Friday, September 29, 2006

Iceland/Paris blogging: Part 5 -- Final thoughts

As I walk away from the subject of the trip -- another Kristina photo from the Champs-Elysees, this one that she so cleverly titled "can a diva strut" -- here are just a few closing observations:

1) There are very few morbidly obese people in Europe, and those you do see, odds are that they are American.

2) The Paris Metro comes by every few minutes and has a display showing the approximate time of the next train's arrival. Hello, New York? Catch up!

3) The president of Iceland was on my return flight, probably coming to the city for the UN festivities. That made me sad. Doesn't the poor guy have his own plane? Is there no Iceland Air Force One? I'll bet Bjork has a private jet.

4) Reykjavik nightlife might be hopping on the weekends, but it was certainly dead on the evening on Sept. 14, 2006. Had I gone to the cafe I wanted to visit, it would have been me and the bartender. Still, it was more exciting than Wilmington, Delaware's nightlife.

5) Travel tip: If you want to try the local Icelandic delicacy of reindeer, try not to do it on the night after a day-long horse ride. Trying to eat an animal very similar to the ones you've been bonding with all day is tough. I went vegetarian that night.

6) Travel tip II: If you want to try the local Icelandic delicacy of dried fish -- don't.

7) Travel tip III: If you want to bring pork sausage back from Paris for a friend, even if it's dried, don't declare it. I hope the customs official who snatched it from me enjoyed it.

8) I'll miss hearing the hold music -- an Icelandic version of "On The Street Where You Live" -- that Icelandair uses.

9) It's pointless to arrive three hours before a flight at Terminal 7 in JFK. The Durango, Colorado airport was more crowded than that terminal.

10) Paprika-flavored potato chips from Norway rock.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Iceland/Paris blogging: Part 4 -- Lesbian Paris

Having been to Paris several times before, there's not much to say as far as the touristy stuff goes.

I had gone to visit a close friend who has been working there for several months (and she's the one who shot the photo on the right, at Rue Cler near her apartment). My previous trips to Paris had been either whirlwind tours (Hey kids! Let's go visit the Louvre -- for 45 minutes, then back on the bus!) or not more than day trips, so it was nice to actually have some time there to concentrate on partying and eating.

So since I've already seen gay Paris, this time, I had the chance to see the Paris that Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas saw -- if they had liked dancing to Madonna, that is. I got to visit my first Parisian lesbian dance club, and even though they almost didn't let me in -- my friend, Kristina, had to explain that I was gay and not there to gawk -- the music was the best I'd ever heard in a lesbian bar. It wasn't that dreary mix of country and hip hop that seems to be common in most of the bars. It was actually music I could dance to -- and to which I could watch one poor, spastic girl give her best shot at dancing.

OK, so I did do a little touristy stuff. We climbed the Arc de Triomph for the first time, since I could write it off as exercise. Here we are at the top:

Yeah, I'm wearing the same clothes as in the first photo. That's because it was the same day, fool! Here's one final look at the Champs-Elysees from the top of the arc.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Iceland/Paris blogging: Part 3 -- Riding as the vikings did

I'm indebted to two gorgeous, strapping Icelandic boys who added a ton of pleasure (and pain) to my trip. Here's one of them:

Meet Algud, one of the more than 1,000 horses owned by the Ishestar horse tour group in Iceland.

Much like the Icelandic language, Icelandic horses are a glimpse into the past. The common thought is that no horses have been imported to the island since the 1200s, and while Iceland does export its horses, once they leave Iceland, they're not allowed to come back. In other words, the horses we see today are pretty much the same as what the vikings had centuries ago. So naturally, I had to ride one for myself.
Look! I managed to shoot nothing but horses' asses!
And the landscape is that moss-covered rock I was talking about.

I chose the day-long tour, which came with caveat of "some riding experience suggested." Now, I've ridden before, but that was mostly on lazy Texas trail rides. And, as I found out, European riding is a bit different than Western riding, although Iceland does have a bit more in common with the West than, say, the U.K. does. My two horses and I got along fine, however.

Besides the breeding, there's another unique trait to the Icelandic horse: the gaits. As my ass would attest, I had the trot down pat. There's a better gait known as the tolt, however, which is fast yet smooth and therefore much more comfortable. Unfortunately, perfecting that requires quite a bit of rapport between horse and rider, and there's only so much I could do in a matter of hours.

Here's me and my second horse, Fengul -- and in breaking a cardinal rule of journalism, I have no idea if I'm spelling either horse's name right. I know I look hideous and fat, but keep in mind that this was near the end of the ride and that I had been outside in the mud and rain for five or six hours.

During Fengul's leg of the trip, one of my fellow riders, an American (and the only fellow rider who wasn't speaking Swedish) who had lived in Iceland for several years and now runs an agency booking tours to Iceland in the U.S., asked me where I lived. When I told her that I live in New York but was originally from Texas, she said she could tell I had ridden quite a bit because I seemed comfortable and had a good rapport with Fengul. I think, however, that says more about Fengul than it did about me.

If I ever make it back to Iceland, I'd love to take one of the longer horseriding tours that last for several days. Fengul has my phone number, and like all the other gorgeous men I meet, I'm sure he'll call. But in the meantime, I'm open to any exercises known to thicken the skin on one's ass. I was cut, bruised and sore for a few days afterward.

This reminds me of one little Iceland factoid with which I'll close this portion of the journey. A good portion of Iceland's energy comes from geothermal sources, and this includes how the country's water is heated. The average visitor would notice this because warm water from the faucet has the slight odor of sulfur. I learned this by a totally different method, however, because when that warm water comes across an open wound... Let's just say I hope the people in the next room weren't trying to sleep when I took that shower.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Iceland/Paris blogging: Part 2 -- Fantasies and nightmares

Just a few more photos from the Blue Lagoon:

This kind of gives you an idea of the size and surrounding landscape of the lagoon. And a side note: I saw the guy in the bottom left corner naked. Yikes!

Not so with the guy on the bottom left here, however. I remember at the time thinking he was really hot. Looking at the photo, I now realize that might have been the jet lag talking.

This is moi underneath a truly fabulous waterfall at the lagoon. It was a great way to wash off the mud and a much cheaper massage option than the messeurs who had their own portioned off area in the lagoon.

Iceland/Paris blogging: Part 1 -- Steam Heat

There's absolutely nothing like going for a swim in 40-something-degree, rainy weather.

Iceland is a pretty short jump from JFK -- not even a five-hour flight, in fact. The downside is that it gives you even less time to toss and turn on the plane before a 6:30 a.m. arrival. This was probably my least jet-lagged trip, however, because my flight was so empty that I was able to stretch across an entire row of seats to sleep. It was the first time I've ever slept for any period of a time on a plane.

The perfect trip for the arrival day, I was told, was the Blue Lagoon. It's a geothermal spa about 40 minutes outside of Reykjavik. The landscape around it is particularly striking, almost alien: volcanic rocks without a hint of grass but still green because of the moss covering the rocks.

After stripping down as far as you feel comfortable, you have to somehow make that run from the outside into the water. Walking half-naked when it's 48 degrees and raining is one thing; doing so after stepping out of a sauna is something else entirely. And lest you forget what the weather was like as you're bathing in the warm water, there are plenty of these guys who look like they're dressed up for a nuclear winter walking around to remind you.

I did miss one opportunity at the Blue Lagoon. I noticed the snack bar served a rather bizarrely topped hot dog, served with remoulade and fried onions, among other things. Having already seen enough KFCs and Dominos Pizza joints from the bus on the way there, I shrugged it off as another unfortunate American infusion. Little did I know that the local hot dogs, or pylsur, are actually one of the island's culinary highlights. Damn! I missed a legitimate excuse to cheat on my diet.

I didn't miss out, however, on the silica mud treatments, available via scoop at several troughs along the lagoon. I was able only to exfoliate my face, however. I couldn't keep any other body part out of the water long enough to keep the mud on there. The Blue Lagoon sells it's own line of cosmetic products, but as is the case with virtually everything in Iceland, they're ridiculously expensive. That's one of the drawbacks of living somewhere that requires almost everything to be imported.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

I don't value your e-pinion

I'd hoped to be blogging about my adventures in Iceland and France by now, but unfortunately, Duane Reade has had other ideas. That's right. I'm so behind technology-wise that I've yet to get a digital camera, and depending on our local pharmacy to develop photos is trying to say the least.

So while I wait, now seems like as good as time as any for a little pre-trip observation: Online reviews are virtually worthless. When I was planning the trip, I was trying to get some background on Icelandair. Online reviews had three recurring themes:

1) The food sucked.
2) The flight attendants were not friendly.
3) Icelandic passengers were given preferential treatment with aisle and window seats.

What did these people expect?

1) It's an airplane, idiot.
2) Flight attendants are there primarily for safety reasons, not to serve you five glasses of ginger ale at inopportune times.
3) This is probably the most ridiculous complaint. First of all, I had a window or an aisle seat on each leg of my trip. Second, how the hell would they know? Because they were stuck with an middle seat, and the people on either side of them were fair-skinned blondes? (Like me, by the way? Perhaps they assumed I was Icelandic?) Did they check every passport? Did they chat with every person on the aisle or by the window on the plane? Even if they did, I would venture that most American tourists could not tell the difference between Icelandic, Danish, Norwegian or Swedish. And even if they had some empirical evidence to prove their point, let's think about it. Who usually gets first shot at the best seats on a plane? The frequent flyers. Now a pop quiz, only one question:

Who would be the most likely candidate for a frequent flyer program on Icelandair?
a) Someone from Iceland who has virtually no other airline from which to choose
b) Phil and Rosemary from Des Moines, who are making a trip to Iceland for a few days and will probably never think about it again save some pictures they took from the tour bus that were tossed in a shoebox a few weeks after the trip

Online reviews are useful only in warning of the real clunker companies out there. I do credit them for saving me the embarrassment of sending a friend to the seemingly bargain-price Hotel Carter in Times Square a year ago. When there are five reviews that mention rats in the room on the first page alone, one takes notice. But outside of those instances, they're a gathering place for shills and overly critical people who have nothing to do but make baseless accusations to keep the chip on their shoulder. Ignore them.

This message was brought to you by Icelandair.

Monday, September 11, 2006

The continent of Europe's very wide, mein herr

I'll be on hiatus for a few days as I make my third trip to Paris and my first trip to Reykjavik, Iceland. I hope to come back with at least a few great photos and tales to tale. My main goal is to get me a Katherine Harris-esque photo of myself when I go for a day-long horse ride in Iceland. See you next week!

Saturday, September 09, 2006

The velocity of fairies

I've never understood the huge deal made over a first date. Relationship gurus have written pointless novels on stupid dos and don'ts that, while they certainly make sense, to me only add to the senseless anxiety. The worst first dates I've ever had have been the ones during which we both were trying to stick to these ridiculous rules, avoiding certain topics and questions, and then try to adhere to some inane phone-calling schedule once it's over. Besides -- for my money, nothing is more crucial than the second date.

One of the only things I vaguely remember from high school chemistry -- outside of the fact that it's impossible to spell my name using symbols from the periodic table -- is Heisenberg's uncertainty principle. The point of it, basically, was that it was impossible to know both the location and velocity of an electron at the same time.

Well, the first date is that electron. When you get home (or in some cases, I guess, when he goes home), you might think you know where everything stands. But it's not until that second date that you'll really know that velocity of where things are going. Do things seem to just be a repeat of Date One? Have you already run out of conversation topics? Or do you actually end the date still feeling like this is a guy with potential?

Even when the answer to that last question is yes for me, this also is where I usually manage to blow the deal. I almost never have problems getting that second date. The third, however, is the one that eludes me. So where are those second-date self-help books? There's a money-maker to be had here, people. Get cracking!

Meanwhile, I think I've just realized one piece of first-date advice that I probably should follow: Never bring up Heisenberg's uncertainty principle on the first date unless you're going out with a chemical engineer. Actually, don't mention it then, either, because the conversation will be gibberish from that point on. Never give an engineer an opening.

How's that for an ending double-entendre?

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

"Momma, why are there never any shoeboxes around the house?"

I grew up in a house for the disabled and clinically insane and witnessed more gruesome deaths than any child should have while growing up, I realized in the course of conversation today. I'm not talking about my family. I'm talking about my pets.

Our house was always sort of a wayward house for strays and castaway animals, but in retrospect, maybe that wasn't so good for them. There wasn't one of us in that household without blood on our hands. If there's a Stephen King in the animal kingdom, he's probably written stories about that house. Take a look at the parade of pets and their eventual fate:

Name: Boots
Type: Cat
Bio: From all accounts, Boots was a friendly cat, but he despised me, probably because I was a baby/toddler he had to put up with in the last years of his life.
Method of death: My mother ran over him in the driveway with her Pontiac. Twice. After she hit him the first time, she hit him again as she pulled up to see what she hit. She'd earlier tried to take him out by driving off while he slept on the roof of the car. She noticed he was there about a mile down the road.

Name: Muffin
Type: Dog
Bio: Like Boots, Muffin was around long before me. Her opinion of me was about the same as Boots, too.
Method of death: One of the few who made it to natural causes, but not before she managed to get tangled in a barbed wire fence at the edge of our property.

Name: Tasha
Type: Dog
Bio: My middle sister's Cocker Spaniel. She got her when I was about 4, so once's the pet dislikes the toddler syndrome.
Method of death: Another one who made it to natural causes, namely a stroke that left her paralyzed and us forced to put her down. Tasha was probably the only animal truly to evade the curse in my lifetime.

Name: Ginger
Type: Cat
Bio: My first pet, a calico cat. She was the longest lived of any of our pets, living until she was about 20.
Method of death: She was a 20-year-old cat! Ginger was a survivor. She survived two pregnancies (sorry, Bob Barker), some sort of disease that made her skinnier than an Olsen twin and the misfortune of sleeping under the hood when my mother started her car.

Name: Chastity
Type: Cat
Bio: A black cat, one of the kittens from Ginger's first litter. My youngest sister claimed her.
Method of death: Like mother, like daughter. Chastity chose to sleep under the car hood at the time we were leaving for one of my Pee Wee League baseball games. Unlike Ginger, no one noticed that she was under the hood until the next morning, although we did notice the car was making a funny noise. This time, my dad was the driver. It was the first time I ever saw him cry.

Name: Ashley
Type: Cat
Bio: Another black cat, one of the kittens from Ginger's second litter. My youngest sister claimed her. Ashley was a sweet cat with a squeaky mew that she couldn't even sputter out half of the time.
Method of death: Some mysterious infection. Her last several weeks, I (as the usual designated home vet of the family) had to feed her with a medicine dropper, which she hated. She had a decent lifespan, but her mother outlived her by years.

Name: Sampson
Type: Cat
Bio: Big orange fuzzball, another from Ginger's second litter. My middle sister claimed him but left him with us when she left for college.
Method of death: This one was my fault. In his old age, he had the unfortunate habit of sleeping soundly in our driveway. I backed over him on the way to work while housesitting for my parents. He was their last cat.

Name: Bonnie
Type: Dog
Bio: My oldest sister's Cocker Spaniel. We took her in after my sister's divorce. Like most inbred Cockers, she became blind, deaf and foul-smelling in her later years. I was pretty much the only one in the family who liked her, because she was the first dog who liked me.
Method of death: I'd rather not think about it. She escaped from the fence one night, and being blind and deaf, became impossibly lost in the woods behind our house. No one ever found her.

Name: Freeway
Type: Cat
Bio: Gray tiger cat who my middle sister, as the cat's name might indicate, found on the freeway while at college. Somehow, she ended up staying at our house rather than with my sister.
Method of death: Something gruesome. Like Bonnie, Freeway disappeared in the woods behind our house. However, she had all of her senses and never strayed far from home, so more than likely, some sort of wild animal got a hold of her.

Name: George
Type: Cat
Bio: Anti-social black cat my youngest sister brought home from college.
Method of death: Unknown. He was the only animal that we kids actually took with us when we moved out. When my sister sold her house, however, she gave him to the people who were moving in. He was pretty old by that point and probably died soon afterward.

Name: Penelope
Type: Parakeet
Bio: My only pet bird. She started out promising, but...
Method of death: ...after I left her cage open, Freeway got a hold of her. She managed to escape somewhat unharmed, possibly because Bonnie chased Freeway away, but she was a mental basketcase afterward. She lived another two years but never made another sound. I'm ruling this one the inability to cope with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Name: Lucky
Type: Dog
Bio: My grandmother's Cocker Spaniel left with us after her death. A cowering, unstable wreck who would shiver helplessly any time there was a thunderstorm. When taken to the vet, he would panic to the point of convulsions and lose control of his bowels. My parents despised him thanks to his quirky personality and inability to be housebroken, but I always had a soft spot for him. I should mention that we bought him for my grandmother as a replacement companion following the death of her black pug, Brandy -- a dog who would eat nothing but bananas. It seems raising mentally ill animals was her specialty.
Method of death: Not surprising for a high-strung dog, he had a stroke. He was the last dog at my parents' house.

Name: Trixie
Type: Dog
Bio: A mutt I took in as a puppy from a friend of mine while I was in the 8th grade. The most loyal dog I ever had, although this loyalty became hostility toward anyone whom she didn't recognize in the house. She was miserable whenever not around the family, particularly my father.
Method of death: Like Sampson, Trixie died on my watch while I was housesitting for my parents. She just collapsed after wildly panting for a few hours but before I realized something was seriously wrong. The vet couldn't determine a cause, but the symptoms I later realized mimicked a bloated stomach. She had already lost a leg to cancer.

Name: Xerxes
Type: Cat
Bio: Black and white cat who I rescued from my high school grounds at the end of my sophomore year. A huge cat and a fierce hunter -- he regularly killed mice, birds and squirrels -- but completely docile around people.
Method of death: His death was the biggest heartbreaker for me. He once came home with a gaping wound in his back, and when we took him to the vet, we found out one of our neighbors had shot him. The vet wanted to put him down, but we refused. I nursed him back to health, applying medicine to that disgusting wound each day, and he eventually had a complete recovery. Several years later, he went missing, and we later found him dead in the garage. He had been beaten to death, presumably by that same white trash neighbor who shot him the first time.

My parents never got any more pets after Lucky, except for the numerous squirrels that my mother loves to feed every day. I mention that only in case PETA is planning on running an immediate intervention at their house. The Amityville Pet Horror curse at that house is over.

Monday, September 04, 2006

The battery's down

Sign of a good night out: You wake up the next morning with a black eye.

Sign of a better night out: You're not exactly sure the precise moment you got it.

I've always found something strangely sexy about facial bruising. Now, I'm not talking about post-fight Rocky Balboa-ish swelling. I just mean a slight cut here or a tiny bruise there. It's kind of like a Cindy Crawford mole that someone actual earned rather than inherited. I've always wondered why MAC or someone doesn't come out with some sort of battle scar chic line.

Probably because that's incredibly creepy. Screw it. I'm wearing the Jackie O. sunglasses for the next few days.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Perhaps I was too hard on Brazoria

Just a few days after comparing Brazoria, Texas, to a John Grisham hell, the news breaks that the patron saint of my college years is setting up residence there.

David Herndon, founder of the House of Pies, is taking over as the pastor of the tiny town's Unity Church of Christianity this October. Now, usually, a church in Brazoria is, well, exactly what you would expect -- stuff right out of the Jerry Falwell playbook. The one I remember best has an annual Fourth of July event that resembles the type of thing that would have had Jesus knocking over tables were it Biblical times.

While I don't know much about Herndon, just glancing over the article in The Facts, however, looks encouraging. Specifically, quotes like this:

“Unity is considered to be a new-thought church, meaning that we’re not a fundamentalist church,” Herndon said. “We’re more progressive.”

I'm not familiar with the Unity Church, either, but's take also seems promising. At least, in theory, I could get in the doors.

They see that the divisive arguments that were once used against minority races, religions and nationalities are now being used against minority sexual orientations; i.e. against homosexuals. They are not concerned about rejecting a particular sexual orientation, but rather ask whether a particular individuals relationship is healthy; does it reflect God's love; does it make the world a better place?

Respecting the growing consensus (and in some jurisdictions, laws) that there should be equality of employment and opportunity for persons of all sexual orientations, they feel that homosexuality should not be an issue in Church membership, employment or ordination. Some Unity clergy perform commitment ceremonies for gay or lesbian couples. The Unity Church has a commitment certificate to recognize this ritual.

Modern Christianity comes with its stereotypes, thanks particularly to some of the loudmouths who get plenty of Fox News time, but this is a good reminder to me that even small churches and small towns can surprise you. I'm making a lot of assumptions about Herndon and that particular church, but I already owe him a great deal.

The House of Pies, for those not familiar with the Houston area, is a IHOP-like restaurant that, as you might imagine, has a huge selection of pies. The pies themselves are mediocre, but the atmosphere, at least at the Kirby location, couldn't be beat. For my crew, it was the place to go after the bars closed, and it wasn't unusual to see a table of drag queens seated next to a couple of lost, elderly tourists. Any man who can come up with a place like that automatically has won my heart.