Sunday, May 10, 2009


"I'm obsessed with"

That's how I wanted to begin this entry before I saw that my friend Matt began a recent entry with "I love" Phew, dodged a bullet there! I wouldn't want to be a copycat or an aper...or an...armadillo. (I know armadillos aren't particularly well-known for copying but I still wouldn't want to be one, would you?)

Anyway, for the past couple weeks I've been consumed by one particular Sporcle challenge.
The game: Can You Name the Countries of the World. My nemesis: Island Nations.

I recently made it as far as 194/195 countries with time to spare. Bahrain? Antigua and Barbuda? Naturally. São Tomé and Príncipe? CHILD'S PLAY. Still, time ran out and I still hadn't come up with that elusive 195th country.

The suspense is killing you, right? Well, it was Tuvalu.

View Larger Map

I understand that the average person's sense of self-worth doesn't hang on the completion of a Sporcle quiz. I recognize that I have a problem. Still, you might find handy this list of the sovereign states of Oceania:

Marshall Islands
Federated States of Micronesia
New Zealand
Papua New Guinea
Solomon Islands

The Pacific islands are the bane of geography dilettantes everywhere, wouldn't you say? They're just so damn hard to remember. In light of that, I have crafted this small story as a kind of memory aid. Please enjoy:

Marshall was a wealthy Australian shipping magnate in the autumn of his life. Having tired of his playboy ways, he decided to find a wife and settle down. Though his wealth meant he had his pick of Hollywood starlettes, he eventually Naurued it down to two who particularly struck his fancy: Keira Knightley and Vanna White. Night after night he tossed and turned, punching his Palau in frustration. How would he ever choose between them? He really liked Kiribati wanted Samoa Vanna too! On one such evening, unable to restrain himself, he called Vanna. When she answered he whispered, "Vanuatu wearing?" "Look, I don't have time for you anymore," she replied. "Marshall, Islands are calling my name. I'm going to Fiji to relax on the beach in my Tonga bikini." "Mmmm, can I buy a...towel?" he asked, undetered. Vanna sighed. "Listen, I shouldn't chaTimor-Leste your suggestive wordplay lead me astray." Just then he heard the beep of his call waiting. It was Keira on the other line! "Oh Marshall, you're so handsome," she said, "and as wise as King Solomon. Islands are so nice this time of year. Let's take a vacation together!" Marshall hesitated. "Keira," he replied, "I don't think this is going to work out, though I promise Tuvalu our friendship in the future." Keira was beside herself with rage. She shouted, "He'd beat you up if my Papua New! Guinea pigs are better lovers than you! This womIndonesia anymore. I'd rather date New Zealand's Jemaine Clement of the novelty band Flight of the Conchords!" Now defeated and alone, Marshall lived out the rest of his days in a hut on a remote island in the Federated States of Micronesia.

Okay, now that you're an expert on naming the countries of Oceania, I have one warning. Demonstrate your knowledge of semi-obscure geography sparingly. I recently drove a guy right out of my apartment after an over-zealous recitation of the world's island nations. Okay, he didn't actually leave because of me, but the timing was a little troublesome. It went something like this:

Julia: "KIRIBATI!"
Guy: "Actually, I really need to get going."

The point is, I think I was actually trying to flirt. Sad, I know. If "guys don't make passes at girls who wear glasses," they definitely don't make passes at girls who have a couple drinks and start yelling about the Asian Pacific Islands. Just a heads up.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Haas House

First of all, I think I fixed the comment problem. Please comment so I know it's working!

Also, these folks used a picture of mine from Vienna on their website. Kind of neat, huh?

Lastly, I've added a link to my Dad's blog. He's funny, you should read it. (I mean, we're talking about the comic genius behind "The Food Fart.")

Friday, May 1, 2009

Los Angeles

I'm a New England girl. I've seen Doris Kearns Goodwin at the Lexington and Concord Battle Reenactments. The small Massachusetts town where I grew up (West Newbury) is best known for its important role in the early American decorative hair comb industry.* My childhood best friend lived in a house built around 1780. John Kerry once stepped on my foot at a store in Harvard Square. I even have a Revolutionary War era ancestor named Thankful Bennett. I wonder if I could be in the Daughters of the American Revolution? My family probably isn't wealthy enough. Good thing. Otherwise I'd be a real nightmare.

*In my cursory search through The Internet I failed to come up with any foundation for that claim, but I choose to believe my 4th grade teachers, the nice ladies of the Historical Society, and the old sign that said "Welcome to West Newbury: Home of the Comb."

You'll also be interested to know that I share my hometown with noted professional wrestler John Cena, who is apparently a big enough star to host the Australian Kids' Choice Awards.

Arrivals At Nickelodeon Australian Kids Choice Awards 2008

As far as I know, his mother still works at the West Newbury Food Mart. Somewhere along the line my family took to calling it the "The Food Fart." Catchy, I know. In fact, my father usually takes it a step further and just says "The Fart." Though it may imply otherwise, this is in no way a comment on the quality of the establishment. Mostly it says something important about my family.

Anyway, like most East Coasters, I grew up assuming I lived at the center of The Universe. The world was predominantly Irish-Catholic (which made me a minority), the only city in the world more important than Boston was New York, WBZ-TV's News Team (including my former idol, arts and entertainment reporter Joyce Kulhawik) was God's gift to journalism, and California was a land of make-believe.

Beaches looked something like this:

Plum Island, MA
Or this:

New Harbor, ME

Or this:

One year ago John F. Kennedy Jr. died in a crash

The Kennedy Compound

A California beach, were I to give it any thought, probably would have looked something like this:

David Hasselhoff with the Mermaid stunt double

Despite the raw, bronzed sex that is Hasselhoff, there was a time when I swore I would never go to California. I was probably about 10 or 11 and we had recently learned about fault lines at school. Naturally, I became convinced that the moment I went to California it would break apart from the contiguous United States. Not even the fact that Kelly Kapowski and Zack Morris called it home would change my mind. Incidentally, Mark-Paul Gosselaar is much more interesting than you might think. Check out the link.

When I did find myself in California for the first time (older and wiser) I was most excited to finally see the Pacific Ocean. I spotted it from the top of a hill as we drove toward Hermosa Beach and it was just as glittering and expansive as I had imagined.

I ran down and dipped my toes in the surf, relishing the cold majesty, reveling in the sweet glory of nature!

I was filled with such innocent joy and excitement that I even allowed this Hallmark moment of a picture to happen.

Then, in the form of a toxic goo, reality struck:

This goo is hard to explain. Let me begin by saying that this picture really doesn't do the problem justice. At first it didn't feel like anything worse than a piece of seaweed. Calmly, I bent to peel it off. But whatever it was had thoroughly adhered itself to the bottom of my foot. Then I smelled it: motor oil with a hint of burning rubber. Scraping wildly seemed like the logical next step. Unfortunately this only resulted in getting it lodged underneath my fingernails. It would ultimately take the next 20 minutes and a combination of suntan lotion, sharp seashells, and the elbow grease of three people to get it off.

Kinky? Maybe a little.

Pollution. Leave it to Los Angeles, right? I felt like one of those ducks you see getting cleaned off after an oil-spill. But guess what? It's natural! Not only that, but apparently this happens to dumb tourists all the time. Awesome. It's certainly not the first or the last time I'll fall into that category. It brings to mind a night in London when some drunk girls leaving a club looked at my friend and me and said, "Get out of the way you...TOURISTS!" A low moment. For the record, they were the ones in the way. And if I did live in London who's to say I wouldn't wear shorts and hiking shoes around town? Ah, but this is another post for another time.

Beach adventures aside, Los Angeles is a strange place.

View Larger Map

The smog, the sprawl, the freeways- it feels like a different planet. The purpose of this particular journey was mainly to see a much-missed friend who now attends the University of Southern California. (Her name is Sarah and you can catch her on The Price is Right on May 22nd. Spoiler Alert: She won an air hockey table!) Experiencing the city was, in this case, my second priority. And anyway, Los Angeles is a difficult place to explore. My first instinct when I go somewhere new is to take a walk to get my bearings. Even if taking an exploratory stroll were a real option (it's not), I'm not sure I would ever get my bearings in LA. A car is obligatory and driving strikes me as a little bit frightening. I don't want to be on the freeway with Paris Hilton, do you?

Still, we squeezed in some excellent highlights. Here's the boring slideshow:

This is me (duh) outside of Grauman's Chinese Theater doing my best to reenact my favorite scene from Moonstruck. You know, the part when he yells, "I LOST MY HAND! I LOST MY BRIDE!" Here's the whole scene, check it out. It's one of the few moments in film during which I don't loathe Nicolas Cage. Moonstruck also features the never-loathable Olympia Dukakis, who has now made her second appearance in The Armchair.

Here we are outside the Griffith Observatory in Griffith Park. It's named after a guy named Colonel Griffith J. Griffith. No joke. As you might imagine, he was quite a character. Enough of a character that I think we need to take a moment to talk about him.

Griffith Jenkins Griffith was a Welshman. He was also nuts. He came to the United States as a poor teenaged immigrant in the 1860s and, thanks to various enterprises having to do with mining, promptly became a millionaire. In his adopted home of Los Angeles he purchased and then donated the huge swath of land that would ultimately become Griffith Park. In his spare time he went around town spreading his particular brand of crazy. You know, gold-topped cane, outlandish overcoat, delusions of grandeur, the whole bit. Then he shot his wife while they were on vacation in Santa Monica. It was something to do with the Pope.

Mrs. Griffith J. Griffith managed to avoid a fatal wound by jerking her head away at exactly the right moment, launching herself out the window onto an awning, and crawling to safety. Unfortunately, though she came away from the ordeal alive, she was left partially blind and rather disfigured. A zany trial ensued and he spent a couple years in jail making burlap sacks. Ah, the 19th century egomaniacal self-made man. He spent the rest of his life trying to get the city of Los Angeles to take his money and fulfill his grand vision for the park. They demurred for a few decades but eventually gave in and broke ground on the observatory in the 1930s. Did I mention he wasn't actually a colonel?

Anyway, the observatory is in Griffith Park, up in the Santa Monica Mountains in the Los Feliz neighborhood of LA. There are great views of the city, the smog, and the ubiquitous Hollywood sign.

There's also this sweet tunnel that was used in Back to the Future. Like so many other places in Los Angeles and environs, Griffith Park has been used as a location for a slew of movies, including Rebel Without a Cause, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and The Rocketeer. That's right, The Rocketeer.

On St. Patrick's day we celebrated at our friend Greg's place in Redondo Beach. This is Molly, Greg's Girl Friday and Goo-Getter-Offer Extraordinaire. If friendship isn't helping you scrape s*** off the bottom of your foot, I don't know what is.

We had our obligatory stroll down Rodeo Drive (followed by a no-regrets splurge on high tea at the Peninsula Hotel) but didn't do any real retail damage until we stopped at a Marshall's on our way home. You haven't been to Marshall's until you've been to Marshall's Beverly Hills. I got a pair of Italian-made suede heels for $10. Just saying.

There's so much more to say about LA. For that reason, I'm going to call it quits here. Out of necessity I've left out quite a bit but I'm sure it will all surface in future posts when I'm trying to talk about Equatorial Guinea or something.

Equatorial Guinea is a country in Africa. That's as much as I know about it. Curious? Me too.