Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Where Dignity Goes to Die...

So I'm making preparations for Christmas over the weekend and had to make the trip I hope to avoid every year...Michigan Avenue. Unfortunately for my brother's wallet and my dignity, my niece Madison loves American Girl dolls, so I went to pick one up so that Brian can be the great dad he is and make her Christmas a great one. I'm not sure whether this ordeal makes me a good brother or uncle or neither since I'm not paying for it but I'll pretend like it's both. So I put my game face on and make my way down to Michigan Avenue, arriving at 9 am on the dot the morning of December 20 to avoid the throngs of people that will not only make navigation difficult beginning at 11 am, but more importantly will make my remaining sanity impossible to keep.

So I make my way into and through the monstrosity that is American Girl Place, seeing doll hair salons, doll makeup stations, and dolls from every race, every nationality and from every economic background with every single interest under the sun. The politically correct air inside the store nearly choked me to death. Just when I thought it couldn't get any worse, I hear "we wish you a happy kwanzaa, we wish you a happy kwanzaa." What??!! That's not the song! The song basically went exactly like this and I can't believe such behavior is widespread enough that I can find it on youtube. What are they doing to these poor kids? Look at the little blond boy they zoom on who is doing just fine until they start singing "we wish you a rockin ramadan." Poor kid has no idea what's going on or why his teachers won't let him sing the second part of the real song. Doesn't kwanzaa have its own songs that people who celebrate it can sing? I know Hanukkah does. So does Christmas, that's why they're CHRISTMAS songs.

Our world has basically turned into a sick PC joke...a black hole really, with American Girl Place being the singularity. Random sidenote, I saw this bumper just chilling against my building the other evening. Not sure whose it was or why they just gave it up but they left it, license plate and all. Two weeks later, it's still there.

The story ends like this: I'm completely overwhelmed in American Male Hell so I forget which doll I was supposed to get. I have Rebecca in my hand but then I see Felicity, which sounds really familiar. I make a very un-PC executive decision and figure my niece (who's not Jewish) would not ask for a Jewish doll so logically deduce that Felicity is indeed the correct doll. I put back Rebecca and her Chanukkah dress and shawl and reach for $100 Felicity and her $24 Puritan bonnett and frilly whatevers. WRONG! By the time I get the text message that I got the wrong doll, I'm long gone and it is long past the time where going to Michigan Ave means certain death. In my defense, the reason Felicity rung a bell is because Madison already has a Felicity doll and in the irony of ironies, my only other trip to American Male Hell was to pick up said Felicity doll a year or two ago. God (can I say God? Should I not capitalize? Tell me what's right and wrong American Girl Place. Please!) bless Carrie, who went today to exchange Felicity for Rebecca to save me from further agony.

I'm actually happy about Maddie's decision though, despite the inconvience of me getting the wrong doll, for a couple reasons. 1) She selected a doll from another culture without any knowledge or care about religion, culture, whatever. That's 100x better than politically correct, where instead you try to dance around everything as if it's a problem that you need to tread around very lightly. We only facilitate and solidify negative stereotypes by doing this. Hopefully that innocence continues for her. 2) Rebecca is the first American Girl doll I've ever seen that is decently cute but she does still have buckteeth with a gap in between them. After all, you wouldn't want to go too far towards attractiveness - that would damage self-image and wouldn't be PC at all.

So enough negativity, Christmas is always exciting. My mom is coming out to Chicago for the famous Baizer Christmas Eve party on Thursday, then we will drive back to Columbus for the not-so-famous-but-still-very-enjoyable Tracy Christmas on Friday. With that, "Good tidings we bring to you and your kin. Good tidings for CHRISTMAS and a Happy New Year!"

Song of the Day:

Animal Kingdom - Two by Two

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

End of Spain, new material soon...

I'm kind of done talking about Spain as you are also done reading about it but just had to put out a couple more things from the trip. Blogspot.com officially sucks because I can't format anything on here including this centered text and I hate it. I always have. But I love seanbloggyblog as a name so I've stuck with it. But Blogger, you suck so bad, I don't even care anymore so heed my words, if I get iLife for Christmas, you are going down. For all of you who still read my nonsense, stay tuned for a possible new web address, hopefully with archives intact. So with that, I'll leave you with these few videos from the tail end of our trip, which ended in Madrid.


And this serene picture....

Ok, for real this time...

Daniel Merriweather - Change

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Guess Who's Back? (and has been for a week)

Before I move on to the rest of the Spain trip, just a bit more about Barcelona after seeing Carrie's pictures. First, one more thing about La Sagrada Familia. This picture is of the stairwell (with no railing) that wound from top to bottom. I was dizzy by the time we got down. Somehow I don't think this was built to code....

Also, for any food lovers out there, we went to a phenomenal restaurant in Barcelona called Cinc Sentis, where we were notified and showed that it was truffle season.

Yes, that is a massive white truffle that they shaved onto our dish and it was glorious. Last part about Barcelona. Carrie took a video of a choir singing outside one of the many old churches when we first got into town. The only thing goofier than hearing a song from Grease in a foreign country is hearing it sung with an accent.

From Barcelona, we rented a car and headed towards San Sebastian. We tried to take the backroads whenever possible and were handsomly rewarded for this.

We ran into some pretty difficult weather in the mountains on the way from Barcelona to San Sebastian. Had some icy sleety snowy wintry mix type stuff and I was getting nervous. I told our car that if it got us to San Sebastian safely, we would name it. Carrie decided that it was a he. We made it to San Sebastian. Meet Octavio.

We decided to go on a morning run/hike by the sea in San Sebastian the next day. Judging by this picture, it looks like we ran super early at sunrise. We did run at sunrise except it was like 9:30 am. That was a very strange thing about Spain. The sun rose really late. No wonder they don't start their day before 10.

Another great thing about San Sebastian/Spain in general. The ham hocks in the bar. As you could imagine, I really wanted to come home and roll up to customs with one of these things over my shoulder, but I thought better of it.

After San Sebastian, we meandered our way down to the Rioja region. It was on this drive that I executed the elusive quadruple pass where I took down four cars on a two-lane road. Dare I say "Legendary." I'll go into a bit more detail on the wine in the fourth and final post of this trip but below are some pictures of the Castle of Davalillo, which is an abandoned 12th century castle sitting on a hilltop. The cool thing about this place is that there's no guide. There's nothing written. It's accessed via a dirt road, you just walk right up and see no one. The castle from afar....

The castle up close.....

The view....

The wineries were amazing. The architecture was stunning. Below is Ysios, which was designed by Frank Gehry.

And this wasn't the only place. Here is Marques de Riscal. There were so many of these that were just spectacular feats in architecture. The only thing I couldn't figure out was how? A lot of these bodegas are otherwise small and don't produce a ton of wine. There were also some that don't do tours, taste their wines, or even have the name of the bodegas displayed anywhere. How can they possibly afford to build something like that, and moreso, why do it if you're not going to show it off to anyone or capitalize? Reason #272 why Spain is bankrupt. It made no sense, but it was great to see.

Song of the Day:

Passion Pit - Kingdom Come

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Guess Who's Back? Part II - Barcelona

So, after two plus days in Paris, we hopped a plane to Barcelona. Why only two days in Paris you say? Well, we had tickets to see Muse play in the Palau San Jordi, which necessitated going a day earlier than we originally intended. How could we pass up that opportunity? BUT, the Muse concert got moved to a different date because somehow Barcelona had forgotten that they had to host the Davis Cup in the same venue until two weeks before the concert. #56 on the Things That Would Never Happen In America list right after "closing businesses for three hours in the middle of the day." I at least got a refund and we had an extra night in Barcelona, which turned out to be great.

Before anything else, I need to address what is in my opinion the most impressive man made structure that is in existence - La Sagrada Familia. I'll put a bunch of pictures up on facebook about this (soon I promise) but here are a couple. This building has been under construction for over 100 years now and is expected to be completed in 2030. It was designed by Antoni Gaudi and if you ever make it to Barcelona, you MUST go here and learn about this guy. What a visionary. It's 100% safe to say that nothing will ever be built like this again.

Later that same day (it was a long day), we went across town to the the Parc Guell. This beautiful park sits on a huge hill overlooking the city, was designed by Gaudi and contains his former home, which they try to charge you 5 euros to enter. We obviously skipped that. This lizard guy is pretty famous and was his creation as well. Carrie and I snuck in to get a picture in between the hordes of AWC's found here.

The gothic quarter in Barcelona is fantastic. Probably one of the more fun areas to walk around/hang out/eat/drink/shop you'll find. Our hotel was here, which was nice so we got to do all of the above. Since we couldn't eat dinner until at least 10:00 pm lest we give ourselves away as rookie American tourists, we had to knock out a couple drinks in the room while getting ready followed by tapas and some more drinks. We came across this place but didn't go in. A cocktail orgasm just sounded a little bit intimidating, or more likely super fruity and sugary and disgusting.

One of the most fun things that happened while we were in Barcelona was Barcelona playing against Real Madrid on Saturday night. For anyone who doesn't immediately get it, this was a super huge deal. Very much like if it were Red Sox-Yankees in the playoffs. The bars were all packed. This is a local establishment shortly after kickoff. Notice all the heads turned in the same direction. There was no socializing, there was no serving of food or drink, there was just pure focus on the game. This doesn't happen for any sport in America.

When something good happened, you heard cheering all over the streets and by something good, I don't even mean a goal. When a goal finally did happen though, people went bananas. Cars on the street were honking everywhere, the town just erupted. A really cool thing to be a part of. It was like when the Sox won the world series after an 88 year drought in 2004, except this was a single goal in a regular season soccer game. Amazing. As important as this game was to these people, hardly any bars had the game on - I'd say about 1 out of 10. Yet, every one who did was overflowing with people out the door. Those who didn't were empty. This became reason #13 why Spain doesn't make money and has 30% unemployment. It just didn't make any sense. We eventually made our way to an excellent old-school tapas bar we read about in a guide that is a little off the beaten path and we were able to eventually get a sight line to a tv inside the bar from the outside for the last 15 minutes of the game.

Barcelona ended up winning the game by that 1-0 score, which caused another huge eruption akin to if Jesus had just returned to Earth. I caught this video of the celebration after the game had been over for about 20 minutes and we were finally able to get inside. It got cut off at the very end unfortunately, but the last Barca (with a soft c like "facade," but we don't have that little squiggly c key on our computers in America) goes something like BaaaaaaarccAAAA! This is a compete version of the song including the claps (my favorite part aside from BaaaaarcAAA), which I have determined rivals even my love for the Buckeye Battle Cry. I love it because it's basically like a national anthem, except one that's way better than ours and it's for a sports team. It could also be a song played during a parade celebrating a Stalin-ist Russia victory over some poor sap pining for capitalism in Eastern Europe, which would be appropriate since the Catalan people are notorious socialists. Final verdict - I absolutely adored Barcelona and was ambivalent to Madrid even before going there because I was a Barcelona fan and you surely can't like both teams! Barca, Barca, BaaaaaarcAA!!!!!

Song of the Day:

Mocedades - Eres tu

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Guess Who's Back?

Here I am, back from my European vacation. There's so much to tell through words, pictures, and even videos so over the course of the next week, I'll be be describing each phase of our trip, starting with Phase I - Paris, France. The most difficult part for me about going to France was toning down all the making fun of French people I had been doing leading up to the trip. For example, I had done a lot of "haw, haw, haw"-ing, a lot of extra vowel pronunciation, and general trailing off the ends of words into a sort of slow motion vomit sound. For example, the Louvre was more like the "Looooooouuuuaaaa" in Sean-speak prior to the trip. I won't lie, some of the jabs continued in private and under my breath with Carrie while we were there but I did my best to respect the French to the extent they deserve it (haw haw haw!!!!).

One thing I realized as soon as I got on the Metro from the airport was that graffiti makes as much sense to me in France as it does when I see it in America, which is none at all. One thing I really liked about France, or at least Paris, is the ambulance sirens. They sound kind of like the sirens from an old Madden video game, like when the ambulance used to drive out on the field and run everybody over. Real old school and I like it. Much less loud and obnoxious than our American sirens. One crazy thing about those goofy French though is that, while the Japanese commit sepuku when they are shamed, it appears that the French go with the more romantic method of poison injection. They even have a poison store!

Ok fine, so I made that up. It's actually a fish market. Paris was a pretty sweet time but it's definitely expensive. It helped to have Carrie to communicate, though they pretty much all speak English in some capacity. The most disappointing part of Paris was that we could not find a crepe place to save our lives if you can believe that. We walked everywhere and I guess we saw them but never when it was time to eat. This proved to be a running theme as we traveled elsewhere too. Paris is a beautiful city to walk and we sure did a lot of that. We were even treated to a Thanksgiving dinner right by the Eiffel Tower, which was fantastic. Before that though, we paid a visit to the military museum where Napoleon is buried and I immediately gravitated towards the weaponry like the red-blooded male I am. I'll skip this though because there are way better pictures to be had from France, like this one:

That's on the Metro. I can't read French but the message I took from this was that putting your hands in the doors to keep them from shutting will make you really sad. It doesn't appear to hurt though. After Thanksgiving, we took a short jaunt over to the Eiffel Tower, and I must say that if you go, dusk is a great time to do it. It's great when the lights come on.

They also had a cool light show, which caught some of the light rain that was coming down in the light. I took a video found here. Eiffel Tower - not a disappointment, but ironically, on this small, enclosed space, we got more lost than we were at any point during the trip (which included a lot of driving), which I decided to document with this brief video. Now is a good time to mention that all future videos will be on youtube as it's much easier to upload that way. Also, we didn't walk over there, but did you know that close to the Eiffel Tower, there's another statue of liberty, pretty much exactly like ours? I did know actually because I went to Harvard so am naturally blessed with such knowledge as a result of rubbing my diploma every day before bed, but still I think it's a cool fact.

A couple other typical sights from Paris, you can find the rest on facebook soon.....