June 28, 2006

Vacation Time

I'm off to Costa Rica for a week, and will be driving a rented 4x4 around the country. I'm hoping to see frogs, monkeys, and the famous quetzal. Wish me luck!

June 23, 2006

Intolerance Across the Ages

I watched the new HBO movie Queen Elizabeth I this weekend, and like Elizabeth, the 1998 theatrical film, it didn't shrink from showing people being tortured, or executed in ways that definitely qualify as cruel and unusual punishment. Once again, I was struck by the brutality and the religious intolerance prevalent in 16th century England. In the movie, Elizabeth herself is portrayed as open-minded, tolerant and compassionate, and extremely reluctant to resort to torture or killing, but willing to do so when necessary to quell rebellion. I thought about how 500 years later, this kind of religious bigotry and horrifying tribal violence is still going on in Africa and the Middle East, where people really believe they have a right to kill each other for their religion or ethnicity, and where women are mere possessions, not human beings. I wonder to what degree the filmmakers made a conscious choice to emphasize the parallels with the Abu Ghraib prison scandal and the violence in Darfur. Perhaps this is their subtle hint to Tony Blair and George Bush–those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it.

The whole media circus surrounding Angelina Jolie is insane, but for once, I think celebrity obsession may actually do something more than enrich an already obscenely wealthy person. Jolie is intelligent and well spoken, and her genuine knowledge of and interest in the plight of those less fortunate not only serves to draw attention to refugees, but also perhaps to shame us into action. If a movie star can empathize with the poor and miserable, then why can’t we, too? I believe that the key to stopping this continuing horror is in giving Africans the knowledge and resources to create their own jobs, grow their own food, and run their own governments, and in persuading educated Africans to stay and work in their home countries. Free or cheap grain from the U.S. only means that African farmers cannot make a living by selling their own grain, so it discourages independence and further destabilizes poor countries. All of the money and Peace Corps volunteers in the world will not be enough if we do not show Africans the methods and rewards of becoming self sufficient.

June 13, 2006

Airport Insomnia

I’ve been waking up a lot in the middle of night lately. I’m not sure why, because I have been going to bed at a reasonable time. But I have still been waking up at 4:00 AM with that strange bleary-eyed but hyper feeling you get when you’re traveling and you have to wake up at some ungodly hour to get to the airport on time. You have your luggage and you are nervous and excited but also tired and you really want to go on vacation but you also kinda wish that you were back in your cozy bed instead of in this unnaturally frigid airport with all the other people who woke up early this morning. Those archetypes of American society—the regional businessmen wearing golf shirts and light jackets, even in February; the men from new York or Chicago with topcoats, expensive suits and unfamiliar shoes. The loud, waddling folk with center-part feathered haircuts that haven’t been stylish for 20-odd years, and hair color that’s much too garish to be real. Sometimes there is an improbable couple: The good ol’ boy with too much gel in his hair, accompanied by a younger Asian woman with four-inch olive green stilettos, a dragon-appliquéd green and gold leather jacket, and a Louis Vuitton hobo bag. It's tempting to ask, "How are those shoes workin' out for you?" I mean, I also like to look presentable when I fly, but comfort is important, and any heel higher than two inches is out of the question.

The flight attendants stroll by, always neat, tidy and organized, their compact roll-aboards probably filled by airline-issued operations research formulas that have revealed the optimum packing arrangement. It always seems too early for anyone to have made that much effort in doing their hair and makeup, but here they are, a whole terminal full of women with gravity-defying bangs, blue eyeliner, and enough blush to give Pat Benatar circa 1981 a run for her money. Miss Manners would never approve, but sometimes I feel like accosting women who are wearing too much blusher and saying, “Excuse me, you really should rub that in a bit more—you look like you’ve just been slapped. Hard. Add a black eye, and you could win Miss Battered America—is that the look you’re going for?” And they’re probably looking at me, with my hair still damp underneath, no time for mascara or blush, looking pale under the fluorescent lights, and thinking, “That girl looks positively peaked. Too bad her mama never showed her how to use makeup.”

And then I drift back to sleep and dream about a party where there’s a vast array of brightly-colored, sparkling cosmetics on a rock island in the middle of a pool, and I’m trying to grab as many as I can before they sink out of sight, releasing their glittery beauty into the water.

June 9, 2006

Why I hated "Mona Lisa Smile"

Here's a movie review I did for Netflix; it has been at the top of their list for a while, because a whopping 509 people found it helpful. Yay! Perhaps my write-up will help people realize just how inaccurate the film really is.
"Mona Lisa Smile” is a Hollywood fantasy: a free-spirited Californian (with only a master’s degree) teaches uptight Easterners about life and art. Problem is, everything in this movie, from the premise down to the details is completely false, and I should know, because my mother and I are Wellesley College alumnae (’54 and ’89). It makes no sense that the same place that produced Madeleine Albright ’59, Diane Sawyer ’67, and Hillary Clinton ’69 is a mere finishing school, one that supposedly discouraged its students from attending graduate school, and would prefer they stayed home and vacuumed. Nothing could be further from the truth. Society did pressure women to marry, but Wellesley was an oasis of support for smart, ambitious women who wanted to combine marriage and a career. You were required to take 20 hours a semester, which tended to discourage women who weren’t serious about academics. The idea that a prestigious college would teach a moronic course in “Speech, Elocution and Poise” or setting a table is ridiculous! Well-bred young ladies already knew these things. Other errors and anachronisms: professors addressed students as “Miss Jones,” not by their first names; students would never have been disrespectful to professors, and they mostly dressed down in jeans and plaid shirts. It’s also preposterous to imagine that any student would bother memorizing the entire textbook before the first day of class. What bothers me the most, though, is the idea that Wellesley would object to teaching modern art in 1953, when in fact, they began back in 1926, the first college in the nation to do so! The professor was none other than Alfred H. Barr, Jr., founder of NYC’s Museum of Modern Art. The film’s writers had access to the school’s archives, but apparently didn’t learn anything from them, instead using their preconceived notions about “cool Californians” and “rigid Bostonians” to make a predictable movie full of stock characters and clichéd situations.