other part of me realizes that she was shielded from this by her family for most of her life (smart move) and that formulating something to say so publicly when she is still discovering her own identity is probably one of the most uncomfortable sensations; knowing that millions of people are going to see this and you’ve kept it private for all these years brings even more pressure to the event.

My favorite part of the film was George and Hannah’s journey from Reno to meet Bahia and her father Kassim in Paris. Even though George most likely has flown since the plane crash, back in the 1970s when he was a teenager, just watching him do the mundane acts of walking down the aisle and sitting in the seat are eerie, imagining all the nightmares he must have had. From the moment George and Bahia meet, they have a connection that’s really striking. The father-daughter connections seemed a little producer-forced at times, but even so, they are very touching scenes to watch. According to the film’s closing moments, George has invited Bahia and Kassim to come visit them in Reno.

What bugged me but intrigued me at the same time was how several of the secondary characters came off as ignorant or clueless. Obviously, the French diplomat who Bahia Bakari constantly refutes seems to be on his high horse, as well as the chairman of the Jim Polehinke trial, who comes off as a complete jerk. Yes, the NTSB’s job is to establish a cause in order to move on, don’t say asinine and mildly insulting things to the survivor’s face and the face of the wife of the deceased pilot. The translator in the scenes where George is in France seems out of place as well. The relatives of the survivors of the Michigan crash are respectful, but it’s clear that they largely do not have a connection with Cecelia Cichan and speak of her without having any more information than the rest of the world.

Overall, this was definitely worth every minute, despite a lot of filler. Thinking critically, it makes perfect sense that no two stories would be alike. But they all seem to be willing, on level, to share their stories communally in a way that they wouldn’t do alone. Even Cecelia Cichan, who did not appear alongside the others, cooperated with this project when it would have been just as easy to say no; probably something about the auspices of the framing of her story among others, creating a synthesis where the focus would be on her just as much as it would not be on her – thereby accomplishing, in effect, George Lamson’s goal of establishing community.

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Book Review: Mary Russell, The Blessings of a Good Thick Skirt

Greetings from Munster, Indiana, where I am on the first leg of my trip back home, hopefully arriving tomorrow evening. I drove myself and my dad three hours and ten minutes to this Hampton Inn in the Indiana-based suburbs of Chicago. 10-11 hours to go tomorrow, and I hope I get to relax for most of it.

What do you know, I finished a book. I initially got it for a project and it came all the way from UW-Milwaukee. Since it’s due in January, before I get back, if I wanted to read it for pleasure I either had to a) hurry it up and read it in one day, or b) return it to the library, sadly never to reenter my hands, a title forgotten among the legions of books I have yet to read.

So in a turn toward the nonfiction market, I present The Blessings of a Good Thick Skirt, by Mary Russell.

Cover of "The Blessings of a Good Thick S...

The Blessings of a Good Thick Skirt‘s interesting and unusual title comes from a quote from Mary Kingsley, a nineteenth-century woman traveler to Africa. It is quite appropriate, given that the book is about female adventurers. I’m not talking about suffragettes – these were women who risked their reputations and their lives to pursue their dreams of travel and exploration, most of them doing so in a time when it was not considered ladylike to travel unaccompanied, without a man. There are an immense number of women travelers mentioned, but I’ll give you the highlights:

The book begins with the story of Egeria, a fourth-century pilgrim to Jerusalem. The theme of women exploring in the name of religion comes up a lot, with the great Hester Stanhope coming to mind, traveling through the Middle East dressed as a man. Over in Tibet, you had Annie Taylor who just wanted to live her life cloistered away in a city where she could just be religious and not have to worry about anything else, and the sad story of Susie Rijnhart, a Canadian adventurer who lost everything in Tibet, including her husband and son, but found her way back home to Canada and then had the courage to go back AGAIN – and of course, she didn’t make it this time. These were the first two Western women to see Tibet, a feat in and of itself.

The only sections I didn’t care for were the ones on mountain climbers and on more contemporary women, women that the author knew personally when she wrote the book in 1986. It just didn’t seem fair to group her friends with the likes of Mary Kingsley and Hester Stanhope.

What I always find interesting are not the women who survived the dangers, but the women who died exploring, making them legends up until the moment of her death. Everyone knows about Amelia Earhart and her fateful round-the-world journey, but few know of her frenemy Amy “Johnnie” Johnson (not to be confused with the original Pink Ranger, Amy Jo Johnson) who set some flying records of her own. Later, her plane crashed into the Thames Estuary in England under mysterious circumstances and her body was never recovered. Alexine Tinne, who did some crazy exploration in Africa, getting further than anyone of her time, dragged her mother, her aunt, and two maids along with her – all of whom died somewhere along the way. Stupidly brave Alexine went back to Europe, and, nonplussed, moved on to her next mission: crossing the Sahara. As the story goes, she was killed by a Tuareg member of her party, stabbed in several places, and left to die in the desert. Her body was never found. Mary Kingsley was buried at sea, in the South African waters on which she died. Therein lies the lesson I took from the book. You get the feeling that these women didn’t do it just for the fame, the money, the notoriety – but because they were passionate about the world around them, and because “it was there.”

But then, there’s Sophie Heath, a flash-in-the-pan aviatrix from the 1920s who survived risky flights and stunts only to die of injuries she sustained after falling down the stairs of a bus in London.

Oh well. Stabbings in the Sahara, somersaults on an airplane wing, slippery steps on a bus – we all gotta go sometime.

But if that last thing happens, make sure my obituary includes all my adventures, and make some up to impress the world. It doesn’t matter what they are, as long as they’re earth-shattering. Surprise me.