Thursday, June 28, 2007

I'm about to get all Anderson Cooper on yo' asses

Here's a secret: Geographically, New York is not my first love. It's New Orleans, and if it wasn't so damn humid there the majority of the year, I would move tomorrow, taking up residence in some cute apartment on Decatur with those shuttered French windows that open to a tiny balcony that I'd fill with ferns and flowers and windchimes and voodoo dolls...

Anywho, I visited once in 2003 and on my recent trip back, I was determined to take a Katrina tour because I wanted to see the hurricane devastation for myself. The running consensus seems to be that the tourist areas are fine (which they largely are) and that the Ninth Ward was completely wiped out (which it was), but that's where all the poor people lived anyway, so who cares?! Get over it New Orleans! Mother Nature did you a favor! (At least this is what my republican cousins say.)

What I don't think many people realize is that most of the places you saw on the news--people climbing to rooftops for safety, doors with morbid X markings on them--were largely in the suburban upper and middle class areas of Gentilly and Lakeside--places kids like you and me grew up in. So imagine your parents' house when you look through these photos, because the areas of Gentilly and Lakeside are where I took the majority of these pictures. (FYI, I was confined to a bus, so apologies for the less-than-stellar photography. Not that I'm usually Annie Leibovitz or anything.)

According to Joe Genduse, a tour guide with Grayline and native New Orleanian (he said things like "ageen" instead of "again"), 80 percent of the city was destroyed, with the French Quarter suffering mostly wind damage and with Gentilly, where Joe lived, losing the most people. "I stayed because I couldn't get out," he said. "Imagine trying to evacuate 1.5 million people. People who tried to evacuate sat in traffic for 24 hours to go 12 miles." So, he batted down the hatches.

Today, there are areas of Lakeview where there still is no electricity or water pressure. You can tell the areas where these utilities exist, Joe says, because handfuls of trailers will start popping up there. "It's the infrastructure of the city that is the most damaged," he said. Police, firemen and banks all operate out of trailers, some without bathrooms, forcing the use of portable toilets. (Check out The New York Times recent story, the first of a three-part series, about how residents are trying to re-establish areas like Gentilly.)

Looting still happens, so much so that people who can still live in their homes are forced to either hire security or spray paint "beware" signs on the side of their houses. As you can imagine, some houses are so damaged the owners don't even bother to drop a dollar on a "for sale" sign. Instead, they simply spray paint their phone number across the front of the house.

It's a completely eye-opening experience to take a tour like this and if you come to New Orleans--and I recommend you do--you absolutely should take one. It's been two years since the hurricane and people still talk about it like it happened yesterday. I think that's largely because the majority of the city is still in such dire straits. Visitors coming to New Orleans can only help speed the progression.

So enough with the doom and gloom--why do I love New Orleans so much? Well, at the risk of sounding incredibly cheesy, there is just something so magical about it. I'm fascinated by the architecture, the cemeteries, the insanely friendly people who will still say hi to you even when you blatantly avoid looking them in the eye. My first night on my last visit there I was having dinner at an outside cafe when a man crossing the street got hit by a car (that's no small feat on the French Quarter's tiny streets, mind you). Everyone ran to him--not to gawk, but to make sure he was OK (he was). Now, I've also seen this happen in New York, and while people did stop to help, a good number kept right on walking.

But the thing I love most about New Orleans, was best summed up by the guy dining at the table next to me at dinner that same night, after his waiter placed his po'boy in front of him: "My god, I think they fry everything here but the Coca-Cola!"

Friday, June 22, 2007

Breaking: Cabo's Airport to Be Less Scary

If you want a true test of friendship, take a vacation to Cabo San Lucas with a flight that departs from San Jose Del Cabo Airport.

I specify “departing” because upon arrival at the airport, you might be inclined to think it’s quite quaint. For instance, instead of disembarking into a tunnel that leads you into the airport, you instead step off the plane and onto a flight of stairs that leads you directly to the tarmac. Not only do get to feel like a celebrity disembarking a private jet, you’re also automatically greeted by Cabo’s fresh, warm air, a welcome respite from the freezing and likely germ-infested airplane air you’ve been inhaling for the last six hours.

That cuteness fades when you arrive for your departure, as Ilyse and I found on our trip back in March. Ready to get the fuck out of Mexico, our eager spirit was dampened when we saw the long—and I mean wrap-around-the-block loooooong—lines at check in. Turns out, the wait was due to the fact that the electronic check in systems were down, so employees had to name-check passengers on computer paper I swear was printed by a Commodore 64 and then hand-write tickets for boarding and baggage claim.

Well, stuff happens, we calmly told ourselves. Ilyse even went out of her way to joke with Ricardo at check in, “So, when was the last time you had to hand write a ticket—1982?” “Nope,” Ricardo somberly replied. “Just last week. This happens a lot.” Oh.

Handwritten tickets in hand, we passed through security and into the claustrophobia inducing waiting area, where 600 or so passengers were crammed in, waiting to board their long-delayed flights, which were seemingly delayed just for fun, as the weather in Cabo only gets as bad as partly cloudy. Food choices were limited to Burger King, nachos or personal pizzas; we opted for the latter, which I later discovered was an egregious mistake of which I’ll spare you the details.

Feeling ill makes me very cranky and poor Ilyse, already at the end of her rapidly fraying rope, had to put up with my whininess. Because of the mysterious delay, we missed our connection (although we only found this out after running the marathon through DFW), forcing us to spend the night in Dallas and thus swear off Mexico for the rest of our lives.

Thankfully, I’ve just got word that the Los Cabos Tourism Board has planned to upgrade its shotty airport, adding a new terminal and parallel landing strips for quicker departures, among other things (hopefully larger bathrooms with toilets that actually flush are also part of the plan). The hope is that these enhancements will “ensure visitors’ comfort and ease of safe travel upon arrival and/or departure in keeping with the destination’s upscale appeal.”

All I can say is, Los Cabos Tourism Board, you’ve got a lot of work to do.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

My favorite airline becomes my Fear Factor

Ew, ew, ew, dear God, ew:

Reports the AP: "Continental Airlines Inc. is apologizing to its customers for 'poor conditions' aboard a transatlantic flight where one passenger described sewage spilling down the aisle from a lavatory."

Apparently, the flight crew still served meals in the dutch-ovened cabin during the seven-hour transatlantic (aka, no-where-to-land-because-we're-flying-over-water) flight from Amsterdam to Newark, NJ, advising customers "not to eat too much." All these poor people got in return for their extended bout of nausea were $500 flight vouchers.

Meanwhile, over at Continental, the top press release reads, "For the second consecutive year, Continental Airlines has ranked the highest in customer satisfaction among traditional network carriers in North America in the J.D. Power and Associates 2007 North America Airline Satisfaction Study."

If I were Continental, I'd expect 2008 results to be a teensy bit different.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Enough already

Lots to catch up on here, people. Get ready.

I've always likened myself a deep person, but considering my understanding of the philosophical meaning of "deep" came from "Pump Up the Volume" (thanks to a severe pre-teen crush on Christian Slater), I'm not so sure that's the case. Further evidence to wit: The following rambling post about Death and What It Means To Me. Sort of like, "What I Did On My Summer Vacation: The Morbid Version."

Right before I left for my trip to Opio, the Grim Reaper decided to level a few blows (four in the last two weeks; with one more impending; thankfully some have been peripheral). Oftentimes, these things make sense (my great uncle: in his eighties; suffering from throat cancer) and sometimes, they don't (as in my 21-year-old sister's friend). The obvious point here is that you never know when your minute's up; so carpe diem, as the cliché saying goes. But never has death been so much on my mind than when I was in France, trying my damnedest to relax. I'm not sure whether it's due to dramatics or a result of the mindful awareness I've been trying to practice lately.

"The present is the only time we have to perceive; to learn; to act; to change; to heal."

So lately I've urged myself to do things I'd otherwise let segue into laziness: apologize when bumping into someone on the subway; spend 30 euros on a cab to a tiny, medieval village; occasionally stop what I'm doing and remember to breathe. It's this new mindset that's helping me learn that I am largely responsible for what happens to me (it sounds so simple, but its taken me 27 years to grasp this concept) and also what I think is causing death to bother me so much (probably because I'm not necessarily in control of it).

As much as I enjoy the slightly more relaxed and "present" me, I sometimes wish for the old gal to appear who can't manage to see two feet in front of her face. At least she was ignorant of such things as time. This more mindful version is only more aware of it, which means there is still more work to do. Any of this making sense? No? Good. Moving on...

In order to end on a happier note, here are some photos of me practicing the art of carpe diem that resulted in my abdominals being sore for days:

Normally I wouldn't seek out a trapeze (trapezing?), but while in France the opportunity presented itself and off I went. Wrapping your legs around that bar is harder than it looks and I've thus realized I need to step up the abdominal core work in my yoga practice. It only took two minutes to swing, but my abs ached for a full two days afterward. Cie la vie.

More Opio photos here, which tell the full tale of the trip quite well. You can also check out an awesome video from a fellow journalist on the trip here. I make the occasional appearance (usually eating), including an inadvertently bitchy send off at the end.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

This is how we live now (maybe)

I'm currently on a press trip in the small village of Opio in the Provence region of France (yeah, yeah, tough life, I get it) and, as often happens on press trips, I've bonded--usually temporarily--with my colleagues. Most of them are older than me and have lived lives I can currently only dream of, such as say, spending a year abroad in a small provincial European town, with your equally travel-loving boyfriend. To hear them talk about it, it sounds amazingly easy: save money, rent a house for a month--or a year--while yours is subleased, freelance for extra income and witness your life change. Not a bad gig.

Usually in these situations, I feel as though I need to humor these people, as in, yes, yes, contact me in six months and I'll be in France, jetting around town on my Vespa with a just-baked baguette and freshly picked lavender jutting out of my basket. Given they never follow up, I never feel like I have to follow through. But this time is different. Not only do I feel as though not fulfilling this premonition will severely disappoint these people who seem to believe I'm destined to live this life, I also suddenly feel my life will be somewhat incomplete if I don't take advantage of this opportunity so seemingly readily available to me. We may just be witnessing a life change here. Or an evening filled with too much rosé. TBD.

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